The Panama Canal :: Sailor Friends Are The Bestest

I woke up on Panama Canal Day (yes, thats what I had been calling the day we were to arrive in Panama) with a tweet waiting for me.  It said: sailor friends

You see, when I was a Midshipmen at Maine Maritime Academy I wasn't the only tropical transplant.  I had a classmate from Panama.  We called him Panama.  Seriously.  (and for the most part he called me Hawaii...)  So of course, knowing that he still lived in Panama and worked on Tugs I sent him a tweet.  Hello, 2013!  The age where sailors can tweet eachother from sea!

Bahia di Limon

(okay fine, that's a highly edited photo of our anchorage.  but doesn't it look cool?!)

Sure enough - there was an email waiting for me.  Full of detailed information about what to expect for the day - detailed information - like, what anchorage we would be at, what our pilot boarding time would be, and what an admeasurement survey consisted of.

Unfortunately, we knew just due to the timing of our arrival - and his work schedule that he wouldn't be able to come aboard for the transit however; being the crafty sailors we are we had a plan!

Things went exactly according to his email.

The admeasurer boarded the vessel and began his task.  When a vessel makes its frist trip through the canal The Panama Canal Authority sends a representative to the vessel to literally measure the ship ensuring that the tonnage and beam of the vessel is accurate.  The admeasurer calculates the vessels 'extreme beam'.  The extreme beam of the vessel normally doesn't vary much from the beam listed on the ships particulars but, will include the width of shell plating and, any fenders or gear that may protrude from the ship which may interfere with their ability to enter the locks.

This Gentlemen measured everything.  Even the diameter of our Rudder Angle Indicators. Trust me:  everything was measured.



Once the admeasurement was done I took a quick nap.  I knew it would be a long night..

Before I knew it I was up on the bow heaving the anchor and shaping up to enter the Panama Canal.

Let me just interrupt things to say:


Where were we?  Okay, so we're shaping up for the canal.  It feels like a jungle.  I'm literally drenched in sweat.  The humidity must have been 150%.  The sides of the channel were lush and green and there was that weird tropical mist lingering above the trees.  I have this picture in my head of The Heart of Darkness - like I'm on an old steamer and it may be awhile before I see civilization for awhile.

Western Entrance

Very close to the Western Canal entrance is the first set of locks called Gatun.  Now listen, I could go on and on about how cool the locks are.  I'm going to save you from this and instead, just show you lots of pictures.

Basically there are these incredibly powerful trolleys (also called Mules) that give you wires and assist you in and out of the canal.  There are four wires in total - two on the bow and two on the stern - which are crossed from port to starboard and vice versa.  An efficient team of line handlers boards your vessel during your approach to the locks and handles everything for you.  Basically, you need one crew member to operate the winch for the line handling team.  Did I mention this team is efficient?  Efficient!


Due to the variance in water levels sometimes the trolleys are on very steep inclines.  Did I mention they're powerful?  Powerful!

Mule on Incline


Admittedly, as soon as we passed through this lock I went straight to bed - to wait for tweets from my friend letting me know we were passing through his area.

Sure enough the tweet arrived and I ran up to the bridge and there, right near my stern was The Little Tugboat Who Could!

I ran inside, grabbed a flashlight and ran back out so I could start waving my arms around like crazy and swirling my flashlight around in circles.

The Little Tug That Could


Knowing that my friend got his crew together to come over and say hello was a moment for me.  One of those moments where I realize that attending Maine Maritime Academy changed my life - for the better.  The fact that I have friends who are going to come say hello in the Panama Canal on a Tug Boat while I'm on a Heavy Lift Ship is EPIC.  Being a sailor is a strange mix of being lonely and being surrounded by people.  It's hard to maintain friendships when you're at sea but the flip side is that Sailor Friends are friends for life.  Panama (the person) you're the bestest - thanks for the lights and the tweets and the warm Panamanian welcome.

nautie tweetClearly, I needed to tweet Panama.  The amount of tweets exchanged in one day was pretty amazing.  Two Ships Passing In The Night!

Following my Panamanian driveby I took one more quick nap before my last set of locks.

By this time I wasn't taking nearly as many photos.  I was mostly enjoying the scenery and making sure my family could find me on the PanCanal Webcam's.

The grand finale?  Passing under a pretty bridge!  Don't ask me it's clue....

bridgeNautie Friends, this post has taken me forever to write and I feel like I've really rushed it.  There is more to say!  More photos to post!  More to dissect!

It's going to have suffice for now and hopefully I can post a Panama Canal Dos soon.  Please excuse all the grainy iPhone photos!