In the Miraflores locks, the last step down to the Pacific from the Continental Divide. The difference in sea levels from the Caribbean to the Pacific is about 30 meters.

28-29 February

Transited the Panama Canal from north to south. All went well, if slowly at times, a smooth, uneventful passage. We were rafted up with a Lagoon 44 catamaran through the locks. See photo above — yours truly in red t-shirt on bow of sailboat with red hull stripe.

Had a nice British cruising couple, James and Claire, aboard as linehandlers.

Left Shelter Bay Marina a little before 1300 (1 pm) on the 28th and spent five or six hours at anchor in the waiting area off the Colón docks before our advisor arrived. Hurry up and wait – one of the seemingly unvarying axioms of Panama Canal transit.

Damned if our advisor wasn’t Victor, whom I knew back in 2007-2008-2010, and who was living with a cruising friend aboard her boat both in Balboa and in Bahía de Caraquez (Ecuador) for a while. After another hour and a half or so of waiting for a big container ship to clear the docks and be on its way north, we finally made it through the Gatun locks and into Lake Gatun for the night. We rafted up with an Aussie catamaran and squeezed into the three successive lock chambers aft of a huge container ship, then rafted again after we had made ourselves fast to a huge mooring buoy (a so-called “dolphin”) a couple of miles on into the lake for the night.

Then got under way promptly at 0900 on the 29th and motored the long stretch of canal to the Pedro Miguel locks, at which point the descent to Pacific sea level begins. We again rafted with the Aussie catamaran through Pedro Miguel and also the Miraflores locks, which are just a mile or two farther south, this time in front of a huge commercial vessel. Our adviser explained that on the way up the small boats always go through aft of the big boats and on the way down forward (ahead of) the big boats. This is because the greatest stress is put on the lines holding the boat to the lock walls when the water is being let out of the lock and the boat is descending. Should one of the thick steel cables securing the huge boat part it would fly backward and devastate anyone and anything to the rear, thus, the small fry go first when descending the 90 meters or so from the continental divide to either the Pacific or Caribbean (Atlantic) oceans.

This transit went off with the usual last-instant lock-by-lock changes in plan but marvelously smoothly, without a hitch. Our advisors – Victor went home after we tied up in the lake and a different advisor, Naftali, came aboard the following morning – were both very good: knowledgeable and communicative, friendly, mild mannered. Also, Roy, the first advisor on the Aussie catamaran, was excellent, cheerful and upbeat and very detailed and precise in his supervision of the rafting up, how to move the two tied-together boats as one unit, how to enter the locks.

29 February

Anchored in La Playita, just three miles or so from Balboa, for the night as it was late afternoon by the time all the lines and fenders had been returned and linehandlers James and Claire had gotten a ride to the Balboa Yacht Club dock.

1 March

Made our way down to Isla San Pedro in the Perlas islands, about 50 miles from Balboa and last night’s anchorage. Spent a day at anchor in Ensenada Grande, a beautiful big bay on the privately owned Isla San Pedro, cleaning the hull, as we had been told the Ecuadorians will inspect the hull upon one’s arrival in the Galápagos and send boats with barnacles (and possibly other marine growth as well) back out to sea. Then on 3 March weighed anchor and pointed the bow toward the blue southerly horizon.

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