Reaching the Pacific

02 February 2021

Situated on a causeway lying to the south of Panama City is La Playita Marina which is the current stopover for the World ARC 2021-2022 fleet for short while prior to setting sail to the Galapagos Islands next week. Being located near to the City provides participants with the opportunity to explore the area and make use of all the facilities a major city has to offer such as large shopping malls and cultural places of interest.

Traveling through a total of 50 miles of waterways, the fleet went up through the Gatun Locks and into the Gatun Lake under the cover of darkness on Saturday, 30 January. Staying in the Lake overnight on a buoy, the following morning they each had a fascinating journey of about 5 hours taking them through the jungle forests of central Panama towards the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. Descending down into the Pacific the following evening, Sunday 31 January, they were met by a beautiful sunset and a new whole ocean to concur.

Transiting the Canal is no mean feat. Concentration is key for each member of crew and skippers have to utilise their helming skills to navigate through the high sided locks. All yachts, regardless of size, are required to have a minimum of 5 crew (14 years and above) on board. This enables each boat to have one at the helm and one crew at each corner of the boat to work as a line handler. Prior to their departure each boat is issued with 4 large ropes, 125 ft long, together with 3 large fenders. These lines are used in the locks and are guided by the four line handlers on board to keep the boats straight and steady as the water rises and falls.

Often yachts are ‘nested’ together during the transit. This allows for more boats to go through abreast and large container vessels, known as a panamax, to go through at the same time. Going up the lock each nest travels behind these big ships and on the way down they are placed at the front which provides a rather daunting view as edge ever closer to your boat!

As part of the Canal protocol, each yacht is boarded by a professional Canal Advisor. These Advisors join the yachts prior to entering the Locks and as their title dictates, they advise both skipper and their crew through the transit. They do not stay on board overnight so to add to the excitement of the journey they are transported at the end of the day from each boat by pilot boats, returning the following morning to begin the final part of the transit.

Travelling through the Panama Canal is always a unique experience and a first for all the participants this year which makes it for many a once in a lifetime experience. Skipper on Jubilate Mare, Pete Townsend, expressed “it was a fabulous experience and I loved every minute of it”. Both Henri Gazay and his wife Elisabeth were beaming after the event and talked about the magnitude of the Canal and the significance of this great waterway’s importance in modern times, especially after the project was constructed over 100 years ago.

During their stay in Panama, and as part of the World ARC programme, participants will enjoy a half day tour taking in the sights around both the old and newer, high-rise, parts of the city along with the chance to view the spectacular vista from the surrounding hills. As part of the programme this year and to keep within local protocols, a small gathering will take place on the pontoon area enabling crews to swap stories and share their ambitions for crossing the Pacific and exploring the very special destinations which lie ahead.