2: Canal Zone, Panama

Today, early in the morning, we were awoken by the clanging of bells, the roar of our ship’s thrusters, and rapid-fire Spanish spoken over loudspeakers. We had entered the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal.

Originally built 105 years ago, the canal cuts twenty-one days off the travel time between New York and Los Angeles. Shown here are the canal’s original set of Eastern locks, which have been in service since 1914. Recently, a new set of locks were opened to accomodate the so-called “neo-Panamax” ships which are too large to traverse the original locks. Fortunately, our ship just barely fits through the old locks, with just 24 inches to spare on either side.

Once the ship nears the first set of locks, the engines are cut and the ship is tied to a set of eight locomotives, small tracked vehicles which pull the ship through the canal. First, the ship enters the lock, with the gates closing behind it. Then, the lock slowly fills with water, raising the ship twenty-eight feet per lock. Once the lock is completely full, the hydraulic gates open again and the ship enters the next lock. There are a total of three locks on the Atlantic side, needed to raise ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake.

As we enter the second lock, a massive bulk carrier, the YM Tradition, traverses the locks in the opposite direction. A single transit of the canal can cost ship operators hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.

Here, we prepare to exit the final lock and enter Gatun Lake, a massive man-made lake the connects the Atlantic (Gatun Locks) and Pacific (Miraflores Locks) sides of the canal. As we exit, a Greek oil tanker, the Polyaigos, enters, travelling towards the Atlantic Ocean. We waived to the sailors aboard the tanker as we went by.

Since all the ports of call on this cruise are on the Atlantic coast, we did not pass completely through the canal; instead, we turned around in the middle of Gatun Lake and exited the canal back through the Gatun Locks. As we left the Panama Canal Zone, our ship passed under the gargantuan Atlantic Bridge:

Our next stop: the small port city of Puerto Limòn, Costa Rica, situated in the middle of a tropical rainforest.

© Knstrong 2013