- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

26 March 2012; Panama Canal, Panama.

I am now going through the Canal for 32 years, as long as I have been at sea and it never ceases to amaze me. I am always impressed by the sheer significance of it all but also by the fact that it is never the same. There is always something happening, something that is not expected. Either good or bad. Those of you who have read my previous blogs about the Canal already know of the peculiar things that “happen” in the course of a transit and today was no different.  As with each transit it starts the day before. We get the schedule that we duly publicize in the Daily Program or the Explorer as we call it nowadays.  What then happens next are the modifications that the Canal Operations manages to make to it.  Today the sting was in the tale and I almost managed to overtake the Zuiderdam which only spends a half day in the Canal, doing the Gatun Lake in/out cruise.

Panama Schedule:

As instructed:                                                                                    (Factual)

Be al Balboa anchorage no later than 0430hrs.                    04.15

 Transit will continue as follows:


 Arriving           630hrs                                                                       06.27    

Departing        0730hrs                                                                    07.28


 Arriving           0755hrs                                                                     07.54

Departing        0835hrs                                                                    08.31    


 Passing by      0935hrs                                                                    09.33

 GATUN LOCKS (West Lane)

 Arriving          1320hrs                                                                      12.08      

Departing       1510hrs                                                                     13.02

 Basis on above schedule we estimate vessel sailing time Cristobal at 1600hrs.   13.57

As you can see, apart from an earlier start, we were keeping the schedule quite well, until suddenly around 10 am.  The locking sequence at the Gatun Locks changed and we did not need time to kill in Gatun Lake.  That brought the schedule forward by an hour and 10 minutes and then the Lockmaster sped up the locking sequence. What was scheduled to last 1h 50 minutes could now also be done in 54 minutes.

 Panama_CanalThe early start of the transit is a mixed blessing. Some guests would like to see everything by daylight and not having to get up so early, on the other hand seeing a small part during its night operation is a sight to be beheld as well. Then doing the 2nd locks in full daylight but with the temperatures still bearable gives another positive twist to it all.  As the Canal relies on rain water to make its operation possible we did get a sampling of the rain in Panama as well. All in all a crossing like this gives a very good overview of how the Panama Canal works and what it means to live in Panama.  

As a result we were two hours early than planned out of the Canal.  As we do not miss anything in the Canal, we still do the same route; it does not affect the guests.  If you have to sit for 2 hours in Gatun Lake with only rain to look at is boring as well.

 Thus now we were out by 2 pm and started crossing the SW corner of the Caribbean Sea they call the Columbian Basin. That will make us arrive at 07.15 at the Cartagena Pilot Station and then we should be docked by around 08.45 as it is an hour to get to the dock from the pilot station.

I want to dock nose out this time, so departure does not take that long and also because we are expecting wind in the afternoon and that makes swinging more difficult as I have to turn the stern in the wind.

For the rest it looks like a sunny day with very high temperatures as it will be wind still in the morning and then in the afternoon the wind will start to pick up.


  1. I’m sure you have read David McCullough’s fabulous book “Path Between the Seas”…if not, you would enjoy it immensely.
    Looking forward to having you as “our Captain” on our April 27th cruise on the Statendam back to San Diego! Look forward to meeting you in person!
    Jan and Chris McNeill

  2. Kapitein: Joke is op het vliegtuig en onderweg.
    Wij gaan iedere dag je weblog lezen.

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