March 20, 2014-Back to the Pacific Ocean
When Vasco Balboa first ventured across the Isthmus of Panama and sighted a new ocean he named it the Ocean of the South. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan renamed the sea the Pacific Ocean because of its calm waters.
Having ourselves just arrived back on that ocean I can understand why he chose that word. Compared to the boisterous Caribbean Sea, where a thousand miles of fetch and strong trade winds bring big waves crashing onto the Panama shoreline, this side is calm. It has the protection of the land, and instead of the dark and angry waves, the sea is a weak pale blue; it is “Pacific”. And thus it was given the name it still carries to this day.
However, times have changed somewhat since Balboa first sighted the Pacific.
Now we have 30-40 ocean-going vessels charging past each day, either going into the canal headed to the Atlantic or coming out headed, oh, I don’t know, to China maybe. And there are a hundred vessels anchored offshore, waiting a cargo or waiting their turn in the canal, and the crews aboard these ships need some shore leave, so the shore boats ply back and forth. All these ships and shore boats leave a lot of wakes which destroy the pacific nature of the Pacific Ocean.
So we are bouncing here day and night.
But we don’t mind; it’s good to be back in the Pacific after 10 years.
The Panama Canal. Our transit of it went easy; deceptively easy. The canal has been in the back of our minds for years. It was the unknown; a possibly fearful experience. But you can’t shy away, you have to face it, so you get in line and you move up as the boats ahead of you go through, and some tension builds. Naturally, I guess. Then it is your turn and you march bravely ahead. You do what the canal pilot says, you follow orders. He says go ahead, you go. The stages seem easy, but disaster is just seconds away. A rope can tangle; a swirl of current can grab you and throw you against the wall. The worst disaster of all, for us, other than getting crushed by a big ship of course, which is always in your thoughts, would have been to break our gear shift. It was already dodgy when we started but we didn’t know how much we’d need it. Our pilot, however, seemed to delight in making us change from forward to reverse and back again about twenty times a minute. Over and over the gear shift balked against the heavy usage and I had to finesse it. It got so that I just knew it would break the next time he gave an order. “Just get me out of the last chamber,” I prayed. But you get caught up in the immediate, “Slow the engine now”, “catch this line”, “a bit of reverse”, “now make the lines fast, NOW! Ease it! OK, You’re OK, no, Reverse!” And you are too busy following the orders to think about the disaster which lurks nearby. Finally the doors of the last lock opened into the Pacific and we knew we had escaped the disaster, we’d made it. The gear shift held. The lines didn’t tangle; the swirls never grabbed a hold of us.
That’s the way it is in the Panama Canal, 24 hours of low key stress, then you’re done; you are out. You made it.
And it never seemed like a big deal, but looking back, it was. And we chalked up another one.
So we are happy to have gone through the Panama Canal and we are happy to be back in the Pacific Ocean. We’re not sure what’s next; we haven’t given it a lot of thought, but compared to the Panama Canal, it should be a piece of cake.
Click here for more photos.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama