On May 4, 1904, the United States took control of the property that would become the Panama Canal. Exactly 83 years later I found myself on a spontaneous flight to Panama, joining Trent Palmer and crew of Challenge. The sloop was anchored in Colón on the Atlantic side and destined for California. The next morning we began our journey through Panama Canal.
Entering the canal zone, our pilot came on board to direct us along the way.
Approaching Gatun Locks, we saw two large ships ahead of us. One had already entered the first chamber while another waited in line.
When it was our turn. I was struck by the chamber’s size and amount of water needed to fill it.
Four sailboats rafted up behind us and we were all bridled to counter turbulent rising water.
The water source comes from manmade Gatun Lake, a result of dams at the Chagres River. The lake stores more than enough to operate the locks and is recharged by surrounding rain forest. They never run out of water.
With the chamber filled, gates open to allow entry to the next step.
After going through 3 chambers at Gatun Locks, the last gate opened and we entered Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea level. While we exited, a large vessel waited to enter, heading in the opposite direction.
Once out on the lake, canal pilot Jim Wood took us to a shortcut, saving considerable time.
The shoreline along the lake is dense jungle that once overlooked a lush valley.
Perched on the bow of Challenge, first mate Billy Burr took in the scenery. Transiting Gatun took about 3 hours. Then arriving at Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks respectively, we descended into the Port of Balboa on the Pacific side. It totaled 8 hours for us to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Challenge was moored at Balboa a few days while we gathered provisions.
Getting underway May 9th, we motored toward the Pacific under the Bridge of the Americas.