Wednesday at last brought better weather, so I explored Panama City in the morning, while we waited for night and our turn to enter the Canal. As you get older, you realize that few things live up to your expectations and even fewer exceed them. But when we entered the channel approaching the Miraflores locks, I stood on deck with those members of the crew who were making their first Canal transit and I think our jaws may have dropped in unison. Tiny steel locomotives (known as mules for the work animals they replaced) motored alongside with lines. A massive bulk freighter moved directly ahead of us as various giant fuel and cargo ships passed us in the opposite channel, heading toward the Pacific. When the twin lock gates (which weigh 750 tons each) closed behind us, millions of gallons of water rushed in, in two stages, to float us to 54 feet above sea level, before releasing us into the Miraflores Lake. It was, for lack of a more appropriate word, awesome to be moving through this miracle that man had designed to portage behemoth vessels up and over hills with more ease than he could convey a kayak to a car-top roof rack.
Several hours later, on the Atlantic side of the canal, I stood on deck in the pitch black of 0200, sea bag at my feet, waiting for the tender that now bounced across Bahía Limón to deliver me to the docks of Colón and God knows what kind of gruesome ending. But I took an admiring look at the Westport 40m and a glance back toward the locks and decided Hell, yes! I'll volunteer again.
Westport Yachts, (954) 316-6364; www.westportyachts.com