Panama Canal Transit               

Feb. 18 to Feb. 22, 2002

Log: Anchored off Panama Canal Yacht Club Colon Panama

Arielís transit through the Panama Canal begins with several days of preparation while anchored in the Ďflatsí on the Caribbean side of Panama. We have already been stamped into the country with the usual port fees, submitting passports, crew lists and vessel documentation. For the transit itself we first notified the Admeasurers Office to have Ariel measured and receive a safety and equipment inspection.

Admeasurers at work on Ariel

Four, 125 feet transit lines are required and 12 plastic bag taped tires are hung from her lifelines to protect the hull from making contact with the rough concrete of the chamber walls during lockages. We rent the lines for $60 and the tires are passed down from one cruiser to another as they finish a transit.

Ariel with tires to protect hull before entering the canal

 After several other forms are filled out the skipper goes to Citibank to pay the transit fee and buffer. The fee is based on overall length and the buffer is used in case additional charges are incurred during the transit and in most cases, it is refunded. As of March 1, 2002 a new memo states that all vessels must have a speed of no less than 8 knots or an addition nonrefundable fee of $450 will be added. Ariel is capable of up to 12 knots under certain conditions so her fee is $1400, with a refund of $600. The lowest fee ever paid was 36 cents in 1928 by Richard Halliburton for a 10 day swim across the canal. The highest toll was for a cargo vessel in 1997 for $184,114.80. The average toll paid for vessels is approximately $45,000.
 Because Ariel is measured at over 65 feet, a pilot is required rather than an advisor. His job is to provide communications with the locks, transiting vessels and Authority Transit Controllers. Our job is to see that he is adequately fed and protected from the sun. There are only 22 advisors, one of which is a women and 300 pilots for the big ships. We are required to also have aboard four line handlers. This is the fun part and we have no problem getting our friends from s/v Leonore of Sark and s/v Liza to take on the job. Roy and Liz on Liza have been friends of the captain for 27 years.


Bill & Trudy  line handlers from  s/v LEONORE OF SARK

Roy & Liz  line handlers from s/v LIZA

Feb. 23, 2002


We have just returned from a practice transit with another vessel as line handlers. It was an awesome experience and one which we gladly obliged to prepare us for taking Ariel through tomorrow.

A practice run through the canal on Dutch boat  FREE DESTINATION

Rolf and Dick aboard ĎFree Destinationí are a couple Dutch men whose wives had just returned to Holland. The women had no intention of sailing across the Pacific so will be meeting them in Tahiti in several months. The boys were on their own. And the fun begin.

                    Steve aboard FREE DESTINATION with Capt. Dick and Rolf

It did not all go so smoothly at first. Free Destination was to tie up with a French boat at a mooring buoy and proceed through the locks in this fashion. No one spoke French, the advisor included. There was Dutch, English and Spanish also to be misunderstood and a jumbled mess and lots of bad words in all languages thrown about. Eventually everyone got caught up in the excitement of transit.  

   Side tied to a French boat in the canal can be an adventure!

Then word came that Free Destination as well as the French boat and another were going to have to spend the night at anchorage half way through the canal system. The Dutch were downhearted. But the Americans came to the rescue. We had read about the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and convinced them a celebration was in order. This magnificent resort sprawling above the tree line overlooking the River Chagres was a total surprise to our Dutch hosts.

View from Gamboa Rainforest Resort across the River Chagres

We motored over crossing the waterway, dodging the huge canal transiting vessels in the little dinghy, tying up at the dock between the half submerged crocodiles. We had a magnificent buffet meal and danced the night away.
 Rolf, Gayla and Dick ready to party at Gamboa half way through canal
 Dee of s/v VENTANA with Steve on FREE DESTINATION arrives to save the day as new line handler from Gamboa when one handler had to leave half way through.


The next day everyone hammed it up for the Internet cameraís not really knowing which one it was. We started off waving to the huge towers holding the fire extinguisher hoses aimed at us, then the security cameras, the microwave towers and eventually the web camera.   A satellite Iridium phone on board informed the wives in Holland to watch the web and confirmed to them that yes, the boys were having a high time.

