Two days before going thru the canal we played tourist and went to the Miraflores Visitor Center. It’s a great place to do reconnaissance and see what we were in for. I could have spent hours there watching the container ships going in and out.
Below are a couple videos of a containership being guided into the lower chamber and departing the locks.
Canal Transit Day – October 12, 2022
The day we’ve been planning for finally came! We had originally been scheduled to transit the Panama Canal on October 11 in the morning. However, the advisor had to reschedule, and the next slot was on the night of October 12. We would have preferred the day slot, but you get what they have available.
You are required to have four line handlers. Steve opted to hire two professional line handlers and have Tonia and I fill in the remaining positions. That allowed Barbara to be the chef for the evening and cook us up some tasty food.
Our first lock time was 6:30 PM, but things are in motion many hours before. Our two line handlers, Junior and Santiago, came on board around 3 PM bringing the required lock gear. The required gear consists of eight ball fenders and four 150-foot lines. The gear took up most the cockpit.
As the line handlers were coming on board, we got an afternoon thunderstorm. Luckily, we were told that we didn’t need to be out to pilot waiting area until 4:30 PM so we had just over an hour to wait out the rain.
Steve was antsy, so we got off the dock around 3:30 for our 20-minute ride to buoy 6 where we’d pick up the advisor from a pilot boat. On the trip over, our line handler Santiago tried his luck at fishing.
Once out at the buoy, we floated around waiting for the advisor. They originally told us 4:30 but it was 5:15 before the pilot boat stopped by to drop off. Once onboard, our advisor Freddy told us we were going to lock thru with the Baltic Heather and another nearby pleasure craft. I had expected that we’d be going thru with a lot of pleasure boats. The other good news was that the other (larger) pleasure boat was going to be on the wall, and we’d just raft off them. For everyone that has gone thru the Ballard Locks, you know that it’s great to be the rafted boat since the other boat does all the line work.
Once the Baltic Heather had passed us in the channel, we were instructed to follow them in. It was kind of a race as Baltic Heather was traveling at 12-15 knots on the way in and we were told to keep up (Coda’s typical speed is closer to 8 knots). As we crossed under the Bridge of the Americas, the sun disappeared and we were in full-on night mode.
The area prior to the locks is a bit chaotic as there are container ships coming and going from the canal and a port that has multiple container ships loading and unloading. At one point we thought we were going to be run over by a container ship turning around in the channel.
The boats we were following finally slowed down allowing us to catch up. Upon arriving, Baltic Heather was being hooked up to the mules and getting in position. The mules are electric trains that guide the container ships down the center of the locks to prevent them from hitting the walls. After Baltic Heather was loaded, we got the okay to proceed in and were rafted successfully.
The Miraflores Locks has two chambers. When transiting into the canal you go into the lower chamber, get lifted up, and then they open the next lock section. The container ships use their own propulsion to move them forward. They also have six mules attached to them: three on each side. The mules move with the container ship forward keeping it centered in the chamber. For us smaller boats, we broke up the raft and then we hung to the side as the other boat released, moved up, and reattached. Once set, we joined them again.
One thing I noticed in the locks is the water is very turbulent when the level is raising. At times the gauges were reading a 3-knot current.
Once the second chamber had raised us up, we departed the Miraflores Locks into Miraflores Lake, a small lake between the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. After a short transit across the lake, we waited for Baltic Heather to get all hooked and we proceeded into the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Pedro Miguel Locks are just one chamber and raise us up to the height of the Chagres River and Lake Gatun beyond it. The process for this lock is the same but we switched sides, relocating all fenders from port to starboard side. We were told by our advisor that you go on the wall that is exterior to that lock system. That way if there is an emergency you are evacuating away from the water and not towards the center or another lock chamber.
Another thing I found interesting is that the lock personal use rowboats to bring the steel cables out to the container ships. I would have thought that they would use small, motorized vessels but guess they opt to stick with the less technical approach.
We were raised up and departed into the Chagres River. We passed the container ship as it slowed to allow for the line handlers to depart. Our advisor told us that each container ship needs 15 to 25 additional line handlers depending on their original crew. The contract handlers are dropped off after the locks, so they don’t have to be paid for the three hours transiting the river and lake. A new set of line handlers will be picked up for the outbound locking.
After the gear was reset, our line handlers said it would be a little over three hours. Barbara had cooked us a wonderful dinner, so we settled in and relaxed. The trip consisted of red and green buoy lights and darkness so wasn’t quite as cool as it would have been in the daylight.
