70. The Panamá Canal

In a few days I will go through the Panamá Canal. One of the wonders of the modern world and one of the largest and most complicated engineering projects ever undertaken. I could bore you with tons of facts and figures that you can find online but, in short, the Spanish conquistadors considered it back in the early 16th century, the French failed trying to build a sea level canal in the late 19th century and Americans finished it in 1914. With six locks and a man-made lake in the middle. Tens of thousands of workers died in the process, primarily from deceases. Some lured to the project after falsely being told that the soil was rich on gold deposits. Overlooking the loss of life though, the finished product is a truly remarkable achievement. A canal that is vital to the transportation of goods around the planet. And a canal that will enable me to continue my journey west without having to pass the treacherous waters around Cape Horn. Or worse, the Northwest Passage.

Every vessel transiting the canal has to have a pilot from the Panamá Canal Company onboard. On top of that, you need four line handlers that make sure that you stay where you should be when water enters or leaves the locks. These line handlers should be equipped with really long lines that they tie to ‘monkey fists’ with guide lines that are thrown from the side in each lock. As a relatively small vessel, Saoirse is likely to be what they call ‘nested’. Attached to two other cruising boats. One in the middle driving and one on each side handling the position in the locks. You can source line handlers yourself or hire them from your canal agent, along with lines and massive fenders. I have ‘sourced’ two myself as my parents will arrive in a few days to help me through the canal. It will be great to have them onboard and as a part of my adventure. Even though I haven’t really told them yet that they will be expected to help out during the transit of the canal. Saying that, I’m sure they will be will be the perfect crew. They have taken their own boat through numerous canals back in Sweden.

The total cost for the transit of Saoirse will be around $3,000. That includes fees for the agent, the line handlers and rent of lines and fenders. I believe some of the larger ships pay north of a million dollars to transit but then they get small purpose built locomotives on either side of the locks that help them stay in place.

The date for the transit is 18 February. The time of day has not been confirmed yet but generally, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific, you enter the first three locks, going up, late afternoon, Then you stop for the night at a mooring in Gatun Lake, 26 metres above sea level. With the strict instruction not to swim due to the presence of crocodiles. The pilot leaves for the night and returns the next morning and you motor to the three locks that eventually will spit you out at sea level in the Pacific. Alternatively you start early in the morning and do it all in a really long day. The whole process can be viewed online as the Panamá Canal Company has webcams at every lock. Apparently this service has won several webcam awards. Probably in competition with some seriously questionable contenders. I wouldn’t get out of bed to watch it as it’s probably like watching paint dry. Either way, here is the link. https://multimedia.panama-canal.com/

See you on the other side. I always wanted to say that but never found the right opportunity…

Miraflores locks. The last before the Pacific. Note the sailing boats in front of the cargo ship
Larger ships get locomotives as line handlers
City break with Mike and Daisy from SV Traveller
Panamá City
Restaurants at the fish market
Colonial parts of Panamá City
Graveyard for outboard engines
Internet starved boat kids
Our Airbnb to the left
Back in Shelter Bay Marina after a city break
My buddy Jesse from SV Cavale. Helped me save my cockpit table which was rapidly deteriorating. Single and available, ladies. And he is a chef on superyachts. I have his contact details…
The local fuel barge provides you with a diesel sample when you fill your tank. To ensure you that it is free from deposits and water. Signed, stamped and sealed. Fantastic. Jesse’s handy work below.

8 thoughts on “70. The Panamá Canal

  1. Tom! Happy to know you’re loving life mate! Always enjoy reading your blog and knowing what you’re getting up to. Stay safe mate.


    1. Thanks James. So nice to hear from you. All is great here. Just cleaning up this ‘crack house’ in preparation for my parents’ arrival. Just interviewed for a podcast as well. All the best. Tom


  2. another great adventure on your wonderful trip tomas. fantastic that your parents are making the canal passage with you. canal looks narrow or is that a big Swedish ship in your pictures. all good in europe. enjoyed some skiing in austria last month with my 2 eldest. away to pontoon b next month to antifoul island dreamer with pat. then ireland for the summer. lanzarote had snow up high 2 weeks ago! always enjoy your intesting blog. please keep it coming. god speed. ff


    1. Hi there Fergal. I am indeed looking forward to the next part of this adventure. And to have my parents be apart of some of it. Glad to hear that you got to go skiing and that you get to go back to Lanzarote soon. All the best my friend. Tomas


  3. Fantastic mix of photos which gave an insight to both the Canal & Panama, so needed in a grey, foggy Stockholm; wouldn’t mind being “on the other side”! I’ve watched moose migrating over the northern landscape, the transportation of the golden bridge from China to Slussen, on slow TV, so thanks for the link, might just check it out.! Enjoy the adventure. Orla


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s