Odyssey Logs

A Perfect Landing: Through the Panama Canal to the Pacific

Even though the great international operation of the Panama Canal is not immune to Carnival fever, our Blue Planet Odyssey boats still managed to make a successful transit.

As you read this they will already be on their way, tasting the first drops of the Pacific Ocean bound for the Galapagos Islands. Read what they had to say in their own words…

MAGGIE: WOW! We have gone through one of the 7 wonders of the World

We started our passage through the Panama Canal at 6:39 PM local time upon our entry into the Gatun Locks with Maurice our pilot safely guiding us through the rafting up process where we are tied to another boat OM who also had No Regrets tied to her other side.

Bill (NO REGRETS) on the line at Gatun Lock – Photo: NO REGRETS

We entered the locks behind a much larger ship and had several boat lengths between her and the three of us rafted together. We had several boat lengths between us and the gates of the locks. We also had to have four line handlers as well as a helmsman on board so we had Abdel a line handler that was arranged by a local agent. As you can tell the canal has very strict rules that you must follow. Even though we are rafted to another boat and only needed two people to handle lines you are required to have four just in case for some reason you are unable to go through the canal as planned because one of the boats has a problem.

Upon entering the locks four guys on shore throw a line to the bow and stern of the four corners of the rafted boats. The ropes they throw have a rubber ball on the end. The guys then walk along the side of the locks as you drive into them. The pilot of the center boat tells them which spot to tie the lines. We then feed the heavy lines up to these canal workers who loop them over the cleat and then we tighten the lines on the boat on our cleats. The gate locks close and the water boils in moving the boat around. As we go up you tighten the line to keep the rafted boats in the center of the locks. Each lock raised us 9 meters up. Once at the top the middle boat puts it in forward and the pilot of the middle boat blows a whistle and you loosen the 4 lines and the canal worker removes it from the cleat. You then pull the heavy line back onto your boat and the canal worker carries the lighter line while he walks to the next lock. When he reaches the stairs to climb to the next lock you need to hold the lighter line high so it does not catch on anything.

You then follow the same procedure through the next 2 locks. The next 2 locks were much more turbulent and the rafted boats moved further away from the wall we were against due to the currents generated by the filling of the locks. After we were raised up the 3rd lock (28 metres in total over the 3 locks) the canal workers just dropped the lines into the water after removing the lighter lines they had thrown to us prior to entering the first lock. After leaving the 3rd lock in the dark we separated the 3 rafted boats and the pilot boat picked up the pilot. We then proceeded to a mooring ball where we rafted up to Capricho (a 56 foot catamaran that had 3 levels).

The next morning our pilot Oscar arrived at 6:17 AM and we separated from Capricho and passed through Gatun Lake past the mouth of the Chagres River into the Gaillard cut which was the most difficult part of the canal to build (1902 – 1914). Then under Centennial bridge to the Pedro Miguel locks where we waited.

Miraflores Lock web cam: catamaran NO REGRETS closest to the camera; catamaran OM rafted up with MAGGIE & COCONUT WOMAN.


We rafted up with OM in the middle and Coconut Woman on the other side of OM. The procedure was the same except we let the lines out rather than pulling them in as the water left the locks. It was a much less turbulent descent. The water just disappeared. The lines were released and OM motored out into Miraflores Lake (about a kilometer long) and into the next locks.

There were 7 boats in the locks together. Our raft of 3 boats and 2 other rafts of 2 boats each. Down 2 more locks and out into the Pacific Ocean where all the boats separated. We then passed under the Bridge of the Americas, our pilot was picked up by a pilot boat. We proceeded to Balboa Yacht Club where Abdel was picked up along with the tires and lines we rented. We proceeded to the La Playita Yacht Club where we anchored.


Our Gatun Locks pilot-adviser,  Censo, arrived just after dark.  Professional and likeable, Censo was a former first mate aboard an ocean liner and now is in the  Panama canal training program for large vessel pilots.   He casually informed Justin that Coconut Woman would be both helming and powering ourselves and another boat through the Gutun Locks.  Our 1981 Volvo Penta, in charge of not one but two 45 foot vessels , in a major lock-through?!  We laughed and gave fair warning to all!

