Sail Gemini -- The Panama Canal

Updated September 11, 2004

Note:  Click on any small "thumbnail" photos to see the large photo.

The Dawn of a Transit

We have to be honest:  this photo was taken at 4 a.m. when we crewed for El Regalo during their Canal transit.  The spectacular lighting was unusual, but the inevitable delay was not at all unusual.  Cruisers wait for hours for a pilot or advisor to arrive to escort them through the Canal.  As we observed, the pilot boat drivers were the biggest threat to safety for most cruising boats.


Enrique Plummer

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Paperwork is fairly straightforward, but for a very reasonable fee, Enrique Plummer arranges everything for your transit and will deal with the authorities when they treat you like a nobody.   (Phone (507) 674-2086 or eplummer10@yahoo.comAt the end of the "admeasuring" process, you are assessed $600 (over 50 feet, you pay more) and are issued an official document which we are proudly displaying here.


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The preparation is exhausting:  collecting and attaching tire fenders from other boats who have completed their transit; shopping and preparing food and drinks for seven people; removing all extraneous gear; bringing out extra awnings to protect the crew from sun and rain; then rigging your lines with other boats tied to an escort tug...and waiting, waiting, waiting.


Small Fish

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When you look at the "real" ships going through the Canal, you begin to appreciate why the Canal authorities look at us as pesky little things.  The passengers aboard the cruise ship on the left were amazed at the tiny little sailboat in front of them.  And after "locking up" through the Miraflores locks, the tugboats set us free to cross the lake over to "downlock" in the Gatun locks.  At 7 knots, we plodded along as our giant partner ships disappeared through the cut. a Big Pond

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And tiny is exactly what we felt sandwiched between two boats with a huge ship 50 feet behind us.  The sailboat tied to our starboard side was Arctic Lady, a 50-foot ketch headed for Turkey.  Behind us is a huge cargo ship that cleared the walls on each side by about a foot.  Here we are waiting for the water be lowered about 20 feet before proceeding to the next one.


A Technical Marvel

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It's impossible not to admire the Canal as a major achievement.  Conceived in 1870 by the French, construction was fraught by problems, mostly health issues from mosquitoes, but also by apparent naivete of the shareholders.   America purchased the rights, redesigned the entire concept and completed the Canal in 1913.  The process is simple but elegant:  three locks on the Pacific side fill up with water to raise ships 83 feet to the level of Gatun Lake.  Trains on tracks draw the ships forward in the 1000-foot long, 110-foot wide locks--a tight fit for most commercial vessels.  Ships cross the lake under their own power, then enter another set of three locks that lower the water back to sea level on the Caribbean side.  Their web site is excellent, but, again, the book Path Between the Seas is a wonderful read, even for a history dunces like us!


Moments of Sanity

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In the midst of all the confusion and rigging, we had a few moments to relax and play.  There are live video cameras so you can observe ships going through the locks in real time, but most of our friends had trouble seeing us in the middle of such a gigantic operation.


We Made It!!!

In spite of a rainy night anchored in the Miraflores Lake, the crew was in good spirits--even Cami enjoyed herself!  Crew were excellent:  Ed on Fernwe and his son-in-law Mike, John and Lyle from Cloverbrook.  Les is partially obscured in the background and I am holding the cat to keep her from knocking over the camera again!

Go to Panama--Pacific Side

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