Category Archives: Panama Canal

10th January

I sit at my desk, our lovely ship is anchored off Fuerta Amador, near Panama City, having made our transit of the Panama canal yesterday.  Over 900 of our guests are ashore, enjoying the city and its surrounds and I, having had a long day yesterday, completed my necessary tasks and paperwork and have spent some time preparing this post. 

I have found that a hiatus of 3 months from writing the blog leaves me with a re-learning process; editing the GoPro video took longer than expected for example.  I used to be able to ‘knock them out’ in 10 minutes, this first one since coming back took me an hour  😯 . 

My day yesterday started at 4:30 a.m.  We were scheduled to be at Cristobal breakwaters at 5:30 a.m. however, as is often the case, the schedule changed and a delay of 30 minutes resulted.  These delays are usually to do with northbound vessels being delayed, as a consequence the canal is not open for southbound until they have cleared.  We follow the ‘Azamara Quest’ through the breakwater entrance and undergo our canal inspection; in short, whether we are deemed suitable to make the transit.  Pilots, agents, Immigration officials, a plethora of personnel join and leave, the pilots of course remain with us. 

The Pilot/Master relationship is of extreme importance during a transit, a symbiotic relationship, we both need to be able to work together to ensure the transit is trouble-free and without incident.  I am fortunate that I had some very amicable gentlemen, very capable and fun to work with.  Pilots conn the ship during all stages, except the getting into the locks themselves.  Here it is we who approach and enter the locks, (getting near the “wall’ and into the lock).  It is here, once the ‘mules; are attached, that the pilot takes control of them; for example, once the 2 mules attached to the bow are in control, all I have to do is worry about the stern, the pilot will look after the bow.  Once the stern ‘mules’ are attached, the pilot controls them, all we have to do is adjust the speed into the chambers.  As one can imagine, after a 15½-hour day, anchoring at Fuerta Amador came as a welcome relief. 

I took numerous photos, blessed that my 2nd-in-command, Thomas is a capable ship-handler and this gave the opportunity to take them; we having alternated the locks.

The channel towards the first set of locks, Gatun, takes us under a suspension bridge under construction, I have watched it grow over the years

Approaching Gatun; the Azamara is in the east side, a cargo ship in the upper flight of the west side

Approaching the “wall”. The port side mules (or centre) are on this, the starboard (or ‘side’) mules are waiting on the wall to the right of the lock

Despite more modern alternatives, rowing out to the bow and taking the line ashore for the mule is the one that they found best.

A ‘Mule’. The 2 wires from each mule are sent to the ship and made fast. The mules control the central position of the ship in the lock. 3 each side, they ‘pull’ or slack’, controlled by the pilot, keeping us away from the concrete.

Entering Gatun, lower flight

Not much clearance!

Lock gate opening and about to move into the centre lock

In the centre lock, the top lock visible. The building houses the Lock-Master’ who controls the operation.

Not much clearance from his building either!

Leaving the lock, the mules job done, they wait for the next southbound vessel

and here is one, the “Houston Bridge”, 1,200ft long; she will use the new locks, far too large for the ‘old’ lock. The new locks have no mules, instead they use tugs.

Passing Gamboa, the ‘maintenance’ centre of the Canal.

A strange-looking warship, triple-hull, the USS Omaha follows us.

Ferries ply the waterway too

Dredging is a constant operation

Leading marks are throughout the canal. These are ‘marks’ to steer correct course lines

Not only ships transit, many small yachts do it too

Culebra Cut and the surrounding hillside is cut in ‘steps’ to reduce landslips into the Canal

Approaching the Centennial Bridge

In Pedro Miguel lock with Miraflores lock in the distance

USS Portland following us too

Approaching Miraflores lock, the Visitors centre left.

It is humid; cold face cloths are distributed regularly

Panama City in the distance

Bridge of the Americas

Sunset over Fuerta Amador

Our 2018 logo

We leave soon for the first leg of our Pacific crossing; 3,851 miles, 6,161 kms towards Nuku Hiva, an island in French Polynesia.  8 days at sea and several clock changes.  I may have a lack of material for the posts, however will try to keep you updated.  I leave you with my video of the Canal transit.  🙂