Getting FREE DESTINATION through the last of the locks

Captain Steve was pleased to begin his celebration without the responsibility of Ariel and the freedom and fun of letting go. A quieter celebration this day the 23th with a favorite Indonesian meal aboard Ariel included champagne and the company of all four of Arielís line handers. There was a more serious note in the air as we discussed the responsibilities of getting older and the duties to get Ariel through safely. Gifts, cards and a big cake ended the evening early.  

Crew as line handle aboard Ariel celebrating Steveís birthday before Arielís transit through the canal

Captain Steve began celebrating two days in the Panama Canal, will end with two more days in the canal and a celebration in the middle. A most fitting transition into Ďmiddle youthí with a transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific.


The Panama Canal is 50 miles long from deep water in the Atlantic to deep water in the Pacific. It was cut through one of the narrowest places and at one of the lowest saddles of the long isthmus which joins the North and South American continents. It requires about 9 hours for an average ship to transit the Canal. Itís principal physical features are the two terminal ports, short sections of the channel at either end at sea level, the three sets of twin locks, Gatun Lake and Gaillard Cut. A ship is raised or lowered 85 feet in a continuous flight of three steps at Gatun Locks. Each lock chamber is 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long. Gatun Lake, through which the ships travel for 23.4 miles from Gatun Locks to the north end of Gaillard Cut, is one of the largest artificial bodies of water in the world. The Gaillard Cut is 8 miles long through rock and shale for most of the distance. It was here that the principal excavation was required and the devastating slides occurred during construction and soon after the canal was opened. The channel in Gaillard Cut was originally excavated to a width of 300 feet the narrowest section of the canal. During the 1930ís and 1940ís, the straight section was widened to 500 feet in order to provide a passing section for large ships, and during the period 1957-1971, the remaining portions of the Cut were also widened to 500 feet. The transiting ship is lowered to sea level at Miraflores Locks which are slightly over a mile in length. The lock gates at Miraflores are the highest of any in the system because of the extreme tidal variation in the Pacific.
  Due to Arielís length she gets a pilot rather than an advisor for the transit through the Panama Canal

Looking back to Limon Bay from inside Gatun Locks

Feb. 25 to Feb. 26, 2002

Log: Arielís Transit through the Panama Canal
Wind 10 to 15 knots
Turbulent to calm water
Sunny warm

7:30AM Crew arrives by Arielís dinghy. Trudy and Bill of Leonore of Sark. Liz and Roy of Liza.
7:45AM Dinghy hauled up on foredeck and pontoons washed.
10:05AM Pilot arrives, dropped off by tug.
10:15AM Anchor up, motoring across Limon Bay southbound toward Gatun Locks. Freighter Astromar from Cyprus and one tug also going south. Astromar is 625 feet, 63.60 maximum width. Our pilot informs us that we will be tied Center Lock which is alone and in the center behind the freighter.

Land line handler ready to through monkey fist with line over Arielís mizzen boom

11:23AM Entering Gatun Locks. Land line handlers along the upper wall of the lock throw a line with a monkey fist knot to port bow. A second line to the port stern is thrown but misses and the entire line drops into the water. Arielís stern swings closer to the wall. Capt. Steve shouts for another line and backs off engine power till line passes by the stern and not tangled in the prop. New line is thrown and all tied on port side. Ariel then heads starboard and two perfect lines are thrown to Arielís line handlers, tied to the monkey fist, pulled up by the land line handlers and secured to a bollard. Opposite end of lines secured to Arielís bow and stern cleets.
11:35AM Locks close. Ariel is now cut off from the Atlantic.
11:36AM We are at the bottom of a dark slim covered pit. The cement walls rise up above our masts dripping and oozing. There is the sound of the freighters engines ahead of us and itís huge hulk looming over us.
11:37AM Suddenly we feel Ariel tremble. A more violent motion then we are surrounded by massive bubbling circles of turbulent water. From the force of gravity gallons of angry brown water belch up from 8 foot circular shafts in the lock floor and
mix with the placid green waters of the canal. The higher we rise the more still the waters become until we have risen to the top, 29 feet higher.


