I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Panama Canal (3)


OK, that’ll be £250k, then Sir…


A conservative estimate, that is, of a “commercially sensitive” piece of information.  $s or £s?  Who knows (cares?)  All we understand it that it costs a lot of money to transit the Panama Canal.




We’d been here before, but the other way round, as it were.  This time, we were travelling West to East, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and woke to the same queue of ships waiting just outside the canal entrance as we recalled from the last time. 




This time, however, the city of Panama was on the horizon.  Who knew there were quite so many skyscrapers there?  Not me!

All of this was happening as we were getting up.  I’d poked my head out of the door to see what was going on as soon as I woke and then continued to look out every ten minutes or so between cleaning my teeth, showering, getting dressed and so on.  Getting up never took me quite so long! (contrary to whatever you may hear elsewhere…. Winking smile)




Before long, we were approaching the first locks, the Miraflores.  There was a container ship in front of us, the SCT Distinction but the most important part of what was going on was, which lock would we be transiting?  Because, our suite is on the starboard side and if we were going to see what was going on in comfort, we rather hoped we’d be using the lock on the left hand side.

Guess which one we were assigned?  Correct.  The right hand side.




As we went under the bridge, we couldn’t decide where to go for a better view of what was going on.  For all the luxurious details of this ship, one thing lacking is an open, forward vantage point to watch things like this.  Many were gathering in the forward facing Observation Lounge, which is great but which also has darkened windows.  We wanted to the in the open air and to be able to see everything which is going on but for now, stayed on our own balcony to see how things went.




We watched the pilots arrive, way down there beneath us.




I took pictures of tugs for my “tugs of the world” series.




We tried to decide which was the front and which was the back of this tug.  (no answer!)




And the officer on the bridge looked relaxed…so were we.




We spotted the rope throwers preparing to row over to throw the rope to us.




We spotted the arrow pointing to the lock we were to use.




But we seemed to be awfully high and way above all the action.  We looked down and spotted somewhere we’d rather be, lower down.  Maybe we should head for Deck 5?  We did.




That’s better!  By now we’d entered the lock and we could get a good view of the goings on.




Even if there was an orange rope to keep us safe from the edge.  I mean, no-one wanted to get their fingers caught, did they?




Thankfully, Sunil was there to take care of us and in return, we all dutifully stood behind the orange rope.




In all seriousness, we were to get pretty close to that concrete side of the lock and really, no-one wanted to take any risks.




We had a good view of the little train, holding us steady as we squeezed into the lock, and of the people who work here.  It’s big business and there are a lot of people employed to manage the safe transit of these mega-ships.




Ooo.  Speaking of mega ships, some of them these days are too big to pass through these locks, so they’ve built a slightly bigger canal to accommodate them – or rather, a set of larger locks.  So as we looked out over the greenery, there was a ship’s superstructure visible.  There was a larger vessel, using the new, enlarged locks.




As we sailed out, another ship –the Maersk Malaga pulled into the adjacent lock, alongside.




Looking over the deck of the Malaga, we could get a great view of the ship in the new channel, the Oak Spirit.

Now, we’d not had any breakfast and it was getting on for 9.30am.  Not wanting to fade away (!), we decided to take a break and head for the coffee shop, now we were through the Miraflores locks.




Did someone say how easily bored I get?!   Not really – the whole transit is interesting and yes, rather exciting too, but it takes all day and a woman has to keep body and soul together, don’t you agree?  A blueberry muffin and a mug of coffee was the least I could manage!




See?  In no time at all, we were back out there, watching!




But we returned to our suite on the other side, to watch from a different viewpoint.  After all, there’s really something to see wherever you happen to be – and in this case, it was a canal employee wanting a photo with the Explorer (and us, I suppose) in the background.  A good job I was dressed by then, looking respectable, at least.




At this point, we heard a siren and a small fire engine tootled along through the training area with all bells and lights going.  But it was driving no more than 20 mph and there didn’t seem to be any emergency we could see, so who knows?  Maybe it was an exercise?




Terry Breen had been our commentator on our last canal transit and had pointed out this facility, including the training area for the rope throwers.  All very interesting.




