The Cat and the Canal

So last week we had guests, Laura and Don, on board for our transit of the Panama Canal. Laura did such a great job of describing the trip in her Facebook posts that we asked if we could use her words for our blog. She graciously agreed so here is our Panama Canal crossing through the eyes and words of Laura.

It is impossible to describe the transit in great detail but in a nutshell, there are six locks total that we had to go through. As one crosses the Panama isthmus, one must actually climb in altitude, such that the first three locks on the Pacific side raise boats up and ones across the center of the country, through the giant river/lake, the final three locks on the Caribbean side allow boats to descend back to sea level.

We left the dock at 4:15 after our two line handlers arrived , bringing with them our 8 large fenders and the 4 large mooring lines. We headed out just past the anchorage and hovered around buoy # 6 waiting for our Canal “Advisor“. He arrived at 4:30 am, right on time, and hopped aboard from the pilot boat. Those three men stayed with us throughout the trip. We arrived at the first lock just as it was getting light. We completed the crossing and pulled into the marina at 5 PM on the Caribbean side. It was an incredible experience and I feel so lucky to have experienced it. Everybody on board was fantastic!

The Bridge of the Americas. When this was built in 1962, it was the only link connecting North and South America following the completion of the Panama Canal in 1903. It is a stunning site, for sure. It is essentially the entry to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side.

Early morning shot of the Bridge of the Americas

As we approached the first lock, we got in line behind the tanker and rafted up to a sailboat (S/V Vingathor). We remained rafted to this boat through the first three locks.

Entering the First Lock
Vingathor rafted to us

Going into and through Panama Canal lock #1 – Miraflores. Note the human line handlers on shore working with the line handlers on Stray Cat and Vingathor. The tanker in front of us has lines attached to two railroad cars on either side to move it through the lock safely.

Shore Line handler preparing to throw the monkey fist and messenger line
Tending the main lines from the boat

Moving out of the Miraflores lock (#1) into lock #2. They are separated only by two double steel doors. There is a live video camera attached to the building, so our families could watch as we transited through Miraflores.

Look at the right side of the image and you can see we are as high as the freighter in the lock below
From the Panama Canal Web Cam

After leaving the second lock, we motored a short distance through the Panama Canal to the third lock. During this time, Barb served everybody a great hot breakfast. We then went through the third lock, after which we unrafted from Vingathor for the motor passage through the center of Panama.

After the first three locks, we went under Puente Centenario (Centennial Bridge). This bridge was built in 2004 and was the second connection between the two continents of North America and South America. It is approximately 260 feet above the water, almost 3500 feet long, has six lanes of traffic and is part of the Pan-American Highway. It is such a gorgeous bridge!

On the Atlantic side, the Gatun Locks are actually three contiguous locks separated only by giant steel doors. Here we are entering lock #4, passing in front of a tanker to be in the front position in the lock for descent toward the Caribbean. We had to wait quite some time for the sailboat to catch up with us, first by doing donuts in the open bay and then tying off inside of the lock to the concrete wall. Once the other boat arrived, we again rafted together for transit through the three locks.

You can see the water level drop, as we begin our descent. Once the water is done dropping, we leave the first of the three Gatun locks, passing through the double steel doors directly into the second of the three locks.

Moving from one chamber to the next
Last of the locks. Caribbean sea just ahead

The last and sixth lock before reaching the Caribbean Sea. We were sad and exhilarated at the same time to be done. After we exited, we unrafted from the sailboat and headed the 6 miles toward the marina. After leaving the Panama Canal’s three Gatun locks, we motored toward the Caribbean Sea, under the Atlantic Bridge, built in 2019. It is the third of only three bridges which connect North America to South America, and stands about 700 feet high and is 9,250 feet wide. Another stunning sight. We then said goodbye to our advisor Victor, who was picked up by a pilot boat just outside the canal. The two line handlers stayed with us until we arrived at the marina, where they took the four giant blue lines and eight giant fenders with them. All in all, this day transiting the Panama Canal was a most incredible experience of a lifetime.


Atlantic Bridge and the locks behind us
Just some of the vessels we encountered in the canal
Don and Laura sporting snazzy T shirts
Jose, and Kai our Line Handlers and Victor our Canal Advisor
Our arrival at Shelter Bay Marina.

Laura and Don departed for home the next day. We are working away at the decommissioning list and will haul out in a couple of days. We fly home shortly after that and leave Stray Cat here in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama.

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