The Panama Canal. After months spent going through locks on the Erie Canal I was finally transiting the legendary Panama Canal. This was the big time. The man-made cut severing the umbilical cord of the Americas. A channel through between two oceans.
We had visited the lock museum and seen the cars pulling along the monstrous container ships. Now it was our turn
We anchored a mile outside of the canal with the other boat that had been in the previous WARC, Sprit of Alcides. It had been nice to reconnect with people we knew and we were looking forward to rafting up with them, or tying our boats together, as we transited the canal. We were waiting for our canal adviser to be dropped off.
The Panama Canal Authority, PCA, requires that every yacht have an adviser on board as the canal be tricky to navigate. The PCA appoints
these experienced advisers to help ease passage through the canal. The captain doesn’t have to take the adviser’s advice, but the advisers are experienced. If their advice isn’t heeded things may go awry.
A fast ferry motored up to Alcides and dropped off their adviser and they were on their
way. We watched forlornly as they pulled up their anchor and motored toward the canal. When would we go!? We had the same transit time. We had made plans to raft up together! We’d met. Discussed which side we would raft up on and put the massive tire fenders and canal gear we had rented on the opposite side to protect ourselves from the walls!
Jose, our adviser made a few phone calls. Bad news. Things had gotten mixed up. We were going in the following transit. We would raft up to a Canadian catamaran transiting. We were less-than-pleased. But we couldn’t think too much about it. There was a lot to think about to transit the canal.
I fed Jorge dinner, cornbread and chili with biscotti for dessert, while the 6’2” Panamanian he briefed us. We’d heard most of it in the WARC briefing, but it was good to hear it again.
Because there were five of us on Umineko, we hadn’t needed to to hire extra people to be line handlers on Umineko, but that meant that we were all new. We had to pay attention to our adviser.
It was dark before we reached Gatun lock, but the canal was so bright it almost seemed like day. Motoring into the massive channel rafted up to the boat was awe-inspiring. Even with a cruise ship called Prince of Tides of us and another catamaran rafted up to a monohull behind us the cavernous lock still seemed empty.
Almost as soon as we entered the canal the monkey fists were lobbed onto Umineko by the Panamanian line handlers on shore. The WARC briefing had warned us about these soft-ball-sized lead-filled knots of rope potentially breaking windows, solar panels, crew member’s head, or other more fragile parts on the boat. Whether we had fantastic line handlers or were just lucky every one of the monkey fists hit their mark. We quickly grabbed the fists and tied our dock lines to the rope and secured them to the boat.
After traversing locks in the Erie, Darwin, and on the ICW, I thought I knew about locks. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The gargantuan locks were on a completely different scale. It is as much like those in the Erie Canal as an elephant is to a mouse. You’d think navigating locks, taking slack in and letting it out wouldn’t be a big deal.
Unfortunately there were a few complications. Jose’s English was questionable, and he had trouble understanding and communicating with the Japanese captain and rest of the crew. I spent what felt like hours line handling and trying to play translator. Add to that we were transiting in tandem with the other catamaran we were rafted up with. And of course enormous amount of water roiled, eddied and churned around the boast trying to pull us this way and that.
Even so, we did make it through unscathed. We never bumped one of the towering concrete walls. We didn’t have to transit with a container ship. None of our cleats were ripped off. And thankfully we didn’t sustain any damage to captain or crew from the monkey paws. But this was only our first lock. We would tie up to a mooring in the middle of Gatun Lake that night. Tomorrow we had two more locks to get through. And we had an audience for the Miraflores lock where the visitor’s center was.
On any boat it’s almost mandatory to have snack food around. After all, keeping something in your tummy is a good way to prevent seasickness. Unfortunately keeping snack food around with voracious Japanese men can be somewhat of a challenge. I would open a bag of cookies, look away for a minute and poof! No more cookies. If I baked them it would be even worse!
My secret weapon, was to make biscotti. This recipe makes about 90 biscotti and happily these crunchy little biscuits last for weeks. I would still have to ration the biscotti. I would hide the majority of them and put about 20 in the cookie box each day.
But not everyone has voracious crew mates on board so you might want to halve this recipe.
Monkey Fist Apricot Poppy seed Biscotti
- 1 t salt
- 1 ½ t baking soda
- 4 c flour
- 6 eggs
- 1 c sugar
- ¼ c poppy seeds
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 1 c apricots, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line 2 loaf pans & with greased parchment paper
- Press dough into pans
- Bake 30 minutes
- Cut into ⅛” slices
- Lay out on cookie sheets. You may have to do several batches depending on the space in your oven.
- Bake additional 15 minutes or to desired crispiness.
I’ve found leaving the biscotti in the oven after you turn it off is the best way to get the biscotti crunchy without singeing them.