Watching the Malaga inch into the lock beside us, we were glad of an opportunity to see the whole little train process from the other side.  The little trains don’t actually pull the vessel through the lock but merely hold it steady.  There’s so much going on, it’s all really entertaining!




Leaving the locks behind then and entering “the cut”, we relaxed a little.  Nothing much to see for a while, then and perhaps time to take a breather.




But then someone pointed out a crocodile on the waters edge.  Oooo.

We decided it was probably lunchtime, so made our way to Chartreuse, the French restaurant for a bite to eat – Croque Monsieur for me and Croque Madame for my hero.  Very good it was too!




But whilst we were in there it started to rain.  We’d crossed the continental divide and perhaps that was the place where the weather turned, too? 




It didn’t look too promising ahead.  Oh well, we are in the tropics after all.




The next action was scheduled for 2.30pm and so we looked out in the hope of something to see.  Actually, there wasn’t much going on – the Oak Spirit was parked up a short distance away from us,




in front of the new larger Gatun lock gates.




The STC Distinction was waiting on our other side, by the old locks, with the Malaga nearby.  I guess we were all waiting for something to happen!




Around 3.30pm the first moves were made.  The SCT Distinction moved into the lock first.




As it did, I notice the rope throwers getting ready for their moment of glory.




The rope catchers were ready too.








Job done, they returned to their station and we progressed into the lock.




This time, we were on the right – left – side, so we could sit on our balcony in comfort and watch it all going on.




The commentator pointed out the small traffic bridge across the lock here.  I recalled the small purple bus I’d spotted last time and noticed that this time, it was a yellow bus, doing (nearly) the same thing.




As we inched through into the lock, over the trees I could see a familiar white superstructure of the Oak Spirit, progressing through the new locks over there.




But a bit nearer to us, something different was happening.  A new ship, the Morgenstond 1 was just beginning its transit and my hero just had to investigate.  What is is?  What’s it carrying?  Where’s it from?  Such things are so easily answered and it’s awfully interesting to find such things out.




As a small private yacht squeezed in behind the Morgenstond 1, another larger container ship was already forming a queue.




As we stood watching, we spotted the Oak Spirit sailing out of the new locks.  Soon, we too would be back on our way, sailing towards Cartagena tomorrow.  Transiting the Panama Canal is a fascinating process and we had found the whole thing as interesting today as we did the previous occasion.

But oh my goodness, what a way to spend a quarter of a million, eh?


The far side

Having spent the day enjoying the Panama Canal transit, we’re now sailing in the Gulf of Panama, according to the map on our TV.  For those of us who enjoy watching the process of managing a huge ship like this one, the whole canal thing was a dream.  One process after another, all very watchable and involving a great number of people doing a wide variety of jobs which came together so well.

So, where were we?




Well, I think we were floating along in the Gatun Lake, making our way towards the central point of the canal and from there, to begin our descent to the Pacific Ocean.




We came indoors – me to write my blog for yesterday, my hero to enjoy a few more chapters of his unputdownable book, but both to cool down a little.  But as we sat there, looking out of the patio doors, we simply couldn’t resist leaping up every time a ship sailed past. 




And believe me, that was pretty frequently!




Some were prettier than others, of course.




Some were noisier than others.  “Welcome to Panama!” shouted the man standing at the front of this little cruiser.  Well, thank you – we were loving being here!




But the whole way along, we enjoyed looking out over the rainforest and hoping to see what the Captain had pointed out on the other side: an alligator!  (We didn’t)




A little further along, beyond the lake and into the  Gaillard cut, the canal is being widened and we watched as a dredger was working.  We couldn’t believe how deep this digger was working




nor the size of the rocks it was hauling up from the bottom!  This is big stuff – and presumably, expensive work, too.




Around the corner, we could see a bridge appearing; the first bridge over the canal that we’d noticed so far.




The Centennial Bridge was the second permanent crossing and as we sat enjoying lunch with friends on the pool deck, we all agreed that it’s a very elegant design indeed.




We soon hot-footed it down to our suite again, though, because we spotted the next set of locks coming up.  The Pedro Miguel pier was right there and we’d already missed the old line-throwing business.  I smiled to myself when I saw this chap standing in the middle of a loop of rope though, being reminded of all kinds of cartoon mishaps when someone pulls on the other end Winking smile  When I saw the expression of his hands in the photograph later, I was amused (I know, it doesn’t take much!)




