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Panama Canal

May 29, 2024

Shelter Bay Marina

After ten hours of nice beam reach sailing, we are arriving to Shelter Bay Marina in Panama on Friday evening February the second. We are welcomed into a vivid sailing community with sailors crossing the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic or vice versa. Many haul out and leave their boat in SBM during the Hurricane season or just stop by while sailing in the Caribbean. It’s a melting pot of different cultures, experiences and languages. With the Whatsapp group administered by Debbie we are quickly up to date and connected with thousands of other sailors.

On Saturday the Cruising Rally Ocean Posse organized an infotainment day with seminars about how to set up opencpn charts, security at sea,  interesting sailing grounds in the Pacific and a great Caribbean party in the evening.

Shelter Bay Marina is located on the historic ground of the decommissioned military base Fort Sherman with safety still a key with an active military base close by. The United States took over the construction of the Panama Canal 1904 and fortificated at both the Atlantic and Pacific entrance to the canal to defense the anticipated passageway. Fort Sherman was established in 1911 and the seven defense batteries can still be accessed by foot despite suffocating under verdant jungle. When operating, it was a complete base with barracs, a chapel, a cinema and family housing. After World War II the base served as jungle training for the US army. Since the Panama Canal was handed back to Panama in the end of 1999, the buildings have been abandoned and ripped of any valuable material and instead give a new home to termites and bats. The former officers quarter is now transformed to a very busy hotel and marina office.






Senor Carlos Chiari happily guides everyone who is interested in the history and wildlife of Shelter Bay Marina. And while Anders was travelling to Sweden for a week, Nilla took the opportunity to see the abandoned fortifications. Big blue morpho butterflies and smaller red doris longwing butterflies are thriving in the jungle where you still can find the remaining of a zoo. In the distance howler monkeys are roaring, slughs are crawling, coatis and agoutis are hiding. It would be a perfect scene for an Indiana Jones movie.

The crested oropendola bird is building its nest high up in the palm trees, hanging down like a pendulum from the tip of the leaf.
On Monday February the 12th we hauled out in Shelter Bay to clean the hull in preparation for Galapagos’s environmental inspections but also to change the anodes – ant to check the propeller shaft, after a significant encounter with a very long and strong fishing gear line – just outside St Barth in January.



We planned to be back in the water today for our transit slot in the Panama Canal on Saturday but the shaft bearings were damaged.  A worrisome message was that the aluminum housing for the Aquadrive (original from 2003) had a crack. We got a great tech-team onboard with a promise to fix this within a  week – and we have a new Canal slot for Saturday the 24th.


While Yaghan was on the hard, we spend the first three nights in the rather non exciting Radisson hotel in the totally non exciting and partly dangerous city of Colòn and then booked a room in lovely Riu Hotel in Panama City. Midday Thursday we were informed that two critical spare parts – a metal shaft bearing and the so called Black Jack rubber seal – was nowhere to be found in Panama. But hopefully three hours drive from Miami. It can take weeks to ship the part by mail, so early Friday morning our flight to Miami departures. No effort was spared and we got our spare parts, driving 370 km to the Tampa Bay where we met Joy at General Propeller who had prepared our spare parts. Thank you Joy!

One problem was solved but the next just waited around the corner. Yaghan still on the hard and we were moving between optimism and despair. When we did our spontaneous, fun and challenging trip to north Florida, the shipyard disassembled the propeller axis and realized our Aquadrive had a bigger crack that couldn’t be fixed.  It fell in pieces. Not good,  but lucky it happened here and not in the middle of the ocean.












Philip arriving in Panama

The only solution would be to get a new, 27kg heavy piece, which were nowhere to be found on this side of the Atlantic and initially also not in Europe. With support from Hallberg Rassy, Rodahls, the Swedish Aquadrive representative, and particularly Göran ”Bamse” Moberg, one single unit in a warehouse in Kerpen, 35km from Düsseldorf in Germany could be located. Now the organization of the transport started. We managed to get it delivered to the Sheraton hotel at Schiphol, from where  Philip, a friend of Nilla’s son,  was flying with the spare part to Panama. Luckily all went well and the aquadrive could be replaced and Yaghan splashed on Friday morning so we could use our slot to transit the Panama Canal the next day.

View of the Gatun Locks from the Atlantic Bridge

But firstly we needed to fill our food storage, so we took an Uber to Colòn  and found most of the things all we might need in the next months to come, because where we are planning to sail in the Pacific it will be complicated to find food.  We were lucky that Philip could help us and the supermarket gave us a ride back to the marina.

