2 February 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank bound Panama Canal

First draft
After dropping the Galveston pilot, the Tynebank set a southerly course across the Gulf of Mexico, passing across the Tropic of Cancer on course to pass between the western tip of Cuba and the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, then into the Caribbean Sea and heading for the Panama Canal. Each day the weather got a little warmer as I took the weather forecast reports twice a day for the Bridge.

This leg of our voyage to the Panama Canal was about 2750 miles from Galveston Bay and at 6.5 knots took us roughly 18 days. 24 hours before arriving at the northern end of the Canal I made contact with the radio coast station and sent our TR message which included our Estimate Time of Arrival (ETA). I was instructed to advise again when we were 3 hours from Cristobal port. We picked up the harbour pilot outside Cristobal port who took us though the breakwater entrance to our mooring to await our canal pilot to take us though the canal.

I suddenly realized during this, our journey to the Panama Canal I had, had my 18th birthday

The Panama Canal is 77 kilometres (48miles) long and the passage takes 8-10 hours to complete. Our turn came to enter the Canal and in a short time we reached the Gatun Locks. These locks lift us up in 3 stages into Gatun Lake. The Locks are 2way so ships can travel in both directions. Gatun Lake takes us more than half way of our journey. The lake is full of islands, big and small and makes our journey twisted. We turn from Lake Gatun into the Culebra Cut.

The Gaillard Cut, or Culebra Cut, is an artificial valley 540 metres(0.33 miles) wide that cuts through the continental divide in Panama. The cut forms part of the Panama Canal, linking Lake Gatun and thereby the Atlantic Ocean, to the Gulf of Panama and hence the Pacific Ocean. It is 12.6 km (7.8 mi) from the Pedro Miguel lock on the Pacific side to the Chagres River arm of Lake Gatun, with a water level 26 m (85 ft) above sea level.

Note: For further information look for “Culebra Cut” in Wikipedia.

Traversing the Culebra Cut we arrive at 3 locks, Pedro Miguel Lock, then the 2 Miraflores Locks. These 3 locks drop us down to the level of the Pacific Ocean.

Leaving Miraflores Locks we now head for Balboa, just north of the Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific entrance to the Canal. We needed enough bunkers (fuel) to take us across the Pacific to Sydney, Australia. Our fuel was coal and took well over 24 hours to load. A number of us took the opportunity of having a night out in Panama City about 7kilometres (5 miles) away. We would not see land again for quite a some time. We ordered a taxi for 5 of us from the ship’s phone (a phone was always connected to the ship soon after the ship is berthed alongside the dock. No cell phones in 1952!).

We had an excellent evening with a meal and a few beers to follow. We met quite a few friendly resident Americans posted here on Canal business. The canal belonged to the USA in 1952 (handed over fully to the Panama Republic in 1999). In the early hours of the morning we wandered down to a nearby taxi stand for our transport. On the way we passed a number of shops, one shop happened to be a radio shop and of course I peered in. As I turned away I noticed a heap of rubbish out on the pavement edge for next days collection. One of the items was a black aluminium transmitter case with most of its insides removed but the front panel intact. It wasn’t very big and quite light so I tucked it under my arm. I got quite a few surprised queries as we walked along. I explained I held an amateur radio licence and when home, I often built transmitter accessories and often wanted a case to use. I got quite a few chuckles and shaking of heads as we wandered along. We caught our taxi and we were soon back on board, in our bunks and asleep.
Tomorrow we would sail for Sydney, Australia.

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