Panama Canal: Adagio goes to the Pacific

February 12th, 2007 by: cheyenne

Since we are planning on a canal transit with the Time Machine, we decided to volunteer as crew/line handlers on someone else’s boat first. We were referred to a boat we never met called Adagio (a 38-foot Morgan) by some other people we never met and took the bus to Colon to meet up with Dimitri and Meri. Also crewing was a Caribbean sailor named Ray.

Adagio. Dimitri and Meri

The intrepid captains of Adagio and our hosts for the canal transit, Caribbean to Pacific. We arrived about five hours too early and so did a little wandering around Colon before heading out to the boat. We pulled anchor and picked up the canal pilot at around 4pm.

Joshua. Panama Canal

Heading into the canal, where they got them big ships, for the Gatun Locks.

Carlos our Canal transit Advisor

Carlos, our pilot, was an incredibly nice guy who explained all about how the canal works for us line-handling virgins.

rafting up for the Gatun Locks, Panama Canal

The sun set just as we arrived at the locks and we met up with the two other sailboats we were to tie up with. Annapurna was a 48-foot Hans Christian that was built like an old-fashioned bathtub and weighed probably a billion pounds. The French Boat was another 37-ish footer and was built of aluminum. The two smaller boats tied up on either side of Annapurna, who amusingly had about 20 people on deck—all experienced line handlers—and they had nothing to do but stand around offering “advice” to us outer boats.

Baltic Reefers. Panama Canal

We had to wait for the Baltic Reefer to go ahead of us. These things are BIG.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

By the time we entered the locks, it was totally dark. The outer boats were responsible for the line handling, much to the chagrin of Annapurna’s weathered crew, and we made the lines fast as the doors closed us into the first lock.

We were to be raised, 44 feet at a time, to the level of lake Gatun and once everyone was situated in the locks, millions of gallons of water started gushing in from below. The effect on our flotilla suspended by ropes in the middle was alarming and we started to lumber around in the locks, first pulling all the weight of the three boats on one corner line (attached to one little cleat) and then another. Meanwhile, we had to take in the slack as the boat rose. Ray and I were on bow detail and we watched nervously as the line tightened on our forward cleat, making loud popping noises, then loosened and we had to quickly take in slack before it tightened again.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

When we got to the top of the first lock, the lock line handlers tied light lines to our thick ropes and tossed them back down to us, walking with the lines to the next lock as Annapurna was finally called into action to motor us forward.

Gatun Locks at night. Panama Canal

We repeated the process three times to get to the level of the lake and while the bow cleat held, the aft cleat bent to the side by about an inch from the stress. We exited the locks, untied ourselves from the other sailboats, and motored over to the moorings to tie up for the night.

Pat the canal transit advisor

The next morning the pilot boats came by with new pilots for the day. We got a guy named Pat who was incredibly hung over after playing poker the night before.

Banana Cut. Gatun Lake. Panama Canal

The lake is something like 25 miles long and we had four hours to motor to the other side to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; if you hold up the show, you get charged the big bucks. Most boats lie and say that they can motor at 8 knots even if this is an impossible hull speed; Dimitri was able to keep us at a comfortable 6.1 knots the entire way with no problems.



line handlers

Master motorers, Adagio passed The French Boat midway through.

canal widening construction. Gaillard cut. Panama Canal

They are widening the canal and building a new set of locks. There was lots of construction in the cut.

Puente de Centenario. Panama Canal

Passing under Puente de Centenario; we are almost to the Pedro Miguel locks.


Did I mention that these ships are really big? In the narrower sections of the cut you pass very close.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Arriving at last to the locks. Pat is looking a little less green and we reunite with Annapurna and The French Boat for the trip down.

Cheyenne line handling. Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Since Ray did all the work on the way up, I get to do the work on the way down. Here I am looking like a dork rough and ready.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

DAMN those things are big.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

Entering the locks. Going down is way way easier than going up. The movement of the flotilla was imperceptible and I just played out line when necessary.

Pedro Miguel Locks. Panama Canal

The mule dudes giving us the thumbs-up.

Miraflores Locks. Panama Canal

We’re done! We are SO OVER those locks.

Crocodile. Panama Canal

Crocodile on the beach. Might be stuffed.

Bridge of the Americas. Panama Canal

Welcome to the Pacific! (Bridge of the Americas)

2 Comments on “Panama Canal: Adagio goes to the Pacific”

  1. Peg Bowden says:

    Wow—a great record of your crossing. Complicated. It seems that when I went through the Three Gorges Dam in China, it was a simpler process. Bing bang done. It took maybe 4 hours, and we were going up as we entered each lock—very very rapidly, as I recall. Like going up in a watery elevator. Thanks for the photos and the history of the adventure. And now—-Time Machine will make the voyage. Hope you can make the 25 mile crossing of the lake in 4 hours. Do you have a new outboard? Keep posting all the news—love, Mom/Peg

  2. TimeMachine - Slowly exploring the future » Blog Archive » Mississippi Locks says:

    […] come down a number of locks. It’s a much lower key affair than the Panama Canal locks (here with Adagio, here with Woodwind, Time Machine part I, and Time Machine part II). We simply call the […]

Leave a Comment

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell