Panama Canal - Oct. 23, 2006 Monday


Arriving at Mira Flores Locks - a set of 2 locks on the Pacific side of the canal. The arrow tells us which channel to use. The outer gates of the Mira Flores are the largest sets of gates.


Row boats bring the guide ropes out to be attached to the ship on both sides, fore and aft. These attach to the "mules" (train engines) which pull/guide the ship through each set of locks. We had 2 of the larger ones at each corner of the ship.

Early morning arrival at the first set of locks for the canal - 6 am-ish. We headed for the right hand side. Space on board forward was elbow to elbow and 4 deep. At the back it was a bit more open.

We paided a premium for a set arrival transit time. It cost about $250,000 for the ship to pass through the canal. There was traffic in the early morning on the canal. They have installed lights so they can have night passages also.


Will in his green rain forest tee shirt in his usual position for the day - watching over the rail.


Mira Flores - we are just exiting the second lock. Looking back another ship is entering the first lock on our side and a container ship is in the 2nd lock along side us. About 75 ships go through each day.

The boarded pilots, engineers and a guide. Some of the ship's camera crew off boarded to take pictures as we passed through the locks. They also had roving bands of camera people on the decks.

Some interesting bits:
’ΔΆ approximately 2 minutes for the gates to swing open or closed
’ΔΆ a 40 horsepower motor or strong person can work the gates
’ΔΆ all the water filling and leaving happens via gravity feeds underneath through tunnels approximately the same size as the NY subway tunnels - each takes about 10-15 minutes


After crossing a short lake we approach the 2nd lock set - Pedro Miguel.


Through the Galliard Cut, approaching Centennial Bridge and the continental divide.

After transiting Mira Flores, there is a small lake before you get to Pedro Miguel Locks, a single lift. This brings us to the level of the main lake - Gatun - 85' up.

Galliard Cut is all area that was excavated and the dirt used to make Gatun Dam. Originally only 300' wide, it has been widened more over time both to increase safety and due to landfalls. The area is unstable and gets earthquakes. They are currently doing some widening and straightening of the area to increase transit time.


Will with the Continental Divide in the background.


2 heavy lifting cranes (Hercules in black, and Lutz in color), other heavy equipment, and the dock for some of the tugs on Gatun Lake.

Thinking back 20 years I remember the Continental Divide to be much narrower, the walls leading up to be much straighter up, and much much lusher. They have done a lot of cutting back!!

The area also includes some of the docking stations, maintenance yards, and home for the cranes. The Hercules was one of 2 of the original cranes on the Canal. It is one of the 4 largest in the world. The Lutz is newer and used to be in Long Beach.


Gatun Lake - prior to the forming of Lake Mead, Gatun was the largest artificial body of water in the world.


Gatun Dam - makes the lake and all the electricity for the Canal. The flow of water in (via several tributaries) feeds the lake and the lake water makes the canal work via gravity feed.

Gatun Lake is huge. It took us about 2 hours to transit the lake. We relaxed on the balcony of our stateroom and watched the beautiful lush scenery go by.

As we approached Gatun Locks we encountered traffic. There were ships coming in from the Caribbean as well as ships ahead of us in line to exit the canal.

The Gatun Locks took us down in 3 steps to the Caribbean. The water in the lock we were in flows - almost boils, into the lock ahead of us.


Entering Gatun Locks with the Caribbean on the other side.


The pier in Christobal has fine shops and stands with items for tourists. Included on some tables are the Indian quilting pieces called Molas; and here she is making one.

They were doing work on the locks. Each of the doors has handrails and the workmen were doing something on top and crossing over a lot. There is also a car passage on the outside of the last gate. It moves into place as the gate closes. Traffic flows across and then doors close and the car bridge folds back as the gate opens.

Needless to say the engineering is fascinating to see. We took over 750 pictures and several movies, so watch for more pictures when we return.

We docked for a few hours in Panama. More shopping!! Will got a Panama hat and Robin bought molas. It was an exhausting wonderful day!

Back to the Panama Trip introduction page

Rights to all pictures and text reserved by Robin Berry and Will Ringer Oct 2006.