It all began with a report for school. My subject was the Panama Canal. Somehow that report stuck with me, and became the first place outside my little Michigan world that I wanted to go. (I guess my first bucket list item?) Fast forward 30 plus years, and that dream was finally realized in October, 2017. Granted, we never actually set foot in Panama, but we did have the unique view of passing through this engineering marvel.
We sailed from Miami for two days, had a port day in Cartagena, Columbia and on that 4th day we experienced The Main Event- a full 8 hour day crossing through the canal. Of course we had lots of time before the crossing for homework – the ships staff did a wonderful job filling us in with the history of the canal, and what it is today. The photos that follow represent my experience.
We entered the canal from the Atlantic side. While in the canal the ship will sail through the Gatun Locks with three chambers, and on to Gatun Lake – once the largest man-made lake in the world.
Looking behind us (below) we had a good view of the Atlantic Bridge under construction. We sailed past quite a few lighthouses during the day, but didn’t really see much in the way of wildlife or birds. The photo below was an exception. The tugboats you see in some of the photos were our constant companions, and the train in the fourth photo is one of a pair used while in the canal to keep the ship centered in the locks.
The trains are all electric, and have been in use since the canal opened in 1914. They were developed by General Electric in the early 1900’s for the canal. In the photo below you can see two trains tied to the freighter next to us in the Gatun Locks. One is next to the lighthouse, the other on the lower right of the photo with just the front in the photo.
Below is our view of the locks closing from the rear of the ship. After the gates close the chamber fills with water from the lake, and we sail to the next chamber.
The ships are raised to 85 feet above sea level, the same level as the Gatun Lake. We had a lot of workers admiring the ship, waving and taking photos. I even saw families on the bank watching us sail through. Most of the traffic in the canals is commercial freighters – a cruise ship is a beautiful sight sailing by.
Gatun Lake is below. It took a few hours for us to make our way across. We sailed by barges dredging the lake for the silt that constantly forms. We sailed by numerous lighthouses, and even saw roads and freight trains running along the bank. The ship sailed beneath the Centennial Bridge (Pan-American Highway, via Panama City) which opened in 2004.
The crossing was one of the most interesting days I can remember. It truly was an engineering marvel. Below you can see just how close our ship was to the sides of the locks. It’s amazing how something conceived in the 1800’s still serves us today. We had been carried down 85 feet between the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks to the level of the Pacific Ocean. By the time we completed that last lock the sun was low in the sky, the day almost done.
After leaving the locks, we sailed past the Port of Balboa with a peek at the Panama City skyline, underneath the Bridge of the America’s, past buoy’s numbering from 20 to 2 out to our familiar Pacific Ocean.
As the sun sank into the Ocean that night, we went about our evening enjoying everything that our ship had to offer, and eventually we arrived home with another travel experience behind us. But this one, this one I will remember because of the history and the purpose and how one small canal changed our world over 100 years ago.
*for a closer look click on a photo to open in a gallery setting.