I woke up to the boat being towed by the Panamanian Coast Guard. They helped us anchor at Isla Saboga. We waited for another tow boat to pick us up and get us to a marina. We stayed two days to rest until they came, but we still had to pump out water every thirty minutes.
Tuesday morning we got towed to Flamenco Marina. We started to fix up the boat. We went to Panama City, there were buildings everywhere, most of them were apartments. We stocked up on food and did laundry. The marina was not that friendly and there weren’t many sailboats, but we had to try to fix things. We spent a week in the marina getting little done. We began to itch to get going. Dad decided we had fixed the engine enough to get through the canal. On the Atlantic side, at least we would be able to pull out the boat and fix it properly. We prepared food and the boat for the canal transit.
January 22, 2020 I woke up at 5:30 a.m. along with the rest of the family. We were ready to go! I was the helmsman. Mei Mei was 18 for the day to be a line handler. We had to hire Ray, another line handler, because no one else could come out and help. Dad and Mom were also line handlers. Bryan was photographer. Each family member had a job. I was excited to be going through the Panama Canal! I had been through it twice as a child, but only as a passenger and now I was crew. My stomach was a bit nervous to be the one to drive SeaQuil through the canal. Around 6:40 a.m. we pulled anchors up. A boat had just dropped off our pilots, Rick and Marty, and we were ready to go into the canal! We motored under the Bridge of the Americas on the Pacific side of the canal, in Balboa. which is the bridge the American’s built. I loved learning the history of the canal. It’s amazing what humans can create especially during the 1880s and early 1900s. We saw the floating crane that America gained during WWII which we eventually gave to the Panamanians. The floating crane is used to lift the locks during maintenance.
It felt strange to be motoring past small boats on the ground at low tide, while still being in 50 feet of water in the middle of the canal zone. This time we were going three locks up, through the lake, and then three locks down. For the first three locks we were side by side of a tour boat with a huge schooner in front of us. Marty helped guide me through everything. I positioned SeaQuil next to the other boat so we could hook up to them with our lines. Every time I did it I held my breath and then let out a sigh of relief that we made it. The boat next to us had tourists who asked us questions and it was lovely to talk to them.
Watching the water rise in the locks was fascinating. The water had huge eddies that we could feel the boat moving as water filled in. We would rise about twenty-eight feet in less than eight minutes. Bryan even said, “Wow!” That is the perfect reaction to the canal. After the first set of locks, the pilots said we might have to stay in the lake over night. The limit for SeaQuil was 5 knots after the temporary repair. There was a point where she would shake if she went too fast. Dad gave me a break from the helm for a short while and cranked her up to 6-7 knots. Marty and Rick helped us cut some corners to get to the last three locks as soon as we could. Mom served breakfast, snacks and a delicious lunch. Everyone on board was definitely well fed. I learned the lake was really good to fish in. There were also fresh water alligators. I saw monkeys in the trees that were around the lake. Four hours later we made it in time to the last set of locks. The huge schooner we were with last time was now behind us. I felt grateful, because if the schooner had not slowed down we would have to sleep in the lake that night. This time we had to hook up monkey fists to our lines. We were in the center of the locks which means the canal line handlers on each side of the canal would have our lines tied to the boat and walk us to the next lock. I had to keep a speed of 2 knots or we would outrun the people. The water in each of the three Gatun Locks was lowered about 30 feet in each lock. As the last locks opened, we had a beautiful view of the Atlantic. Yay! We did it! Marty was an amazing guide and was very patient with me. Both the pilots were warm and friendly with Bryan and the whole family. It was a bit sad to say goodbye to them. We still had to get Ray back to land. SeaQuil was helped at the dock by other boaters as we entered Shelter Bay Marina. We said farewell to Ray. I feel great to be in a marina with friendly and helpful people and a boaters’ community. I haven’t been to Shelter Bay Marina in 13 years. That night, we had air conditioning and pasta. We went to bed early after the long twelve-hour very exciting day. Going through the Panama Canal is a wonderful experience! It was more amazing being able to drive SeaQuil through it. I will treasure the memory forever.