Day 119, Year 1: Canal Transit on Thursday
Date: Monday, February 13, 2006
Weather: Continued Sunshine Mixed with Rain
Location: Panama Canal Zone, San Cristobal, Panama (near Panama Canal Yacht Club)

Yippee! We do have our Panama Canal transit date and it is this Thursday, February 16. Ellington, the cabbie, took us to the bank this morning to pay the fee and was supposed to return at 1800 to call to get our transit date. Either we missed him or he didn’t show up, so we went ahead and called and found out the rumor we had heard yesterday was true. Since the Canal Authority had to find 12 advisors to go through with the Blue Water Rally boats today and tomorrow, they decided to keep the advisors for a couple of extra days and get some of the backlogged boats out of here. Since we just arrived, we are not part of the backlog, but we called today and there was room, so we have a slot. Of course, things change here from day to day, but I do think we will go through this week, and it will most likely be on Thursday. After Friday of this week, things return to normal, so we feel very lucky to have arrived when we did. Even though we will have extra time on the Pacific side, we are glad that we hurried here and are getting to take advantage of the extra personnel hired for this one week.

By going this week, there will be only sailboats in the locks, no big cargo ships, and this makes for a safer passage. We will also get to go through in one day. The Advisor will arrive at 0400 and we will move out of the anchorage and line up in front of the first lock. Three sailboats will then be rafted or tied together and the middle boat, which will be the biggest of the 3, will act as the pilot boat. Once in the Canal, line handlers on the outer 2 boats will catch the lines thrown down by Canal personnel, tie the125 foot lines we are all required to carry to the Canal lines, and then these lines are hoisted by the Canal personnel and tied to the sides of the lock. With this rafting or nesting of boats, actually only 4 line handlers are needed, one fore and aft on the two outside boats, but each boat is still required to have four line handlers onboard. The boats stay rafted through the three up locks, and then you are untied and race the 24 miles to the down locks. There you raft again and by about 1400 on Thursday we will be one of 48 sailboats that have gone through the Canal this week and are ready for the next stage of the journey.

As soon as we got our date tonight, we started scrambling to find crew to go through with us. The Canal Authority requires that one of their advisors goes through the Canal with each boat and that in addition to the boat’s captain, there are four line handlers onboard. We have enough possibilities that I am certain we will have the four people needed. We are required to feed everyone during the transit and then make sure everyone gets back to Cristobal safely. There are busses that run every half hour, so we will put the crew on busses and they will then take a taxi from the bus station back here to the marina. They will bring back the lines that we have rented for this canal transit and we will sell the tires we bought to use as heavy duty fenders to someone on the Balboa side transiting this direction. You pay $3.00 a tire and they come wrapped in black garbage bags with packing tape wrapped around to hold the covering in place. We have four of these tires on each side of the boat, along with two of our fenders on each side. The garbage bag wrap protects the boat from black tire smudges.

Margaret and Patrick of Aqua Magic returned from their day as line handlers and reported that all went smoothly. We met another couple from the US today, Tom and
Betty Lee Walker from Mobile, Alabama. They are on a 48-foot catamaran called Quantum Leap. A young woman from New Zealand, Kathleen, travels with them. We will be in Taihiti and Bora Bora at the same time, so we will see them again. They are also planning on wintering in New Zealand. We met Gary of Heart Beat today and he is also from New Zealand. He will be moving faster than us and Quantum Leap as he plans to get back to Kiwi land mid-summer.