Friday, June 8, 2012

Panama Canal Transit - December 8, 2011

One of Traveler Al's "Almost A Last Hurrah Voyages"

The new Centennial Bridge over the Panama Canal at the Culebra or Gaillard Cut through the Darien Mountains of Panama - Photo by Ken
Most of the passengers on the Carnival Inspiration awakened early and were soon out on the deck as the ship entered the approach waterway to the Gatun Dam, Locks and Lake.  The lake follows the old bed of the Chagas River which was blocked by the largest man made dam to create the largest man made lake in the world - at the time of the Canal's construction.

I was up and out of the cabin after Ken.  Everyone was going up to the highest deck for the best view.  I ended up on the Sports Deck, which I had not visited before.  

Sports Deck - early morning - Panama Canal Transit Day

Looking North towards the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Interestingly enough, the Panama Canal crosses the Isthmus of Panama in a North to South direction.  To go to the West and the Pacific Ocean you must enter from the North - however, the Northern entry to the Canal lies further to the West than the Southern entry to the Canal... Let's see if I have this correct - to get to the Pacific from the Atlantic Side of Panama you go South, and to get to the Western most exit of the Canal you go South and East...

Oh!  Me!  I am hopelessly confused! A map might help.

Map of Panama and the orientation of the Panama Canal
Please click here for complete information about the history, the construction and the public health measures taken to make construction of the Canal possible. There is also information about the charges for passage.

The highest toll paid to transit the Canal was $460,000 paid by Norwegian Cruise Line for one of its mega cruise ships.  The average toll is about $60,000 per ship. Cruise ships pay based on tonnage, and number of full and empty berths.  The formulas for collecting tolls are quite complex.  

The lowest toll paid was .36 cents for an adventurer who swam the length of the canal in 1927.

Our ship being lined up to enter the first lock chamber at Gatun Dam

A Canal tugboat

Entering Gatun Lock with a chemical carrier ship, Stolt Innovation at the left and Celebrity Infinity exiting the middle lock chamber

Our ship followed Celebrity Infinity all day.  The Infinity is in the highest lock chamber before entering Gatun Lake.

This is a short video that shows the rate at which our ship was moved forward out of the lock chamber into Gatun Lake.  It is surprisingly quick!

Completely surrounded by Panama while in the Gatun Lake Locks
Looking back as two more ships begin entering the Gatun Locks - note how much higher the water is elevated in the lock chambers. Photo by Ken

Waiting in Gatun Lake for clearance to proceed with the Canal Transit.

We received permission to proceed about 10:30 AM.  Gatun Lake, which follows the old course of the Chagas River forms the longest section of the Canal.

In the Canal being followed by the chemical transporter ship, Stolt Innovation, as a tug towing dredge pipe sections goes the other way.

Celebrity Infinity entering the Culebra or Gaillard Cut near the Continental Divide.   Photo by Ken
Celebrity Infinity near the Canal widening project in the Continental Divide area of the Isthmus of Panama.

Looking North or back while in the Culebra or Gaillard Cut - the most difficult part of the Canal to construct due to landslides and the enormous amounts of rock and earth that had to be dynamited and removed.

Dredge operations near Continental Divide in the Culebra or Gaillard Cut
Erosion / silt control work in the Culebra or Gaillard Cut area.
The new Centennial Bridge constructed to alleviate heavy traffic on the Pan American Highway on the older Bridge of the Americas which is in Panama City.

Cut away mountain near the new Centennial Bridge - Photo by Ken
The Canal is being worked on to allow even larger ships to make the transit. The current size limit is ships no more than 108 feet wide and less than 1000 feet long so that the ship will fit the lock chambers.  The Canal is being widened and new sets of locks are being constructed that will allow passage of ships up to about 170 feet wide by 1,800 feet long.  Along with the new lock chambers - each set of locks will use 3 water capture basins so that the canal will use only 7% more water per year.

The source of the water is natural rainfall over the Isthmus of Panama. The water level in Gatun lake falls during the dry season in late fall and early winter.

The short video above is of work being done at a widened section of the canal, the excavator is removing a temporary dam used while the earth was removed to make the canal wider.

In the afternoon, we approached the locks at Miraflores where we would descend to the level of the Pacific Ocean.

The most efficient way to transfer the wire towing cables from the ships to the locomotives that pull and restrain the ships from too rapid progress is to use two men in a rowboat!

The chemical carrier ship, Stolt Innovation is towed from one lock chamber to the other by the tow locomotives.

The chemical carrier ship Stolt Innovation being positioned by the tow locomotives at Miraflores Locks.

This video shows how the elevation of the Stolt Innovation chemical carrier ship changes as water was released from the lock chamber.

Our ship entering the final Miraflores lock chamber to be lowered back to Sea Level. Photo by Ken

Water being discharged from the final lock chamber at Miraflores.   Photo by Ken

An emergency bridge (one on each side of the lock chambers) and roadway at Miraflores.  The bridges can be swung out over the lock chambers to allow emergency vehicles to cross the lock complex.  When the emergency bridge is used, ships cannot pass through the locks.

Part of the old US Army Corps of Engineers Canal Zone installations.  Panamanians have done a very adequate job of maintaining and efficiently operating the Panama Canal since it was transferred to them in the late 1990's.

Looking back at the Miraflores Locks from the Pacific approach waterway.

Looking back at the Bridge of the Americas at Panama City, Panama. This bridge is the old route of the Pan American Highway.  The Centennial Bridge was built to help alleviate traffic crossing this bridge.  Note that our ship is moving faster down the approach waterway.

A sunset view of Panama City from the shipping canal leading to the Panama Canal's south end.

The last building at the end of the Panama City, Panama breakwater as our ship entered the open Pacific waters.  I believe the building is some sort of civic auditorium.

Note to all - my thanks for your patience during the long delay since I have updated this blog.  I had a rather urgent task to report and display photos of the hula dance competitions at the 2012 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii. My blog "The 50th State" gets a lot of visits from hula enthusiasts all over the world.

I also had to travel back to t he Mainland for 2 surgeries to remove cataracts from each eye.  The operations went well and are very successful.  It seems like I can see farther into the ultra-violet spectrum now, daylight seems bright, blue-white.  I hope that the change will not effect my photo editing.

Next time - Sea Days, Puntarenas, Costa Rica and Puerta Vallarta, Mexico

Please click the colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii "Life in the 50th State"

Please give me photo credits if you use or share my photos for non-commercial use.

I use a Canon G-11 digital camera on a mono pod - usually without flash

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Your comments and criticisms are my reward for the effort to do this blog – they are appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels.


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