January 19, 2019
This is our third time in the Panama Canal and it never disappoints! We arrived at the Gatun Locks at 7:30 AM and the narration began. We had a local historian who kept us up to date all through the voyage.
The canal stretches 50 miles from Colon on the Atlantic side to Panama City on the Pacific side. It provides passage for over 14,000 ocean going vessels per year. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It is truly amazing that the engineering in 1914 has held until today. A new larger canal opened in June of 2016. It doubles the capacity of the canal to accommodate both larger vessels and increased demand for world trade.
The bridge in the background is one of three that we pass under. This one has never been completed!
Once we passed through the Gatun Locks, we were at anchor in Gatun Lake for three hours. This is because transit is tightly controlled. Most of the commercial vessels go through at night when it is less expensive. For cruise ships, the charge is dependent on the number of berths and it costs over $100,000 for our ship because we do it during the day so we can see the amazing operation of the locks where the ship is raised by 85 feet and then lowered again in the other set of locks. The water that is used to raise and lower the ships comes from Gatun Lake by gravity and is poured into the locks through a system of main culverts, which extend below the chambers of the locks from the sidewalls and center wall.
We passed through the Culebra Cut, which is the narrowest part of the canal and it represents almost one fifth of the total length of the waterway. This segment was excavated through rock and limestone from the Central Mountain Range of the Isthmus of Panama. With the material excavated during the construction, 63 pyramids equal to those in Egypt could be constructed! It is amazing to think of this all happening back in the early 1900s.
At about 2:30, we passed through the second set of locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks. It takes about 30 – 60 minutes to pass through the locks.
The ships are attached by ropes to the “mule” you see in the picture. This keeps the ship in position through the lock. For our ship there are two on each side. By the way, there never were real mules doing this work!
The last set of locks before reaching the Pacific are the Miraflores Locks. We arrived there at 3:30, and once through, we reached Balboa at 6 and sailed for Puntarenas, Costa Rica.