Early start today as everyone on the ship wanted to be up and about and not miss a minute of our Panama Canal transit. The pilot came on board at 7am, and left the ship at 3.30pm.
The ships pass through the locks under their own power, but are accompanied by two tugs all day, and in the locks are tethered to 4 ‘mules’ which are like little train engines that run along tracks beside the lock and keep the ships straight. We had plenty of room, but the largest ship through the locks has only 11 inches on each side.
Intriguing to watch other ships in the locks – the best time was when we were going down and could see the ships in front sinking, then moving forward and the lock ahead of us refilling. I was also intrigued that the lock gates are still mechanical – definitely a pre-electronic construction, but it all runs smoothly. And the most simple techniques work well as two men in a little dingy row out to meet the ship to fetch the ropes to attach it to the mules!!
Eventhough there are two locks side by side the big ships always go the same direction in both locks because the Celubra Cut (just after the Pedro Miguel lock) is only 150m wide and large ships cannot pass in that area.
We spent all day moving between decks to watch from different levels as our ship moved through the locks. And in Gatun Lake between the locks it was very peaceful with beautiful scenery and plenty of shipping activity to watch, so the day passed very quickly.
At both ends of the canal we could see the new locks being built for BIG ships – supposed to be completed in 2015. We also saw the beginnings of the first canal which the French tried to build in 1880. They had completed the Suez Canal which is a canal cut through sand at sea level. The Panama had to be cut through tropical forest where the highest point was a lake 85ft above sea level, but they didn’t seem to realise that would created some problems to building a canal. USA bought the rights to build the canal and began building the lock system in 1904.
What a fabulous experience cruising through this amazing engineering achievement. Rather than list all the facts and figures this link can do that much better than me, and this is a u-tube video which shows the 8 hour transit in 5 minutes – much cheaper option than a cruise but only a little taste of the experience and not near as good as the real journey.
Another big tick on my bucket list 🙂