Prism's Blog

The Panama Canal

The Process as of October/ November 2016:

We e-mailed the  information listed below with the Subject: Handline Vessel “Name of Vessel” Northbound (Southbound) Transit Request,  to

Attached in the email was a copy of our documentation, copies of all (official, not your line handlers ) crew passport and the 4405-i-registration form. Follow this link for the form —>Request for Transit Booking Form

  • Vessel Information:
  • First visit: 
  • SIN (Ship Identification Number): 
  • Vessel Name: 
  • Flag: 
  • E-mail Address: 
  • Speed: 
  • Type of Small Craft: 
  • Length Overall (in meters): 
  • Extreme Breadth (in meters): 
  • Hull Color: 
  • Passengers or Crew List Information:
  • Last Name: 
  • First Name: 
  • Birthplace: 
  • Birthdate: 
  • Nationality; 
  • Rank; 
  • ID Type; 
  • ID Number; 
  • Last Name:  
  • First Name:
  • Birthplace:
  • Birthdate: 
  • Nationality: 
  • Rank:
  • ID Type: 
  • ID Number: 
  • Vessel Location: 
  • Telephone number: 
  • Request Date for Transit:  
  •  Arrival date and time:

After we sent the email, we received an email the same day to schedule the ADMeasure. If you are not in a marina then you have to go to the pick up site to meet a pilot-boat. On the pacific side the site is between red marker buoys 2 and 4. It can be rough when the winds pick up here, making it quite an event when you are loading and un-loading a human being. It took multiple tries to 2 different types of pilot boats for our ADMeasure employee to get onboard. Once she was on board the process was simple. They measure LOA including davits, wind vanes, dinghys, if it is attached to the front or the aft of your boat they count it. When you are filling out the forms and they ask how you want to transit, i would recommend being side tided to a canal boat, tug, work boat etc, or being center chambered. Being rafted with other cruisers can be difficult, and you do not want to be side tided to the wall.

Once you have your forms and your official number from the Ad measure then you get to go to the bank and pay. To get to the City Bank that takes the transit payment is easy, most of the taxi drivers know where it is, and if they don’t then you can tell them to take you to Niko’s Cafe. The bank is part of the same building as the cafe, right in-between the Happy Copy and the cafe, you can’t miss it. You can also take  the Albrook/ Amador Metro Bus and get off /near the Teatro Balboa.

The city bank is located behind the orange cone in the picture in the upper left corner.









You have to pay in cash, and make sure you have your bank information including the key code for a wire transfer or electronic funds transfer. Call your bank ahead of time, as they do not like you to be on the phone in the bank.

Once we paid we got a receipt and that was it.  Wait a few hours or so and then call the Scheduler (507) 272-4202 which is a Panama number. They asked us when we wanted to go through. We asked for Nov. 1st, they said no problem. They asked us to call at 8pm the night before to get our final call time.

Next step is to get Lines and tires and line up some crew to be line handlers for your crossing. We called Tito (507)6463-5009, and he is the man who makes it easy. He finds you lines and tires. Our total cost for renting the tires was $100 for everything, including 6 tires and 4 lines that are 125ft long. He delivers and picks up, or has one of his friends do it.

You are asked to have food and bottled water for your advisor during his or her time aboard. We had great advisors on every transit and they all seemed to be non picky and very happy with any and all food made.

Alright now that we have all our ducks in a row, here is our transit story:

November 1, 2016 4:20am

Our crew is all on board, we had Jöurn from Scooby II, Roy from Mabrooka and Jet from Catamaran 360. The coffee is brewing and we started to make our way from the wet season anchorage over to the pick up point between red marker buoys 4 and 6. We were early for our 5:30 pickup, and good thing to, the pilot-boat was also early.  So we had our advisor, also named Roy, on board by 5am. It was high tide, and about to switch so we started to make our way up to the first set of locks. It was a classic hurry up and wait type of scenario.