After a bit of a rest for all except Steve and Tonia keeping him company, we arrived at the Gatun Locks around 12:30 AM. The container ship and other pleasure craft had sped off in the night so we were told that we would be in the next locking, which thankfully would be only a short wait. Therefore, we tied up to the waiting wall to one huge knob. After maybe 10 minutes, the lock doors opened, and we made our way in. This time we were on the wall by ourselves at the front of the line with two tugs and then a container ship in the chamber behind us.
The Gatun Lock has three chambers that will lower us down from Lake Gatun to Limon Bay and the Caribbean Sea.
The three chambers were straightforward: give the lines to the lock personal, let them out as we drop, retrieve the lines, and move forward—pretty much the same as Ballard Locks’ big wall. It was even easier with the contract line handlers as they did all the work while we watched the fenders. We repeated the process three times, and then we motored out of the Panama Canal and into Limon Bay
The last item before reaching our destination dock for the rest of the night was to drop the advisor off to a pilot boat. After a few minutes wait, the pilot boat approached, picked up the advisor, and we were away. Entering Shelter Bay was an eye test finding the buoys. Steve navigated us in successfully and we were docked right at 3 AM.
The overall trip was just about 12 hours from dock to dock. Some of the time was waiting but really between 6 PM and 3 AM the boat was moving, or we were in a lock. About 9 full hours of activity.
We had a GoPro running the entire trip. Below are two segments of the trip. The first is going from the pilot waiting area into the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. The second is going thru the Gatun Locks and arriving at the Shelter Bay Marina. The in-between parts are dark and a bit hard to see. Coming up to the Miraflores Locks, it was a bit rainy so added a glow to the lights.
Steve called an end to our marina life and we cast the lines at 6:00 am. The forecast models conflicted so we didn’t quite know what to expect. In the end, it was not as nice as we’d hoped, and we ended up with the wind in our face as we rounded the Baja Peninsula and headed north. We had already planned for this eventuality of course and quickly decided to call it and anchor off Bahia Los Frailes. We did have a half hour of rough seas that ended in a dish breaking and the beavers being tossed around a bit.
The anchorage was protected, and we had a nice afternoon and sunset. We did have a neighboring boat jaunt over to see if we wanted to join a group to dive the next day, but that was not in the cards as we were going to head up towards La Paz early tomorrow.
Whales! and more whales! On the trip over to Puerto Los Cabos we saw at least 4 whales breaching and many other groups of whales slapping fins and tails. I missed most the breaches as I’m just not quick enough with the camera. I managed to get lucky with a whale that was nearby. It was awesome to see.
Upon approach to Los Cabos Steve got a message that we were on the waiting list. He gave them a call and they said we could come in but had to take a 60-foot slip. That works! The Los Cabos marina is nice and very peaceful compared to Cabo San Lucas. The majority of boats here are expensive, go-fast fishing boats. Coda looked a bit out of place and definitely not as waxed. We found out that it cost about $60 a day to have your own boat guy washing (and waxing). A guy worked on Steve’s boat for two days and what he did was the cleanest and shiniest that Coda has been. He’ll have to find a new guy in La Paz!
After getting settled we a quick check in on the plans. The result was the wind was not going to be in our favor for the next few days. Steve checked in with the office and it was finalized. We’d be here until Saturday, a three-day delay.
The marina is close to the beach area. They have two nice beaches protected by the break water and then miles and miles of beach along the coast. It was a nice place to run for a couple of days.
The marina has a nice restaurant called Hook Up that we frequented over the multiple days. The staff was very friendly, and it was easy to chat with them. And the food, all seafood based, was amazing.
On two of the days, we took a $3 uber ride over to San Jose Del Cabo. On Thursday’s they do an art fair on the sidewalk, so we checked out all the booths and walked around the many shops. For dinner we met up with Karen and Jeff from SV Music as they also checking out the many offerings of San Jose Del Cabo. Steve picked up a new cockpit light. It will be interesting to see how long that will last in rough seas.
Phew! Overnight voyages are always interesting. I seem to have drawn the 12-4 shift on most of these crossing, which is fine, and I think out of all of us it’s easier for me to sleep in the early evening. I remember my college days driving down to Florida. I always found the 3-5 am time the hardest to stay awake. It’s different on a boat though. You can walk around and stretch so it seems way easier.
We pulled into Cabo San Lucas just at 9 am. I wouldn’t recommend that time as it was pretty much rush hour for boats. All the tours were departing for the day. Basically, it was chaos. It didn’t help people yelling from the shore and just overall distractions. After weaving thru the boats, we made it to the slip.
On the way to the marina office to check in I was offered 10 whale watching trips, weed and some blue bills to get the party started. I pretty much think you can get whatever you want in Cabo. It reminded me a lot of Vegas walking down the strip.
