Monday, May 10, 2010

Shelter Bay Marina & Our Panama Canal Transit as Line Handlers

What a treat being a Shelter Bay Marina. They presently have a monopoly with the Panama Canal Yacht Club being torn down. Anchoring at the area known as the “Flats” is not an option as there is no access to the mainland.

My first task is laundry, which takes all day; yes we had alot of laundry!!! Then a very overdue interior and exterior cleaning is started. We especially are enjoying the wifi connection. Initially sporadic, upgrades are being done and we can actually access wifi on the boat. There is one restaurant with a limited menu where we enjoy meeting up with friends after a busy day for sundowners. There’s also a very large T.V. room where Randy can watch his favourite soccer team. It’s furnished with games tables, chairs, sofa’s and computer stalls making this air conditioned room very inviting.
Shelter Bay Marina is surrounded by Sherman National Park where we regularly enjoy walks. We can hear the cry of the howler monkeys; see the small brown faced monkey, ant eaters, along with gorgeous vibrant turquoise with copper underside butterflies. The park is a bird watchers joy. These leaf cutter ants are amazing. Of course with the heat and humidity we have no-seeums and now a few mosquitoes

Shelter Bay offers a free bus service twice a day into Colon. The 15 mile trip can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on our arrival at the Gatun Lock. If ships are entering or departing all vehicle traffic waits. We usually wear long pants when going into the city blending in with the local conservative Panamanians.

Panama’s legal tender is the U.S. dollar which the locals call Balboa.

The public transit is fabulous. The local converted US school buses are decorated with airbrush pictures of National scenes and heroes. Often our rides are one to two dollars and of course we try and get one with working air conditioning. Before entering a taxi we always ask “How much?” If we do not like the quote we say a kind “Thank you” where on negotiations may ensue. If not we just close the door and wait for the next taxi.

Not as convenient as the bus system once a day a train leaves from Panama City to Colon in the morning, returning late afternoon the same day.

We were pleasantly surprised when Don and Devin arrived on Liquid Courage.

We jumped at the chance when asked to be line handlers on Liquid Courage for their Canal Transit. One of the skipper requirements for transiting the canal, set up by the ACP,(Panama Canal Authority) is the necessity to have four line handlers over and above the skipper.

Devin’s’ girlfriend Jen arrived from Vegas for the transit experience.

Another ACP requirement is having adequate fenders. The recommendation is a fender every 3 to 4 feet on each side of the vessel. As most private vessels do not carry sufficient fenders they rent car tires that have been covered with plastic garbage bags. The walls of the locks are very rough and can cause considerable damage.

Four mooring lines not less than 125 feet long each with a 7/8’’ diameter are also required. These too can be rented. The reason for so many tires and fenders is there are three potential types of lockages for vessels under 125 feet: Center of chamber, sidewall or beside an ACP tugboat.

Leaving the Caribbean small vessel transits usually takes two days with tying to a mooring necessary overnight on Gatun Lake.
Don is given a tentative pilot time of 1615 hours for the scheduled transit which means we will leave Shelter Bay around 1230 hours and head for the “Flats”.

The pilot boat arrives with our Advisor.

For our transit we are tied to one other S/V just before entering the chamber. Together we make a “center chamber lockage” which will keep both boats in the center of the lock away from the potential harmful side walls.

Unfortunately it’s already dark entering the first of the three Gatun Locks. We are positioned behind a large freighter.

Our advisor stays with us until we reach the large mooring balls in Gatun Lake. After a late dinner finishing at 2230 hours we are all so tired we just need to go to bed.

Early next morning (0600hours) a new Advisor arrives and we’re on our way across Gatun Lake. Gatun Lake extends across the isthmus. At the time it was built the Gatun Dam and Lake were the largest built structures in the world. We travel over 20 nm to enter Gaillard Cut. We comment on the water being so dirty. Our advisor explains this has been caused by the expansion of the Canal.

The Canal is very busy. We are told some forty ships transit the canal a day at an average cost of $250,000 each.
Entering Gaillard Cut we are asked to hug the buoy markers to give more room to the enormous freighters through this narrow waterway. Gaillard Cut originally called Culebra (or snake) was carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide.

Land markers light up at night for ships to line up with so they can make safe turns through the Cut.

A few freighters throw off such a wake we had our tires torn off our sides.

Devin and Randy retrieving a tire.

We put large loops,approximately two feet in circumference at one end of all the 125 foot lines. As we come up to the locks we are thrown from shore a “monkey fist” which is a long piece of twine rope with a twine ball approximately half the size of a baseball at one end. We attach the monkey fist first through our dock lines and then the ACP line handlers on the lock wall start pulling our lines up securing them to large cleats on the wall.

Once the chamber starts filling with water we slowly take up the slack or in the case of a lock emptying water we slowly let the lines go slack ensuring we keep in the center of the chamber at all times.

Out of the chamber we are on our way to the next lock.

A happy crew, by 1400 hours we are anchored off Playita de Amador, Panama City


Dance Aweigh said...

Hi guys!
Where to now? Are you transitioning the Panama Canal on the way back to BC?
Margaret & Rich.

Panama Marina said...

This looks like a great life to life. I'll bet you had a great time down in Panama. It looks like some of the greatest vacation areas I have ever seen. Thanks for sharing your experiences.