Our crew arriving at 4:00am
Everyone in the cockpit drinking coffee and waking up
Our advisor Roy boarding Prism
Making out way down the channel towards balboa yacht club
Shannon and Jet getting their quarters ready to toss in under the bridge.
Panama City Port
Panama City Port

So we made our way under the bridge by day break and were told we were going to be side tided to a tug. Alright we were ready, we doubled up the tires on the port side and readied the fore and aft lines along with a spring line. Jon brought Prism in with ease, and we tied up with no hiccups. Sweet our transit is off to a great start! Up we go!! Easy.

Um, are we really going in there?
Good Bye Pacific Ocean!
Good Bye Pacific Ocean!
Jet and Jöurn making sure our lines and fenders are perfect

Alright this is where things start to get a bit crazy. At the top of the first chamber, the big ship gets pulled ahead. We untie from the tug move to the side and the tug moves forward. We take our time moving up into the next chamber to make sure all the tugs and ships are in place and ready to receive us.

Jon at the helm bringing us into the next chamber int the Miraflores Locks

Well… this is not go as planned. They are getting ready to close the gates, we are coming in to side tie to the same tug, but the tug and ship in front of us seem much closer than before, and there is no one on the tug to catch our lines. As we get sucked in the tug in charge of the big ship warns us that the ship is being pushed backwards and they need to thrust forward which is not going to be pretty for our little prism.

Ready or not, the gates are closing!
Ready or not, the gates are closing!

In a matter or 30 seconds shit it the fan and Jöurn came to the rescue, he saw we HAD to get our forward line attached to the tug ASAP, so he jumped onto the tugboat. Just in time we were able to get the line secured as the gates closed and the forward tug gave full throttle forward to stop the ship from coming any further back. We had to work quick in order to stop prism from being sandwiched between the 2 tugs. It was all hands on deck and thank goodness we had extra fenders at the ready.

*** Note that in the pictures below, the giant black ship is getting closer and closer to our boat, and this all happened within 45 seconds****

Jöurn just noticed no-one is there to catch the bow line
Jöurn aka Tug Jumper to the rescue!
Jöurn running along the side of the tug
Shannon rushing to the bow to secure the other end of the bow line
Shannon rushing to the bow to secure the other end of the bow line
Pull faster Shannon!! AH
Pull faster Shannon!! AH
Shit shit shit
Shit shit shit
Jet is on the bow, protecting the sprit from the tug, while Advisor Roy and Shannon tend to the lines to bring us back a bit
All tied up, now we hold on. That was CLOSE


Jet was on the bow with a fender protecting our sprit as little as she could from the large tug in front of us.  That was a wild ride and it was not over yet. The Tug captain who was pushing the ship informed us that we needed to make sure our lines were very secure and then he asked us to all step back. He wanted no one near any of the lines just incase they snapped. He told us he needed to give full forward throttle to get the big ship moving forward and it was going to cause quite the turbulence for our little boat. That  got my blood going, and we all did as he asked, everyone held on and prepped for the worst. Lucky for  us our lines held strong and we did not get rocked to hard. No damage done to Prism or any of the crew. We made it through the Miraflores Locks. Our advisor talked with the tug captain, the pilot for the ship and the canal officials  and asked if we could be center chambered for the next set of locks, they all agreed it would be for the best.


We made the short distance across to the Pedro Miguel Locks.  Being center chambered takes all hands on deck. One person at every corner of the vessel. We were all ready to receive the monkey fist messenger lines, as they threw the 2nd fist it did hit Jöurn in the chest, but he was oaky, thank goodness! We sent out our lines and all did a great job keeping the our lines tight and Prism stayed dead center for her last trip up. The Locks opened and we were ready to start our 20nm journey to/ through Gatun Lake.  We took the time during our crossing to bring our racing hearts back down to a normal pace.

Shannon and Jöurn Manned the bow lines while we were center chambered
Shannon and Jöurn Manned the bow lines while we were center chambered
Jet and Roy manned the stern lines
Jet and Roy manned the stern lines

We tried hard and missed the chance to do the canal in one day by 20 minutes! We could see the Locks and the ship, Roy, our advisor tried hard to get the large ship to just hang for another 20 min as it was the last ship to go down that day. They waited for as long as they could, which was about 10 minutes while we pinned Prism and cut the corners of the channel, but we still did not make it. Oh well.

