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November 24 – Transit Panama Canal

November 24 – Transit Panama Canal

This is our third or fourth time through the canal and I still find it a fascinating piece of engineering.  The fee structure for using the canal is based upon size – cruise ships are charged by the number of berths.  There is a premium charged if a reserved time is needed.  The largest ships pay close to $500,000 for a passage.

When approaching the canal from either side there are always dozens of boats at anchor waiting on their turn through the canal.

As you approach the entry to the locks you pass the “French Canal”.  Before the U.S. took over the project, the French attempted to dig a sea level canal such as they had done with the Suez, but the mountainous terrain proved the task impossible – not as easy as a desert passage near sea level.  They abandoned the effort, but the channel they were digging remains visible (center of the picture).

At our first transit, I expected a fifty mile canal, a big ditch across Panama – actually there are three locks which raise ships up approximately 80 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake (which was created as the canal was built) allowing ships to sail across the isthmus.  If they had tried to create a sea level passage, they would probably still be digging.

As we approached the locks, the ship opened up the front deck to allow passengers a better view.

Water flows from the upper lock into the lower one and when they are level the gates open allowing the ship to move forward.

The ships are under their own power, held in the center of the canal by “mules” which are tractors with cables attached to the ship exerting equal pressure.  These “mules” stay attached through the locks.

There are two original canals parallel to each other.  Here is ship going to the Atlantic as we enter the canal.

The “original” canal has a maximum length for ships of 950 feet and width of 106 feet.

The new (third) canal has a maximum of about 1250 feet by 168  feet.  The new canal can be seen to the right of this picture.


We passed under three bridges – connecting Central and South America.

Near the Pacific side is the headquarters for the canal.  The canal employees 9000 people.

Another wonderful adventure.

And on to Panama City for an overnight visit.

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