A highlight of our cruise was transiting the Panama Canal. From the Atlantic to the Pacific it stretches 50 miles. Initially began in 1882 by French builders of the Suez Canal, they gave up in Panama. The U.S. acquired the canal in 1904 and began work. American crews persevered with tens of thousands of workers drilling dynamite holes, driving steam shovels and laboring with pickaxes to build the canal, all the while fighting the heat, yellow fever and malaria. There were 25,600 fatalities. It took ten years to complete and shortened a ship’s voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 7,800 miles. In 1999, control of the canal was handed over to Panama from the U.S.
In 2016 an expansion more than doubled the canal’s capacity, allowing ships with a capacity of more than 14,000 containers to pass through. Today more than 12,000 to 15,000 ships transit the canal each year. More than 52 million gallons of water is used during each ship’s transit through the three locks. Recently they have added new locks that recycle some of the water so as not to deplete the lakes and rivers.
It is without a doubt one of the world’s greatest engineering achievements. More than 100 species of mammals and reptiles as well as 500 different birds live in nature reserves on islands and lakes along the canal. An interesting fact is that ships pay $35,000 additional fee for a reserved spot to transit. Otherwise, without the reserved spot, we would have had to wait for a long time to get in line for an unknown transit time. They also have to pay for each person onboard the ship. So Holland America probably paid $444,000 in fees to transit the canal!!
Since the average transit time is 8 to 10 hours, we had to get up before sunrise to see the transit begin. They opened up the bow of the ship, so that is where many people first gathered. The cruise director was up on the bridge of the ship with the captain and other officers and provided commentary throughout the day.
We first passed under the Atlantic Bridge, spanning the Atlantic entrance to the canal. The best way to show you the transit is with Bill’s pictures rather than with words.
A few thoughts. It took all day, from before 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM. We were fortunate it was an overcast day which helped greatly with heat and possible sunburns. We were able to sit on our balcony for much of the time which made it much more enjoyable. Our cabin was located where the ship widened, our balcony allowed us to look toward the front of the ship as well as out to the side.
On the bow of the ship at 7:00 AM some crew members brought around warm “Panama Rolls” which is a tradition when transiting the canal. They are yeast rolls with an apricot filling. They were very good and available in the dining room and buffet areas throughout the day. They were only available as a special treat that one day.
We passed through the Gatun Lake to the second bridge.
When your ship approaches the lock a positive arrow sign directs you to the correct side.
At the Miraflores locks we saw tug boats preparing to help ships transits.
When we were standing on the bow a large orange and blue cargo ship passed us in the other lock. A man standing next to us said out loud to himself, “Orange and blue, UVA colors.” I couldn’t believe it. Turns out he went to UVA and currently lives in the Winchester area. Of course Bill pointed out that was also the school colors of the University of Florida.
As we neared the last lock, the cruise director announced a crocodile had been spotted in the water. That added some excitement for those who had never seen a crocodile before.
We passed the Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center. A very large group of people had gathered on the top deck of the Visitors Center. As we passed by, a man with a microphone would say something in Spanish and then everyone on the deck would yell, cheer and wave to us. It was fun to wave back at them.
Here we passed the concrete foundations for the swing bridges that were used to cross the canal with by car.
We finally reached the water level of the Pacific Ocean.
We had a great day and an amazing experience. We were amazed at how narrow the locks were and how little room there was between the ship and the sides. The captain and crew really had to be on their toes all day!! On each side of the ship were four “mules”. As a safety feature, ships were guided though the lock chambers by electric locomotives known as mules. Mules are used for side-to-side and braking control in the locks. Forward motion into and through the locks is provided by the ship’s engines.
Time to go in, we see the third bridge.
That evening we had a very interesting shared table. One couple was from British Columbia and he was a retired forensic psychologist at a mental hospital. His wife had worked there as well. He said he loved it when people asked how they met and he could say “at a mental hospital”. Believe it or not the other couple was from Dallas, Texas and he was a clinical psychologist. Made for a very interesting dinner conversation. As I said before, these shared tables can lead to interesting evenings.
Next up: Touring Panama City
Fun! Thanks for posting! Definitely more fun than my April. Tripped on a curb at the base guard shack and did a face plant on the asphalt. Had to have my nose reset… 🙁
Diane & Bill, I am so enjoying your travel adventures! Wonderful photos. I feel like I’m right there with you! K4KLD