One of those passages ranking highest on a yachtsman’s ‘must do’ list must be the Panama Canal transit. Capt. Pook had the opportunity to carry this out for his third time aboard the Baltec-built 51’ catamaran ‘Bananas’ on delivery from St.Martin, French West Indies, to La Paz, on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Pleasure yachts transit the canal’s waterways and locks along with suitably-sized commercial ships in order to minimize the volume of water transferred through the locks in the process. For the crews of these small vessels this can be an impressionable experience. There are few occasions when they come within such close proximity to such enormous ‘panamax’ ships.
Bananas, being the largest vessel on our transit, became the lead yacht in a raft of three tied alongside each other. This meant that Capt Pook was responsible for maneuvering all three yachts together, in and out of the locks! Potentially a daunting responsibility for the faint-hearted! Our captain fortunately has plenty of experience of the canal and its methods.
And then the commercial ship follows the yachts into the lock towering over the small vessels. In our case, this was a shoebox-shaped car-carrier which are used to transport new vehicles from the Daewoo and Toyota factories of the far east to the US and European markets. To maximize cargo volume, the hulls of these are designed to fit snugly between lock walls as the water level in the locks rises and falls allowing no room for fenders!
Canal transit completed, the onward passage northwards to La Paz takes Capt. Pook and crew through a part of the NE Pacific where tropical storms and hurricanes form at this time of the year. For many years Pook has been using Iridium satellite technology for downloading real-time weather data to assist troublefree offshore passages. Finding themselves in a system of disturbed weather, the captain studied the latest data and decided to take shelter at a previously-researched safe haven on the coast of El Salvador. While the weather system developed into a category 4 storm, ‘Bananas’ and crew were tucked up safe and sound at the Barillas Yacht Club, where they were well looked after by the friendly smiling management team.
Once the conditions were again favourable, the crew resume the passage on to the Baja Sur, Mexico, to deliver ‘Bananas’ unscathed to the Marina Palmira, La Paz.