Cruising the Panama Canal

Excitement was building the night before we were to sail into the Panama Canal.  We were all asking each other what time we would be up in the morning and wondering how long it would take to go through the locks.  We actually went to bed somewhat early as I had set my alarm to 5:00 AM (yes, you are reading that correctly).  I had been on this cruise before and “knew” a few things that would be happening as we got close to the entrance to the Canal.

We were notified that the ship would be opening up access to the bow on the 4th deck for our viewing pleasure at 6 AM.  When we cruised last, we were there at 6 AM but it was already filled with people lining the rails.  I was not going to make the same mistake a second time – I wanted to be at the rails to get a good view of going through the locks and seeing the lines on the wall on the canal as water entered to lift us up to sail through the Gatun Locks.

The alarm went off and although I  it was really early we left our room and was out on the  bow at 5:20 AM.  It was BLACK outside – not even dusky but pitch black.  We did find a few spots along the rail and watched the few lights along the shore.  We were able to watch the sun rise over the Pacific (that is not a mistake – due to the curve of the Isthmus of Panama and that the canal runs in a north and south direction the sun rises over the Pacific and sets over the Atlantic ( Wikipedia explains it better than me).

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We were going to go through the left berth of the Canal.  The gates were closed as there was a ship already in the locks.  As we made our approach slowly, with the aid of tugs, we noticed around us that there was a road in front of the gates that cars and even school buses were on.  That is the only way that cars can cross the canal.  We were told by the speaker on the PA system that with the new canal, scheduled to open in 2017, that there would be a bridge over the canal.  When the locks are about to open, the portable road splits and each section of the road goes to the side.  Here is a picture of the road:

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As we watched the gates open for our passage, we could see the water from Gatun Lake, the largest man-made lake ever, fill up the chamber of the lock.  Numbers are written on the wall of the locks for us to see it filling up.

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The ship was tied to the electric towing locomotives on either side of the canal in order to pull the large ships through the canal straight.  There isn’t much wiggle room for the large ships.

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After our chamber filled up with water, the gate opened and we sailed out to Gatun Lake.  From this spot on Gatun Lake, those of us who were taking an excursion were tendered to shore.  The Vista Lounge was the staging area for the excursions.  By now it was 9:15 AM, we had been up for 4 hours and still a long day in front of us.  I had my backpack with a deck of cards, bottles water, snacks that I packed from the buffet breakfast in my ziplock bags that I had brought from home and some cash in case I wanted to purchase souvenirs.  Blogger Friend Susan and I took the Panama Railroad to the Miraflores Locks and Observation Tower (this will be in a future blog) and Blogger Friend Deb took the ferry boat ride to the other end of the canal.  She has written about her experience and you can read that later this week.  So many adventures, so little time.

Enjoy some of my pictures from the morning.

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