Oyster World Rally fleet transits the Panama Canal and gets ready for Galapagos

Thursday 14 March 2024:  With over two years in the planning, the Oyster World Rally fleet 2024-25 has now transited from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans via the Panama Canal.  However, what is normally a relatively simple procedure, with timings known well in advance, was a little more complicated this time around. 

The Oyster Yacht Rally organisers received notice some nine months ago that the Panama Canal was running at 50% capacity due to a drought in Panama and surrounding countries and that the Rally’s transit booking had been cancelled. 

Each lock operation along the canal takes up to 197 million litres of water with just 60% reuse, this means that with each lock, a lot of water slips into the oceans and not back into Gatun Lake, the body of water that facilitates the operations.  With Gatun Lake being 50% lower than normal, this means the canal cannot run at 100% capacity and in turn this has meant huge queues at both ends of the canal.  Some larger vessels, such as cruise ships and container vessels, have had to pay a high premium to keep to schedules.

Yachts are not the top priority for the Panama Canal, as in relative terms they are very small and therefore create an insignificant income. So it was only ten days before the fleet arrived in Shelter Bay Marina that there was an expected plan of transit for the Rally fleet – at one point it was looking like a six-week delay.

However, after just one day in Shelter Bay, Babe (565-17) was the first Oyster yacht to go through the canal, moving to the anchorage to accept their Canal Advisor (Pilot) and get underway. Transits either take a whole day, leaving early and arriving in the Pacific at teatime, or are split over two days, anchoring overnight in Gatun Lake, dependent on the availability of the Advisors and Pilots.

Babe transited with another yacht, tied together to form a ‘nest’ and worked together to hold station in each lock before passing under the Bridge of Americas, the gateway to the Pacific. 

Each yacht must have a minimum of five people aboard – four to attend to the lines, and one to Skipper the vessel. The rally fleet have had to share the locks with cruise liners, freighters, Oil tankers, container ships as well as tugs, passenger ferries and general cargo ships.  At one point, one Oyster was squeezed in between a P&O Cruise liner, and a massive container vessel!

After Babe, the rest of the fleet transited within ten days, some together, some on their own, and not always to the proposed schedule. 

The fleet had time out on the Pacific side in La Playita and Flamenco Marinas and took the opportunity to visit the vast Panamanian hypermarkets to stock up on food and provisions as the next supermarkets are not until Tahiti, some three months and 4000nm away. 

Next stop, Galapagos.

To follow the Rally and keep up-to-date with the fleet’s adventures around the world, please click here.

Facebook: @OysterYachts
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