Today was our day-long transit of the Panama Canal. We were on deck at 6:30AM to witness our approach to the first lock. We passed under the almost finished Atlantic Bridge that will allow vehicles to cross over the canal at any time. Now, folks either ferry across or wait until there is a break in boat traffic so they can pass over a narrow bridge that is available until the lock gates close. We passed through three locks, all the while rising in levels from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gatun Lake. The Navigator would enter a lock, the water would fill it and we would exit into the next level. This was aided by men with ropes, which kept us in the middle of the lock. Ropes were attached to “mules,” very powerful engines on tracks that guided us through each lock. When we arrived at the lake level, we sailed on the man-made Gatun lake for about 2 hours until we reached the downhill locks on the Pacific side. Again, we waited our turn as the waters went out of the locks to lower us to the level of the Pacific. We were in the hundred year old, original canal locks. We had a Panama Canal representative onboard who gave a wonderful commentary every step of the way, and explained what was happening, how the filling and emptying worked, and some history of the canal and surrounding buildings.
We were told our toll would be in the range of $200,000, a complicated formula based on passengers, berths, size of ship, and other things. There are 2 side-by-side locks, so that 2 way traffic can be accommodated, or twice the amount of ships going the same direction. About 2 years ago, a new larger parallel lock system was opened, accommodating much larger and wider ships. They can be over 1000 feet long and 160 feet wide. The older locks have a maximum width of 105 feet. Tankers, huge cargo ships, and larger cruise ships can now pass from the Atlantic to Pacific using these bigger locks. Their passage, however, is much more expensive.
We had the special treat today to be travelling through the canal the same time the new Norwegian Bliss was utilizing the new locks. This is the largest cruise ship thus far to pass through the canal. The Bliss carries about 4000 passengers and is Norwegian’s biggest ship yet. Our commentator estimated her fee to be in the million dollar range. We got to take some great photos of it, as we waved to her passengers. We are only 495 at full capacity. We finally made it to the Pacific Ocean at about 5PM and will have a sea day tomorrow on our way to Costa Rica. We also turn our clocks back another hour tonight to match times in Central America. We will be 2 hours earlier than east coast time.
It did rain on and off today, so it was a bad hair day all around, but we found our first passage of the canal very exciting, although a bit slow. We were on deck most of the day, only taking a break for meals. Together, we took over 400 pictures, so Mac is trying to pick the best ones to tell the story.
We didn’t want to get dressed for dinner tonight, so we ordered room service. We did put on long pants to go to the 9:30 show, starring violinist Doug Cameron in his second show. He played music, Old San Juan, some jazz pieces and performed via satellite with his 12 year old son, Alex, in Bach’s double violin concerto. It was terrific. His son has been playing the violin since he was two or three and is very professional.
It’s been a long day and we are looking forward to the extra hour of sleep tonight.
Yours in travel,
Pat & Mac