Back to more serious business, alerted by the whistle of a train and the rumble on the tracks opposite.  I’d read that some shipping lines, including Maersk, had taken the decision to stop sailing through the canal and sure enough, this railway engine was hauling a number of Maersk branded containers from the Pacific Ocean terminal to the Atlantic.  My hero could offer all kinds of information about the railway operation but I was simply happy to have yet another thing to watch!




That included the ship alongside us in the neighbouring lock.  We’d seen the Astir Lady earlier, in the Gatun locks but now we got a closer look at the immaculate presentation.  Once again, the ipads came out and our favourite MarineTraffic app fired up so we could satisfy our curiosity.




Oh, and the usual friendly waves were exchanged, too.




Whilst we transited these locks, we got a look at what Terry had been talking about earlier, too.  See the target and what looks like a rugby goalpost there on the lawn?  That’s where the line throwers get their practice in!




Soon, we were out the other side of the locks and another couple of ships were following close behind.  Oh yes, one of them is the Hanjin Elizabeth!




Just a little further on, the Captain sounded the horn which appeared to alert two small tugs to hurry to our side.  We were approaching the Miraflores locks – the last ones before the ocean.  We glanced at our watches and hoped we’d make it through before the 4.30 Trivia time!




Now, these line throwers were a bit of a rum lot!




There was a bit of a commotion, a great deal of shouting and carrying on before they were in action.




At last, the ropes were secure and they looked back to check all was well.




But something didn’t seem quite right and one of the mules had to reattach something…and we were getting restless because it was now well past 4.10 and we were going to have to leave.




We heard a cheer go up from what appeared to be a visitors centre as the Astir Lady tooted her horn and went on her way.  Were we going to have the same reception?




We admired a pelican which flew and settled in the empty lock next to us and wondered if we could expect action soon?  Noting the time, we decided we’d just have to go down to the lounge, meet our Trivia team and watch the last bits from a different level.




Actually, it was quite interesting to see the mule at close quarters, to wave to the driver and to watch as we made our way out of the final lock sometime around 4.45pm.



Our friend the Hanjin Elizabeth was right on our tail as we sailed out into the Bay of Panama.




We stood, watched and counted as sixteen linesmen, pilots and assorted local crew disembarked the ship via the rope ladder and then, just when we thought all was done…




Another small boat came alongside and the last one left – minus a lifejacket we noted, which seemed a little foolhardy!




In the distance we could see the skyscrapers of Panama City.




And just as we were about to step inside, feeling we’d seen the last feature, the Bridge of the Americas came into view.  Our transit was complete.




Oh and yes, we were pleased we’d gone indoors to play Trivia, too Winking smile




We spent the evening with friends in Signatures, one of the speciality restaurants and enjoyed the best combination of interesting conversation and excellent food.  I was going to add that at the end of the evening, all that was left were the three petits fours that none of us could manage (yes, really, even I managed to resist a raspberry macaron).  But actually, all that was left was a little trail of chocolate, leading to the one who snaffled the truly irresistible chocolate truffle almost as soon as it arrived.

He knows who he is Winking smile


(Thank you for your comments, Wes and Lesley, I’m pleased you’ve enjoyed the journey!)


The early morning show


We woke at 5:50am this morning and turned on our TV straight away.  Though it was dark outside, the best show in town was about to begin and we didn’t want to miss a thing.




Actually, it was just about getting light by the time I’d showered and dressed, so whilst my hero had gone out onto the deck, I simply poked my head out of the balcony door to see what was going on.




We’d reached the breakwater at the entrance to the Panama Canal and the commentary about to begin.




As my camera acclimatised itself to the warm, humid air outside, I decided to go and join what appeared to be the majority of people up on the top deck. 




I-Made was already out there with his drinks trolley serving hot drinks.  (Did I tell you how well we are taken care of here?!)




Inside, in the observation lounge, a more substantial breakfast was on offer but we decided to stay out in the open and make the most of the journey.  After all, this was one of the highlights we didn’t want to miss.  Considering it was only just past 7 am, the ship was buzzing!




