Friday, April 16, 2010


Bumper us Maximus – The Panama Canal

Part I

The time had come, that time being 7 o’ clock in the morning on the day of our transit. We’d taken care of all our internet stuff and paper work the day before. Our line handlers had showed up the night before, slept on deck, and gotten thoroughly rained on. We started off the morning with healthy portions of cereal and double checking all those last minute boat things in preparation for the transit. All we had to do now was wait, and wait we did. As instructed, Capt. Dan radioed Flamenco Signal at 0800 to receive info on where we would pick up our canal advisor. A moment of panic ensued when were informed that we had to be at our rendezvous point that very moment but passed quickly as we received the correct time and location. 0845 at canal marker 6; it was go time. We sprung into action. The ladder came up and got stowed, the hoses were put away, and the generator was fired up to pull in the power cable. Whoops. “There’s no water coming out of the generator,” says Dan, dashing down to the generator room with a couple of wrenches and hammer in hand. A cacophony of sounds spilled forth from the generator room at this point, glorious noises such as, “BONK ting tuNk tuNk”. A second attempt at starting the generator showed no forward progress, still no water. At 0810 we all watched on as Dan yanked, tapped, pulled and poked the generator into submission. At 0815 the power cable was put away, the lines were cast, and we were underway. Capt. Dan 1, generator 0. We made sure to stay well clear of the other, larger boats heading into the canal as we pulled up to canal marker 6 and Capt. Dan radioed in, “Flamenco Signal, Flamenco Signal, this is Quest approaching canal marker 6 standing by.” “Very good captain,” came the reply, “but that is marker number 8”. Real smooth. We tried again and got it right the second time around.

 Shortly thereafter our advisor came riding in atop an official looking boat and made a mid-ocean transfer onto our ship and began advising, as was his position. Into the locks we did go. As the crew pulled out and arranged the 125’ canal lines it became apparent that not all of the 125’ lines were not all in fact 125’. Measure once, cut twice? “This one is only 90’,” I tried to yell through the window. “WHAT?” Judy asked poking her head out of the pilot house. “It’s only 90’,” I repeated. “We’ve got a problem,” the advisor advised. No worries though, as it turned out we were to be nested on to another boat and wouldn’t need all the lines right away. We were in the green, for now.

We puttered right into lock Mariflores and nestled up real snug like to a funky looking, touristy type boat that once belong to Al Capone that was in turn nestled against a tug-boat. Ropes were crisscrossed and tightened down and bumpers were wedged into every available nook and cranny as we mingled with the pleasant, geriatric but lively crowd aboard the tourist boat.

Bing went the bell. Up went the boats. A smooth ascent of ten minutes took us up 28’ before we detached ourselves from our snuggle buddies and got the heck out of the way so that they, and the tug, could go ahead of us. Now, if you’re every transiting the canal and someone mentions that there are some currents inside of the locks, listen to them. Capt. Dan “steered like a mad man” as we followed the other boats out of Miraflores and into lock Pedro Miguel. We passed by some kind of viewing building on the way and took this time to wave to our adoring fans. Debbie and Jan had their Rose Queen moments. Same boats same deal in Pedro Miguel. Bing, up, out, and onto lock Gamboa. Gamboa had us switch it up a little bit and we swapped our significant array of bumpers to port side and tied alongside a tug for another smooth ascent. Now it was easy cruising across to the other side, as long as we stayed out of the way of the super-freighters, dredges, and way-ward tugs. And you wondered why they gave us an advisor.

At that point I slept, as per routine, and so did the entire crew I’m told. Yup, it’s hard work on a boat. When finally I was awoken we were already tying onto some huge bumper type mooring ball not ¼ mile from the last set of locks.

It turned out, due to the canal scheduling, that we were required to stay a night in the canal lake and to head out the next morning. Key word there is required, meaning a free nights stay. How many people can say they’ve swam in the Panama Canal? We can. Not bragging or anything. Our advisor left us with the knowledge that his replacement would be showing up around 11am tomorrow and we pitched ourselves into the sweet, fresh, crocodile infested, Panamanian waters. We spent the afternoon berating each other in Fan Tam, a favorite card game on board, and participating in various other fun boat activities, such as fixing the horn, and the very widely appreciated cooking of supper. Jan, Deb, and Adam teamed together to produce a tounge-tingling dinner of chicken tortalinni and spinach salad. We didn’t last long after that though, seeing as we’d been up till 2am the night before playing Fan Tam, and people started heading for bed. Heck, we didn’t have to be up until eleven! Yeah, sure.

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