After about 20 minutes, Larry indicated I should slow down as the ship in front of us
began to enter the first of the two Miraflores Locks. We watched with interest as a
small rowboat came out and passed the ship the "monkeyfists" and retrieval lines,
to which were attached the much stronger and heavier steel cables that the ship
would use to stay steady in the locks. The cables were, in turn, passed up to
four electric locomotives whose main job was to keep the huge ship straight in
the locks so that the concrete sides of the locks were not damaged. The ships
move under their own power in the locks and the locomotives are there just to
keep them aligned. There was only about 2' of space on each side of the
huge ship, which had clearly been designed to maximize the loads that could
be carried through the present-day-capacity Canal.
After the ship was in the 1st lock, one of the tugs peeled off and returned to
sea, while the other tug tied up to the right side of the lock chamber, just a
few yards behind the big ship. Then it was our turn to enter the lock as
Larry instructed me to pull up next to the tug. We would tie to the tug
for the up-lock, and so when we got next to it, we tossed two of our lines
across to the crew waiting on the tug who secured RHAPSODY fore and aft.
Another "spring" line was set midships between the two boats as well.
Because this was a new model of tugboat, Frank was surprised by the fact
that the tug's rub rail, a huge, hard rubber rail about 12" in diameter,
was above the deck of RHAPSODY. This meant that as we winched down the
lines to tie the two boats together, the rub rail started bending the lifeline
stanchions on RHAPSODY. So we quickly slacked the lines, went to the
port side of the boat, and retrieved a few more tires, stacking them over
the ones already on RHAPSODY's starboard side, to provide more protection.
In addition, Frank and Ed both held bumpers at a strategic height to
keep the tug away as we tightened the lines between the boats. It was
important that RHAPSODY not move relative to the tug when the turbulent
waters of the lock entered, else she might bang around and get damaged.
Soon everything was in place and Larry radioed the lock master that they
could proceed with the lockage. At this point the walls all around us
were about 35 feet high as we sat in the bottom of the lock. A bell rang,
a red flashing warning light came on, and the gates behind us began to
slowly close. After 2-3 minutes, the gates were completely closed and
another bell rang as they began filling the lock with water, raising
RHAPSODY, the tug, and the huge ship up the 31' feet to the top of
It took about 15 minutes for the lock to fill, during which time
RHAPSODY was mildly buffeted by the waters filling the lock from
the bottom. There's also turbulence created as the salt water from
the ocean mixes with the fresh water being let into the locks from
Miraflores Lake, above and in front of us. Once the locks were
full, where we used to be in a 35' deep cavern, we were now floating
on top of the water just about even with the top of the lock. Also
by now, the rain had pretty much stopped falling, and although cloudy,
the air was clear and the visibility was good.
While we were still tied up, the large ship in front of us put their
propeller in gear and began moving forward to the 2nd lock. It was
quite something to see the water churning only 20-30 feet in front
of RHAPSODY as the huge propeller began to bite in and the ship started
moving. After it had moved about 300 yards forward into the 2nd lock,
it was our turn to untie from the tug and get out of the way.
The lines between us and the tug were cast off and I put RHAPSODY
in reverse and turned away from the boat, backing up into the
30-40 feet of room available behind the tug. RHAPSODY handled
kind of funny, and then the tug, with its own powerful motors,
started forward, creating some more turbulence in the lock, but
I managed to keep RHAPSODY, which was essentially not moving, and
therefore really uncontrolled, pointing forward.
After the tug had a chance to go forward into the 2nd lock
and tie off, Larry told me to motor RHAPSODY into the 2nd lock,
which I did. As we made our way into the 2nd lock, Frank took
time to instruct our crew to make more permanent the extra tires
and bumpers on the starboard side. Then we eased up next to the
tug and tied off again, essentially repeating the process we
had gone through in the first lock. At Frank's suggestion
we offered Cokes to all the crew members of the tug who had helped
us and they were graciously accepted.
Sideways in the Miraflores Locks!|
Click on the image below to see a short, 1.2 MB Movie (WMV)
of our transit through the 2nd Miraflores Lock
Image courtesy of D.Briese
Movie courtesy of M.Johnston
Once again, the bell rang, the light flashed, and the gates behind us
closed. Then the 2nd lock was filled with water, bringing us up to
the level of Miraflores Lake, some 60 feet above sea level.
This is the lock that is captured by the web cams, and so everybody
took a moment to wave to the cameras, clearly visible on a tower
above and behind the lock. Also this is where the spectators really
got a good view of RHAPSODY. There were about 100-150 people lined
up on the viewing platform 100 feet away and about 3 stories up.
We waved to the spectators and some of them waved back. It was
neat to think that we were captured for posterity's sake, on their
vacation photos, as we could see flashbulbs going off and knew that
dozens of pictures were being taken of us.
Soon we were at the top of the 2nd lock, and the large ship in front
of us once again churned up the waters with their propeller as they
left the Miraflores Locks and headed out onto Miraflores Lake.
Then, as before, we cast off the lines to the tug, but as I was
attempting to back RHAPSODY away from the tug, things got a little
crazy. The turbulence, combined with my excitement and our lack
of motion made RHAPSODY very hard to control. I turned the wheel
hard one way and the other with seemingly little effect, as she began
to drift sideways in the lock. Everyone started shouting at once
as her bow fell off and we were almost perpendicular to the tug.
The tugboat pilot, seeing the dilemma, put the tug into gear
and throttled up, moving forward at the same time. Then there
was a bit of a "thump" from the bow as RHAPSODY touched the fleeing
tug. I put her in reverse, cranked the wheel hard to the right,
then as the tug cleared, put her into forward, gave her a burst
of throttle, and turned hard left, as, fortunately this time,
she responded to the helm and we were, once again, pointed
It had been a tense few moments, but everything seemed to be
ok, and so we were relieved as we left the Miraflores Locks
and headed out onto Miraflores Lake, now 62 feet or so
above sea level. Note that you can see a movie created
from still images captured from the webcam of our passage
thru the 2nd Miraflores lock by clicking on the image above.