Welcome to the Panama Canal!
Panama Canal working boats
Jon at the helm making way through the channels leading to the Lake
That orange crane has been in commission since the beginning of the canal!

Off to the large Red Rubber Buoy we went to start our night on  Gatun Lake.  Jöurn aka Tug Jumper is so quick on his feet I almost did even notice he had made the jump to the buoy to secure Prism for the night. I think I told Jöurn I loved him about 10000 times that day. If it were not for his quick thinking, fast feet and tug jumping skills, Prism could have been seriously damaged during our transit.


The Red Rubber Buoy
The Red Rubber Buoy

I made a pasta dinner with  fresh bread. We drank all the beer on board ( clearly we did not buy enough) and played a game of Mexican Train Dominoes. It was a Sad/ Crazy / Funny game for Jon and I. We were teaching our crew how to play and it seriously looked like Jon and I had rigged the game. Jon or I won every round, and even Jon would grab another domino just so he would not go out, and yet still would. After a few rounds it got to the point where it was just ridiculous,  then there was mutiny aboard. Needless to say we didn’t finish the game, all on a laughing basis of corse.


Having 5 adults sleeping on Prism takes a bit to set up for everyone to have their own bed. So we cleared out the back cabin, Bed 1. We stuffed the sails in the dinette and blew up an inflatable mattress then laid it on top of the table, Bed 2. Made sure the STBD side settee was clear, Bed 3, and Jon and I slept in our Pullman berth.  We have enough fans aboard to make sure there is plenty of air being circulated, so we think everyone slept good… well they told us as much.

Ships lining up for the Gatun Locks

We called the scheduler before we went to bed and were asked to call again in the morning for a confirmed time for our new advisor to meet us, but it was looking to be around 12:30.  That seemed late to us, as normally the pick up time  in the lake is around 8 or 9 am. Oh well. The next morning we called and got a new time of 1:30pm.  After a few round of coffee no one was ready for breakfast, I was stoked we had all late breakfast eaters aboard! MY KINDA CREW!  So we all went for a swim… yes we know there are crocodiles, but we were not to worried about them, and as a just in case we always had one person out of the water on Croc Watch… But we all make it out with all limbs and fingers.

In she goes
Roy and Jet enjoying the fresh water
Jon and Shannon jumping in
Jöurn in for a swim
Jöurn in for a swim

I served a last breakfast with once again fresh bread,  just in time to get cleaned up and for the advisor to arrive.  We really enjoyed our advisor Roy from the day before and were truly hoping to have another great advisor.  I’ll start off by stating that with-in the first minute of seeing our new advisor  I thought the rest of our transit was going to be postponed…


When our advisor made the jump from the pilot boat to the red buoy ( much easier of a transfer than Prism’s decks) he landed wrong on his ankle. We thought he had broken it and that was it for the day. But he stood up, said it hurt but he was good. He limped his way to our cockpit and stayed seated for the trip. We untied Prism from the buoy and started to make our way to the locks. The ship we were scheduled to be in the locks with was coming around the corner, everything was looking good, we were once again scheduled to be side tied to a tug. The large black ship disappeared behind the last bend and we never saw it again. Um.. what happened? Well that ship broke down, because of that we are now going to be in the locks with the ship that was scheduled right before us and its bigger. Our advisor told us, that they normally don’t put pleasure yachts in with a ship like this one because it is simply to big. Lovely.

