Panama Canal Transit, May 7 & 8, 2009 – by Gary Dawson

Some of you know that Gary has been writing a small column in the Charlevoix, MI newspaper each week about our sailing adventures. I am going to post his article about our transit thru the Canal to give you a little history of our adventure, below:
The Panama Canal

Well how about a little history lesson from Professor Gary. There were two attempts by the French to build the canal in the late 1800’s, both of which failed because of financing. In 1903 the U.S. got involved and after 10 years and $400 million they opened the canal in 1914. Since than there have been 850,000 transits. About 40 transits per day.

There are 3 main parts to the locks. The Gatun locks ( 3of them) that raise you from the Caribbean Sea to Gatun Lake ( man made). Than there are 3 more locks that lower you from the lake to the Pacific Ocean. Each lock is 1 000’ long and 110’ wide.

Our transit started Thursday May 7. Each pleasure boat has to have four line handlers and one captain on board. So, since there were only 3 of us we needed some extra people. Earlier in the week we meet two 26 year olds that rode their bikes from Maryland to Panama, 5000 miles in 6 months ( and they thought it would be great to go. In addition we decided to hire one professional line handler. Every boat must also have an advisor on board. So with our full compliment of people we were ready to go.

In going through the Gatun locks we were going to have a freighter ( 600’) in front of us and we were going to have a catamaran tied to one side of us and a mono hull on the other side. So we were about 70’ wide and I had to be the driver taking all of us through the lock s and all this started at about 7pm. This was probably the most stressful thing I have done. We made it through the 3 locks in about 2 hours and tied up to a mooring ball in Gatun Lake for the night. We would continue the journey the next day.

We woke up about 6 am the next day and started motoring through Gatun Lake (20 miles) and got to the last 3 locks around 9:30 am. This time there was no freighter and the cat was behind us. At about noon we emerged into the Pacific Ocean.

We will be at anchor near Panama City for a few days so we can provision and get some boat parts that are being sent to us by Mike’s son Danny. Than it is off to the Galapagos Islands. All is well and I can’t wait until we set out into the Pacific Ocean.

Come next Sunday we should be on our way to the Galapagos Islands (6-7day trip). Until then I will be thinking of you all.

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