transiting the panama canal on a sailboat

Locked Up, Let Down and Set Free – Transiting The Panama Canal

The big day has arrived and we’re all giddy like a bunch of kids on the last day of school. The Panama Canal wasn’t something I dreamed about and honestly, it wasn’t even on my radar before buying a sailboat. Now, here I am about to wet my pants like its something I’ve been waiting my whole life to do.

Our choice of crew might have a little something to do with it.

Transiting the panama canal with friends

Peter and John (AKA The RV Geeks) are good friends but it’s more than that. Put them in front of any sort of electrical or mechanical gizmo and you’d think they were given a sack of candy.  They bring a childlike excitement to learning how things work.  MythBusters doesn’t know it, but they need to add these guys to the cast.

Then there is Jason’s mom. Mary is hands down the most spontaneous, reckless in all the right ways and ready for adventure person I know.  She has instigated, or participated in, some of our biggest adventures (like ice climbing in Alaska).  She is a hard working business woman but she knows how to cut loose.

Put them all together on Curiosity and their enthusiasm is infectious. As expected, they are the perfect fit for this journey.  So, grab a beverage and settle in for the ride! We’re floating through history, getting locked up, let down and set free into the Pacific Ocean.

Peter and John were busy tending to lines but managed to capture footage of their experience too. In true Geeks style, they dig into the man-made wonderment and engineering. They illustrate how the canal cuts through a country and uses water to lift us up 85 feet and set us down in the Pacific Ocean.

Planning Your Panama Canal Transit?

Turns out planning and preparing for the Panama Canal wasn’t as difficult as we expected. We shared everything we learned about how to transit the canal with or without an agent here:  Spoiler alert…we saved the cash and didn’t hire an agent.

Extra fun facts…

The Panama Canal at night is reminiscent of a river walk.

full locks transiting the panama canal

Talk about a mooring ball! I think this thing was made for a tanker. It’s an interesting way to moor up but let’s hope it doesn’t catch on. This is closer than I would want to be to my neighbors on a regular basis.

mooring up at gatun lake panama canal

In all the excitement, I forgot to get my written approval to fly our drone while transiting the canal.  Doh…Face Palm!  However, we did have just enough time for a quick flight around Gatun Lake before we took off on day two.  The new locks for the big ships are very impressive from up here.

drone view of the panama canal

transiting the panama canal drone view

drone selfie panama canal gatun lake

As part of our transit duties, we are expected to provide bottled water and lunch for the adviser.  I was super nervous about this. I read a horror story about an adviser being displeased with the offerings and requesting a pilot boat to deliver take out at the expense of the boat.  It’s a nasty $250 fee!  Yikes!

I am sure that is a rare instance, and who knows what the full story is, but I didn’t want to take any chances!  So, I provided a build your own sandwich buffet.  Tuna salad, chicken salad, hummus, veggies, fruit, an assortment of meats and cheeses, granola bars, chips, sodas, juices and anything else I could come up with.  Everyone was satisfied and stuffed to the gills!

Most importantly we made sure our galley, salon and cockpit were all clean & tidy. Nobody wants to dine in a messy, grimy, gross area.  If you’re boat is tidy and the food looks fresh you’re less likely to get complaints from the adviser.  Also we didn’t know we’d have to feed 2 people.  Thankfully we had plenty of food for the adviser and the adviser-in-training.

lunch for the panama canal adviser and crew

Our adviser and trainees were awesome!  Roy was relaxed, incredibly nice, laughed at my jokes (extra brownie points of course), gave us tidbits of history along the way and was professional all at the same time.  We lucked out big time.  Thanks for being awesome Roy!

our panama canal adviser

Mary drew the short stick and in this instance, its winning! Because we were rafted up to another boat, we really only needed two line handlers.  That meant Mary got to sit back, relax and enjoy the transit!

scoping out gatun lake along the panama canal

transiting the panama canal

Our raft buddies, (french delivery captain and his first mate) were rad dudes.  We had fun chatting in broken English, French and Spanish. We bonded after I let them borrow my iPad with the Predict Wind Offshore app to see what the weather looked like for their passage to Mexico.  Their eyes lit up like Christmas lights.  They were blown away by the information and had never seen an app with weather routing capabilities.  It was exciting to share and talk about passage making with a captain…while on passage.  Made me feel like a real salt.

panama canal transit crew

A Whole New World!

