Friday, February 12, 2010

The Panama Canal! Jan. 15

After our fun evening with Max and Joni the night before, we weren’t too excited when the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. But we were out the door and on our way to the front of the ship by 5:15 a.m. And then we waited…and waited…there is nothing to see at that time of day, but we wanted to get a good spot for when we started going through the locks.

Here is what you see at that time of day...not much! There were lots of ships waiting nearby for their turn to go through.

Some ships can wait anywhere from 5 to 10 days as there can be a backlog of 100 ships waiting to go through. Any maintenance or repairs to the Canal can seriously back up traffic. The cruise ships pretty much sail right through, but they are also paying about $300,000 compared to $50,000 for a freighter.

Daylight started breaking as we sailed by Panama City. It actually reminded me a little of New York!



Panama gained independence from Colombia in 1903, and signed a treaty with the US which guaranteed their independence and paid them $10 million. The US purchased the French Canal Company rights and properties for $40 million and construction on the Canal began. It was completed in 1914 at a cost of $387 million, and the project ran ahead of schedule and under budget. Here is the Panama flag...

Lots of nice boats in the marinas as we sailed by…

We followed this ship all day through the Canal, the BRO Charlotte from Marseilles.

This rusty old ship has definitely seen better days!

The BRO Charlotte has gone into the lane on the left and we are lining up to go through on the right.

And we can see our first lock! Look at the size of the tiny rowboat in the left of our lane…

It’s hard to believe our ship is going to fit into that lock! The Island Princess and her sister ship, the Coral, were built specifically for transit through the Panama Canal.

The gray engines on the tracks (Jim called them donkeys) tied lines to the ship and they guided you through the locks making sure that you stayed straight.

Look at the height where we will eventually be. By the time we got through these locks, we were 85 feet above sea level.

The gates are opening and we are going in at last! It is now about 7:45 a.m.



Moving forward to the next gates. It takes about 45 minutes to go through each lock.



About 56 million gallons of fresh water is needed to put a ship through the Panama Canal! They are trying to find a way to reclaim the water for reuse. It’s hard to believe our ship is going to rise up to the level in front of us!

The donkeys on the left lane are lining up BRO Charlotte.

We’re almost there!



The donkey is getting us into final position…

Now the water in the lock in front of us is draining into our lock. You can see the level of water going down…



Look at how much higher we are now in relation to the building!

And we’re going through!





Yeah, I know...rivetting! But it gives you an idea of how long it takes to go through each lock...

Up to the last lock on the Pacific side…



It’s now almost 9:00 and we are dying for a cup of coffee! So having seen and appreciated the wonder of the Panama Canal, we leave our prime viewing spot and head to the coffee bar. While we have been on Deck 10, the coffee bar is on Deck 5. This has been their view as we have been rising...



And we’re through! We’re now on our way through the channel into Gatun Lake. The Lake is the largest man-made lake in the world. The tiny people are the Princess photographers. A lot of passengers have made signs that they holding up. We met Fred and Michele and they had a Just Married sign. It will be fun to see the different photos.

Here is a power dam that helps control the level of water in the Canal. The Canal could not have been built without the climate experienced in Panama. The heavy rainfall provides the water needed for the ships to transit.

More donkeys to take us through the next part of the Canal. Rope handlers come on board to secure the donkeys to us.

The bumper boat (as I call it) ensures that you don’t get out of alignment going into the lock.

The grounds and shops were all immaculately kept.



Going under the Centennial Bridge which was opened in 2004...

The Culebra Cut, a man-made valley which cuts through the continental divide. It is one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. It was begun in 1881 by the French who initally designed it without the locks, much like the Suez Canal. However, they were forced to give up the project due to disease, the poor initial design of building it at sea level, and financial difficulties. It was bought out by the US and construction began in 1904 using a lock system.

They are constantly maintaining the land due to erosion from the rain.

Heading through the channel out to Gatun Lake, followed by our tug escort…

The lush forests of Panama…

As we passed by this school, you could hear the kids laughing and shouting.

The photographers are waving at us and still getting their photos! This railroad is going across the Isthmus of Panama.



Boats from tours travelling around Gatun Lake. On the full transit of the Canal, like this one, you do not stop in Gatun Lake. On our next cruise, which is a partial transit, you go as far as Gatun Lake and people can then get off and go on tours if they wish. The ship carries on to Cristobal where passengers will re-embark after their tours.

Due to the heavy rainfall, there is a lot of soil erosion into the canal. These barges and tugs are used to dredge it.

Currently, there are portions of the canal where only one ship can go through at a time. They are working on widening the canal so that ships can travel in both directions. They are also designing a canal parallel to this one with larger locks to accommodate bigger ships. Construction is expected to start in 2014. The drills below are being used to widen the canal.

We are now in Gatun Lake. These ships are waiting their turn to go through.

The linesmen getting on the boat for our transit through the locks to the Atlantic side.

Here we are at the locks going through to the Atlantic, still following the BRO Charlotte.

Head office of the electric company that controls the dams.

We are now going through the locks to the Atlantic side. The locks take you back down to sea level. The light pole will give you an idea of how far we go down.



Beautifully kept grounds...

The donkeys guiding us down..



We noticed a lot of traffic and realized it was about 4:00. Shift change!! It takes about 8 or 9 hours to go through the Canal.

We arrived in Cristobal, Panama where we were greeted by singing locals. There is really only a flea-type market in the warehouse buildings, but people swarmed off the ship in droves!

Pictures just can't do it justice. It was a great experience through the Panama Canal!!


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