By now, we were approaching the entrance to the canal proper and could see where the new locks are being constructed.  We’d heard about this from Terry Breen, the on board lecturer making her 80th transit today and who has shared so many interesting points about the canal with us during the last few days.




There’s a huge amount of work going on but sadly, the build is behind schedule and the new, enlarged locks won’t open in time for the centenary celebrations on August 15th this year.




We were heading for one of the two operational locks here, following one of the ships in there already.  We had a specific booking for our transit, we were told, because we have “precious cargo” on board.




As we approached, we passed by the site of a new bridge which is being built across the mouth of the canal




then, right by buoy 16, we could see “the French Cut”, the site of the first, failed attempt to build a canal.




Having ticked off these things we turned to our port side and made note of the new lock gates, brought from Italy to be fitted to the new locks.  Hard to get the scale of them, but the green box to the right is a standard sized shipping container, so they’re huge, right?




At this point, I-Made passed by with his tea trolley and I took advantage of his offer.  So, it was with a cup of Earl Grey tea that I stood and watched as we approached the first set of lock gates.




Actually, I was distracted, because there were things happening on the shore.  People were going to work and a brightly coloured bus was tootling along the road, possibly making the same trip as it does every day.




But I needed to concentrate on what was going on ahead.  Look, there’s the lock gates – before long we’ll be starting to go through there.  But just a minute, did I see a car drive along that “shelf” near the water?  Surely not…




Whoa!  Look what just crossed there, in front of my eyes!!

It is such fun to simply stand and watch.  There is so much happening, so many things to see and to work out how they work.  We love it!




At this point, we heard the news that we were going to take the right hand lane, and thinking that we’d have an equally good view from our own balcony, we stepped inside and came down one floor to watch the next stages.




Now, we’d been told to look out for the arrow sign which would indicate which lane we should take.  We spotted it there at the end of the jetty and became confused – surely, we were going to wrong way?




Well, no, because someone else was hard on our tail!  That arrow was intended for the Hanjin Elizabeth, who was going to sail through the neighbouring lock alongside us.




Just beneath us, though, action was happening as the rope men were rowing out to throw the line to our crew.  This was another thing we’d been advised to look out for – apparently all kinds of modern methods have been tried and tested, but the good old, low tech way remains the best.  So, these men row out to each ship, they throw the line by hand and practice their aim at targets along the canal side so they become pretty good shots!




Having checked that our crew member had caught it, they returned to the shore.




With a friendly wave of course! 




The line was going to attach our ship to one of these engines, known as “mules”.  The mules (we were attached to four on each side I think) don’t actually pull us through the canal but hold us steady in the middle of the lock.




We looked back and spotted the same procedure going on with the Hanjin Elizabeth.  My goodness, those chaps have to be able to throw pretty well, don’t they?




As the Hanjin Elizabeth sailed alongside us in the neighbouring lock, her crew were taking photos of us too!  Lots of waves, friendly greetings and interest on both sides.




We popped inside to see the view from the bridge.  We appeared to be making good progress.




Whilst standing outside we couldn’t help but feel curious about the contents of those containers!  Stacked twelve deep and five or six high, there was row upon row of them, the whole length of the ship.




The two small tugs were tucked in the locks behind us and as we went for a spot of breakfast, we took the chance to look around and see what was what behind us.




By the time we returned to our prime viewing spot, we were approaching the next lock, keeping pace with the Hanjin Elizabeth alongside.  As we are raised to the next level, the little mules travel up a steep incline to keep at the right height to continue with us.  Interesting, isn’t it?  




After a while, the Gatun Lakes were in sight.  These man-made lakes form part of the canal route and also form a holding place for shipping waiting for a passage through.




We watched as the Hanjin Elizabeth let go of the mule connections and sailed on past us, out of the locks.  Her crew waved bye to us as they passed.




Look what a tight squeeze it was!




But actually, she wasn’t going very far, for as she tied up alongside, we sailed out of the lock and right out into the lake, leaving her behind.




And that’s where we are now.  We’re sailing through the Gatun Lakes on our way to the next set of locks and taking the chance to catch up on blogging, journalling and cooling down.  It’s hot and sticky out there, believe me!