Friday, October 14, 2016

The Princess Diaries, Part 3: The Panama Canal

I'm going a little out of order here, but the Panama Canal deserves a post of its own. I'll finish up Part 4 with our remaining three stops, Costa Rica, Colombia and Aruba.

The Panama Canal was completed on August 15, 1914, allowing vessels to pass from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, through the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama. It raises ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, which is 85 feet above sea level, and then lowers them back to sea level on the other side of the isthmus. It is a marvel of engineering, considering that it continues to use the technology of over 100 years ago.

Our ship passed through one of two side-by-side locks. These locks are a 110 feet wide, which is mind boggling considering that our ship, the Coral Princess, was 105.6 feet in width.

Mark and I got up early in the morning and went from our room on Deck 9 to a balcony on Deck 11 at the front of the ship. This was taken at 6:13 a.m.
One of the first interesting things we learned is that most people think you pass through the canal in an east-west direction. Rather, passage is north-south, which I tested by opening up the compass app on my iPhone.Sure enough...
There was a ship very nearby, ready to go into the locks next to us. It is 7:07 a.m. As we looked around, there were quite a few vessels awaiting their turn.

Panama City at 7:16 a.m.
A closer view of that brightly colored building, which was designed to resemble a Scarlet Macaw.
Here we are at 7:30 a.m., pre shower, pre breakfast...Thankfully, I had a cup of coffee with me.
We crossed under this bridge just a few minutes later, The Bridge of the Americas, part of the Pan-American Highway, connecting the North and South American land masses.
The ship then started moving into place.
Here you can see a ship in the left lock, and a really large ship moving though the lock ahead of us, It looks like it is within inches of scraping the sides of the chamber. The gates have closed behind it, the water levels have changed, and our gates are just beginning to open.
At the top of this picture, you can see an enormous ship, and it is passing through the new larger lock which just opened on June 26, 2016.
This is about 9 a.m.

Mules, which look like train cars, ride on train tracks on both sides of the ship. They are basically attached to the ship by ropes that are pulled taut on either side, and are responsible for keeping the ship centered as it goes through the canal, crucial when you have little room to spare on each side.
Miraflores Locks is the first set, and has two chambers. This is 9:22 a.m.

Watching ships go through the locks is a spectator sport.
If you look closely, you can see the rope connecting this mule to the ship.
It's starting to get hot. And we are starting to get hungry.
Getting close to being through the first set of locks. 9:51 a.m.
The next set of locks was the Pedro Miguel. It's very similar to Miraflores but has only one chamber, so we decided to get something to eat.

After passing through the Pedro Miguel Locks (11:19 a.m.),
you pass through a long and narrow channel called the Calubra Cut, and eventually end up in Gatun Lake.

The clouds cast really beautiful reflections on the water (1:34 p.m.)
At about 2:20 p.m. we were ready to go through the Gatun locks, which has three chambers. In this set of locks instead of the water rising, it lowers, as Gatun Lake is above sea level.
Yikes. Look at that little rowboat. The men in it were responsible for getting the line from the ship to the mule for this set of locks.
Here are the mules again.
This is a picture taken at 2:30, looking down. It gives you an idea of how close those walls really are.
Mark and I sat in a lounge on Deck 5 and it was a little eerie as the ship went down and the walls of the lock seemed to rise up just inches away from the window. You can watch the progress--from top left to bottom right took about ten minutes, at which point all we could see was a solid wall outside the window.
3 p.m.
3:30 p.m. Look at that large ship coming through next to us.

Almost through (3:54 p.m.)

The mules are changing direction to go the other way. The direction of ships is changed about every six hours during the daytime, and with the installation of lights in 1963, the canal operates around the clock.
And we are through the Panama Canal, right on schedule, 4 p.m.
We are now passing Colon, and on our way to Cartagena, Colombia.
So we wondered what it costs for ships to pass through the Canal. Prior to Panama taking over full operation of the canal, the United States by law was not allowed to make a profit. Panama assumed operation on December 31, 1999. Ships are charged by weight, and cruise ships also have added fees per passenger. We learned that cruise ships also pay an extra fee to have a guaranteed day and a spot that allows them to go through starting early in the morning.

The fee for our cruise ship was approximately $480,000!

The chance to go through this amazing feat of engineering was something we will never forget.


05 08
Shannon said... #

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for posting about your trip. Your explaination is great and so were the pictures. It's something I would probably never get to see and it was great to live it through your photos. Thanks!

Mary on Lake Pulaski said... #

So wonderful to re-live this experience with your photos and comments Cindy!! Bob & I were both in awe the whole time we traveled through the canal.

Needled Mom said... #

I had no idea that it took so long - or cost soooo much. That was fascinating.

Robby said... #

Excellent job of documenting something most of us will never see. Great to learn how it physically functions, but also to understand a bit of the economics. Don't you think the first guy to say, "Hey, let's build a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific" took a lot of ribbing from his friends? And yet it is still a marvel, not to mention the enormous amount of time saved for each ship that passes that way. Now I want to know how the canal impacted the economies of the ports of South America! Thanks again for such a great write-up.

Susie said... #

Wow, I had no idea this was what the Panama Canal was like! I assumed it was a river - that's it. I can't believe the water is different levels. And that 100 yr old engineering - amazing!

DianeY said... #

Thanks for your wonderful photos and account of this! This is the day I am waiting for!

Celtic Thistle said... #

Fascinating post of an amazing day! Going through the canal has been on our bucket list for a while and now I know what to expect :)

Debbie said... #

Very cool to hear about this...

OPQuilt said... #

Locks are so amazing. I had a poem I would teach to my students and I always had to explain to them what locks were. If I were still teaching, I would send them here!

Unknown said... #

An interesting journey through the Panama Canal. This is the most interesting place in Panama. I was shocked when I found out that he brings almost half the annual budget of Panama. My last trip was in the harsh expanses of the North Pole. We had a strong ship, on board of which I feel safe, despite the fact that we had some technical problems. I advise everyone to go there.

Terri said... #

What a cool adventure to go through the Panama Canal like this. I was surprised to learn it took so long to get through. Pretty cool trip!