On our 5th day of cruising we reached the Panama Canal! We got to the harbor at Limon Bay around 5 am and waited our turn to start the journey. To go thru the canal, the Panama Canal Authority places quite a few of its own workers on board the ship - including a pilot who assumes command of the ship from her captain. Also coming on board was a commentator who talked over the public address system about the canal and things we were seeing during the trip.
France started the canal in the 1880s, but failed to make a go of it. In the attempt, they lost almost 22,000 men to disease (yellow fever and malaria) and accidents. The US bought out France, and started work on the canal in May 1904. It was formally opened in Aug 1914 - nearly 2 years ahead of schedule. Over that 10 year period, the US lost 5609 men. This large decrease in deaths was largely attributed to the work of Dr William Gorgas who believed the research that speculated that yellow fever and malaria were caused by mosquitoes, and did all he could to instill sanitary programs to reduce their numbers.
The total length of the canal is 48 miles. It took us 10 hours to do the trip. One thing I did not realize is that the transit goes from north to south! I'd always thought of it as an east to west trip.
From sea level you are raised by the locks to 85 feet above sea level. From the Atlantic side, you go thru the Gatun Locks, which have 3 chambers. Then for a while you sail through the artificial Lake Gatun and on thru the Gaillard Cut that goes thru the Continental Divide. That is where you pass the Centennial Bridge.
After that you start coming back down. You can still see the Centennial Bridge when you enter the Pedro Miguel Lock which has one chamber that lowers you 31 feet. A short distance past that are the Miraflores Locks whose 2 chambers lower you the other 54 feet to sea level. And just before you leave the canal at Panama City you cross under the Bridge of the Americas, which connect North and South America via the Pan American Highway.
With six different lock chambers to go through, we made sure we saw it from all angles - from the bow of the ship, from the fantail and from our cabin balcony.
** And from our balcony **
To go into each lock, they basically put the ship into "neutral" and connect tow lines to little railroad cars on each side of the lock. These pull the ship into position and hold it steady.
** Our canalside tugs **
** We got to see one blast go off! **
*French Champagne (or in our case, a non-alcoholic white wine)
*Warm Basket of Homemade Pastries
*Delicate Smoked Copper River Salmon with Lingonberry Cream Cheese and Toasted Lemon Brioche
*Medley of Fresh Fruit and Forest Berries, served with Citrus Chantilly Crème
*Alaskan King Crab Quiche, with Tomato and Fontina Cheese Gratin
I ordered it to be served late enough that it was a brunch for us. Good thing, as there was so much food we didn't want anything else until supper time.
Since it was a through transit, with no shore excursions, Princess had a "Panamaian Market" on the top deck with souvenirs that were made in Panama.
All long the canal there were pullouts and even restaurants were people would go to watch the ships go thru the canal transit. We would wave at the kids and I would wonder what they were thinking at seeing such a huge and fancy ship. If it were me, I would have been dreaming that maybe I could do that someday... as I once had and as I was now doing.
** Watching **