We arrived very early to the first set of locks we would go through – Gatun Locks. It was still dark, and while I had not planned to get up while it was still dark, I couldn’t help but watch part of it on our web cam TV. We had been through the Panama Canal before, so I didn’t think I would be as excited to see it all again. Well, I was wrong. It was just as thrilling this time as it was the first. So, I ended up getting up early to enjoy every minute of it.
It is a very precise operation and our ship had to be at the entrance at exactly the right time. With so many ships going through, it is imperative to stick to the schedule. It is a fascinating man-made wonder.
It is a 80 kilometer waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in one of the narrowest points on the isthmus of Panama. It opened in 1914, and since then more than a million ships from all over the world have transited the Canal. The system of locks with two lanes operates as water elevators and raises ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, 26 meters above sea level, and then lowers the ships to sea level on the other side of the isthmus.
It was fun to watch as the ship entered the lock, the huge doors closed and then the lock filled with water to raise our ship. The “mules” (like a mini train car ran along each side of the ship to keep it straight in the lock. It is a very tight fit with merely inches on either side of the ship, so accuracy is important!
After the Gatun Locks, we were on Gatun Lake until we came to the second set – Pedro Miguel Locks where the whole process was repeated again. Finally, the last set of locks was Miraflores Locks. There is a building here where lots of people come to watch ships go through the final lock before heading off into the Pacific Ocean. They wave, have signs, etc. It’s like a great celebration!
The only thing that was non-routine was our unscheduled “stop” in Pedro Miguel Locks where an ambulance met our ship and took off one of our passengers. No one seems to know what the problem was, but he was waving as they put him in the ambulance. For only being gone such a short time, we seem to have had too many sick passengers.
Two things made this passage extra good. First, we had a great narrator who gave an account of all that was happening in real time. He had given lectures about the Canal on the days before our transit. It was great to have telling us what we were doing and seeing as we went from lock to lock. The other great thing – the Panama rolls the ship served on all the observatory decks as we went through the Canal. Very yummy!
So, what I thought would be a rather mundane day was actually very exciting and fun. Doug and I found ourselves spending most of our day out on the decks watching and enjoying the transit.