01/10/2014 - 01/10/2014 85 °F
We arrived right at our appointed time, 7:30am, for our over $200,000.00, fifty mile, nine hour transit of the Panama Canal. Structures you see silhouetted by the morning sun are some of the new lock doors which will be installed upon the completion of a third lane of traffic. Now scheduled for completion in 2015, the expansion will double the capacity for shipping and allow for larger ships to use the canal.
Today is an unusual one, as more than 95% of ships using the canal are cargo – cruise ships are rare. Today we are one of five cruise ships transiting this remarkable waterway.
These ships just fit the current locks which are 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide, the same as when they were constructed 100 years ago. The lock gates are hollow and because they are so well balanced it only takes a 40 horsepower motor to move them! The water in the locks is moved by the force of gravity flowing from one level to the other. In these first three lock steps, the Gatun Locks, it takes over 26 million gallons of water from Lake Gatun (in the center of the waterway) to raise ships 85 feet above sea level.
Folks living on land cross the canal between the openings and closings of the gates.
Did I mention we are in a staff cabin for this cruise? Here is our porthole view. What was really cool was looking out our porthole on the 5th floor at the walls of the lock as the ship was raised and lowered. Those walls came within what felt like inches of our noses!
Twenty mile Gatun Lake was formed by flooding a number of villages and the islands you see are actually the tops of hills. The Continental Divide runs through Panama, and the Atlantic and Pacific tidal differences are such that the Canal needs locks instead of just a straight cut like the Suez Canal. The Chagres River through which the Canal was created, according to the Panamanian narrator who came on during the transit, is the only river in the world that crosses the Continental Divide and has continuous flow to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Remember Manual Noriega? He ended up here, in Gamboa prison. And he’s still there.
All of the locks have double sets of doors. They are made of riveted steel, 65 feet wide, 7 feet thick and range from 47 feet to 82 feet high.
One of the operators of one of the six “electronic mules” that guide our ship waits for our ship to rise in the lock before he is called into action.
Construction is massive for the new locks and water-reutilization basins on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Canal.
We are lowered the final 54 feet at the Miraflores Locks.
We are about to pass under the Bridge of the Americas on our way to the Pacific Ocean.
Camera zoom – we get waves from workers on the top of the bridge.
Panama City is in the distance, as we turn north for two days at sea before our first stop in Mexico. It was a perfect transit.