Tag Archives: sailing

The History of the Panama Canal

A brief history on the Panama Canal.  In the 1500’s, King Charles V of Spain studied the feasibility of a canal through the isthmus of Panama.  However, they were unable to create anything substantial with picks and shovels.  So, they settled with a cobblestone trail over which tons of gold was transported.  This trail can still be seen today.  Image author.

Panama Canal trail and map.

Construction begun on the Panama Railway in 1850 which then opened 5 years later.  However, that was only after many hardships, including 10,000 casualties.  Once opened, the canal was a huge success with over 400,000 people crossing the Isthmus in the first 11 years.

Panama Canal Railway. Photo courtesy of Panama Advisory International Group

Panama Canal Railway. Photo courtesy of Panama Advisory International Group

In 1879, Count Ferdinand de Lesseps created the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique Panama.  Columbia granted the exclusive privilege to construct the waterway across the Isthmus of Panama.  This was to be a 99 year agreement.

The Compagnie was obligated to pay $750,000 francs to Columbia within 3 years.  Columbia was also to receive the following payments:

  • 5% of the gross revenues the first 25 years
  • 6% for the next 25 years
  • 7% for the 25 years
  • 8% for the final years.

And they added another clause, that no payment was to be less than $250,000 which was what the Panama Railway was earning.

In exchange for all of the above payments, Columbia would concede 1,235,000 acres of land, plus 200 meters of land on either side.  At the end of the 99 years, Columbia would own all of the equipment, land, and the canal.

Unfortunately, the incredible skill of the french engineers could not overcompensate for the many struggles.  This project incurred rough terrain, disease, and hardships.  Sadly, the company was in financial ruin by 1889.  This was after they spent over $285 million and lost over 20,000 lives.

In 1894, a second french company, the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama emerged to continue the work.  However, they were unable to obtain funding and were forced to sell the equipment and rights to the United States.

Columbia wanted to raise the fees which President Roosevelt felt were already too high.  The two countries hit the negotiation tables. Panama wanted to ceseed from Columbia and President Roosevelt supported the change.  In exchange, the U.S. receive the rights to build the canal.

It took a decade, more than 75,009 workers, and almost $400 million to complete this project.  They faced unprecedented struggles with the unique geology that caused landslides.  In addition, an enormous amount of excavation was required for the massive size of the locks.  Interesting site on “What it Costs, photo courtesy of this site.”

Canal Construction

Canal Construction

The project was completed under budget and ahead of schedule, opening on August 15, 1914.  About $100 million was been spent annually to ensure it remains fully operational.  From 1979-1999 the canal operated in accordance to the treaty between the Republic of Panama and the U.S.  The transfer to the Republic of Panama occurred December 1999.  The Panama Canal Commission now manages everything, which is composed of 5 U.S. citizens and 4 Panamanians.

In 2007, construction began on two new sets of locks that added a new lane of traffic for large ships called Panamax.  At cost of over $5 billion the new lane opened in June 2016 to the traffic of these giant ships.

Compare old and new locks. Photo courtesy of Cruisemapper.com.

Compare old and new locks. Photo courtesy of Cruisemapper.com.

Photo courtesy of Cruisemapper.com.

Stay tuned for more Panama Canal blogs:

  • How the Panama Canal works
  • Transiting the Panama Canal

We are not historians, as a result, we gathered the information for this blog from several resources including:

  • the Bauhaus guide,
  • wikipedia,
  • and the internet

If you want the United States version of this project visit the History of the Panama Canal.

Rey's mascot posed for a photo with me.

Panama Canal Transit Preparations

Sugar Shack arrives to Shelter Bay Marina again after being gone for 3 weeks.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Bocas del Toro and the Rio Chagres, but we need to make ready for our transit.  We have a huge laundry list of things to do before we receive our friends and transit the canal.

We were assigned the same slip at the T-head of C-dock which provides a great breeze through the boat.  We secured the boat and connected up to water and shore power.   I hopped off to pay the marina and collect one of our deliveries.  Marine Warehouse delivered our Engel Cooler and spare alternator a few days ago and we needed to retrieve it.  I baked a batch of chocolate/peanut butter cookies and started an “art project.”  The sail-loft allows you to put your boat name on their building so I spray painted a red box.  Later I will paint “Sugar Shack” in white paint inside the red box.  While I was busy, Matt washed the boat with fresh water and filled the water tanks, emptied the trash, and showed Wayne around the marina.

