Sunday, December 11, 2011

Panama Canal

We were both very excited to get back an hour overnight. Our morning did begin earlier than usual since we were beginning our passage through the Panama Canal. It truly is an engineering feat. This is the only canal system where the captain of the ship gives up total control of the vessel to the pilot who comes on board. Normally the pilot is brought on just to assist in the navigation of the channel. It wasn't long before they were coming on the PA system to start pointing out some features of the canal and some of the wildlife. We were lucky enough to see two crocodiles along the banks just as we started entering into the lock system. 

We decided to go up to the QG for breakfast where we have wonderful views. It wasn't long before we entered the Gatun Locks, a pair of 3 lock systems. Here we were on the way up to reach the same level of the lake at 85 ft above sea level. 
For those of you who do not know, the PC is not a straight through system of locks (as I thought it was). Instead, a dam was built to flood the Chagras river that would create a lake for ships to navigate across the Panama Isthmus and then go back down through another system of locks out to the Pacific. The ship is so large that it's possible to not even know that you are raising up or down in the water. There are 100 valves in the bottom of each lock which allows 3 million gallons of water per minute in or out of the lock. The average price for a passenger ship to transit the canal is about $375,000. 
Once through the lock we could see the dam and the lake out ahead and the tops of hills that were still visible above the water. We navigated along the same passage as the original river so we did a zig/zag all the way though. We were seated out on deck about lunchtime when a heavy rain came up and forced us inside. The weather today has been much cooler with heavy cloud cover at times. We went on in for lunch since we had more locks coming up. By 2:30 we were approaching the Pedro Miguel Locks, where I managed to get up to the front of the ship for a better vantage point. We passed through the "cut" area in the Continental Divide where we could see Gold Hill on our left and Constructioners Hill on the right. This was the cut that was started by de Lessups in the late 1800s and later completed by the US. We could see a large bridge ahead which is the Centennial Bridge which was completed back in 2004 to help relieve the traffic on the Bridge of the Americas. 
Once we entered the lock system the whole process took quite a while, but was amazing to watch. We were hooked up to the "mules" or locomotives that help guide us through the PC as we are under our own power. 
The "mules" are there to make sure we keep to the center of the lock as there is only about 2 feet of clearance on either side of the ship. We also saw the other freighters moving thorough only feet away from us. We had about an hour before the approach of the final set of locks so we enjoyed our afternoon tea and scones out on deck. The final set of locks were the Miraflores Locks. We stayed on deck through the rain for a bit, but decided to go back to our suite to watch the rest of the process. 
These were a pair of two locks that would bring us down 28 ft followed by another 17 ft that brought us down to sea level and the Pacific Ocean. At this point it was just about dark and couldn't see much except that there is a large port and Panama City has huge skyscrapers. We passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which is part of the Pan American highway system. 

After briefly trying to use Skype to talk to Dad and H, it was time to get ready for dinner. We made it up around 8:00, but the dining room was very quiet this evening. We both started with our caviar, and a Caesar salad. For an entree I opted for the salmon and mom had the turkey and dressing - it was like Thanksgiving all over again. We both finished with the bread and butter pudding and wow, that was great. We were both tried from being out in the heat all day - plus we were gone from 8 am - 5pm, like a regular work day, so we called it a night. When we returned to the room we even had a certificate that states the date and when we transited the Canal. What a fun souvenir!

1 comment:

Laura T. said...

Very cool explanation and photos. Glad you are having a good time!