Panama Canal cruise Feb. 8 Ė Feb. 18, 2001
Kathy and I had the opportunity to cruise to the Panama Canal with some of the members of the Silverton owners club.
While this is not exactly the kind of report we will be doing in the future, we thought others might be interested in some of the things we saw and learned on this cruise.
We were on the ship Regal Empress out of Manatee harbor in Tampa Bay.
This cruise showed us that the weather is a factor for all vessels on the seas.
It was Kathyís first cruise, and she did great, but more on that later.
Our itinerary was to have stops at Georgetown, Grand Cayman, Panama Canal, San Blas, Puerto Limon and San Andres.
After clearing the jetties leaving Tampa Bay, the wind began to pick up. It was reported to be force 6 with 13-15 ft seas. Most all the stops required taking a tender to shore. The ship is fairly small, carrying about 650 passengers, so we did feel the waves a fair amount. However, more to the point, the waves made it impossible to get tenders along side and loaded. Most of the passengers did well, although, the dinner seating was quite sparse. Kathy got a little of the mal de mer, but an occasional Dramamine kept her going.
We missed Georgetown and sailed directly to Panama. We were at sea for 4 days (longer than crossing the Atlantic).
We did do the canal, however, and it was quite an experience. Not quite the same as Tom and Ann Caywood reported, but very much worth the trip.
The canal seemed to be well run, although we were on a commercial ship and not a pleasure craft, and our ship had a Panamanian narrator during the lockage. He described all the functions of the locks and the history of the making of the canal .
We locked up the Gatun locks into Gatun Lake, and then that night, locked back down.
There are two parallel channels traversing the canal. Depending on volume, they can be used for one ship Westbound and one Eastbound. While we were locking through there was another cruise ship Westbound in the channel next to us.
There are Mules (motorized these days) on either side of the ship that guide the ship through the canal. The ships enter and leave under their own power. The mules serve to keep the ship in the center of the channel and assist in stopping the ship as it enters the lock. They do not pull the ship through. Each mule travels on a track with a cog in the center and has cable leading to the bow and stern of the ship. The cable are on powered drums in the mules and on commands from the canal pilot on the shipís bridge they are tightened or loosened and the mule operator acknowledges the command by clanging a bell. The sound is just like the bells on the San Francisco cable cars. The locks operate in the same manner as the locks on the Tenn-Tom waterway.
We had a sailboat following along behind us and it was apparent that they were having a lot of difficulty with the prop wash as we exited the locks. I am not sure I would like that experience.
We also got to tour the rain forest and the Chagres River. This river is the water supply for the locks. A huge earthen dam that was the largest in the world when the canal was built formed Gatun Lake.
It was also an interesting trip. We had never seen a 3-toed sloth, they are strange little creatures. . We saw several species of monkeys, but we didnít see any crocodiles..
After leaving the Panama Canal, the seas were obviously no better. Therefore we missed San Blas, Puerto Limon and San Andres. Instead, we sailed for an unscheduled stop in Cozumel, where we could tie to the dock. We were in Cozumel for an overnight, which is quite unusual. It gave us the opportunity to really enjoy Carlos and Charlies. They make REAL Margaritas. It is quite the place and quite rowdy. Donít let your young daughters go there.
The cruise was great and we had a good time with the 36 Silverton owners aboard. Nyla Deputy and Jan Paytas were excellent hostesses. We also met John and Claire Lackey and became good friends.
Each night before and after dinner, we gathered in the piano bar to hear Lenny Grandchamp. Kathy sat in for several songs and made a hit with the patrons.
All in all, it was a memorable trip, especially if you are able to adapt to changes in itinerary.
There are more pictures in the Panama Canal album
Till the next account
Richard and Kathy