Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Panama Canal!

Excuse the delay of my tardy blog entries from just before Christmas, but we didn't have a strong enough Wifi signal and life's been busy since we arrived back home. But the fun continues...

We awoke super early around 4ish and left the dock at 5:15am. We could all feel the electricity running through our veins as this was a lifetime experience! So many months of planning and plotting. We could hardly stand the suspense and were ready to just bust a move...
Everyone was so excited that they hardly slept the night before
and we were ready to experience this wonder of the world.

Matt, Wyatt and Brad. Rise & shine!
Dawn patrol outside the canal as we await arrival of our "pilot". 
Gorgeous sunrise amidst all of the ships awaiting their passage. 
Our line handler arrived first, albiet a tad tardy. One of those things you just roll with when in another country. His name was "Blondie" and he was super sweet and extremely experienced.
He taught all of us how to handle the lines when it was our turn and what to expect.              

Looking out for our pilot to arrive as we hang out in the "waiting room" of the Panama Canal. 
And then...Our pilot arrives via tug boat... This boat was coming in HOT and fast as could be! 
They slowed down just in time to drop off Alejandro... our "pilot" who will be helping
us navigate the canal passage. We instantly warmed up to him.
(I may have broke into the Lady Gaga "Alejandro" song) He was hilarious and a total character.

As soon as we headed toward the canal entrance, Blondie asked me for a cup of tea.
I cracked up as that was not what I was civilized! 
I was prepared to have food and drink for him and Alejandro, just didn't know they would be so bold and specific. I then went to ask Alejandro if he'd like something to drink, and he asked for tea as well. I told him in my best British accent that I'd prep it right away and would he like a homemade scone with it? I could hardly contain my laughter as he thought I was serious. He stated with excitement... "That would be great!" I prepped their tea, made sure to use my good bone china to serve it in for full effect (which cracked me up even further), and warmed up a slice of Italian Pannetone for each of them. (Pannetone is an Italian fruitcake that is traditional at Christmas time... In Italy that is. Ha!)

Here's Alejandro giving us the download on our canal passage.
We also learned that he was one hungry bird & would have pilfered our galley had we let him.
He talked about all the great food he'd had on other boats and I think he was
expecting champagne and caviar to be served. Ha! 
Wyatt was glued to his side and peppered him with fabulous questions as
Carly & Kat cued up Gaga's "Alejandro" song. So fun!
Kat & Carly...ready for action!

Wyatt surveying the scene...his little analytical mind at work.
 Carly & Matty reporting for duty!
Wyatt & Luke are happy campers!

Kat & Matt ready for their close-up!

This is Alejandros manifest for all ships crossing through the canal on the day of our passage. You can see our name circled on the bottom left hand side. We were going to be accompanied with a tug boat and "nested" which was exactly what we were hoping for. The manifest was fascinating and I kept it as a memento. We were C21 / Charlie 21, and the odd number meant we were north bound. The word "Charlie" represents a private yacht, whereas larger ships are given another lettered name. 

Brad and I as we cruise toward the Bridge of the Americas. I can't help myself...
Photos are always more fun with a little individuality!

Brad was anxious to get the show on the road..Our epic canal adventure awaits.

Brad & Alejandro waxing poetic...this is probably when Alejandro told him about the time a jaguar came out of the jungle and waded into the water, climbed up the anchor chain of a ship
and surpised all of the crew onboard! Can't even imagine...
That crew probably was so scared that they needed some of this on board.

Luke was ready for action and prepped in his life vest. Adorbs!
The family canal portrait.. Sadly, Luke was napping away his Dramamine 
and missed our photo sesh. Such a bummer. 

Matt, Carly, Wyatt & Luke...
Our view as we head toward the first lock. There was a Dockwise ship in front of us that was approx 650' long. We felt like a little guy looking up at them.
This is what the Dockwise boat looks like from the side. It's normally used for yacht transport, but this time it was transporting a giant generating station. When it transports boats on it, it can pack them side by side as the bottom of the boat deploys under water so that they can load the boats. 
Very cool to see as I've read about Dockwise transport previously, but never seen one in person. 

