I had never made a Panama Canal transit before. Perhaps that's why I failed to hear the voice of my grandfather, a brigadier general in the Marine Corps, echoing in my memory as he sternly advised "Never volunteer!" And when two writers in quick succession canceled on writing this story, I thought, "Jeez. A brand new, $19 million yacht and a transit of the historic Panama Canal? I'll do it."
Okay, it's not exactly like I crested the top of a hill and went down in a slow-motion hail of enemy gunfire. But my arrival flights had been delayed. I'd missed my connections. My luggage had been lost. It was day four of a planned fiveday trip that was now definitely going to be at least seven days. I'd rescheduled my departure flights twice and it looked like I'd have to do it one more time before we actually made it through the canal. Last but not least - and I was really trying not to think about this part - it looked like I'd have to be put ashore in the early morning hours on the unsavory docks of Colón, Panama. So, a hail of gunfire still wasn't totally out of the question.
Now it was Tuesday and pouring. I was sitting in the pilothouse of the Westport 40m at Isla Flamenco Marina Fuerte Amador, off Panama City, and through the veil of a gray downpour, I had a 180-degree view of the port beyond the breakwater, where an assortment of freighters, tankers, sailboats, and even a cruise ship awaited their turns to transit the Panama Canal.