Our line handlers arrived at 1 o’clock – 3 cheerful local blokes supplied, along with fenders and lines, by Roy Bravo. We motored across to flats anchorage and jilled about for an hour until our pilot was delivered and we entered Gatun Lock in twilight, followed by a huge container ship. It was drizzling, of course, but all went smoothly – the boat held in the middle of the lock with two lines each from bow and stern.
In geological terms Panama isthmus is very young – it only rose from the sea 3 million years ago to connect the Americas. The canal is 40 miles long and is a busy waterway – in Colon harbour our AIS recorded 190 targets, a record for us (Piraeus and the Elbe River approach coming in poor second and third). Ships pass every half hour but the well-marked channel is wide. The Volga was busier and for us, much more exacting.
Our pilot was a tugboat skipper doing a bit of moonlighting. This is the only waterway in the world where the pilots have absolute authority on board and their decisions cannot be overridden by the ship’s captain. This rule does not however, apply to yachts, where the pilot’s role is just advisory.
On Gatun lake we groped through the dark to a huge, unlit mooring buoy where the pilot left us for the night. After an excellent meal we collapsed, as the calls of howler monkeys resonated through the night.