At the Panama canal for the very first time.

The office started preparing for the first passage of the Clipper through the Panama Canal about six months ago. Because of the fact that this is the only place in the world where the pilot bears responsibility in case something will go wrong, they obviously want to know all about which ship it concerns. How the ship is operated and in what kind of state it is.

Sailing ship, parts that may stick out, masts that obstruct the view of the front of the ship etcetera ... and on top of this there are passengers on board! You can imagine that it will not make any difference to say: "But it is such a beautiful ship." After the authorities saw photos of our sister ship "Cisne Branco" in the Panama Canal, they were convinced and we could make an appointment for a reservation of a time slot.


I was very excited to find out what the inspection in Cristobal would be like. Do they not want the yards to stick out at all, even though we won’t go over 2/3rd of the lock’s width not even being square-rigged? Will it really be a problem that there are obstacles which will influence the visibility of the front part of the and that one has to walk from port side to starboard a bit in order to be able see everything?

After our arrival, the port service kindly gave us a position where we could anchor. A sheltered spot within the piers and we were allowed to sail to this position without a pilot. Soon after, a friendly officer came to inspect all papers and also came to inspect the ship. He brought a list along to make notes of all that needed approval. I was lucky and didn’t have to wait long. We received information that in the morning at 6 o'clock already the pilot would come on board and that we would be expected at the first lock at a quarter past eight.


The pilot really loved the ship and made the comparison with Jack Sparrow. He only objected to the fact that in case of rain he would be getting wet.
Before we arrived at the lock there were twelve men extra on board to handle the cables of the trains and to help with the bollards. Our entire crew suddenly became guests and were not allowed to do anything anymore. In between 4 trains we entered the first chamber of the lock. A very handy system indeed since there is no need for lines and fenders at all. You just have to wait in the middle of the lock until it is completely filled up. In just three steps we were taken to the lake of Catún, located  29 meters higher up,  where we could sail by ourselves together with a new pilot. At Gamboa this pilot also could get off the ship without needing an umbrella. We safely managed to reach the locks all the way down to the Pacific. It was a great experience to cross a whole continent in just one day and to see the ingenious construction of these locks with their trains system. And to make the day even more memorable, we got a rain shower at the time we moored in Balboa. There is no massage showerhead in the world which could compete with this downpour. Now I know why it is that those pilots are so afraid of rain.

08°56’N 079°34’W

about the author

Andi Manser - Captain Clipper Stad Amsterdam

Captain Andi Manser came on his bike to the Netherlands all the way from Switzerland, his country of birth. He hoped to find a job on a yacht. His job as captain on the Clipper Stad Amsterdam is a dream come true.