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30th January, 2017

Panama Canal

We arrived in Colon, the Panamanian city that lies on the Caribbean side of the Canal just after midday. Being a Sunday and an afternoon call, the third largest shopping mall in the Americas was closed, how lucky was I. Many of the folks went on tours to see the canal and in particular the new massive locks that allow the largest ships afloat to transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

The sailing from Colon was at five the following morning, in time to take our canal pilot just over two hours later at Cristobal and approach the first set of locks at Gatun for nine. It was a slow process as numerous officials had to come on board to carry out their various paperwork requirements. They announced that the ship, under a different guise, had actually travelled through the Canal back in 1999. Apparently on that occasion it was 5 inches longer. ‘How could that be?’they asked. I did suggest that perhaps, in the same way I have shrunk almost half an inch in the past 45 years, ships might do the same. My comment raised only a slight, but sympathetic smile.

After taking on 17 linesmen, used to handle the locomotive wires that are attached to bow and stern, we entered the first of three chambers at Gatun Lock and came out at the level of the Gatun Lake 90 minutes later. Two of the ship’s photographers had travelled by road in order to capture us ‘digitally’as we passed through.

By mid morning it was getting hot but there were still many of our folk outside watching the process, and also hoping to see the odd crocodile that occasionally lie silently basking on the banks. Four hours later, having passed through the infamous Culebra Cut, we approached first the single chamber Pedro Miguel Lock and finally the double chamber Miraflores, which was finally cleared just after 5pm. By this time the outside temperature had soared to 94 degrees F on the bridge wing, in the shade. Above us there were still a few passengers watching, but I believe the majority had retreated to watch from somewhere a little cooler within.

Two pilots took their shift during the day, both very competently talking to tugs and the drivers of the ‘mules’, three on either side, that guided us through each chamber. I actually had little to do, except ‘be there’, although I did make the odd comment when I felt one pilot was about to use the ‘in off approach’. So the Staff Captain may have to get his chaps to do a little ‘touch up’of the paint near the waterline, but all in all our long day went exceedingly well and now for the next 18 days we reside in the Pacific Ocean.

Captain Philip Rentell

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