January 29, 2002
I am writing this message at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club right on the Panama Canal. We arrived ten days ago after a difficult day. The Canal Authority had told us that the "adviser" would be aboard Satori at 4:45 AM that morning and we needed to be ready. We had to have an extra three perons aboard to help with the lines but ended up with a total of nine - ten including the adviser. It was quite an international mix...one Aussie, two Brits, two Americans and a couple of backpackers (one Swiss and one German). We were all quite groggy at 4:30 but we had coffee and sweets ready to give us that charge that we needed. Best laid plans again...the Panamanian adviser did not arrive until 9:30. This is a typical problem with the canal transits lately and is quite dangerous in our opinion. In order to get all the way through the Pedro Miguel Lock, the boat must be motored hard to arrive for that part of the transit by 4PM. We were already exhausted from sitting around waiting for five hours and then had to really push to make it.
Fortunately, our adviser, Roderick, was a good one. We transited the up locks at Gatun with an American catemaran and behind an auto carrier. The procedure was to allow the auto carrier into the lock first with a tug assisting. The tug then would drop back and send its controlling lines to the line handlers on the wall lock. Then Satori attached to the side of the tug and subsequently the catamoran to our side. After the lock filled the catemaran untied and dropped back. Then Satori untied from the tug and went to the opposite side of the lock. The tug untied from the wall and proceeded to assist the auto carrier into the next lock. The first lock saw us all acting a little like The Three Stooges. By the second lock we did better and by the third lock we were quite the experts!
The Panama Canal is fed totally by fresh water and uses no pumps. The fresh water comes from the high land in the middle of the Canal (Gatun Lake) and is fed by several rivers. For those of you who are familiar with Wonder Lake, the process was similar in that they dammed up the area to make a huge lake for the reservoir of water needed. Three locks on the Caribbean side take the boats up about 65' in all.
After the transit across the lakes the boat then is locked down 20' at Pedro Miguel and then another 40' at the two Miraflores Locks about one mile later. After the locking down at Pedro Miguel one makes a hard turn to the left to tie up at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club. It might seem strange to break up our transit like this, but we had heard so many accolades about the club that we felt we could not pass up the opportunity. The experience has been very much worth the stop. Here we have a clubhouse with frig & freezer space and all the ammenities of home. Many cruisers have inadequate or no refrigeration. It is always a struggle then to have good nutritious meals. About 6:30 every evening many cruisers come upstairs in the clubhouse to begin cooking their meals and enjoying the company of the other cruisers - just like a very big family. We are also quite close to Panama City and have spent a lot of our daytime hours shopping with our favorite cabby, Louis. We have found lots of bargains as P.C. is a large industrialized city and has anything you might need.
Some cruisers enjoy the PMBC so much that they find it difficult to leave. Some have been here for 6 months to two years because they enjoy it so much. We will move along on Wednesday, Jan 30th. Our schedule is supposed to be sometime mid-morning. If you would like to try to see Satori in its passage of the Miraflores Locks, it might be possible. You need to go to the web page www.pancanal.com There, on the main web page you will see a choice of live camera near the bottom of the list on the left side. It is 20 second time stop photography. The real trick is to catch it at the time that we transit. Our transit time is now set for 1:00 PM. That is the same time as the East Coast right now. Since our departure time is 1:00 we will, most likely, be going through the Miraflores Locks about 2 PM. You need to recall that our original transit was five hours late, however. For those of you who have not seen Satori, you will recognize her by the two gold masts and the very dark blue hull. If you can see the boom sail cover, it says atorion it.
When we depart the canal we will anchor on the Pacific side for a few weeks to finish tasks begun here and then move on north to Costa Rica. Our long term plan is to spend the month March in Costa Rica. Then we would like to sail SW about 150 miles to Cocos Island which belongs to Costa Rica. This place is a national park and has a very famous reputation as a fantastic dive spot. From Cocos we would sail SE to Ecuador where we plan to spend many months til about this time next year.
We have some good pictures to share from our transit, but that will have to wait for the next time - at an internet cafe.
Best regards, Jane and Sander