Across from our boat, the marina “pet” was hanging out.  Yep, that is a 6′ crock and he is real!

Crocodile pet that hangs out at Shelter Bay Marina

Crocodile pet that hangs out at Shelter Bay Marina

We managed to get a few boat projects done, baked brownies, made pizza dough, made arrangements to get our propane tank filled and scheduled a taxi to take us provisioning.  It was a gorgeous day at the marina with light winds, blue skies, and a tempered sun.

Promptly at 1700, we showered and headed toward happy hour to see some of our friends and get some chow.

The next day, Victor our taxi driver picked us up and took us to Super 99, Rey’s, and the outdoor fresh market.  We did some damage at Super 99 picking up the majority of our food and drinks for our guests, then hit the fresh market for a 20 lb pork shoulder and fresh fruits and veggies.

Rey's mascot posed for a photo with me.

Rey’s mascot posed for a photo with me.

20 lb pork shoulder from fresh markets.

20 lb pork shoulder from fresh markets.

It took us awhile to put everything away.  Matt had the butcher chop the 20 lb pork shoulder into 3 sections so it was more manageable.  It still took him about 45 minutes to clean, cut, and vacu-seal everything up.  I am so looking forward to some yummy pulled pork!

We finished up last minute cleaning, scrubbing, and stowing just in time for our friends arrival.  Stacy and Gene arrived first.  They are staying on “Uno Mas” and will be line handlers during their transit of the panama canal.  We are hoping to nest with them during the transit.

Stacy arrives to Shelter Bay.

Stacy arrives to Shelter Bay.

Heather and Michael arrived late in the afternoon and I nearly fell off the dock running to hug them.  It is so awesome sharing our home with our landlubber friends.

The next day, we all went on a little hike near the marina with our friends from “Uno Mas.”  Mark led us around as he and Angie had found the trail.

Shelter Bay Marina used to be an old military base so there are a lot of dilapidated buildings around to explore.

IMAGE: Top shows us exploring two old buildings and artists showcasing amazing graffiti; bottom is an old gun turret and track where they transported ammunition.

Hike around SBM

Hike around SBM

Me walking to the SBM trail.

Me walking to the SBM trail.

IMAGE: Heather is so strong, she helped move a fallen tree. And lower right photo shows Michael swinging through the jungle thus earning his “Tarzan” nickname for the trip.

Hike around SBM.

Hike around SBM.

We received an email from our agent, Erick that we were scheduled for a 0500 transit time.  It was rather surprising as the majority of the transits from the Atlantic to the Pacific are 1600, not 0500.  Not a big deal really, but it means we would be doing the entire transit in one day as opposed to two days with a night in Lake Gatun.  We planned on celebrating being in the lake and going for a dip, but we will have to make other plans.

Matt readied the boat by removing our front life lines, removing our jib sheets, and placing our bean bags over our forward hatches (to protect them from the flying monkey fists).

Heather and Michael helped me finish my art project.  And if I must say, it looks spectacular!

Sugar Shack branded the sail loft wall.

Sugar Shack branded the sail loft wall.

After we returned to the boat we discovered that several things were delivered:

  • Fenders and lines for the transit
  • Generator that we expected a week ago
  • Propane bottle filled and ready to go

With all the deliveries made and most of the prep work done, we headed to the pool for some R&R.

Stacy and Gene headed back to “Uno Mas” while Heather, Michael, Wayne, Matt and I had a nice dinner on shore.  To bed early as we have a 0400 wake up call.

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

Passage: Bocas to Colon

Sugar Shack is on the move again.  It’s time to make the passage from Bocas del Toro to Colon.  After Monday Market at the Drunken Monkey, we headed to the Zapatilla Cays.  The fastest way to Zapatilla is 10 miles southeast through the Crawl Cay channel which runs between Isla Batimentos and Isla Popa.  The only problem is that it is not the easiest route to take.  There is a high proliferation of coral shoals that require good light and polarized glasses.  Thank goodness the sun was high in the sky and no rain was in sight.  We made a few “about faces” and decided to “abort” a few routes, but we made it out safe and sound.

