The Panama Canal Cruise Day!

On Sunday, the 18th of November we were awakened by the sound of thunder at 5:20 in the morning. Pulling back the curtains of our stateroom we were able to see the coast of Panama, and ahead on the port side of the ship, the lights of the harbor at Colon.

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Nov 18 Entering Gatun Locks

We dressed in our bathing suits, as the temperature and humidity both were very high. Out of the darkness, as the sun rose, we could see many ships waiting for their turn to go through the Canal. It was quite an awesome sight.

Soon there was a knock on our door and breakfast was served to us, a split of Moet & Chandon champagne, hot coffee, fresh fruit and rolls and a crab quiche with Alaska King Crab legs draped over the top. As our friend Benn says, it only costs a little more to go first class.

Nov 18 breakfast before entering the locks

Finally it was time to enter the Gatun Locks. A small rowboat came out with two men, one to row and one to carry the lines to be used by the small locomotives that help maneuver the large ships through the canal.

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Our Captain

Nov 18 The Captain

Our ship, which was steadied by the locomotives, moved slowly into place in the very tight slot in the canal. I kept looking at that narrow passageway, and I couldn’t help but think that we were not going to make it. However, we did, with just enough room to spare on each side. The ship went in, stopped and the lock doors swung shut behind us. Slowly water was drained from the lock above us into our lock to raise us up. The three locks raised us 85 feet by the same process to the level of Gatun Lake.

Nov 18 Gatun Locks

The locks closing.

Nov 18 Gaton locks closing

Leaving the third lock, we passed the Gatun dam and spillway. Then we had to wait an hour during a rain shower to be sequenced into the lake shipping traffic. A large Chinese freighter passed us going in the opposite direction and I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t both be able to pass by without running aground but there was plenty of room in the lake channel.

Nov 18 Chinese freighter in Gatun Lake

We reached the town of Gamboa, also known as Dredge Central, shortly after we left Gatun Lake. We could see the dredge work being done there and we also saw the two large cranes which are used to remove the lock gates (65 tons each) for maintenance. Also in Gamboa we saw the railroad bridge over the Chagres River. A fast paced train was just going by us and Hubby caught a picture of it.

Nov 18 two large cranes used for lifting the lock gates for repair

Nov 18 th Panama Rainroad

Then we entered the Culebra Cut, a 9 mile section of the canal that has had a number of landslides, including one which closed the canal for 7 months shortly after it first opened. Along the Culebra cut is the high point at the continental divide. It used to be 600 feet high, but 200 feet have recently been removed to help prevent landslides in the future.

Nov 18 High Point minus 200 ft.

A beautiful single support cable bridge, called Memorial Bridge, crosses the canal just beyond the continental divide. It was quite a sight.

Nov 18 m17

Next we lined up for entrance into the Pedro Miguel Lock, which lowers you 27 feet to the level of Miraflores Lake. As we stood on deck watching this process, we were being observed from behind a chain link secutity fence by Panamanians who waved and greeted us!

Nov 18 Entering Pedro Miguel Lock

Nov 18 spectators at Pedro Miguel Locks

We quickly crossed Miraflores Lake and lined up for the last time. The Miraflores Locks bring you down to Pacific Sea level. The lowest lock is the deepest lock, because it must compensate for the 21 foot tide on this end of the canal, so the lock doors are 85 feet high. Here there was a three story building with seats and tables where crowds gathered to watch the ships go by. There was even an announcer who told the Panamanians about the ships and canal in both Spanish and English.

Nov 18 spectators at Miraflores 1

Nov 18 miraflores lock

As the ship passed them by, they cheered and waved and the children jumped up and down. Those of us on the ship also waved and cheered.

We saw a Panama Railroad train one more time just before we reached the International Bridge, a bridge which resembles the bridges over the Cape Cod Canal, where I grew up. In the distance you could see the Panama City skyline, quite beautiful, as the sun was setting.

Nov 18 The International Bridge and MB

Monday we have been at sea all day. We have seen gulls and dolphins and at breakfast I was surprised to see a whale! I have been a terrible slacker today, but when I finally sat down to write this out, suddenly my computer froze up and after nearly a half an hour of terror (all our pictures were on it and not backed up yet) I was finally able to get it going and immediately downloaded our pictures onto disks!

Tomorrow we will be in Costa Rica! We have a full day planned, including a visit to the rain forest there.

12 thoughts on “The Panama Canal Cruise Day!”

  1. OK Slacker – keep up the good work as I am really enjoying your travelogue. The pictures are incredible. Hope you have enjoyed the rainforest adventure. That, too, is something I would like to enjoy. Have a wonderful day. Carol

  2. TOTALLY AWESOME!! MB, this is great. Your pictures are amazing….ok, well, I guess your hubby gets SOME of the credit!! :-)s

    Completely fascinating.


  3. great pics indeed!

    my aunt has two mini dachsunds…Harley and Low Rider. Nice to see another enthusiast out there!

    I came here via MyBlogLog. Come visit!

  4. I feel like I’m on holidays with you!! Great pictures and commentary to go along with, you look to be enjoying yourself!! I’m so happy for you and your hubby!!
    Have a great day!

  5. What a cruise, full of experiences! The breakfast… *mouth watering*

    That locks, the bridge, the surroundings and on top of all that, dolphins and a whale… I’m all green of envy!!!!!

    …abd next Costa Rica and rainforest too. you’re killing me…. *giggles*

  6. OMG – what an experience for lifetime – spiced up with beautiful Photos. Lucky all that can read and watch your captures.
    And thanks for not giving up your post;)

    ps. I have never been on channels this sieze. Only on the old European ones. But: I’ve sailed through a tunnel – more than 2 miles long. In France (Canal de Bougogne or Burgundy Channel)

    wish you the best for the the rest of this dream cruise.
    My reports from Florida more or less vapour up in the sky compared to this.

  7. I also am really enjoying reading about your vacation in “real-time” (or close!) and getting to see pictures! Can’t wait to see the rainforest shots!!

    Lots of Love,

  8. Your pictures are beautiful. I like to watch the webcams on the Panama Canal official website, where you can see ships passing through the locks. There’s plenty of information about how quickly the locks fill and empty (about 10 minutes), but no mention of having to wait in line with all the other cruise ships. I guess you can’t get away from traffic jams, even on the Panama Canal.

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