Wow! What an exciting day! Cruising through the Panama Canal was absolutely mind-blowing, and throughout the day we learnt about the history and the engineering, as well as being treated to some wonderful and varied scenery.
The Panama Canal
The Isthmus of Panama is a slim land bridge separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and it’s through this Isthmus that the Panama Canal has been constructed. It serves as a maritime shortcut which saves time and costs in transporting all kinds of cargoes around the globe.
What a Day!
On July 28th, 2016 we were privileged to make the passage with Sea Princess and we woke early that morning and rushed onto deck to watch the sun rising as we approached what is arguably one of the seven modern man made wonders of the world. Already people were up and about, as excited as we were to begin the passage and see for ourselves how enormous ships carrying huge cargoes manage to navigate the narrow canal. In fact Sea Princess passes through with only inches on either side.
A Short Video of our passage through the Panama Canal
In the lead-up to the passage we’d been encouraged to make signs to display from the ship’s balconies … Dave helped me make a Lifestyle Fifty sign 🙂
Sea Princess sponsored all the materials passengers needed to construct signs 🙂 There are cameras positioned along the canal which provide a live feed to a website on the internet, so you can send messages to your loved ones or promote your blog!
As we arrived at the entrance of the canal in the early dawn light we saw a flotilla of ships waiting their turn for passage through the locks.
Sea Princess nears Gatun Locks in the right hand channel. The left hand channel leads to the recently completed canal extension which takes larger ships.
Entrance to the Gatun Locks. There are three separate chambers which raise the ship a total of 26 metres. We used the left hand chambers whilst other ships moved in the opposite direction in the adjacent locks.
Entering the first of the three chambers. You can see the subsequent chambers in front of our bow separated by lock gates.
The lock gates are closing after which water will be fed into the chamber to raise the ship to the level of the next chamber in the lock.
The clearance between the lock wall and Sea Princess was tiny – some 60cms to a metre at most!
The engine in the picture below is called a ‘mule’ and three mules were connected with lines to each side of Sea Princess. The mules keep the ship centralised going through the locks.
Beside us the Seaboard Pacific exits the final chamber of the Gatun Lock towards the Atlantic Ocean (opposite direction to Sea Princess).
I put my sign to good use!
Crossing Gatun Lake the colour of the lake changed constantly from blue to green to murky brown. Throughout the day we listened to an interesting commentary by our destination expert Hutch. We walked from bow to stern, from port to starboard as our ship passed through the locks and lakes, as we cruised past rain forests and jungles ….
As we headed towards Centenary Bridge the weather changed and we had thunderstorms.
Miraflores Locks – the final set of locks to lower the ship to sea level to enter the Pacific Ocean.
We exited Miraflores Locks and cruised towards The Bridge of the Americas and officially out into the Pacific Ocean. We had entered the canal at around 8.30am and exited at 5.30pm.
… until finally we had glimpses of the Panama City skyline in the distance as we cruised into the Pacific Ocean, bound for Ecuador.
A Brief History
- The idea for a canal across Panama dates back to the 16th century.
- In the 1880’s, Ferdinand De Lesseps, the Frenchman that was behind developing the Suez Canal made a serious attempt to construct a canal across Panama. The project was plagued by poor planning, engineering problems and tropical diseases that killed thousands of workers. The project went bankrupt in 1889.
- Throughout the 1800s the United States had wanted a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific for economic and military reasons. However, initially the US considered Nicaragua a more feasible location than Panama but were later convinced that Nicaragua had dangerous volcanoes, making Panama
- In 1902, US Congress authorized the purchase of the French assets. At the time Panama was part of Columbia and Columbia refused to ratify the agreement.
- The Panamanians, with approval from US President Theodore Roosevelt, revolted against Colombia and declared Panama’s independence. Soon afterward in 1903, the US negotiated a Treaty with the new Government, which gave America the right to construct a canal and control it in perpetuity by the Americans.
- The US spent some $375 million to construct the canal, which included a $10 million payment to Panama as a condition of the 1903 treaty, and $40 million to buy the French assets (the French had previously spent $260 million).
- The canal builders had to contend with major adverse environmental and geological challenges, including the difficult terrain, steamy hot weather, heavy rainfall and rampant tropical diseases, in particular Yellow Fever and Malaria.
- More than 25,000 workers died during the canal’s construction due to accidents or disease.
- The canal first opened in 1914.
- The Canal was transferred to Panama in December 1999, and the Panamanians have been responsible for it ever since.
- In 2015, a $5.25 billion expansion project was completed that enabled the canal to handle ships exceeding the dimensions of so-called Panamax vessels that are built to fit through the canal.
- The Panama Canal is a 77 km long and runs from Limón Bay at Colón on the Atlantic to the Bay of Panama at Balboa.
- A ship traveling from New York to San Francisco can save approximately 12,500 kilometres by going through the Panama Canal, instead of having to go around Cape Horn.
- Between 13,000 and 14,000 ships use the canal every year.
- Tolls for the largest ships can run about $450,000. The smallest toll ever paid was 36 cents, plunked down in 1928 by American adventurer Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal. Today, some $1.8 billion in tolls are collected annually.
- On average, it takes a ship 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal.
- Along the route of the canal there is a series of 3 sets of locks, the Gatun, the Pedro Miguel and the Miraflores locks. This system of locks raises each ship 26 metres above sea level and then lowers it back to sea level.
The Gatun Lake which lies between the Gatun and Pedro Miguel locks is very important for the operation of the Canal.
I’m a guest of Princess Cruises but all opinions are my own.