After we did the necessary paperwork, it was time to have that safe arrival beverage. We tucked into a Tiki themed restaurant and partook in their 2:1 margarita. Yes, it was 10 am but since we did an overnight crossing, I think it’s acceptable. When leaving the restaurant, the waitress reminded me I had an extra on my 2:1 drinks. And promptly appeared with a to go cup. What service! The voyage was starting to catch up with us, so it was time for the midday nap.
After the nap, I decided it was time get out and try to run. Exercise is one of the hard things when doing a trip like this. You do walk around towns but sometimes the logistics of getting to shore and lack of places to go make it difficult.
I set off towards the beach and ran around it a bit. Then headed back thru town and around to see that Cabo looked like. While running I had at least a dozen people offer me a massage while hanging out doors and windows. After getting in about 4 miles and fending off the salespeople I was back at the marina for a shower.
Boris told us we had to go to Cabo Wabo, so we headed there first for a drink. It was nice but we were definitely back in the western world and high prices. After our appetizers and cocktails, we decided to head back towards the marina and check out the other restaurant options. We choose one with a nice view out the harbor and settled in for a nice meal.
The Cabo marina was nice, but the party is ongoing, like Vegas, and thus the night was filled with DJ’s, screaming people and boat traffic. Not a good place for a calm relaxing stay.
We had a nice late breakfast at a nearby restaurant and pushed of the dock on route to Puerto Los Cabos 2.5 hours away.
Today we had a relatively short day around the point and into Bahia de Magdalena. The reviews basically said there was one little village named Puerto Magdalena with a restaurant and friendly people. We anchored off the beach by the village next to what we think was a large Coast Guard vessel.
The plan was to drop the dinghy and pop into the village for a look around. That was almost thwarted as we could get the crane to let out line but not pull it back in. A key component to lifting. After a bit of troubleshooting, we found that one of the pins in the pendant had corroded and broke off. Hmm, now what? Steve spent a bit trying to find a pin that he could solder into the connector. Once he found a likely candidate, he realized he used all his solder on a Christmas present for his grandchild. Now what? Ah, alligator clips! We unscrewed the connector and jumped the wire for the missing pin. We were back in business!
At this point, Barbara reminded us that we didn’t yet have our safe arrival beverage, so we had to relax and take the necessary time to enjoy the afternoon.
With the dinghy in the water, we jetted into the beach and walked up to the restaurant. It was pretty obvious as it was the only business in the area and had a big orange open sign.
The staff was all sitting around chatting and said we could sit wherever we liked since we were the only customers. They gave us the dinner menu, which was basically a menu with all the breakfast items covered over with stickers. The recommendation from the host was lobster or shrimp. And with a quick look at the menu, we had two options! Can you guess? Lobster and Shrimp! We opted for both, and the staff all disappeared into the back. We sampled the fried lobster, breaded lobster and sautéed shrimp. All of it was amazing! Probably because it all was fresh from that morning. The lobsters were small compared to what we’ve had in Maine, but each plate came with 1.5 lobsters so still a lot of food. When asked about desert and they said they didn’t serve dessert but had cookies. So of course, we had to try all the cookies!
With full bellies we headed back to the boat for the evening.
The plan for the next was transit to Cabo San Lucas and leave at noon so we had some time. We knew the restaurant was open again so we decided to check it out again for brunch. This time we got menus with all the options. The covered-up areas were basically all just egg options. I went with my standard, eggs and ham. You can’t go wrong there!
It was time to head for Cabo. We pulled anchor and headed out for the 21-hour voyage.
I’m going to combine a few days together because they were basically the same. Cruise, fish, anchor, eat, sleep!
Over the 3 days we went from Bahia Asuncion to Santa Maria #2 just north of Magdalena Bay. I say #2 for Santa Maria because it has the same name as the bay we stayed at on Feb 4. Looks like they need more saints to prevent the conflicting names.
The highlight of the journey was we saw a bunch more whales and fishing improved with a nice Mahi Mahi and Yellow Tail. Steve is more a let’s clean the fish immediately than get pictures, so we don’t have any real good here are the fish pictures.
We stayed in Bahia De Ballenas (Whale Bay), off a little point by San Juanico and then finally Bahia Santa Maria. The first two anchorages were really just points that had protection from the big swells. They were relatively protected and allowed for a decent night sleep even being in the middle of the ocean.
In Santa Maria Bay we anchored in by some sailboats and there seemed to be a warship anchored on the other side. Interesting to see.
Today was a nice short trip to Bahia Asuncion. We pulled in around 3ish and the anchorage was nice, protected and calm.