A few hours later, we arrived to the twin islands.  We decided to anchor at Zapatilla Cay Numero 1.  The other island is aptly named Zapatilla Cay Numero 2.  Both islands are a part of the Bastimentos National Park.

Zapatilla Cays in Bocas del Toro

Zapatilla Cays in Bocas del Toro

We were all up early, so we readied the boat for departure and made our way toward our next destination, Escudo de Veraguas.  This is a 32-mile journey that should take us about 5-6 hours.  The wind was acting wonky so we only rolled out the jib.  With no wind instruments we didn’t know the wind speed and we only knew the direction by sticking our face in the wind.

The waves were rolly and at about 2 meters, but they were several seconds apart so it was not terribly uncomfortable.  We did have a 1-2 knot current which helped push us along our path and gave us better speed.  Overall our trip took 5 hours with an average speed of 6.1 and a max speed of 8.8 (down a wave).  Not much to do on this passage, but watch the depth, adjust the sail, and enjoy the ride.

Wayne enjoying the passage.

Wayne enjoying the passage.

On the way, we passed by Cayos Tigre and Tiger Rock which make a big impression as you pass by – thank goodness we are passing by as one would not want to get too close.  Its hard to tell from the photo, but there are three protruding rocks in this set of Cays.  For some reason it made me think of Eagle Rock where my mom grew up.

Cayos Tigre, Bocase del Toro

Cayos Tigre, Bocase del Toro

Escudo de Veraguas has rich waters all around the island.  Many fishermen come from the mainland to fish and skin dive.  There are two anchorages on this island, but some friends recommended the southern anchorage so that is where we dropped our hook.

Image: Left a set of sea caves, top right is a large sea cave with a sandy beach, middle, sandy beach but too hard to approach with the surf, bottom more sea caves.

Escudo de Veraguas, Bocas del Toro

Escudo de Veraguas, Bocas del Toro

We had hoped to go snorkeling and or exploring on shore, but the dreary rain kept us on the boat.  It finally cleared around 1700 so we hopped in Sweetie to go check out the massive sea caves.  This island is pretty remarkable with drastically different landscape.  At one side of the island there is a beach and the other side has huge cliffs with little inlets.  Keep in mind that these two landscapes are on the same side of the island, just different ends.

It was a very rolly anchorage making it uncomfortable to stay more than one night.  We had hoped to remain here for a few nights to clean the hulls and waterline and install the new wind index but the weather conditions made it too unpleasant.  So, we left the next day and headed to a very small anchorage called Euero.

Euero is a 46 mile passage from Escudo de Veragas. The good thing about this weird weather pattern is that the waves were actually going with us rather than against us.  We ended up motor sailing most of the way and arrived around 1600.  The anchorage is supposed to be one of the calmest anchorages along the coast.  However, with the northerly winds it was like being inside a washing machine.  We tooled around trying to see if we could make it work, but decided it was not worth it.  Even though we just spent 7.5 hours on the water, we decided to continue on to Rio Chagres, another 90 miles (or 15 hours).  Will be a long passage and longer day.

No matter how we did the math, we were going to arrive in the middle of the night and that is not good. The entrance to Rio Chagres is challenging enough during the day so we were going to have to figure something out along the way.  Matt took the first shift from 1900-2100, then Wayne took the next shift 2100-0100 and I came up at 0100.

We were blessed with a gorgeous sunset and moon rise.  I tweaked the moon photo too much, but I think it is still pretty.

Sunset and Moonrise underway

Sunset and Moonrise underway

By the time my shift came around, we had a new plan.  We were only 10 miles from the entrance and needed to dilly dally for the next 6 hours until the sun came up.  We had no sails up and shut down the port engine to slow us down.  So, for 3 hours, with one engine, I hand steered trying to maintain a heading of 45-50 degrees.  The general idea was to keep the boat heading in the right direction without too much propulsion.  Not a difficult task, but one that you had to remain vigilant at because Auto could not hold course with one engine, crazy winds, and rogue waves.  The wind and waves constantly wanted to make the boat head up. And you could not cross the wind line without doing a full 360.  It also meant you could not walk around, get food or water as you had to man the helm. Lucky for me, Matt was up periodically and fetched me stuff to keep me awake.

