Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Waiting for delivery of our anchor chain while in Shelter Bay Marina gave us plenty of time for many chores that had been waiting on the list of "to dos".  We removed and shampooed all the wall to wall carpeting, cleaned all the bilges, removed most things from the lockers and cleaned, cleaned out the forepeak, and a hundred things more.  Then we went shopping and spent $1399, which was easy because we were out of everything!

Where will we put four carts full of groceries?
What wasn't so easy was putting everything away.  We are convinced Steve Dashew secretly limited storage space on all his sailing designs to prevent owners from loading them down and killing their renowned sailing performance.

Finally, the long awaited barrel of chain appeared at the marina. For an explanation of why we replaced the chain, see our previous blog post from April 2013.

It took most of the day to stretch out the chain, measure it, and paint our secret color code every fifty feet.  

But this day, like many others in September, we finished just in time to run up to the marina's lounge where Stuart and Susie, a Kiwi and Aussie couple of sailing professionals currently managing the Swan 62 "IO of Cowes", hooked their laptop to the big screen telly to watch the America's Cup live. We became hooked as Oracle Team USA won eight straight match-point races to come from behind and defend the cup from those cheeky Kiwis (Sorry Stu). Initially hating the idea of the America's Cup racing in multihulls, we quickly became converts as it was pretty exciting to see these giant machines "foiling" across San Francisco Bay at 40 knots.  

Soon it was time to begin our long awaited transit of the Panama Canal.  Coming along as line handling crew were Stuart and Susie, mentioned above; Aussies Scott and Tracey with their kids Will and Molly of the catamaran "Yollata" whom we'd met in San Blas and again in Green Turtle Marina; and friends from San Blas, Portobello and Rio Chagres, Brit Phil and Canadian Julia of the yacht "Diva".  Besides saving Moonshadow the expense of hired line-handlers (minimum four plus captain are required), our crew were fun and made the experience all the more memorable.

Our orders were to depart the marina and await our Pilot at 1300 in a designated anchorage, called "the Flats", near the first locks.

We were all excited as we waited that afternoon watching Panama's weather and the world's commerce roll by.

With fifty ships swapping oceans every day, the Panama Canal is a happening place.

Finally after dark the pilot arrived.  Because we measured over 65 feet, we were required to carry a Canal Pilot rather than a designated Panama Canal Advisor. Our Canal Pilot was more accustomed to standing on the bridge of a large ship than hanging out with a bunch of cruisers on a sailboat. He mostly kept to himself, texting and making cell phone calls while we figured out what to do.  

Ships like our chamber-mate the bulk carrier NORD NANAMI are built
(180 x 30 meters) to the size of the Panama Canal, and they just fit!
The best our Pilot contributed was this cool hat.

After waiting for a very long time, Nord Nanami finally moved into the first lock chamber and it was time for Moonshadow and two other yachts to take their places.

Canal workers up on the chamber walls heaved messenger lines, weighted on the ends with monkey's fists, down to Moonshadow where our line handlers attached our heavy 125 foot mooring lines.  

Next the canal workers hauled the mooring lines up to the wall and secured them to giant iron cleats. Soon the lock doors began to close.

Say good by to the Caribbean!

Fed by gravity, fresh water from Gutan Lake flows into the chamber from giant openings in the chamber floor. Fresh water percolating to the surface through the heavier seawater causes turbulence which could have turned Moonshadow within the chamber forcing her against the wall.  But our crew of seasoned cruisers kept all the mooring lines snug and Moonshadow centered as we rose within the chamber.

Soon we were looking over the edge of the third chamber, 85 feet above the Caribbean. While we were all in awe at the technology that made this possible (all of it run by gravity) we were reminded that it was all created one hundred years ago.

It was well after midnight when we finally tied Moonshadow to a mooring on Gutan Lake, just a few miles from the Marina where we'd started.  After saying goodbye to our Canal Pilot who was picked up by a Canal launch, we made up for missing cocktail hour, finally turning in at nearly 0200.

Sunday morning, a new Pilot joined Moonshadow and her bleary eyed crew at 0730. 

With about 300 Pilots working the canal, you never know who you'll get, but in our case, Rommel was a gem.  Unlike our Pilot the previous night Rom was fun and informative, answered all our questions and told us what would happen next in plenty of time to prepare.  

With about 30 miles across the lake, then the Gaillard Cut and finally the three remaining locks having a friendly and jovial Pilot made all the difference.  Rom was also a walking encyclopedia about the Panama Canal so we all learned a great deal from him.

It rained non stop but we still enjoyed the scenery on this busy artery of world commerce.

Soon we were down-locking in the Miraflores locks.

Everybody approved of the two day transit to the Pacific, Moonshadow's home for the next few years!

Click to watch a YouTube movie of our transit

1 comment:

Robert said...

Very cool! You can now say you've sailed through the Panama Canal, John. No small feat!


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