Our advisor for the day coming to meet us
Our advisor for the day coming to meet us
The crew hiding in the shade while waiting for our turn
The crew hiding in the shade while waiting for our turn

Once again it was a game of Hurry up and wait. Then it was hurry or you’re going today. There was a tug boat, using its engines to stay up against the wall, waiting for the  locks to open so it could go in before the large red ship. We were told that we had to get in and tie up next to the tug before the big red ship closed in and closed the gab to the entrance to the lock. Jon looked at our advisor and said ” Uh, no. There is no way i can maneuver my vessel around that Tug with that much prop wash”  None of our options looked appealing, no one on the tug was responding to our hails, the giant red ship is closing in and where they would like us to go, there is nothing to tie to.The conversion between Jon and our advisor then went like this:

Jon ” I am going to bail in about 20 seconds if we do not get ahold of anyone”

advisor ” if you do that, you are not going today, and you do not have 20 seconds, that red ship is coming in and it’s not stopping”

Jon ” well shit, we are going behind the tug then and using those things to tie off to, cause I cannot go along side the tug while his engines are running like that”

The big red ship stopped once it heard we needed more time
Not the most friendliest of docks

Normally, you do as the advisor says and NEVER talk back,  but in this case it work out, mostly because Jöurn once again was quick on his feet. He jumped from Prism onto the Canal dock to catch our lines and secure Prism before the prop wash from the tug sent us flying across into another wall that looked jagged and unwelcoming.  Come to find out, the Tug captain who should have been there to help us, was sleeping and his crew was watching a movie or something while they waited for the locks to open. We then got yelled at for Jöurn being on canal property, but no one got in trouble. An employee of the Canal was walking around when all of this was happening,  our advisor had  gotten his attention and asked him if her could rely to the locomotives pulling the big ship if they could slow down. They got that message, and all was okay again.


The first camber doors to the Gatun locks opened, the tug went in, leaving us in a whirlwind of prop wash  and thankful we had tied off well to the dock. Once the tug was in place, we untied Prism and made our way in, this time the Tug boats crew was there and ready to receive our lines. Easy. Next the Large red ship came in behind us. What a site that is, so many red flags go up in your head screaming DANGER YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE, this close to the front of a non-anchored super tanker. Yikes.


We had 3 chambers to go, a total descent of 85′ down to the Caribbean Sea! Once we were in, the process was easy. We had no more hiccups with the tug, making the last of our transit very easy!

In she comes
The last Lock!
The whole gang! What a great crew!!

We made out way to “The Flats” where we said our goodbyes to our advisor and asked Cristobal  Signal Station if we were clear to cross the channel to make our way to Shelter Bay Marina. There is a reef that guards the entrance into Shelter Bay, and the marina manager made it very clear we needed to pay close attention as we were coming in at night. Lucky of us this was our 3rd time coming into the marina, so we had a good idea of the lay of the land. When we pulled in we were met by SV Sirena with fresh cold drinks at the ready. We finished our drinks and then headed up to the restaurant for a PRISM and CREW celebration dinner and of corse more drinks.  Because we got such a late start, no one felt like going back to Panama City that night so we all headed back to Prism, where our crew asked to watch a few of our episodes and to look at the footage from the transit. We stayed up way to late, made the beds back up again and went to sleep. Safe and sound, our first night in a new ocean!

That’s the Caribbean down there!!

The next morning our crew had their coffee and hit the road. We are so incredibly thankful of our awesome crew! Everyone helped and everyone was so easy-going. It helps when you have friends who crew of corse. I would hire them again in a heartbeat!


Now its work time, we have an engine to remove and replace!

5 thoughts on “The Panama Canal

  1. Loved, absolutely loved going through the locks with you. I have not herd or read anything about going through the locks and what it’s like going 85 miles through them.. Your post as very well done. ……still raining in the Northwest. Ha

  2. So fascinating the Panama Canal is! I visited Panama on the west coast when I was in the maritime academy but didn’t get a chance to see the canal(myself and 11 others came down with swine flu when it was popular). Michelle went through it on here cruise in the maritime academy. We hope to pass through it together one day. Glad the tugs didn’t beat Prism up and everything went well in the end.


    PS : the locomotives are called “mules”, named after the animals that would pack things across the country prior to the canal. (:

    1. Oh cool! Sorry if my facts were wrong. We just got a very quick history lesson about it as we passed it. Very cool piece of machinery.

Leave a Reply