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Panama and Panama Canal


After a 10 day fun filled non-stop passage from Key West, we safely arrived at Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. We only had 3 full days at this marina to prepare for the two day transit of the Panama Canal and Joyful’s 4,000 mile voyage directly to Nuku Hiva, an island in the Marquises Archipelago in French Polynesia.  The passage from  Panama to Nuku Hiva is the longest normal passage in the world for sailing boats!  It will take Joyful around 40 days and nights at sea, and longer if something happens to slow her down.  So, we were thankful to have a few days in Panama to accomplish some things, like surgery on my toe and restocking Joyful’s diesel, water, fruits, and vegetable supplies.  We were also very excited to experience transiting the Panama Canal!  So, come with us!  Read on, and see what the Panama Canal is really like from Joyful’s point of view! In fact, if you scroll quickly through the photos I’m posting, it will seem like a video.  That’s why I’m posting about 104 photos regarding the most important parts of the transit of the canal, so you can feel as if YOU WERE THERE!  So, its time to have fun!


Joyful was given a perfect slip at the marina that was close to the laundry, restaurant, hotel, and customs house.  Oh yes, did I mention it was also near the huge group of wild Howler monkeys living in the rain forest a few hundred feet away from Joyful?  Every morning at sunrise, along with the delightful sounds of tropical birds, Joyful was awakened by the extraordinary chilling and rather haunting sound of hundreds of monkeys howling together in unison, with a 20 second pause of silence between each spooky chorus!  It was a very eerie sound indeed!  They kept howling for at least an hour each morning.  One local Panamanian told us they howl when they see a human in the forest.  Another said they howl to announce an imminent thunder storm.  Whatever the reason, it augmented the wonderful, exotic atmosphere of this tiny portion of land separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans!


The good Lord was looking out for me (Anne) when the following occurred:

As previously planned, on March 26, the day after Joyful arrived at Shelter Bay, Jimmy Cornell, the leader of the Blue Planet Odyssey (BPO) arrived from Miami in his sailboat, Aventura.  He organized for Aventura and Joyful to transit the Panama Canal together on March 28.  Then, when Jimmy, who is fluent in Spanish, saw that my big toe was quite infected from a trauma, he kindly volunteered to go to the hospital with me to be a translator between the surgeon and me.  So early on March 27, Jimmy, Jeff, and I ,with Bill, Dunbar, and Charlie, jumped into a taxi and drove to the hospital, along the way seeing the new portion of the Panama Canal under construction.  I prayed that God would find a good surgeon to deal with my toe, as I was facing a long, remote, non-stop passage at sea between Panama and the Marquises in the South Pacific, starting the day after the surgery!  So, the Lord answered my prayers when Jimmy found Dr. Ferro and Nurse Fay to remove my toenail and set me up with medicine, supplies, and instructions for me to tend to my toe’s recovery while in the canal and at sea for over 40 days!  Thank you Lord and Jimmy!


Joyful’s transit of the Panama Canal was extremely interesting, challenging, and fun!  I wish I could write about every detail, and post every photo regarding this special event in our lives, but it is impossible to do so!  Therefore, I’ll write about some of the highlights, and include lots of photos with their captions in hopes you will have the feeling that you were on Joyful with us!  The photos will almost be like a video because they are presented in chronological order.  So, put on some clothes you don’t mind getting wet with some salt water from the Atlantic, fresh water from Lake Gatun, and more salt water from the Pacific!  Ready?  Here we go!


After officially clearing out of Panama (government paperwork, passport stamping, and saying goodbye), about 3:00 pm on March 28, three Panamanian men boarded Joyful who were her official “line handlers”.  They brought with them very heavy, thick, and long blue polypropylene ropes (lines) and many car tires wrapped in black plastic garbage bags.  Jeff, Bill, and I were the only other people on board Joyful at this time, because Ruud’s schedule would not allow him to again sail on Joyful until later in the circumnavigation.

About the same time, line handlers boarded Aventura, Jimmy Cornell’s wonderful, remarkable boat he had designed expressly for negotiating the Northwest Passage.  Then, at 4:00 pm, Joyful and Aventura slipped their lines at Shelter Bay Marina, and motored directly across the bay toward the staging area near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal.  In the staging area, one “canal advisor”, boarded Joyful and another boarded Aventura.  The canal advisor was required to advise all aspects of a boat’s transit through the canal.  He could not touch the helm or other controls, but he was supposed to direct how, when, where, and fast she went.  The line handlers and the advisors all spoke Spanish, but the advisors also spoke English.

We were all thrilled to start this portion of the circumnavigation!