The receipt was longer than a meter and a half!

Swedish bags have found their was to Panama!

Transiting the Panama Canal

Months ago we contacted an agent to arrange a date for the transit through the Panama Canal and he also organized lines and fenders, well firstly some tiny ones, but later the right size.

We get the following message: “Good day dear Capt. Anders! Please be advised that transit schedule of your boat has been published by the Panama Canal and the specifics are as follows:

You should undock from the pier at 1430hrs/Feb 24th, then start moving towards the Canal entrance, stand by on VHF radio channel 12 for Cristobal signal station instructions, they will tell you the specific coordinates of where to wait for the transit pilot, he will come to your boat at aprox 1530hrs/Feb 24th, the transit have been scheduled to be “all the way through” departing the last locks at Balboa side at approx. 2330hrs/Feb 24th.”

So that’s what we do. The pilot is not a he, it’s a she, Victoria is boarding and we can proceed to the Gatun lock tied up together with the boat Rebel. Onboard are also Tina and Ingmar  from the boat Idalina helping us as linehandlers and Philip (who got lost in the jungle yesterday, but luckily was found! )



The canal locks operate by gravity flow of water from  the Gatún, Alajuela, and Miraflores lakes, which are fed by the Chagres and other rivers. The locks themselves are of uniform length, width, and depth and were built in pairs to permit the simultaneous transit of vessels in either direction. Each lock gate has two leaves, 20 metres wide and 2 metres thick, set on hinges. The gates, still the same since 1914,range in height from 14 to 25 metres. It is so impressive to be close to the gate and see the leaves open up to the new adventure awaiting us. You suddenly have the feeling being in “Lord of the rings”, waiting for hobbits to come entering the boat.

When we enter a lock, we wait for a line with a “monkey head” being thrown to us and  we then connect the thin line to our rope, which is now collected by the professional linehandler on the wall of the lock.  The lock chambers are 300 metres long, 33 metres wide, and 12 metres deep. In the Gatun lock, we are behind a big container ship and we are feeling really small. Luckily Victorias friend is a pilot on the big ship, sending us nice pictures of Yaghan.


After the three lockages upwards we entered into Lake Gatun, relaxing after well carried out activities with the crew – not only Nilla but three additional linehandlers operating  the four 30 meters long stern and bowlines that ties us up to the walls of the canal. Big thank you to our new lovely friends Tina and Ingmar who took their Arcona Idalina through the canal a couple of weeks ago, when Nilla was onboard and got experience as linehandler. And also to Philip, a friend of Nilla’s son who was kind enough to transport spare parts from Europe earlier in the week and now is staying onboard for the transit.

Out of the locks we could motor in 8.5 knots, while the sun was setting over the Gatun lake, the moon was rising and Nilla served Chili con Carne. After little less than three hours and 21 NM we reached our assigned overnight mooring location where Veronica was picked up by a pilot vessel.

At 8:45 AM we anticipated a new pilot to come onboard for the additional 7NM before getting into the next set of locks, downwards to the Pacific. But we had to keep on waiting for another hour until the next pilot came. We were still very happy that we had come so far. The new pilot showed us the way to the Pedro Miguel locks. We pass the Gold Hill, which never has hidden any gold, but the canal workers were told so to be motivated to dig deeper. The American white canal builders were paid in gold though, while non-American workers were paid in silver, or “plata” in Spanish. In Panama, money is still called “plata” in the local dialect.



Because of the delicate nature of the original lock mechanisms, only small craft are allowed to pass through the locks assisted by linehandlers. Larger craft are guided by electric towing locomotives, so called mules, which operate on cog tracks on the lock walls and serve to keep the ships centred in the lock. When we arrive to the third and last lock, the lock of Miraflores, the linehandler on the lock wall manage to tangle the thin line on the bottom of the wall and Yaghan slides down to the starboard side of the gate. Everyone on board and on land get busy, but it takes time to get a new line and we press against the wall, luckily only damaging one big fender and getting a small scratch on the metal molding. Behind us, the giant container ship is approaching, pulled by the locomotives. Its quite a stressful situation. You can see us sliding to starboard side on the picture from the live cam above. This day, the new platform for spectators was opened and we gave the 1600 visitors a good show.


We are so happy when the last gate opens and we can sail out in the PACIFIC!



We continue to Marina La Playita where we are staying and installing solar panels, enjoying Panama City and preparing for the next destination: Galapagos.






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