Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crossing the Panama Canal

We crossed the Panama Canal … on another boat.

The Kamaya crew was picked up in a dinghy with another crew member who would be sailing (motoring) through the Panama Canal aboard Mariposa, a Westsail 43, owned by Kerri and Andrew. Kerri is from New Zealand and Andrew is British and South African. We were going to be linehandlers and help them transit the canal. The other crew member was Otto, a South African who is nice, but unfortunately a chain smoker.

Otto told us there was a boat called The Road, so called because its hull is painted black with white stripes just like a paved road, and they have a pet parrot called Rubbish. Mariposa was anchored right next to The Road on the Caribbean/ Atlantic side and we’re living on the Pacific side of Panama.

After a tiring 1 ½ hour bus ride to Colon we took a taxi to a hut and then a ponga took us along the point where The Road waved us over. We were in the Caribbean Sea – an ocean away from the Pacific. Otto gave them a bag of ice that he bought which he nearly dropped in the water.

We met Rubbish and heard the bad news. The Road wouldn’t be going through with us today, oh well, we’ll see them in the Pacific then. Several hours later, we were heading to the famous canal. We motored along with two boats, Ariel from Tasmania (that’s near Australia), and Tin Hao from France. Mariposa pulled into the first lock, Gatun. Let me explain something first. Each lock has doors and chambers and they get filled with fresh water to raise and lower boats. There are three locks in the Panama Canal, Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores.

Kai and I had to go back into the cockpit to avoid getting hit by the monkeyfists with lead balls in them. Those are thrown by the linehandlers on the land and the linehandlers on the boat then catch the lines and connect them to the monkeyfists. The water fills the chambers through holes at the bottom of the chamber. Little whirlpools swirled around.

In less than ten minutes we were up 27 feet and the gates towards the bow opened. We went through two more chambers and were raised 87 feet. The two other locks go down to the Pacific Ocean. Gatun Lake is higher than sea level, so because the Pacific tides change a lot (20 feet) sometimes boats need to go down a lot or only a little, depending on the tide. First, we entered Gatun Lake, the world’s second largest man-made lake.

Mariposa curved around the islands that were really tall mountains. The valley below them had been flooded by damming the river Chagres; it was dammed to build the lake. Some people who had lived there were overlooked and the river flooded over them but I don’t think anyone died. But lots of people did die during the ten years when they constructed the Panama Canal. Soon crocodiles came to live in Gatun Lake, but, they don’t bother people, at least I hope they don’t. We came to two moorings, the French boat hooked to one and we shared the other mooring with Ariel. Mariposa was invited for some after dinner coffee over on Ariel. Kai and I jumped from one boat to another by hoping across the giant mooring buoy.

And then we fell asleep at about ten o’clock.

I didn’t hear the howler monkeys in the morning; instead, I awoke to the sound of voices. Kerri was waking Otto up, telling him that Mariposa was leaving the anchorage. The French boat was sleeping in. Ariel had just left. I checked the time, it was 6:33 in the morning, I had finished the City of Ember and started my next book, Walk Two Moons. Unfortunately I got bored with it quickly so I went outside.

As soon as I went outside I smelled it. The wind blew it over from the cockpit. I went back down below to avoid the odor. The wind kept blowing it towards the bow and down below. I tried going to the forepeak but even there it reached. There was one thing to do. Go all the way to the bow sprit. Otto and the new advisor (those are Panamanians who come on the boat to help us through the canal) both held cigarettes. I am being driven out. Why do so many people smoke when they know it’s so bad for them?

The smoke continued all the way until breakfast. We were all handed a tray of bacon and eggs with some mashed potatoes on the side. I must say that Andrew is a pretty good cook. And as soon as I finished breakfast, poof! More smoke.

We passed a few digging carts and came across the Chagres river.

It really didn’t look like much, but then again, I had no great view of it. Kai chose that moment to wake up. Turned out he had been reading for the last ten minutes, so he must have woken up at 9:50. He got up just in time to see the beautifully built bridge. It was the thin kind with a large pole where white cords connected down from.

I got up to the bow where I would have a good view of what was happening but at the same time be safe from the monkeyfists coming from Pedro Miguel. Ariel and Mariposa rafted together. We entered the second lock, Pedro Miguel.

I blinked, and I saw a wooden boat, I think it was the same boat that I had seen being varnished over on the Pacific side? It was and full of tourists. We waited fifteen minutes or so, and the French boat Tin Hao entered. She rafted next to the wooden boat.

“Last one is always the lucky one.” I heard Andrew mumble.

I have to admit he was right.

The monkeyfists were tossed to us. All but the man astern made the throw. He tossed again, missing badly. He tossed again, four times until someone more experienced took over. I think he needs to go back to school. The new line thrower got it on his first try.

And we went down. This time I could be a linehandler.

I let out the line and we continued going down. The descent was much smoother than ascending. First of all because when you go up, they squirt water up from the floor and it takes a longer time, I think. Verses when they let out water for going down. There are no swirls in the water and it is smooth going. I definitely prefer the water when it’s going down.

I watched it come through the gate into the water. And the water stopped so the double gates swung open. Why double doors? Is that what you’re wondering? The two gates keep some of the freshwater of Gatun Lake stay in the lake.

They are building a new and wider canal that will save tons of water. I wonder what that will be like.

The space between Pedro Miguel and Miraflores was several miles. But it didn’ t take long and soon we were going through the last lock, and two chambers. The first chamber went well. The second chamber went fast. We were out of the Panama Canal. Here's what it is like looking over the lock.

I saw our familiar boat as we came into La Playita. We anchored and came back to our boat.

“Wow” I said to no one in particular.

By Maya

Please comment, (it lets me know if you like my story. )


Ramona said...

Thanks for the story, Maya. I did like it. I've been checking the blogsite every day to see if I could find out what the Kamaya crew has been doing. Now I know. Are you leaving for the Galapagos soon?
I wish you could see the snowbanks around our house today. It snowed for a day and a half and the snow is 2 feet deep. Wouldn't you like to come and build an igloo? Love, MMM

Fuentes said...

Great writing, Maya! We were just talking about you guys, so I decided to check the blog. Your story is much more exciting than Super Bowl Sunday! I hear you about the smoke, wish there was a good answer to why people do it... Hope you are all doing well. Let Kai know that Nathan finally watched "Star Wars", yea! Say "Hi" to your parents for us. Carrie, Nathan, Audrey and Mark

Anonymous said...

thanks for commenting. we are leaving for the Galapagos in three days so it is good bye to Panama city.
I wish I could. snow wow.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you could comment. We watched a movie about some sort of football star and, you know how Bendon doesn't really know a thing about football? He was wondering who WON.
from the Kamaya crew

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