Panama Canal – Part One

Panama Canal Authority Logo – you see this a lot as you pass through the Canal Zone.

Crossing the Panama Canal is one of those “Gotta See It” wonders of the world.  Of course we’d read about the canal in history class and intellectually you “know” about it.  But really getting an eyeful of this stunning engineering accomplishment is a bit humbling.  To realize it was built 100 years ago – before the advent of the huge diesel earth moving equipment we have today – moves it to awe-inspiring.

Some quick Canal facts from and Scientific American:

  • 268 Million Cubic yards of material was removed, the equivalent of 63 Great Pyramids.
  • Amount of water to raise/lower a lock – 52 Million Gallons
  • Ships (and little boats like us) get raised and lowered 85 feet through the three locks on each side.
  • Length of the canal from the Atlantic (Caribbean) to the Pacific is 51 miles.
  • There are three locks on each side.  The Atlantic side all three are at the Gatun Locks.  The Pacific side has the Pedro Miguel lock and two more at the Miraflores locks a mile further South.
  • Between 12,000 and 15,000 ships traverse the canal every year.  That is about 40-50 per day.

Because of the topography of Panama it wasn’t practical to create a straight through lock-less canal like the Suez.  That didn’t stop the French from trying and failing spectacularly..  Eventually they realized they would need to go up, over and down instead of straight across but by then the French project was bankrupt and 20,000+ people had died in the canal zone.  The Americans came in about a decade later with a plan for locks, mosquito control and about 40,000 workers….I won’t re-write any more history here – check out the links above.

For us going through this first time of course this is all new.  We’d never taken Evenstar through a lock before though we’d been on other boats through little ones.  It was all a bit daunting but fortunately we’d hired a good agent (Erick Galvez from Centenario Consulting) to handle the bureaucracy for us which really made the process surprisingly smooth and trouble-free.

The requirements for what you need on your boat for “Handlining” your boat through the Canal is fairly short:

  • Four lines 150′ long at least 3/4″ in diameter.
  • Fenders or tires to protect your boat.
  • Four adult line handlers capable of following instructions and physical capable of the task.
  • An engine capable of maintaining five knots of speed.
  • Meals for the Canal Adviser that you will be assigned
  • Canal fees ($1,300 toll for a boat our size)

Our broker rented us lines and fenders and handled all the paper work.  He called us and gave us a date (December 3rd) and a time to report to the designated area to pick up the Adviser (On station at noon for a 4:30 p.m. meeting).


Kathy and Maggie sorting out the lines.

On the morning of the third we topped off our water, took our showers and had breakfast.  Danielle had spent the prior day baking an enormous pile of Jamaican Meat Patties which would be our staple for lunch on the passage day.  Erick dropped off the lines and fenders and at 11:30 we headed out to “The Flats” to await our adviser.  When we arrived we called canal control and let them know we were on station and ready.  Then we waited.  And ate some lunch.  And arranged the lines and fenders.  And waited some more.



Fenders in place…

Eventually we received confirmation that our time had been slipped…to 5:30 then 6:30.  Around 6:45 our adviser showed up, apparently there was a huge “traffic jam” in the Canal that day which slowed everything down.

By now it was getting dark…we slipped our anchor and headed off towards the Gatun Locks.


The entrance to the Gatun Locks lit up at night.

And yes, I am going to milk this story for a few posts!

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