Sunday, February 3, 2013

Panama Canal Fever

Right now, for Team Bettie it is all things Panama Canal all the time. We are getting the boat and ourselves prepared, our paperwork completed, our engine in tip top shape for that seminal moment, that great transition, crossing from one ocean to another.

But we've done two special things to get us extra ready for this undertaking. First off, we read The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough's richly detailed history of the building of the Panama Canal. Suggested by our friends Jess and James on Adamastor, the book tells a fascinating story filled with politics, intrigue, death and giant earthmoving machines and was a great way to become more connected to the whole canal experience. 

The other thing we did was line handle for our friends on Cypraea. Line handling for another cruising boat is key because it takes away the anxiety of the unknown, even though the transit was pretty much what we expected.

Here's one last look at the port in Colón.

On the first set of locks, we rafted up with two other boats, as many tires as possible squished between us. In this arrangement, Cypraea was only in charge of two working lines - one at the bow and one at the stern of the starboard side. And it was a night transit, giving an eerie touch to the whole shindig, a dark, industrial feel combined with the bright yellow glow of working lights, the deep bellow of the lock doors closing and turbulent, muddy water pushing us upward.   

After overnighting in Gatun Lake, we spent five hours crossing the lake beginning at first light, and arrived at the last set of locks around 11:00 a.m. We tied up next to a ferry to downlock, which was pretty straightforward once we figured out that we had to untie from the ferry to go between locks. (On a side note, it really, really helps when your advisor communicates with you. Our first advisor, Will, always told us what to do before we did it and while we were doing it. The second guy? Not so much.)

Vlad and Jennie on deck.

Cargo ships with our morning coffee.

We finished our transit in the early afternoon, and Vlad, myself and the other linehandlers, this super sweet couple from Australia, headed back to Colón. The main thing we learned was that transiting is a mostly slow business, meaning that if something goes wrong don't panic. Just calmly fix it. If a knot slips, don't cry. Just retie. There will always be some level of nervousness when you bring your boat into a concrete box with a massive cargo ship, but we just listened to our advisor (the one who talked!) and it all turned out just fine. The only spot that's hairy is the last lock. A very strong current runs through it, and Bettie will get pushed around for sure.

It’s easy to discount the canal crossing as ordinary, something that happens every day, one of the many pathways for world commerce. But for us newbies, it’s not only an engineering feat of impressive proportions but also a psychological milestone. One morning you’re looking at the choppy, blue green Caribbean, and the next afternoon, the long rolling possibilities of the Pacific are spread out before you.

Thanks, Dave and Jennie for letting us transit with you and happy sailing!

Our first look at the Pacific.


  1. Replies
    1. It was unbelievably cool. I mean, we have never gone through a lock before but still.

  2. The photo of the cargo ship looks like it could have been taken in Commencement Bay up here. Where to next when you are through the canal? Turning left? Going Right? Straight ahead?

    1. We are turning right and heading up to Mexico. From there, we are not sure, but I believe we are going to spend a nice long time in the Baja. Vlad's ready to see something besides palm trees!

  3. I am so excited for you guys! I dream of doing it one day.

    1. Thanks, Tate! We are super excited too, and when you guys go through you will love the experience.

  4. Congratulations! I'm so excited for the two of you, and really pumped to follow your journey through the Pacific. We're heading out in a couple weeks for the Caribbean and I'm looking forward to exploring Mexico. I won't make it over to the Pacific so I'll be following you along your journey.