Along the Natchez Trace

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Panama Canal

We got back last night from the cruise  - now we're busy doing laundry, grocery shopping and all those things.  It was a 10 day cruise and while the ship stopped in Aruba, Cartenaga Columbia, Limon Costa Rica, and Grand Cayman, the reason most folks were aboard was the visit to the Panama Canal.

You may be familiar with the layout, but, if not, I'll describe a little about how it works.  Coming into the canal from the Atlantic side (Caribbean Sea) you enter the locks that raise you to a higher level into Gatun Lake.  This is a series of 3 locks (there are 2 separate channels allowing 2 lanes to travel at the same time)....  after traversing these, the ship is now in Gatun Lake...  which is 50 miles long.  There is one set of locks somewhere in the middle.  At the end of the lake, the ship travels through the third set of locks that put you into the Pacific Ocean.

A lot of cruise ships only go through the first set of locks, into Gaton Lake....  then moor long enough to allow any passengers going ashore to board smaller boats (the ship's lifeboats) to tender into shore.  The ship then turns around and goes back through the locks it just came out of.  The passengers board buses or other land transportation for their tours and those buses will return them to the city of Colon, which is where the ship will be moored that evening.

Most folks take excursion tours to various parts of Panama, and the tour Bill & I chose to take took us to Panama City.  So...  here are some photos of our adventure...

Arriving at the locks....
A lot of passengers started gathering on the outside decks just before daybreak.  We were "scheduled" to start our passage around 7am, but that is dependent on how many ships are in line ahead of you.

The decks were very crowded, and that and the tinted glass made it difficult to get good photos.  I snuggled my camera in between people, panes of glass or whatever I could to get some shots.

I did manage to get some decent shots...  like this one which shows a military ship going through the slot on the left.  You can see that it is already in the lock and the water has been raised to take it up to the next level.

Another view....  taken through glass, but it shows that ship at the next level.

These engines, called "mules", hook cables onto the ships and pull them through the water into place.  A big ship like our cruise ship has only 2' space on each side when inside a lock.

In this photo our ship has entered the first lock.  The water level is being raised to the next level.  The 3 levels of the locks can all be used at the same time...  the gates that hold back the water can be opened or closed to change the water levels.

We're in the second level here and I'm looking back behind us.  There is a ship coming into the lock behind us, and a Container ship coming into the lock on the left.  

Our ship went through and into Gatun Lake.  We disembarked and met up with the bus that would take us on our tour.

A new set of locks is in the process of being built...  completion is scheduled for next year.  This set of locks will be able to accommodate much larger ships (the original Panama Canal was completed in 1914) and those big ships will no longer have to sail all around South America to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Those new locks are very close to the old ones.  We could see construction from our bus.

Another shot from the wrong side of the bus...

Our tour took us for a tour of Panama City, but then...  we drove to the set of locks at the other end of Gatun Lake....
The Miraflora Locks are about 50 miles from where we were that morning.  While constructed exactly the same way, it was interesting to see the process from another perspective...  land instead of water.

Do you remember that photo up above of the Container Ship entering the locks to our left?  Well, it made it across the lake by late afternoon and was entering the lower locks.

You can see the "mules" hard at work, getting that ship into position and moving it into place.  It takes several mules on each side to move the big ships.

There was a large museum at this locks, explaining all about the planning and construction of the Panama Canal.  Look at all the people wearing Panama Hats!  They are a big item in all the gift shops.  Hey...  look at the far left...  that's Bill, sporting his new Panama Hat...  nice!

Also at this end of the lake is a large dam that helps control the water level of Gatun Lake.  

And, just in case you were wondering if there were any Geocaches hidden here, well....
Not hidden, but in plain sight!
A Virtual Cache...  just post a photo of yourself holding your GPS at the locks, and ... woooohoooo...  got another country under our geocaching belt.

That pretty much explains our trip through the Panama Canal...  I'll blog more about the other places we stopped...  but, in closing...
I do believe that's Panama Jack Bill, enjoying a beer.... brewed and bottled right in Panama!

That's All For Today!


  1. My aunt and uncle went through the Canal on their honeymoon, in the very early fifties, a regular feature of "movies" at family gatherings. How fun to see it in color.

  2. The only locks I have been through were the upper locks on the Allegheny River.

  3. Great post, brought back some great memories of our trip through the canal a few years ago!

  4. We got to visit the Panama Canal during our birding trip to Panama. But we were standing on land watching the ships go through the locks. Looks like a fun trip!

  5. Well, I've never been to the Panama Canal, and I'm sure I never will. Thanks for the trip!

  6. Thanks for the tour sounds like fun. I have a panama hat too from Equador a friend brought back for me.

  7. I've always wanted to see the Panama Canal--thanks for the tour!

  8. Transiting the canal is such an amazing journey. We did it in 2010 for my retirement celebration. Our trip did the full transit round trip, but either way you get to see the amazing locks do their thing. What an incredible feat of engineering, that folks don't often appreciate until they actually see in in action. Back in 2010 they were starting on those bigger locks. Curious when they will actually finish them.

  9. That's amazing. Stair steps for ships. I love Bill's Panama hat.

  10. Wow! I would love to pass through the Panama Canal. I find locks in general fascinating and could stand around watching the ships come and go for hours. Can't imagine how overwhelming it would be to see these.