It feels like we’ve been let out into a whole new world.  So many possibilities and route options, which way to go?  South America, Galapagos, Easter Island, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Thailand…oh who knows. No matter which direction we decide to point our sailboat, it will be an adventure.

panama city just after exiting the canal

Sharing Is Caring

Thanks for joining us and making it this far!  We’re able to keep the sails up because of viewers like you.  If you liked this video and post, please share it.  You could email it to a friend, share it on your facebook or twitter page, pin it to your future sailing destinations board or even send it to your favorite news anchor (extra bonus points if you know Ron Burgundy).  It helps us out tremendously and for that, we thank you.

Sailing Report

To see our full map with interactive pins, click here: Canal Map

  • Dates: November 28 – 29, 2017
  • Nautical Miles Sailed: 42
  • Cell & WiFi: We had good cell reception through most of the canal.

Gear Used In This Video

Cameras Used to Capture This Video

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (38)

  • Mike

    What a great video. The best part is we are in Panama right now and we’re able to tour the Miraflores Locks and see the incredible work that went into their construction. Now we get to see what they look like from a boaters perspective. I know you two are long gone by now but hopefully you got to see the land side of the locks as well.
    Keep having fun and stay safe.

  • Bill Lampkin

    Top Notch Video! DIESEL JUGS; one comment. Jason, you can save your back when you pour diesel from your yellow jugs into your tank. The spout has a nib on it that you rest on the deck fill plate, that depresses the spout and allows fuel to flow. No need to crunch up your back and pull the spout back to fill. twist the collar once to unlock,Let the spout and gravity do the work. Hopefully you have figured this out by now.
    I followed your transit on the Canal Cams, or whatever they are called. I could see Curiosity!!

  • Jamie Dillon

    Very Awesome folks. Really enjoyed the first hand adventure. Lovely food and great company makes for a very memorable journey. Thrilled to have witnessed the passage. Keep up the great work and be safe. Kudos to the RV Geeks and your lovely Mom Jason! Great job! Greetings from Canada. Jamie

  • Deborah Kerr

    1 word- AWESOME ? Thanks for sharing! It was good to see the RV Geeks video perspective too -you all are like Ying & Yang- the nerds at the Wynn’s party ? (said in a complementary way). And Mary is a lucky Mom!! Can’t wait for more video- Looking forward to seeing the other side of the World!?⛵️

  • Scott Webster

    Love you guys and your adventures. We now watch youtube videos of your adventures nightly.
    Very entertaining and informative.
    Much thanks,

  • That was fascinating! Well done you all!
    And Nikki that confirms what we always new, women are better drivers ;)))

    Happy sailing in the Pacific and safe travels.
    xox Karin and Jasper

  • mary vancompernolle

    Well, the Geeks said it all! Things I know and want to say but then I am your mom. I am a pretty lucky to have had so many great adventures with you. I did a class yesterday with singing bowls and gongs and the things flying through my head were times we have had together – Alaska and climbing those beautiful mountains (all of them), kayaking Glacier Bay, the crazy river where I had to grab Jason’s leg (or he grabbed mine), the toilet bowl when we were on the Rouge River and the caves at the Four Corners in the Indian dwellings when the wind sang to us. So many incredible, beautiful memories. I love you, you inspire me.

