The Caledonien - The Panama Canal

Panama Canal Map - click to enlarge

After getting the Panama Railway night train to Christobal I found my way to the ship and managed to find my third class bunk, one of four in a small cabin not far off the waterline. I had never experienced anything like this, knew nothing about boats or Ocean sailing, however I had a good feeling about the way things were going (see a complete itinerary of this voyage).

click to see an enlargement

The Caledonien - Panama Canal, photo by Claude Allemand

It wasn't long before we were working our way through the locks and then sailing through the canal. I think that part of my obsession with South America was that I had some sort of weird craving to see the Amazonian Jungle, and although I never even made it to Brazil, the trip through the Canal was just like, or even better than what I imagined it would be like. Here we were cruising through the most spectacularly jungle clad landscapes one could ever hope to see, and it was a wonderful highlight to leaving South America almost like "mission accomplished"... I could only find this one photo on the internet which comes close to the lushness of the canal.


The Caledonien - Panama to Nuku Hiva

The trip through the canal was soon behind us and we were now steaming into the deep blue of Pacific, before long I was mingling with the strange assortment of third class passengers in the smoking lounge. I was one of but a handful of passengers who joined the ship in Panama, the majority had already been at sea for two weeks and there was a sort of camaraderie in place. Naturally the English speaking passengers were already a tight nit group and soon I was in their camp along with another American who also boarded in Panama.

I was really a greenhorn just starting out on the road and now I fell in with some real travelers, adventurers and bohemians of a rare breed. Little did I suspect that my destiny was about to be radically transformed.... not that this is surprising, for I had made no real plans, nor did I have any real direction or objective... I was just on the road, I was going but I had no idea where.

The first Port of call after Panama was Taiohae on the Island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, a long passage where there was plenty of time to get to know my fellow passengers... people would ask me where I was going, well my ticket was for only as far as Port Villa and being nearly out of money, I didn't have any plans beyond there... this seemed quite odd to a few people, but when I then said that I might try to build a raft to sail back to Vancouver.... the conversation really heated up. To try to convince the skeptics I spent a few days drawing rafts and was for years afterwards known to some as "Lawrence the raftless". It is fantastic what you can get up to on a boat like this where you have nothing to do for days and days, chess players love it, the Danes and Germans did nothing but, a good book is also well suited to the occasion. At night it was too hot to sleep in the close quarters of my cabin and I used to go up to the very top of the ship next to the funnel, and sleep under the stars, the ship steaming along at 18 knots in the very calm seas here close to the equator, the vast expanse of the pacific lit up by the moon in cloudless skies. I was totally free, without a care in the world, and on a wonderful trip...

Blue Pacific

The Caledonien - Pacific Ocean, photo by Denis Boutard

See the next page, Nuku Hiva.

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