Staging to enter the canal and while in the canal, I was at the helm steering Joyful and controlling her speed under engine, a 55 hp Volvo Penta diesel engine.  Jeff and Bill stood by as needed to help fend off and watch for dangers.  The advisor directed me where to steer and how fast Joyful was to move as we waited for several hours with Aventura and the other yacht which would be tied together forming a “raft” to enter the first lock of the canal.  Nobody spoke because it was crucial that I heard every signal from the advisor and was able to react quickly.  It soon turned dark, and hundreds of navigational lights on ships of all sizes, land signals, and lights of Aventura and the other yacht waiting to enter the canal, were brilliantly signaling their intentions.  Bright lights from the canal complicated this night scene and added to all the excitement and fun!  Aventura, Joyful, and the other yacht which was a catamaran, had to move through the water very closely together, sometimes only about 8 feet from one another, traveling about 2 knots of speed (very slowly- you can walk faster than that!).  Then we had to speed away from time to time, traveling about 6 knots to keep away from a huge container ship waiting to enter the locks with us.  Finally the pilot directed me to steer toward the other yacht so we could raft up as a trio;  Joyful, the other yacht, and Aventura.  Our line handlers placed the tires in position on Joyful’s starboard side to protect her from being harmed, and secured her mooring lines between Joyful and the other yacht.  Actions on Aventura were the same.

As you can see from the photos, there were so many bright lights in the lock it almost seemed like daylight!  Loud noises of all types were heard from the top of the locks and from the gargantuan ships around us.  Joyful and her raft had to share the locks with one of the giant ships named Titan.  We were apprehensive of this, but we had no choice in the matter!  Nobody wants to share a lock with a large ship because if the captain turns his propellors too fast, the water becomes too turbulent and can toss boats in the lock around like toys in a pond, causing terrible damage to them.  The Lord looked after Joyful and the raft throughout the transit of the canal, and we all were so thankful!

After going through the first locks of the canal, Joyful, Aventura, and the other boat rafted up on a mooring in Lake Gatun, awaiting sunrise.  After sunrise we disconnected from each other boat and the mooring, and motored away, heading for the locks leading us downward to the vast Pacific Ocean!  While the boats were attached to one another on the lake, I cooked a steak dinner for Jeff, Bill, the advisor, and our line handlers; we had a wonderful time laughing and speaking Spanish and English together!  We said grace in Spanish and English, thanking the Lord for the food and the safe passage through the first half of the Panama Canal.   At breakfast the next morning, I played some classical Italian pieces on my guitar for the advisor and line handlers and the other boats along side.  I found it was a great music ministry event for the line handlers and advisor on Joyful, because when I played Amazing Grace, they started to discuss what the words meant to them!  They agreed that God is good!

Hopefully, the photos I am posting to this blog entry will show the rest of the main events as we proceeded through the last locks of the Panama Canal.  The most exciting part was when the last lock doors opened, revealing the vast Pacific Ocean.  I could breathe in the extra salty air, the familiar scent of my days of youth in the Pacific. The doors opened a new ocean for Joyful, and new opportunities for all aboard to continue working toward the goals of the Blue Planet Odyssey.  Yes, we all were thrilled to look out into the Pacific Ocean, where we will spend many happy months at sea and in those exotic South Pacific islands and countries before we sail into another vast ocean, the Indian Ocean!

After leaving the last lock, Joyful and the two other boats released their lines, and once we motored well away from the lock, while underway, Jimmy steered Aventura over to Joyful.  While both boats were motoring side by side, only separated by fenders and tires, all of a sudden, in order to minimize the time the two boats would be side by side under way, the line handlers on Aventura started to throw Aventura’s tires into Joyful’s cockpit, bouncing only about 1 inch from my big toe, which had its nail removed only two days before!  Because I was at Joyful’s helm, I could only protect my toe by raising it up like a tropical flamingo would! Then they hurled the huge blue lines into Joyful’s cockpit, then Aventura’s line handlers and departing crewman, Charles, stepped into Joyful’s cockpit as well! Now there were 10 people all standing up in Joyful’s cockpit all at once, with the tires and lines!  It was an amazing sight and it made us laugh!  It all happened in about 1 minute! Jimmy and Dunbar immediately motored away, waving goodbye until we would meet again in Bora Bora!  We thanked the Lord for a safe and wonderful transit through the canal, and asked for His continued hedge of protection as we proceed sailing around the world on Joyful!  But before I conclude this section of the blog, I’ll write a little about Mission Joyful and the art I plan on creating reflecting Joyful’s time in Panama and transiting the Panama Canal, so please read on if you wish.


Artistic Inspirations from the Lord About this Landfall and Passage –

I was inspired to paint another picture for the book I plan on publishing, pertaining to every passage and landfall that Joyful makes during her circumnavigation.  The illuminated watercolor painting will incorporate a special verse from the Holy Bible, reflecting the essence of Joyful’s time in Panama and while transiting the Panama Canal.  This verse was from Mark 16:15 “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”  I was inspired to use this quote from Jesus in my painting because the Panama Canal is a gateway for Joyful to travel between the Atlantic and the vast Pacific Ocean, opening up new lands and new opportunities for Jeff and me to obey the Lord through Mission Joyful.

