The Panama Canal. Just the thought of it brings up visions of the massive engineering triumph of a century ago. As one contemplates passing through the isthmus of Panama your thoughts go back to the tens of thousands of lives that were lost, mostly to disease, as well as the efforts of the builders who overcame huge obstacles during the construction of the big ditch.
For Mermaid’s transit we contracted with a canal agent, Peter Stevens to arrange the details. Peter, an English gentleman and longtime Canal Zone resident, and his assistant Francis aka Pancho couldn’t have been more helpful. Not only did they arrange for everything with the Canal Authority they also lined up line handlers, the four, 125 foot lines we needed and even delivered tires to be used as fenders to the boat. But they went over the top with their service by being there to provide the local knowledge to procure anything we needed while we were in Panama City often doing the legwork themselves. When we forgot something at the store during our final provisioning run the evening before our transit all it took was a call to Peter and the needed items arrived a couple of hours later.
We were up early on the morning of the transit. The line handlers arrived with the lines at 7:00 am and our Canal Advisor arrived shortly afterwards. Boats under 65 feet don’t get a pilot, they are assigned an advisor, a sort of junior pilot who guides you through the Canal. We’d heard horror stories from other boats that weren’t happy with their advisor but our experience couldn’t have been better. Edwin was calm, knowledgeable and very helpful. To start the transit we rafted up with a small sports fishing boat and entered the Miraflores locks behind a freighter and a couple of tugs. The pucker factor was pegged as we motored into the lock. We’d heard many tales about how boats had been swept about by the prop wash from the large vessels but Mermaid handled it like a champ. We glided in and the Canal’s line handlers tossed down lines with monkey fists on the end that our line handlers attached to our lines and we soon were secure in the center of the lock. The massive lock gates, which look like something out of a Jules Verne novel swung closed and we were on our way up.
Robin asked the captain of the power boat attached to Mermaid’s side if he had ever been towed by a sailboat before which brought a good laugh to all aboard. He answered no, but he was enjoying the ride. As we were being lifted up one of the handlers from the boat we were rafted up to came over and told Holly that he’d take over from her but she wasn’t having any of it. “I’ll let you know if I need help” was all it took from her to send him packing. After getting lifted up 81 feet in the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks we unrafted with the sports fisher and headed through the Culebra Cut. This is the part of the Canal that was cut through the continental divide where most of the digging was done during construction and once we were through the cut we headed across Lake Gatun.
We were scheduled to arrive at the Gatun Locks on the Caribbean side at 3:00 pm but we were running late. If we didn’t make it we’d have to spend the night in the lake. As we approached our advisor called the controllers and luck was with us as there was a ship scheduled to down lock at 4:30. We motored into the lock as the tugs were lining up the huge car carrier to enter. The view from the top lock out over the Caribbean was spectacular and behind us the massive car carrier loomed overhead. Before long we were motoring out of the final lock. We said goodbye to Edwin as he was picked up by a pilot boat and reached Shelter Bay Marina just about dark where we met back up with Neko and all toasted our passage through the canal with a well deserved landfall drink.

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