Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturday 26th May

Gatun Lake,

9 15.675 N
79 54.126 W

This was it – the first day of our transit through the canal. Gerry was up early trying to add navigation soft ware to my computer – in the event that our other computer dies he wanted the information ready to use on my computer too. It obviously wasn’t an easy install as the black cloud which hovered around Gerry’s head would attest to. I sorted the laundry into loads and was ready to go to the laundry but needed assistance to carry it all so I had to wait for Gerry to finish what he was doing first. By the time we were setting off to the laundry at 09.00hrs it was getting to the popular time of day for the laundry, our immediate neighbours were also on their way there as they were leaving with us in the afternoon. We both arrived at the laundry within seconds of each other only to find that 2 out of the 3 washing machines were in use and both the tumble driers were in use; we resigned ourselves to a long wait. Sue (our neighbour ) took the final washing machine to do the first of her 2 loads and I had to wait for about half an hour for an empty machine. Sue and I waited together in the small amount of shade provided by the building, we daren’t move too far away as there were several other people looking to use the facilities too. Sue had done both her wash loads and I had finished one and was half way through the remaining 2 wash loads before we managed to snag one of the driers. Sue threw all her stuff in the drier and by midday she had finished her laundry, I however still had to dry 3 loads of washing. With only one drier it was painfully slow and it took until almost 15.00hrs to get it all done. Again I daren’t leave the place as people were removing clothing from the other drier before it was dry and loading their own. I needed our stuff to be dry as I couldn’t have a load of wet laundry on the boat for the transit. Gerry came to find me at about 14.00hrs to let me know that my sister was online and wanted to chat to me, I left him in charge of the drier with strict instructions to guard it with his life whilst I went to the boat to chat on line. On my way back to the laundry from the boat I detoured to the craft lady who was back selling her wares today. We communicated with much pointing and simple words, I discovered her name was Lola (and no she wasn’t a show girl and neither was she anything to do with Eric Clapton!) and that she was a Kuna Indian from the San Blast Islands and she learnt my name and that I was an Australian going through the canal this evening. I purchased 2 more bits of her work and she presented me with a bead necklace as a gift before we said our goodbyes. I returned to the laundry to finish the last of the loads then returned to our boat. Whilst I had been gone our tire fenders had been delivered and Gerry had begun to position them around the boat. Our 3 line handlers had also shown up and introduced themselves to Gerry before vanishing until 16.00hrs. Gerry had been listening to the signal station and had heard that JJ Moon and Y Not, the 2 boats we were supposed to be transiting with had been instructed to be out on the flats to pick up their advisers at 16.00hrs whilst we had been instructed to be out there at 17.00hrs to pickup ours – we weren’t quite sure what had changed and were a little concerned. Gerry went to the yacht club dinning room and ordered 6 boxes of take away to go with us for the evening meal whilst I stashed the laundry away. When he returned the line handlers were with him and introduced themselves to me, we were going to be accompanied by Alphonso, Roberto and Winston. We showed them the interior of the boat including where they could sleep and how the toilet flushes; having stowed their gear in the forward berth they went out on deck to finish putting out fenders and then Gerry decided that it was time for us to cast off and make our way out of the marina to the flats – the anchoring area just before the canal entrance. We were going out a little early to find out why our traveling companions were going out an hour before us. As we reached the flats the other 2 boats were just picking up their advisers from the pilot boat, we looked out for ours but no one appeared and the other 2 boats began to make their way to the canal entrance causing the panic level to rise even more – we wondered if we had been cancelled and not yet been informed. I fed our starving line handlers some sandwiches and fruit as they hadn’t eaten since the morning and it would be quite late before we got to eat dinner. 17.00hrs came and went and still no sign of our adviser, the line handlers suggested calling the signal station for confirmation of his imminent arrival, we called and were told that he was on his way. 20 minutes later the pilot boat approached us and we were joined by our adviser – Ricardo. We breathed a sigh of relief- we were still going! Rick immediately set our minds at rest by giving us a simple explanation of the process and drawing several diagrams to illustrate his instructions. Rick also told us that for this first part of the transit we would be traveling by ourselves in the center of the lock – bonus, it was the prime position! The other 2 boat had been joined by a motor boat for the transit so they still rafted up as a 3 some. We began to make our way to the canal entrance at Rick’s instruction and then the skies opened and it began raining cats and dogs, we could only just see the front of the boat – not very helpful as we were to be following a large bulk carrier into the locks. As we reached the first lock the rain subsided and a rainbow appeared. I took over the steering as Gerry was going to be the 4th line handler – going up on the bow with Alphonso whilst Roberto and Winston worked the stern lines. Rick issued precise instructions for me to follow as we entered the locks, guiding me to steer the boat first to starboard where the shore side line handlers tossed 2 lines with weighted monkey fist ends that flew on to the boat. The starboard handlers (Alphonso at the bow and Winston at the stern) caught them and threaded them through the loops of our long dock lines. I was then instructed to steer to port where the process was repeated and the port handlers (Gerry and Roberto) did a great job of catching and securing their lines. We motored forward into position in the lock and then the shore line handlers took in the slack on our lines and secured them to the huge dock cleats, the deck line handlers then had to take up the slack and control the lines as the water level in the locks began to change. Once we were in position the lock gates closed behind us and we were in a chamber which began to rapidly fill with water. There was a little turbulence as this occurred but the deck line handlers kept the tension on the lines right and we were comfortable without moving too much until the water in the chamber had equalized with that of the next chamber; we were now several feet higher and ready to move into the next chamber. An alarm sounded, the lock gate in front of us opened and the ship in front of us began to move forward, its prop shaft turning caused quite a bit of wake which I had to steady our boat though. Then it was our turn to move, the lines came off the cleats and the shore line handlers walked with their throw lines in hand forward to the next lock whilst the deck line handlers gathered in the large dock lines onto the deck. The process repeated itself twice more and then we exited the final Gatun lock into the Gatun Lake. Through out the process the rain continued to start and stop and both Gerry and Alphonso got wet – the price of fame! Rick was fantastic, he talked me through every move and was very lavish with his praise, thanks to him we had a very smooth transit through the Gatun locks – we’d have him again any day! As we left the locks behind us we made our way to the mooring buoys in the lake, again Rick guided my every move with patience and detailed instructions. I couldn’t believe the buoy when we reached it – it was enormous! It took a couple of attempts to get the boat moored but once we had the lines on we weren’t going to move anywhere! JJ Moon and Y Not were moored on the buoy next to us, the motor boat had apparently gone on through the rest of the canal. Once we were settled on the mooring Rick called up his pilot boat to fetch him, I was a bit upset that he wasn’t able to stay for dinner with us but he had to go home so we thanked him for his expert assistance and bid him farewell as he jumped onto the pilot boat. Then it was time for us to light the bar b que, throw the chicken on to cook and reheat the fried rice and chow mien that we had bought for dinner. Chocolate cake followed for desert and then it was time to wash dishes, shower and hit the sack. Rick’s parting words were that the adviser for the second part of the transit would be joining us at about 06.00hrs - like I needed to know that!



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