February 23, 1999
Transit and Tour of Colon"
the captain's briefing yesterday Tom Williams took Bruce,
Kent and I into town to pick up some fruit and to take a little
a once proud city in deplorable decay and poverty. Grand buildings
are in ruin and next to a freshly painted and clean church are some
of the saddest slums I have ever seen. We have been told Colon
should improve when
they start bringing the cruise ships in to the port. We went
to the roof of Tom's hotel, The Washington, looked at the
city, the entrance to the harbor, and also looked into the casino.
We then headed back to the Yacht Club dock where Charlie picked
us, and our purchases up, and took us back to the boat in the inflatable.
We knew there was a lot to do to get ready for the first day of
the passage. We had to get all the fenders and lines ready plus
covering the solar panels to protect them from the "monkey
fists" which are attached to the heaving lines and thrown to
the boats from the canal walls so that your lines can be attached
and carried back to the walls.
We knew an advisor would be put on board and the
boats designated to be rafted together. The order in which we were
to enter the chamber was outlined and a printout was given to all
the boats. An advisor or pilot would be put on each yacht to
direct the maneuvering. Sea Gem was placed in the center of
our raft of three boats due to our engine horsepower and the maneuverability
we have with two engines. The advisors are Panamanian, the boat
on our starboard, Hornblower II, and the boat on our
port is a German flagged vessel. Intricate maneuvers in three
languages is a challenge but things went smoothly for each lock
due to the pilots, their constant vigilance and their knowledge of
exactly what needs to be done at each moment. The outside boats
work the canal lines. The interior boat supplies propulsion
and control . The first day was a little nerve racking
due to not knowing exactly what to expect. We had a strong wind
which made maneuvering more difficult
and were thankful we knew that Hornblower II and her crew were very
able sailors. After a day of travel we anchored in Lake Gatun
for the night and took advantage of a swim in fresh water to refresh
ourselves. The breeze died and we gave in and cranked the generator
and slept with the A/C running. The pilots are put
on the boats each morning and picked up at the end of the day by launch.
Our pilot was not only competent but a nice guy as well.
We only had one minor mishap and that is when one of the lines to the wall became jammed
and had to be cut after another line was put on to replace it. When all is over and the only casualty is a line it seems a pretty successful transit. The whole day was punctuated with
trips to the computer to check for e-mail from home to fill us in on the progress of the birth of our grand-daughter.