Back up from bottom of the Gatun locks and moving on to the next lock

Single track electric locomotive or Mule pulling larger ships out of locks into canal

11:47AM Astromarís engines thrust violent torrents of water rushing toward Ariel in a huge prop wash. Single track electric locomotives or Ďmulesí on either side of the lock pull Astromar's massive hull forward to the second lock at 1 1/2 kts .
11:51AM Arielís lines are slackened. Land line handlers walk her lines forward.
11:58AM Entering Gatun Locks #2, lines hauled up and secured around bollards. Arielís line handlers tighten lines on cleets.
12:02PM Gates of second lock slowly close behind. Ariel goes into neutral with engines running. Shuttering and shaking we are rising once again on a turbulent floor of belching circular pools.
12:12PM Prop wash from freighter begins.
12:17PM Lines slackened , walking lines to Gatun Lock #3
12:23PM A bag of coca colaís are tied to the lines, dropped in the water and hauled up along with the lines by the land line handlers, a thank you from Arielís crew.
12:27PM Locks closed, water rising up carrying Ariel above the gates to a spectacular view of the first two locks behind, the last look at the Atlantic beyond.
12:42PM Front gates open. Prop wash from Astromar as she moves forward
12:45PMLines thrown off and pulled aboard. Entering the fresh water of Gatun Lake, 85 feet higher than the Atlantic.

Ariel motoring past freighter at 9 Ĺ knots through Gatun Lakes

The channel through Gatun Lake is well marked. Formally a vast jungle, outside the channel are downed trees just under the surface. Wind is 22 knots as we hoist the jib and point toward the last two locks 28 miles ahead. Our pilot advises Steve at the helm should we reach the locks in front of Astromar there is a possibility we might get through the locks today otherwise there is a chance we may have to anchor at Gamboa. The challenge is on. The large ship Astromar must stay in the center deep channel while
Ariel takes the Banana Cut, to shorten our sail by half an hour.

1:35PM we are side by side racing with a 625 foot freighter at 9 1/2 knots.
1:39PM Ariel passes in front of Astromar, her bow wake almost as high as Arielís freeboard. It is the nightmare of every sailor to see a steaming freighter so close.
1:49PM The freighter passes Ariel.
2:15PM Call from Transit authority informs us we will not make it through the locks today as it will be dark by the time we must transit and the land line handlers go off duty at 6PM. Only about 6 yachts make it through in a day in high season, after April only two or so a day. This is due to organizing the yachts to transit on freighters schedules.

Steve and Gayla inside Gamboa Rainforest resort for the second time through the canal



Again a night at the Gamboa anchorage where the low jungle has given way to hills and valleys. It is a pleasant repose. It is another night of celebration at the Gamboa rainforest resort. We are anchored across from the largest floating crane in the world, the Titan built in Germany during the war. It is used for maintenance on the locks and capable of picking up to 700,000 pounds.

The Titan floating crane largest floating crane in the world
 in Gamboa anchorage Ĺ way through Panama Canal

Bill & Steve having apple kruken breakfast in anchorage

Day 2
10:33AM a new pilot is dropped off by a tug boat and we are under way minus one line handler but we still have four, the required amount.
10:35AM Making our way toward the Continental Divide we are heading for the final three stages of locks which will lower Ariel back to sea level. Approaching the narrowest part of the ĎBig Ditchí we enter the 7 mile long Gaillard Cut.

Heading for the Gaillard Cut


11:15AM Passing the highest mountain, off our port side, which has been terraced to reduce slides.
11:35AM Tying up to east lock port side wall to wait for following tug boat.
12:00PM Entering Pedro Miguel lock. This time we tie up to a tug while a huge car carrier moves in behind. When going down. yachts are always in front of the huge ships.
12:13 PM Locks closed. The process of being lowered the 20 feet is calm and quiet. One minute we are above the walls with an expansive view in a nice breeze then slowly descend like an elevator into a wet basement.

