Captain's Log

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Canal Preparations

Wednesday June 9, 2010

All hands worked yesterday to prepare the ship for transit through the Panama Canal. We were at anchor in Anchorage Area B, at the northwest corner of the harbour. We came through the giant breakwater on Monday afternoon to anchor, surrounded by lots of ships, some many times our size.

In order to go through the Canal, the ship must meet certain requirements – we must bring everything that stretches beyond the sides of the ship inboard, so that means bringing the boats which hang in the davits aboard the ship, turning the davits in and cockbilling the fore and main yards (that means bracing them up sharp and tipping them). We launched both the longboat and the skiff to use them both for cleaning and spot painting the topsides – we want the ship to be looking spiffy for her transit – before bringing them on board. More crew were working inboard, cleaning and painting the bulwarks. In the meantime, another watch was working on shifting things on top of the galley house, putting the gangway inside the wooden skiff, moving our dory, Sea Never Dry, into the middle to make space for the longboat on the port side. Another group of people were working on rigging up yard tackles for hoisting the longboat to the galley house roof. There are also requirements for a boarding station with the ladder over the side of the ship, hand rails and steps down to deck so that canal personnel can board the ship easily, plus awnings to provide shade for them. Yet another small group was working on the mainsail for the Mermaid, roping it and working to get it finished in time to meet the deadline.

It’s amazing how much work can get done and how good the ship can look when the full crew are working together. After lunch, we were ready to hoist the long boat on board, using two yard tackles, the stay tackle and the upper tops’l halyard. All hands participated in this, lifting the long boat out of the water and maneuvering it inboard and forward onto the strongbacks. It was then lashed tightly in place for the Canal transit. It has rained periodically since we arrived in Panama, so our daily routine has involved loosing sail in the morning to allow it to dry and stowing it again in the afternoon.

Once the last few things were finished up and sails were stowed, two watches were set free to check out the Shelter Bay Marina. The seedy yet funky old Cristobal Yacht Club, where we have gone ashore on previous world voyages, was bulldozed in order to make more space for container terminals. Shelter Bay is an old US Army base, turned into a marina four years ago. Seems like a lovely place, and we were glad to be welcomed ashore there. The last skiff was an early one as things close down at the marina at 9pm, and also because we had an early morning this morning.

Before any Canal transit, the ship must be inspected by the Canal authorities and we had to shift anchorages for our inspection. All hands were awoken about 0530 to get underway at 0600, bound for Anchorage Area F, closer to the entrance to the Canal. Anchorage Area F is for yachts and other smaller vessels, so we’re surrounded here by a bunch of coasters, similar in length to us. The inspection will take place here at Area F, so we’re finishing up the final few things and standing by for the boarding officer to arrive. Where we used the skiff for runs ashore yesterday, and to have it available while we were underway this morning, it has not yet been brought aboard. We will use the same system of tackles that we used yesterday for the long boat in order to lift the skiff and bring it onto the main hatch for the transit.

We have a great view of all the vessel traffic here, watching ships come and go through the main channel. As we motored from one anchorage to another this morning, we had to cross the channel, going astern of a giant container ship and well ahead of a car carrier. We’re closer now to the cargo terminals, with giant cranes sticking up into the sky for loading and unloading containers. It’s incredible to see the size of the ships and the operation that is required to move goods around the world.

This just in: the word is that Pilot will board the Picton Castle at 0430 tomorrow and we’re to be at the fist lock about 0600 to begin our climb over this continent bound for the Pacific Ocean.

coaster neighbours at Anchorage Area F
crossing astern of the container ship in the main channel
Katie touches up the paint on the hull
lifting the monomoy onto the galley house strongbacks

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