Day 2,003 of Traveling the World | Panama Canal, Panama | July 27, 2023

The Panama Canal – on a list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World! Three times during the passage, enormous ships (as well as smaller vessels) are raised and lowered to sail through the canal through a system of locks. The sole purpose of the locks is to raise and lower the water level in each chamber using water from the lakes. A railway runs alongside the locks, with “mules” – small rail cars – attached to each ship to keep it centered as it transits. The three locks from Pacific to Atlantic are the Miraflores Locks (which take just over an hour to navigate), the Pedro Miguel Locks (about 40 minutes), and the Gatun Locks (more than two hours).

Before transit begins, a Canal pilot and other workers come aboard. Many large ports board a pilot onto a ship for transit into that particular port. At every other port, the pilot is essentially present in an advisory capacity. The Panama Canal is different in this respect, as the ship’s captain cedes control of the ship to the pilot. Should anything go amiss, it is the responsibility of the Canal pilot, not the ship’s captain. The only other time this happens (control of the ship leaving the captain’s hands) is when a ship is moved into a dry dock somewhere in the world.

One of our crew members, Utpal, told us a Panama Canal story from when he was working on a small luxury ship, the Tere Moana. He said there was a passenger in his 20s who was sailing with his family. Utpal told us that the passenger had been acting a little strangely during the entire cruise. While the ship was in a lock, the passenger, who apparently had figured out where there was a blind spot on the vessel’s cameras, jumped into the water in the lock! Utpal said alarms started blaring and everything came to a stop. Police cars and other officials quickly appeared. They rescued the man, and we thought he would have been arrested. But, no – he claimed he “fell” while attempting to take a photo. And as he was in a blind spot, they had to accept his explanation. They returned him to the ship at the next lock.

There is a wonderful lecturer aboard who did a presentation on the Panama Canal. As you know, many problems had to be overcome to build the canal, and yellow fever and malaria – along with the excruciating heat – killed as many as 25,000 workers. Sadly, artificial limb makers clamored for contracts with the canal construction office. The pressures of the project were so great that several project directors resigned. President Teddy Roosevelt (who pushed for the canal’s completion as one of his administration’s legacies) eventually ordered it to be completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, since the project director would be an army officer and, thus, unable to walk away from the project.

We were last in the Panama Canal in 2020, where we provided more of the history and more photos in our blog. Search for it if you want to read more! This is just meant as a short supplement.

In total, the locks raise and lower a ship 85 feet. You can see the level to which our ship must be raised before moving ahead. The motors on the steel gates (weighing 662 tons) are original to the canal (i.e., over 100 years old) and operate reliably on two 25 hp engines! The water isn’t pumped into the lock to raise a ship, but instead, flows by gravity.
Here is a photo further out from the first lock.
The clearance on either side of the ship is just a few feet.
This is one of our ship’s mules, doing its job!
We were transiting from the Pacific to the Atlantic (Caribbean), but the Clearocean Maria was heading the other way, and you can see her mules at work.
“Gold Hill.” The French made up a story that there was gold to be found in Panama so that investors would help with its construction and get some gold as a return. Not a word of it was true.
The American Bridge behind us.

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