    • Hi Mary! We’ve had such fun the past few days re-living our first date. That’s right… you, and the two of us, will forever be joined by the memory of a first date in the Panama Canal! Getting to know you was a highlight of our trip, and we’re thrilled to call you our dear friend. Now we know how Jason got to be such a nice guy. He learned from the best. Hope our paths cross again soon. As a matter of fact, we’ll almost certainly be passing through Texas at least once, or even twice, next winter. Hopefully you won’t be off running around with these two salty dogs when come through, so we can see you! 😉 XOXO – Peter & John

  • Bill

    You might want to try using a hand pump to transfer the fuel, at least untill you get down to less in the gas vessel, then you can poor what might be left, to avoid the what looked like and awkward possition to fuel at.
    Only a suggestion.


    Hi Jason, Hi Nikki,
    After watching the videos you (and Peter & John) just published I was delightfully impressed. As I said to the RVgeeks, “Great video guys. I could feel Peter’s excitement and John’s awe.”

    Now a compliment for Nikki:
    90% of J&P’s awe and excitement was just being there for the adventure of doing the locks on a ‘small’ cat.
    10% of that awe and excitement had to be when they saw your buffet lunch!

    Wish you could have added the looks on their faces when they first saw that spread. Which I’ll bet is still the #1 rated lunch by adviser Roy; and when his fellow advisers see this video they will be inviting your back.

  • Tracy H

    Amazing videos RVGeeks and Gone with the Wynns. I was spellbound, watching you go through the canals. What an adventure. Happy Sailing.

  • Roger B

    WOW! Awesome video. Thank you for the drone video for a great perspective of both canals, meaning the new and the old. Tremendous experience to share with all of us.

  • Ellen Darby

    Absolutely wonderful! Throughout the entire video, I kept realizing I had a big smile on my face. What fun–felt like I was experiencing it with you guys. Thanks, RV Geeks, for your video as well — very informative and well done!

  • Marilyn

    What a grand adventure, brought back fun memories of my stay in Panama. I watched ships travel through the locks & this engineering marvel but have never gone through. Your video is the next best thing. As a single RVer I’ve enjoyed your videos on Land & now on sea. Love your spirit & willingness to share. Keep going & have fun. Thank you & huge California hugs to you both.

  • Douglas Stansbury

    This was one fantastic video. You are absolute masters with that drone. What was its altitude for that gorgeous overview of the canal? I was a bit surprised that there weren’t security concerns there that would have restricted or even prohibited the use of the drone.
    Nikki-that lunch spread was fantastic. You do so much in such a small work area!
    As you travel internationally do your cats pose a complication when clearing customs?

  • Patrick Arseneau

    Well done, guys! I started following your RV adventures a few years go but I kinda stopped after I sold my RV (divorce reasons). Now just recently I stumbled upon your new sailing adventures. What a nice surprise!! I am blown away with your desire and courage to chase your dreams. Needless to say, I am HOOKED on your sailing video series. Just when I finished catching up, you posted the very anticipated Panama crossing. Very inspiring stuff! I may not follow suit, but I will definitely learn to sail this summer and it’s because of you. THANK YOU!

  • B Bartholomew

    Thanks so much for this video! My dad’s side of the family helped to build and maintain the canal. Seeing this really helped to bring my family history to life. My great grandfather was one of those who died in a dynamite accident during its construction. Probably in Gaillard Cut (aka Culebra Cut). My grandfather came back and lived in Gamboa, working in the dredging division. My dad was born and grew up there until he jumped on a merchant marine ship near the end of WWII. Thanks again!

  • LIZ

    supercalifragilisticexpialidocious !!!
    I also love those heart shaped sunglasses

  • Peg Crowell

    Your AMAZING adventures continue. Nikki have you thought of writing a cookbook? Your meal photos are always mouthwatering. I’m glad you had a good experience transiting the canal. Looking forward to more. Travel safe!

  • Jeff

    Exciting time. I really liked the seeing the locks go up and down with the water increasing/decreasing.

  • Jeff Earnest

    You guys are awesome. What’s up with the dates on your SAILING REPORT? Thought maybe it was a software setting or something.