We were accompanied by a tugboat to guide us through. Luckily we didn't need to rent old tires and put them around our boat. PHEW! We used our own fenders and that sufficed.
I can't imagine how dirty our boat would have been if we had to use them... Yuk. 

Brad is supervising the tie-up as we move succinctly alongside the tug.

And a friend flew in to greet us...

The boys were in front prepping their lines to throw to the workers alongside us on the locks. 
And here's a video of all the action...   Fingers crossed they show up as movie uploads have been on the fritz.  You may need to give it a few minutes to show up.                                           
Matt & Matt (Aka M2) taking a well deserved break from their duties. 
Kat supplied the cute photo bomb.

The tug boats handlers...supervising the sitch.

Alongside every large ship (anything over 150') that goes through the canal are two locomotives that guide the ships through the locks as they are secured with a line to either side of the ship.
A sight to see!
One of the locomotive drivers at work...
Below you can see the locomotive on either side of the ship & the lines that accompany it.  
A worker crossing the gates to get to the other side...
                Here's Carly working the lines and making it look easy peasy. 

    The Miraflores Locks...
This is the viewing platform at the Miraflores locks where you can watch a 
ships passage in the canal. It was packed with tourists!

Here's the doors of a lock closing before the lock fills up with water. They look ancient and so cool!

The doors below are closed and you can see one of our lines at the back which is secured to a massive metal cleat at the top of the lock. When the dock handlers throw the lines, there's a "monkey fist" knot
at one end which packs a mean punch if it should hit you.

When it was my turn and I saw that little monkey fist coming my way...
I was ready to catch it until it looked like a flying ninja star and I hit the deck. Duck & cover!!
I may have let out a squeal as I covered my head & was cracking up.

View from back of the boat as we look down at the doors of the lock. As you can see, its full of water and we are much higher. 
The photo below is an aerial shot of our passage through the first lock. We look so tiny!

My McGuyver (aka Captain Jimmylegs) in action...we were halfway through and headed to an über secret swim spot even though it was rumored to be illegal to swim in the Panama Canal. Sssssh.      
We arrived at a freshwater area of Gatun Lake. Then this happened... A Panamanian baptism! Everyone jumped in (Except for Kat & I. Yes, we are scare-dy-cats & proud of it!)
and had a dip to cool off in the heat of the scorching midday sun. 
Then we learned a few days later online that this behemoth was not far from the swimming hole!
SHUT the front door. And you wonder why I didnt jump in? Kudos to the kids for their bravery...
they will have that memory of swimming in the Panama Canal forever! 

Brad and Alejandro mugging for the camera before we said goodbye to our new amigo. 
We didn't realize that he only accompanied us halfway through and that 
a new pilot would be joining us in an hour. 
And then our pilot Tom arrived who had worked the canal for 40 years.
He chatted on & on... and ON.
More than a Real Housewives reunion show and had the character to match. 
Such sass...let's just say that we had a "live one" on our hands!
And as soon as he arrived and asked for a beer, I knew this was going to be a crack-up. 
He never stopped for a breath. So funny and Brad was a great sport!

These are the walls of the new canal "lane" that is to be completed next year. 
Kinda cool to be one of the first ones to see them in person.

                I was ready for my turn on "line duty" and paused for a shoutout to my tennis girlies. 

          Carly reminded me not to mess up... Ha! Not a chance.
But I was ready! With some work gloves that that looked like they belonged to 
The Mickey Mouse Club. Thanks Ace Hardware. Jazz hands anyone?

When the line was to be pulled in, it was done in a rapacious movement as any hesitation
 could result in a false move & take the boat in the wrong direction.   

And this was our backdoor neighbor...towering over us. 
The line handlers on the dock were super friendly. 
And Brad and I were beside ourselves.. This experience was too amazing 
and tremendous for words! Such a mind blower. 

We will cherish this moment forever!!!!!!
After we traversed the canal, it was pure ebullience at its best.

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