Published: February 26th 2009February 26th 2009
CS Sat 21 Feb
We have arrived in the bay adjacent to Balboa. There is a lot to see and many other ships at anchor, but not too much activity. Some smaller vessels and ferries come to take advantage of the lovely Saturday conditions in the course of the day. It is quite murky in the distance which is a pity after the clear air we have been enjoying but it is likely to be salt spray and distant rain rather than smog. There is a large settlement some way off, Balboa on the right side of the entrance into the channel (marked by a bridge a lot like a mini Sydney Harbour Bridge) and Panama City further off. Other patches of settlement can be seen around what is quite a big bay. It is very warm and the sun is strong. Refuelling happened during the afternoon when a large amazingly clean vessel pulled alongside and we also took on fresh provisions. It seems we will get our pilot at 2am this morning and start out trip through the canal.
We woke at about 5am. The ship was moving very slowly. I had felt some shudders earlier but we must have
proceeded very slowly off the anchor through the channel and under the bridge. We went onto the deck and watched the procedure as we went through the ‘first’ lock. The locks are in sets, two on the Pacific side and one at the other end of the narrow Isthmus of Panama, just before the Caribbean. Each has 3-4 gates and there are two rows. It was still dark going through the first set, then we crossed a narrow body of water, no longer than that one could see the back of the first lock system as we approached the second. Through another 3 sets of gates and we were in the ‘cut’. The locks are quite narrow, big enough, but only just, for our vessel. There are ‘mules’ (small train like engines running on tracks either side of and parallel to the locks) which are attached by lines for and aft on both sides of the vessel so they can pull and guide the ship into and out of each lock. Going through we were the second vessel in line and there was no ship in the parallel lock. Once through those two sets a lovely suspension bridge crossed the
cut and we were tugged or rather pushed forward for some time through the very narrow channel. It seemed very odd to be passing down a narrow river-like waterway (somewhere that PP and I might paddle our kayaks) in a huge ship. We moved into the broader reaches of Lake Cahon ?? which is a “sunken river” style lake with arms going in different directions and with a fairly narrow main channel. Lush green jungle grows right down to the water everywhere but there is virtually no settlement on the lake shore to be seen. The channels are well marked and there is heavy equipment and dredges visible on the shores and on the water edges. About 2pm we are at anchor with other ships visible around us, many familiar from the group with which we were at anchor before the locks. We started to move, compliments of a different tug. We were clearly near the entrance to the last lock system at the end of the lake. As we were maneuvered into the lock on the right side another container vessel Santiago Express was being brought up to go through on the left. We both proceeded in unison with
us just ahead through the 3 levels. There were two very large vessels coming in behind us. One in particular was about as wide as the lock can take. Then we were in level water which opened out into a wider channel and we could see the opening to the sea ahead. We sailed past Colon (an unfortunate name!) seemingly mainly a resort town but with a moderate port facility, through a breakwater and out into the Caribbean. The wind had picked up markedly while we were coming out of the last lock, right on our nose and it strengthened further as we proceeded through the breakwater. We have a strong swell, cloud and wind. Au revoir Pacific! The captain is anxious about his light bulky cargo so he will take us where he can find the best conditions. We are due in Venezuela sometime day after tomorrow.
A bit more rock’n’roll in the Caribbean, a bit like the “dance” of the South China Sea, but as the Captain is steering to go into the swell, not as much roll as then - mainly pitching, which is easier to sleep through!.
There are more photos below