Sunday, October 18, 2009

Panama Canal - September 25

Woke up all excited, today is the day I finally get to transit the Panama Canal. Now for a long time I dreamed about cruising and the cruiser's dream is transiting the Canal. It is there so I have to do it. You can feel the excitement on the ship, many are up very very early. Again we are the first cruise ship of the season to go thru the canal.

Shot of the city first thing in the morning before the sun comes up -- this is around 5 am, but we were all up.

First order of business was getting latte

Look who I found up on deck, John.... the ship is quiet but people are moving about getting ready for the event.

Now prior to our crossing we had listened to lecturers (which are re broadcast in the cabin), had read thru books, watched the "Building the Canal" documentary, and scanned thru the pamphlet that they delivered to our cabin. I had a good grasp of what was involved, I could comment on what lock we were going thru and when and how things were built. But now that I am home - I have forgotten it all. So good idea is to purchase one of the many books in the shops on board about the history. It makes a lovely souvenir.

The Bridge of the Americas, linking North America and South America

Days prior to arriving at the Canal the crew put out poster boards and markers and invited people to come and do up Canal Signs to show on the day we transited the Canal. Many friends and family could watch the web cam and see the signs back home. The Princess videographers were also all about and they filmed us going thru the Canal as well as taking pictures. It was so neat to see everyone with their signs. My favorite was an older couple who did up a sign that said "Grandma and Grandpa enjoying retirement, please send money".

Here workers get into these dingys to tie up the cables to the ship and then the locomotives.

The Canal was first started by some adventurous French who say it as a way to make money. In 1880 Count Ferdinand De Lesseps (who built the Suez Canal) took on the task of trying to build the Panama Canal. But because of disease and mismanagement the project brought the enterprise to financial ruin in 1889.

Here are the cables that are attached to the ship from the locomotives. They are heavy steel cables that can be expanded or shortened depending on where the ship is in the lock. Their job is key as there is only about a 1 or 2 foot clearance to the walls of the canal and the walls of the ship. These locomotives keep the ship centered.
Entering Miaflores Locks, a set of two locks that takes us into Miaflores Lake.
The Americans purchased the rights of the French in 1904 at a cost of $40 million. It took ten years, labour of more than 75,000 men and women, and almost 400 million to complete the job. The Americans signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaty in 1977, which provided for disestablishment of the Canal Zone - the Americans gave up rights at noon on Dec. 31, 1999 and Panama assumed full responsibility for the administration of the Canal.

Water rushing in after the lock door is closed, pretty amazing force.

Now everyone wants to know the best places to view the locks. Well there really isn't a specific place, you need to move all over the ship. The top decks are busy but people were polite. I went to the forward decks on Baja and Caribe, just walk past all the cabins and there is a door that might say "crew only" but it is okay to go thru. The first time I went thru the door I was shocked - so much for the "secret" area, there were at least four people deep at the railing.
My real favorite area is the aft decks. So walk all the way back on Caribe, Dolphin or Emerald and there is a lovely area, the decks get wider the lower down you are but you can watch the gates close and the water rush in and not too many people.

The Canal uses a system of locks; chambers with gates that open and close. The locks operate as water elevators that raise the ship from sea level (either on the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake.
Each set of locks was named after the town in which it was built. Each lock chamber is 33.53 meters (110 ft) wide and 304.8 meters (1,000 ft) long.

The Canal is 80 kilometers (50 miles) long from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was cut through one of the narrowest and lowest saddles of the long, mountainous isthmus that joins the North and South American Continents. The original elevation was 95 meters above sea level where the Canal crosses the Continental Divide in the rugged mountainous range.

the locomotives transit along with the ship

the gates opening now that our ship is at the same level of the lake
It requires about 8 to 10 hours for an average ship to transit the Canal. During this period, the passengers aboard have the opportunity to see one of the modern engineering wonders of the world in operation.

Ship in the locks beside us gave us the opportunity to see what was being done in order for the ship to transit

Fact - During the fiscal year 2007 there were 14, 721 transits. This represented 312.6 million Panama Canal Universal Measurement System net tons, and $1.18 billion in toll payments.
The lowest toll for transiting the Canal was paid by Richard Halliburton who paid 36 cents to swim across the Canal from August 14 to August 23, 1928.

While in Miaflores Lock I went back to the cabin for champagne and orange juice - did I mention how HOT it was.

Bernie and Rose toasting our crossing
Okay, did I mention how thirsty I was.

This machine is use to dredge the canal. This is necessary all the time so that ship can transit safely without running aground.

This is us coming into Pedro Miguel Locks. You can see the ship beside us and how close they are to the walls of the Canal.

Canal crew come on board the ship (about 25 of them) and act as the pilots while transiting the Canal. Here are some of the pilots on the ship beside us.

You can see how close we are to the side of the Canal walls.

Lone worker on the ship beside us.

Pedro Miguel Lock

This is a shot of the wall of the Canal, as you can see a lot of ships have banged up against these guards, lots of painting to the side of the ships is necessary after a transit.

It amazes me as we enter we are 20 feet lower, and slowly the ship rises and we are even with the water in the next lock.

When the doors close the pathway is available for the staff to cross from one side to the other. Looks scary to me.

This is a shot of the lock doors, they are 7 feet wide!

Here is one door that was closed that does have a leak.

Bernie, me and Jerry - we were all sweating like crazy

Here are the video crew that are on shore. They hold out this banner so that everyone on the ship will wave and they can capture it for the video.

Here the crew cross the Lock over one of the doors, scary.

Here is the hindge of the door for the lock, see all the scratch marks.

Locomotive worker, his job is just to keep the ship centered in the lock.

The crew were all very friendly, and like I said we were the first ship to transit of the season.

Here is a crodolile that we saw on the shore - from our balcony.

Here is a panaramic view of the lock doors when they are closed.

Absolutely beautiful scenery.

At the end of the day I was beat, hot, sticky and very tired.

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