Panama City, Panama – A Panama Canal tugboat in action

Our host Lew returned from his journey. Today he fulfils our long-cherished hope to get a ride on a tug boat on the Panama Canal. He has late shift and no passengers are allowed at dark. But he arranges to get on his boat, the Cacique, during his off-time for a couple of hours. The task of a tugboat on the Canal isn’t usually towing. All freighters, passenger and warships go under own power through the passage, into the locks, and out. Because everything has to proceed as fast as possible there is not enough room especially for the big Panamax ships to manoeuvre. It is the job of the tugboats to support the big tubs in getting into the right direction. They might pull with ropes if connected or simply by shoving them from the stern or side. For protection the tugboats have a thick rubber bumper around.

The pilot who is present on every boat crossing the Canal coordinates everything and gives order to the tugboat captains as well as the train drivers in the locks. He knows the special physical performance of the Panama Canal. It must be globally unique that the pilot doesn’t advice the captain how to manoeuvre but overtakes supreme command for ship and crew and gives order (and accepts responsibility).

From the south end of the Panama Canal we bring a Panamax container freighter to the Miraflores Locks and hurry back. The tanker now is shorter, so both tugboats – two always work together – fit with it into the locks and we can experience this locking process once more from “ship perspective”. Afterwards the tugs assist the tanker to park between the mooring buoys on Miraflores Lake where it has to wait for the evening to continue, because in the meantime direction of travel on the one-lane canal has changed like always at noon. Our Cacique berths now as well at the quay and has an hour for maintenance until the traffic from the opposite direction arrives and the tug has to start working with the ships again. We take the chance to leave the ship.

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