Rafting-up into a “nest” aids small vessels in stability during the turbulent in-pour of gushing water within the locks, and reduces the amount of lines and line-handlers required, although every boat is required to have a pilot (the boat’s captain), 4 line-handlers and a pilot-adviser on board in case of any emergencies.   Typically, these nests are from 2-4 boats across, all buffered along their hullsides with large trash-bag covered tires available for rent.   

Entering the chamber, the locks loom overhead like draconian dungeon doors.  Lights brighten the night sky, but the fact we were performing a procedure of this kind in the dark made for a real sense of adventure.  As soon as the boats reach the Panamanian onshore line-handlers, everyone on deck braces for the great tossing of the monkey-fists, hoping the guys on land are former baseball pitchers.   The monkey-fists are whipped into the end of the lines, the added weight on the end ensuring an accurate throw of long lengths of somewhat heavy rope.  The crew catches the lines and fasten them to cleats.  The onshore line-handlers then walk with the boats as they proceed into the locks, all the while, Censo shouts out orders to Justin, “Engage! Steer to port!”  To which Justin parrots back, “Engaging!  Steering to port!”  This is ancient maritime procedure that has stuck around for so long because it tells the captain the crew has correctly heard his orders.  

“Neutral!  Now reverse!”  

“In neutral!  Now reversing!”

The nest comes to a complete stop behind the large vessel Altis Valletta as we notice the silhouettes of her crew peering down at us from her giant stern.  The onshore line-handlers fasten the ropes to cleats the size of our cockpit.  The pilot advisers radio the locks, a horn sounds, and the giant 7 foot thick dungeon doors begin to close behind us.  No turning back now!  Coconut Woman is Pacific-bound!

Watch their videos of the Canal transit, on their blog.

CHAPTER TWO (Janet): Oh what a crazy day

TOM TOM, LOVESAIL (catamaran), and WINDWALKER and then BLUE WIND (blue hull), CHAPTER TWO (catamaran) and RANSOM going through Miraflores Lock


We were up early scurrying around stowing, cleaning, cooking for the canal transit and beyond. The anticipation and excitement of the transit is nerve-wracking mostly because of the unknown. The BluePlanet Odyssey representatives arrived with our extra ropes, tire bumpers and last minute instructions. As the time draws near, I became more nervous by the hour. I think partly because we read in the book of the worst case scenario and have been instructed that our boat will provide the engine for the other two sailboats rafted up next to us. Captain Pat is responsible for three boats through this transit.

Pat checks out of the marina and Chapter Two leaves the dock by 2:30 p.m. headed for the “flats” (a waiting area for all boats going through the canal) to wait for our advisor to jump aboard and give us instructions by 5:00 p.m. I prepare a meatloaf, rice and salad to feed the advisor in transit. Our advisor, Moses, arrives and instructs us to pull up anchor and head toward the locks. By 6:30 p.m. we are rafted with the boats Ransom and Blue Wind and headed into the lock system. Exciting!

BPO transit

Tom Tom and Lovesail rafted up, with Chapter Two, Blue Wind and Ransom behind (photo: Sue Stitt)

We follow a barge into the lock but thankfully, there is quite a bit of room left in front of us for movement. The advisor continually instructs Pat on how to use his engines as the water rises in the locks and swirls all around the rafted boats. Once we passed through one lock, we moved onto the second and third. Pat did an amazing job keeping his cool and listening to the instructions of the advisor. I am so proud of his calm demeanor during stressful times.

As we are making our way through the locks, the impact of how fortunate we are is not lost on me. First of all, to be a representative of Blue Planet Odyssey is awesome but to be able to make such a transit on our own small boat was exciting and amazing.

After the first half of our transit was done we anchored on an enormous buoy alongside a small cruise ship named Discovery with the boat Blue Wind rafted up to our port side. The senior group of passengers were very curious and came out to chat with us as we secured the boat for the evening. It was great fun!

As we headed off to bed for the evening, I realized it is Valentines day and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the evening. What a gift!!!

Back to Top