"Things happen" said our Panama Canal advisor shortly after he boarded Rhapsody at 5 AM for our canal crossing and we told him the engine wasn't running.
I didn't want to tell him just how often "things" have been happening!
|Moises, our Canal Advisor, safely on board|
We had just had the engine worked on. New injectors were installed, the turbo charger and the heat exchanger were cleaned, oil was changed, all should be good to go, right? We took Rhapsody out for a sea trial with the mechanic on board, pushed the engine hard and Rhapsody responded. We felt confident that everything was up to snuff and ready for a canal transit.
We left the marina in the evening with our line handlers on board. Our crew consisted of a young couple from France, Phillips and Natacha, and Kavin, an experienced line handler from Panama. There was no problem as we motored out to the anchorage, no problem as we began pulling up the anchor at 4:30 to go to meet our advisor. The anchor was all the way up when I heard the engine alarm going off. Bob quickly stopped the engine and went to investigate. There was a film of oil that had sprayed in the engine compartment. Both Kavin and Bob were working on the engine, I am, yet again, attempting to steer a powerless boat, trying to keep it off the rocks and out of the Panama Canal traffic lane, those boats are BIG!
There is a boat approaching us in the dark. Do they see us? They are heading right towards us and I have no engine and the sails are not up so I have no way to get out of the way. Is it the pilot boat with the advisor aboard? I hope so, because it is coming very close! Yes, our pilot joins us just as Bob figures out that the mechanic put the oil filter on in a way that the gasket was pinched. Just enough to cause a small leak that we missed on our sea trial. The question now is, do we have enough oil on board to replace what sprayed out? I had visions of returning to the marina and knocking on the hull of our friend's boat Hanalei since I knew they had recently purchased some oil for their boat. Fortunately we had enough, the engine started, there was no further spraying and no alarm.
Can we go now?
By 5:15 AM all was working and we were off to cross back through the Panama, back to the Caribbean and away from our hopes of making it to the Galapagos and French Polynesia this year. This has not been an easy decision, many discussions, looking and the pros and cons of every option, I even wrote up a spreadsheet to try to make sense of it (it didn't help!).
So, back through the canal it is, not many sailboats go this direction through the canal, the vast majority of them are going from the Caribbean to the Pacific, as we did two years ago. The Panama canal operates for the big cargo ships. Little cruising boats like ours are just an add-on, they will fit us in when they can. They will not operate the locks solely for a little boat ( and by little I mean anything under 200 feet long!) so the little boats can only transit the canal when a large boat is going through, but not too large as there won't be any room for us to fit in with them!
We are paired with the cargo boat "Interlink Equity" flagged from the Marshall Islands. When a boat is "flagged" from a particular country it doesn't mean that it has ever, or will ever, actually go there, it just means the taxes are favorable there. Three locks up to Lake Gatun and then three locks back down to the Caribbean Sea. On the up locks the little boats wait for the big boats to enter first and we follow behind them. The process is reversed on the down locks with the little boats going first.
|Our canal "buddy boat" passing by|
After our little hiccup at the start we hoped that we were not off schedule. The big boats and the locks will not wait for us. Fortunately there is a nice buffer of time built in, and we had to pull over to wait for Interlink Equity to pass us to enter into the first lock..
|Rhapsody (lower left) in the lock|
Stay tuned for part 2, our trip through the canal in pictures, and that other "thing that happened"