Steve on Arielís stern tied to tug with huge car carrier behind


12:28PM Locks open, motoring on to Mira Flores locks past Pedro Miguel yacht club.
12:35PM Pilot informs us we will be going in center chamber with two bow lines and two stern lines secured to bollards on opposite lock walls. First must tie up at the side wall before entering. Steve finds this unacceptable for the safety of Ariel as the walls are too low. Pilot gives ok to hang out in center using engine control.
12:37 PM to 12:45PM Ariel makes several small circles to stay in line with the canal as strong wind gusts blow bow around.

Steve and Gayla on bow of Ariel in Mira Flores Locks

1:01PM Entering Mira Flores locks.   We are not sure where the internet cameras are located which capture the boats coming through the locks at 5 second intervals and can be viewed on  A huge sign: HAPPY 5OTH STEVE is mounted on the foredeck.   Capt. Steve does a beautiful hand stand below the mast.

Steve doing hand stand in front of web camera

1:18PM Locks close. We wave at the spectators in the booth next to the lock as we are lowered
once again on still calm waters, only our rigging, masts and SSCA commodore flag waving
a last goodbye as we descend.
1:30PM we are at the bottom, land out of sight, humankind only tiny specs on the side walls above.
1:35PM Motoring to second and last lock of Mira Flores.
1:45PM The huge car carrier enters into the lock behind Ariel as the locks close and the usual
process begins. 
1:47PM Arielís last of the three stage lowering to the level of the Pacific and we have made it
through without incidence. We are all very proud and very happy crew.

Last of the Mira Flores locks

2:00PM  The last gates of the majestic Mira Flores locks swing open.  We throw off the lines, free at last.  Capt. Steven Reinken has entered his second half century in grand style as he glides Ariel under the Bridge of the Americas into the mighty Pacific ocean for the  first time.


                 Steve and Gayla heading for the Bridge of the Americas and into the Pacific Ocean.

Ariel is safe in the harbor off Panama City Panama in the Pacific. She had a two day safe passage through the Panama Canal Feb. 24 and 25, 2002.
Do to the response of those who emailed or phoned the camera web site at the canal when she did not appear on Feb. 24th, Ariel was chosen to be viewed on camera for one hour with close ups on her passage through the next day Feb.25. Ariel entered the Mira Flores locks at 1:01PM and exited at 2:00PM EST. Thanks to all who participated.
Where is Ariel headed?


                                            Up dates from Ariel's Panama Canal Transit
Update Feb. 23, 2002

Ariel is celebrating the 50th Birthday of her captain Stephen Reinken as he makes the transition from his first half century to his second half century with a transit from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 at approximately 2:00PM eastern standard time Ariel will be passing through the Panama Canal.

You can be part of the celebration by watching Ariel entering the Mira Flores locks at on the Canal photo website address:
or if you get lost go to:

Due to the fact that Ariel will be totally under the control of the Panama Canal Authority the approximate time may be changed. An Update will be sent via Ariel;s winlink email system from inside the canal at approximately 12 noon Sunday Feb. 24, 2002 with a more exact time.

Update Feb. 24, 2002

Ariel has nested with the crocodiles, two to be exact, in the center of the Panama Canal Zone for the night. Crew made their way across the waterway by dinghy, to the spectacular Gamboa Rainforest Resort overlooking the River Chagres. It was a festive evening.

Now we have lost one crew who had to return to Colon. Ariel will now be finishing the transit through the last three locks with an entire female crew except for one and Capt. Steve. There will be a sign on the bow, donít miss itÖyou will know it is Ariel.

Our scheduled time to pass the Internet camera is Monday Feb. 25, 2002 at 1:00PM EST give or take an hour. Hope you all will join us again. Thank you for participating. Sorry for the delay but after all this is Panama.

Canal photo website address:
or if you get lost go to:

Update Feb.25, 2002

Subject: Ariel Panama Canal Transit Time Final


Oficina de Administracion Ejecutiva/Executive Administration Office
Comunicacion Internacional - Unidad de Servicios de
Orientacion/ International Communication - Orientation Service Unit
Autoridad del Canal de Panama/Panama Canal Authority
Tel: 276-8325/272-3187 Fax:276-8492
*On March 14, 2002 a very rare occurrence happened when two huge freighters ran into each other in the middle of Gatun Lake. There was extensive damage to the bow of one while the other was towed to a mooring where it ultimately sank.

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