After our experience in Tortugas, we were a little anxious about leaving the boat on the beach. We walked around a few streets and after not finding much Steve said he’d had enough and was going back out to the boat. Barbara and I helped him get the dinghy refloated and he was off.
Barbara and I then walked around the town and loosely went looking for a cantina. We walked a good couple miles and ended up on the end of the point. Never did find the elusive restaurant that the locals told us was there somewhere. We did have an offer to get a ride to one local but declined as it really wasn’t that important. The view from the point was awesome.
Luckily there was another beach area close to the point, so we didn’t have to walk back into the town. We called Steve and he came over and retrieved us.
Today was a long transit day. The log shows just short of 24 hours for the trip which finished on the 7th. We caught a few fish and saw lot of dolphin and whales. I managed to get a decent picture of a whale with its head out of the water. Along with a couple of the fins and tail.
February 7, 2022
The long-haul voyage ended around 6:30 in the morning. The crew was wiped out and slept in most of the morning. We also hit a timezone change so we’re now in La Paz or Mountain time.
In the afternoon, we put the dinghy down and decided to check out the town. As we approached the beach, we could see a man walking towards us and it was obvious that he was only there to talk with us. He told us where to come in on the beach and was friendly. He showed us where the only open cantina was. He also declared that there were many banditos around and he would watch our boat. We guessed he was the bandito that you paid to keep the other banditos away.
The restaurant was ok and the lady that was there had the soap operas on in the corner and didn’t seem that interested in serving us. The burritos were decent, and we had a couple of the local beers to wash them down. This is a good time to describe burritos so far. It’s not the large stuffed shell that you get in the US. It’s usually a few rolled up tortillas with filling inside. More like a taquito if I were to classify it myself.
We walked around a bit of the town and it looked like it was once a cool place. The guide said there were multiple restaurants and markets. We could see where there were probably some in the past, but they were either boarded up or clearly had not been open for a while. I’m not sure if it was a timing thing or if Covid closed them down. Either way, it wasn’t quite what we expected.
On returning to the beach, our friendly bandito was still hanging about with other people. He didn’t really engage us, so we started getting the dinghy situated to go out and his friend started telling us we needed to tip him for watching the boat. We gave him a few bucks and that seemed to satisfy. I’m not sure what the going rate is for someone watching your boat in Mexico.
Steve and Barbara declared it was nap time. The long voyage had taken a toll and that was the end of the day as they slept the rest of the afternoon and into the next day. I loved the name of the fishing boat next to us. Bozos Y Pescadores I (Bozos and Fishermen).
San Quintin is one of the places the Olsson clan would boat to as kids. It was also the farthest south they ventured. Steve’s parents had a good relationship with the owners of the Old Mill. Steve and Barbara remember the banana tortillas they would make in the small restaurant off the hotel.
The charts in the area are very limited so we decided to dinghy into the area versus try to take in Coda. It was quite a ways in. Just inside the inlet we saw a couple of gray whales swimming around and stopped to watch them for a bit. Onward around the corner we arrived at what was basically the town. It was a motel with restaurant and then a few other restaurants that were closed. There was a group of American’s staying at the motel that were there for duck or goose hunting. We had heard some shots earlier in the morning and it turns out it was them out hunting. They were also walking around trying to see if the local store was open. It was supposed to be open but wasn’t.
As we walked back along the road a car pulled in the store opened. Guess they local open times give for a buffer of 30 minutes or so. Since we were there, we went in to check it out. It was basically a small market that would translate to a convenience store in our world. We picked up a few Gatorades for hydration and walked back towards the Old Mill.
While walking there was a group on horseback that trotted by. Horses seam to be a common thing round here as I saw some in Ensenada as well.
At the Old Mill there is a decent restaurant called Eucalyptus. It was basically a breakfast joint. As Steve is always looking for omelets we went in and had a nice meal. I ordered eggs with ham, and it was tasty. The ham was basically two pieces of deli meat rolled up so that was odd, and the meal came with refried beans and potatoes. I also had to sample the breakfast sangria to see what it was all about. It came out layered and looked cool.
After breakfast, we walked around a little bit and by then it was noon and the other restaurant in the area was open. Since we needed to see everything, we stopped by for a beer and a shrimp taco. Well, we thought we ordered a shrimp taco, but it turned out to be a shrimp quesadilla. Which if you go by the tortilla, shrimp, cheese concept it’s pretty much the same, right? At this point we’d had two meals in an hour and a half and decided it was time to go back to the boat.
The rest of the day was a nice relaxing evening and we got in a few naps to round it out.