1. Joyful in her berth at Shelter Bay Panama.

2. Howler monkies made spooky sounding howls every morning from their jungle home by Joyful.

3. Jeff, Anne, Bill, Ruud at Shelter Bay Panama, before Ruud had to catch a plane back to the United States for a prior commitment.

4. Anne’s toe after the emergency surgical removal of her toe nail one day before Joyful’s transit of Panama Canal. You are lucky the gauze is on for this photo!

5. The new Panama canal is under construction.

6. Panama Canal Map.

6a. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne steered Joyful on the way to enter the Panama Canal, as well as in the canal. Pure fun and excitement!

7. Aventura and Joyful approached the staging area together to enter the Atlantic (Gatun) locks of the Panama Canal.

8. Joyful’s line handlers arranged her lines and fenders as she approached the staging area of the Atlantic (Gatun) locks of the Panama Canal.

9. Joyful approached the staging area of Atlantic (Gatun) lock entrance to the Panama Canal.

10. Line handlers made their floating lines ready on way to the staging area at entrance to the Atlantic (Gatun) locks of the Panama Canal.

11. Flat Mr. Davis & Anne shared Joyful’s helm in Panama Canal. Joyful entered the canal after dark.

12. Joyful approached the Atlantic entrance (Gatun locks) to the Panama Canal.

12a. Joyful’s excellent advisor with his radio which he used to talk with Panama Canal controllers.

13. Dunbar’s super photo he took of Joyful, Aventura, and a catamaran rafted together to transit the Panama Canal locks on both days. He went to the tope of Aventura’s mast to take this photo. Thank you, Dunbar!

14. Joyful rafted up with a catamaran and Aventura in the first of three Atlantic locks (Gatun locks).

15. Jimmy at Aventura’s helm while Joyful, the catamaran, and Aventura, were rafted to transit the Panama Canal together.

16. Joyful used fenders and tires to protect her hull from damage from the catamaran during the transit of the Panama Canal.

17. Joyful’s chart plotter showed Joyful as she approached the first lock (three Gatun locks) to lift her up from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Gatun in the middle of the Panama Canal.

18. Joyful’s line handlers were ready to enter the first Atlantic lock (three Gatun locks).

19. Joyful’s canal line handlers used their favorite tools of the trade; tires and floating lines.

20. Joyful entered the first Atlantic lock (of three Gatun locks) as her line handler stood by with the floating line.

20a. Jeff on Joyful’s deck as he watched Joyful’s entrance into the first lock in the Panama Canal.

20b. Joyful entered the first lock in the Panama Canal as her line handlers stood on her bow ready for action!

20c. Joyful is now tied to the lock wall behind the ship, Titan, in the first lock of the Panama Canal. The lock doors closed and the water level rose with water taken from Lake Gatun. You can see the turbulence!

21. Bill & line handlers stood on Joyful’s bows in the first Atlantic lock (Gatun locks).

22. Joyful shared the three Atlantic locks (Gatun locks) with a large ship named, Titan.

22a. This was the view from Joyful’s deck of the other two yachts in her raft; the catamaran and Aventura.

23. Joyful’s line handler attached a port stern line.

24. Jeff stood on Joyful’s starboard deck in first Atlantic lock (Gatun locks).

25. Jeff & Bill stood on Joyful’s bow in the first Atlantic lock (Gatun locks).

26. Joyful, as the first lock doors of the Panama Canal close behind her.

27. The Gatun Locks control center.

27a. Flat Mr. Davis watched the first of the Atlantic (Gatun) lock doors shut behind Joyful.

28. The first Atlantic (Gatun) lock doors shut behind Joyful.

29. The first Gatun lock filled with water and Joyful motored forward.

31. The good ship Titan never caused trouble for Joyful in any of the Atlantic (Gatun) locks.

32. Line handler was still at his post.

33. Joyful and Titan at the top of first of the Atlantic (Gatun) locks.

34. Land side lock worker walked Joyful’s line forward into the second Atlantic (Gatun) lock as she motored forward rafted with Aventura and the catamaran.

34a. Once the lock filled with water, the front doors opened, and Joyful’s land based line handlers walked her up to the second lock.

35. A water height marker showed the number of feet left to rise in the second Atlantic (Gatun) lock before the doors opened to raise the lock’s water level.

36. Once Joyful was inside of the second lock, the lock doors closed behind her, so the water level would rise when they released water from the third lock.

36a. The second Atlantic (Gatun) lock doors shut in back of Joyful ready for the water level to rise.

37. Joyful’s stern line was attached to the top of the second Atlantic (Gatun) lock near more water level markers.

38. Joyful’s land line handler walked Joyful’s stern line forward to the third of the Atlantic (Gatun) locks.

39. The canal workers’ floating lines and plastic wrapped tire fenders were at work to help Joyful.

40. Land line handlers at certain times dropped the floating lines into the water to allow Joyful to move forward to next lock.

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