After my shift, Matt continued on the same path for another 3 hours until the beautiful sunrise and a small rainbow.

Sunrise and Rainbow under passage.

Sunrise and Rainbow under passage.

We finally arrived to the entrance around 0700 after killing over 5 hours doing 1 knot. Sounds thrilling right?  As you approach the river mouth, the old Fort San Lorenzo beckons you to look up as it sits majestically a top of the hill.  The entrance is really shallow at 3 meters and tends to have a lot of sediment and a wee bit of current as well.  You can see the fort behind the boys as we passed through the Rio Chagres entrance.

Fort San Lorenzo at Rio Chagres

Fort San Lorenzo at Rio Chagres

Motoring up the river, Sugar Shack splits the water quietly.  It is stunning here. Top image is river before us, bottom is river after we passed by.

Sugar Shack cruising up the Rio Chagres River

Sugar Shack cruising up the Rio Chagres River

The Rio Chagres is a stunning tropical, fresh water river that is surrounded by rain forest. Many believe this is a magical and mystical place that begs for silence which is only broken by the cries of the wild.  After staying here for 2 nights, I have to agree completely.

The Rio Chagres is protected and heavily researched.  The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains an active research presence and all of the wildlife in this area are protected.  The trees form a majestic 50-meter high canopy that starts right at the rivers banks.

Matt at the helm with 50' trees on Rio Chagres

Matt at the helm with 50′ trees on Rio Chagres

Further up the river, we found our own piece of paradise on the Rio Chagres.  We anchored, ate breakfast, and hopped in Sweetie for an adventure.  You can actually take your big boat all the way to Lake Gatun Dam, but we decided to go by dinghy.

There is absolute solitude on the river.  The silence is only broken by the sound of our 25hp outboard and the howler monkeys and birds.  We made the short passage to the dam which was certainly a wonderful sight to behold – especially knowing we will be on the other side in a week.

This river was dammed in 1910 to create the Gatun Lake and supplies the water for the Panama Canal.  A boat can actually navigate 6 miles up the river all the way to Gatun Lake damn.  Many of the earlier pioneers used this passage before the Panama railway was built.

Gatun Dam from Rio Chagres

Gatun Dam from Rio Chagres

There is a lot of wildlife in the area, so we stopped, shut the outboard down and enjoyed the music of the animals.  We did manage to see a sloth and several pretty birds.

Sloth enjoying the cool water before a climb up a tree.

Sloth enjoying the cool water before a climb up a tree.

The cries of the wild. Even though I move the camera, close your eyes and listen to the animals.

Cries of the Wild

Sugar Shack enjoying the Rio Chagres all by herself.

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

We all slept well and hard after our broken sleep from the earlier passage.  It was still and so quiet at night and as the sun rose, the forest came to life.  Matt spotted monkeys in the trees next to us, so we hopped on the SUPs to introduce ourselves. They were shy, but we got a few good photos.

Capuchin Monkey in Rio Chagres

Capuchin Monkey in Rio Chagres

Wayne and I checking out the monkeys on SUPs

Wayne and I checking out the monkeys on SUPs

We spent the next day being lazy, reading, and doing boat projects.

COMPLETED BOAT PROJECTS:

  • Wind index and instrument installed AND working
  • Bow speaker wires installed through hatches
  • VHF speaker replaced (cock pit)
  • Scrape the bottom and props (remove barnacles)
  • Waterline cleaned

Our last passage is the shortest, Rio Chagres to Shelter Bay Marina (SBM).  Weave in and out of the huge cargo ships, into the Chrisobal Panama Canal entry, across the “explosive anchorage” and into a slip for a few days.  In SBM we will do a massive scrubbing of the exterior of the boat, prepare the port office cabin for Heather and Michael, prep several types of dough (pizza, bread, English muffins), provision, baking (cookies, brownies, muffins), and ready the boat for its passage through the Panama Canal.  So excited!!!