Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Captain's Blog 1/18/12

TIME 0830 LT, 1330 GMT
LAT 9-15N
LON 79-55W
SKY 1/8
PRES 1011
AIR 77/73

The day started at 0400 as we prepared to get underway for our Panama Canal transit. Pilot ladder rigged, our engines ready and gear tested - the pilot was aboard at 0445. Captain Isaiah Chang, MMA'89 climbed aboard. He brought along his wife Lili Beth and (second son) Miguel. I was happy to see Isaiah, one of the grandfathers of the modern era of Panamanians that attended the Academy - and nice to see his wife again. (I asked her as we proceeded toward Gatun how many times she has done this, and she said it was the first time ever riding on a transit - over 20 years together!)

So with the anchor away at 0530 we turned to the south out the anchorage and started the passage through. I just re-read David McCullough's 'Path Between the Seas', and it is so very insightful of the whole process of canal history and engineering that is should be required reading for anyone making the transit. But as we moved toward the Gatun Locks, and I saw the lighted steps ahead, I was awed once again at the genius that went into the Canal. And knowing they are digging new locks just 400 yards to the east using modern excavating equipment, it is unimaginable the level of effort it took by the laborers in building just this one set of locks ahead of the Kennedy.

We have now lifted the three chambers - up 86 feet in all - to the level of Gatun Lake. We had to go to anchor to use up some time as the northbound ships cleared from the narrow sections south of the lake. So, I've written this short report, I'll send it off, and write more later after we finish our transit...


We heaved anchor at 0900 and off we went - leading the southbound convoy. Not because we are fast or particularly good looking - but because we are relatively small, we can meet the big 'daylight transit only' Panamax ships in the narrow reaches before Gaillard Cut. The transit was filled with the visual appreciation for tropical beauty, punctuated with the sudden passing of large containership and bulk carriers. Our speed was adjusted down several times as the day's delays sneaked into the schedule.

Arriving at Gamboa, the beginning the narrowest land cut, originally was to be 1140, and somehow stretched to 1230. Then Pedro Miguel locks were extended to 1340. All said and done, we finished the transit just over one-hour late. When we approached the Pedro Miguel lock (singular, only one chamber) there was a small group of people shouting from the fence near the nearby road.

We have four Panamanian citizens aboard as cadets, so it was easy to assume that was the connection. As we passed they jumped into their cars and started driving south, I knew toward the Miraflores locks. As we entered the first chamber you could see a large crowd of people standing on the exposed decks - three stories. The Pilot turned to me, the relief pilot, a California Maritime grad, says to me that he wants to blow the horn because there are many pilots up there.

As we moved into the second chamber, and the horn sounded, the cheering was deafening. Hands waving, shouts and smiles on everyone - of course our cadets on deck returned the favor. So, we have taken departure from Balboa and are on our way out of the Bay of Panama into the Pacific Ocean. First time for so many cadets aboard! 

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