Panama Canal Cruise - Day 11 - through the Canal!

The evening of our 10th day at sea was a pinnacle - we arrived in Panama at 7:00 p.m. Since you can't go through the locks at night, the ship anchored and we grabbed a tender (a small boat holding about 50 passengers) in to the pier at Fuerte Amador. Sad to say, we saw nothing more than a small touristy dock that night, but I did get to do a bit of shopping. I met a man who carves handcrafted woodworks, and bought a handmade jewelry box for my daughter and something for myself as well.

Going through the Panama Canal is more fascinating that I ever expected. I watched, fascinated, for hours. An eastern-bound ship leaves the Pacific Ocean, navigates through a series of locks that raise the ship from sea level to 86 feet above sea level, sails through several Panama lakes and, at the other end, goes through another series of locks to go back down to sea level on the Atlantic/Caribbean side of Panama. The canal's history goes way back to the 1800's when the French attempted to build the canal but failed. Then in 1903 the U.S. picked up the project, and finished it. Everything is done on the principal of gravity, completely without electricity.

We followed a ship through the locks, which illustrated the journey in a dramatic way. In this first picture, Ted and I were watching through windows on the top deck. You can see three different levels of the locks, and the ship in front of us in the third level. On the right side is a second passageway, where a shipload of green, blue and red trailers was going through at the same time. The locks are 110 feet wide, and the ship, like the one in front of us was 106 feet wide. Not much room for error!

We enter the first chamber of the lock, and gates close behind us. The gravity-operated pumps begin to flood the chamber with water, raising our ship to the level of the water behind the next gate. When our ship is level with the water in the next chamber, the gates open and we move forward. Those gates close behind us, and the process begins again. We learned that there's a $25,000 reservation fee, and it costs $250,000 to go through the canal. So this is not an inexpensive passageway! I snapped this picture from the back of the ship, after we had cleared the first of the three locks.

After we were inside the canal, we cruised for most of the day through Panama. The shore is beautiful - wild and tropical with a sultry atmosphere. In another post I'll tell you about a couple of fun shipboard events we did while sailing through Panama that day, before we cleared the Gatun lock on the eastern shore of Panama.

This picture is taken from the deck of our ship approaching the Gatun locks. As you can see, the gates are opening to let us into the last chamber. Ahead on the other side of the final gate you can see the ship we followed through the canal, and on the right, the other ship (the one with the cargo boxes) just exiting the last chamber.

The next picture is of us approaching the final gate. The ship in front of us is waiting for clearance to exit the lock and enter the Atlantic/Caribbean.

And this last shot is after we're in the final chamber, waiting to pass through the last gate. You can see the whirlpool as water floods from the last chamber (which our ship is in), into the ocean on the other side, which lowers our ship to sea level before those last gates are open.

All in all, one of the most fascinating things I've ever seen.