    • Curious Minion

      No, the dates are the actual transit dates. Videos will always be a month or more behind the current date. It takes a lot of time to sort through the hours of video that get shot and then to compile them into the finished product. And all that has to take a back seat to boat repairs and maintenance, trip planning, actual sailing, etc.

  • Sarah Babcock

    Galapagos is incredible! You must go. Plus, I think you guys will really appreciate all the amazing efforts the park takes to preserve the Galapagos. Reassured me that they were in good hands.

  • Misha

    Hey ! Good team work guys, Happy you got good fun advizors to make the trip through more fun, one good point only rafted with one other boat instead of two it makes life easier With a large tie dumbel at least you had a worry free night on the lake . Now we can see why its expencive to go through the canal its very hands on labour intencive, but I doubt in the future if it could ever be automatic similar to the french locks there is just too much that can go wrong, crocs in the local waters have they been known to board catamaran sugar scoops and what about debri in the waters logs ect in the lake I hear. Now the big question do we turn left or right ? I suspect left , hope so . Fab 33min vid nice to meet mum & friends from the past rv days, keep up the good work, stay safe cant wait for next weeks vid ..

  • Tom Morgan

    That was so much fun seeing your transit. My wife and I retired from California Maritime in 2015 and we made the transit 3 times on our 500′ Training Ship Golden Bear (TSGB). We shared the lock with smaller vessels each transit. We are full-timers now and look forward to meeting you guys someday.

  • Brian

    Been waiting for that video for some time. The only disappointing thing……… was to short. Loved it. I hope you have more footage you can share with us. By the way Nikki, that lunch looked lie a something you’d find at a 5 star restaurant. I do have one question. That new bridge under construction, where does it go. I looked on google earth and it looks like it just goes out into the jungle and ends. I don’t see any populated area on your starboard side. Happy Sailing and thanks for sharing your adventures.

  • Nancy Fernandez

    This was Awesome! That must have been such an experience and the history Roy shared I just can’t imagine. Was well worth the wait seeing your excitement as well as Mom and the RV Geeks. Stay safe.

  • Robert Dawson

    Congrats you all did a wonderful job, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more adventures.

  • Alan Solomon

    Thanks for videoing a great transit. It was truly Awesome and a great experience watching. i can’t imagine what it’s like to be there.

  • Bruce Malo

    Did you guys know that Capt James and his catamaran from east coast Florida went thru the Panama Canal, heading for the Pacific, just YESTERDAY !!! His you tube is Sailing Zingaro.
    ENJOY !! Bruce in Cape Coral FL

  • Jim S.

    Both videos were exceptional. Personally I would be a little intimidated by the larger ships ever so close. Didn’t know so much goes into a Panama Canal crossing.

  • That was wonderful, exciting, and must have been a blast to have dear friends on board. You two are always upbeat, exciting, and inspirational – you inspired us to give in, give it all up, and go mobile! Love reading about your catamaran, we both sailed… but feel more at home on land. 2, 4, or 6 wheels works!
    Buen viaje!

  • Monica Blanton

    That was amazing, I have been so waiting to see that, thank you. Now I know what it actually looks like to go through and transit the Panama Canal. You guys just rock and it makes me so happy to watch these videos and learn so much in the process. It has enriched my life. Great job by the way, you make it look so easy!

  • Mark Thorne

    Thanks guys for taking me along, I have anticipated the canal ever sense you first said your going. I find my self emotionally involved with the journey and people I will never meet, very cool. Galapagos?

  • This video was so incredible, it’s almost as if we were right there! Oh yeah… WE WERE!! WOO HOO! Watching this brought back so many fantastic memories. We’re so jazzed, we’re not going to get any sleep tonight! Your mad video skills are on full display, and we loved every minute of it. Would it seem like we’re biased or conceited if we think this is THE GREATEST VIDEO YOU’VE EVER MADE?!?!?! ?

    Seriously…. you two are absolutely the bomb. Thanks again for having us aboard, and memorializing our time together in such grand fashion. In case people who haven’t met you in person don’t realize it, you two are fabulous.


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