The day before yesterday we traversed the Panama Canal. This is quite an engineering marvel. It was completed in 1913. The US turned over control of the canal to the Panamanians about 20 years ago. There is a second canal being built that will accommodate larger ships and should open some time this year.
The Infinity is a Panamax ship in that it is the largest ship that can fit into the locks. Evan in
Curaçao we were docked at the Mega Pier.
We traveled from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side. You enter the canal on an angle to the locks as there was concern that if the approach was straight a submarine could hit a ship in the locks and do severe damage to them. There are three locks on the Pacific side with two of them beside each other. The third is separated from the first two because of the fault line and we do not have to have a lock disturbed because of some earthquake or volcanic activity. The third lock is about a mile further along.
The engineers determined that the easiest way to create a passage form ocean to ocean was to create a large man made lake. The Pacific locks raise the ships 85 feet ( 27′, 27′ & 31′) enabling ships to sail into this fresh water lake. The lake was the largest man made lake ever created at the time of its completion.
It was about a 3 hour journey to the locks on the the Caribbean side. Once again, there are three locks here but not quite as high (I believe about an 80 ft drop to the Caribbean sea. These locks are all together, making for a faster passages than on the Pacific side. There are two sets of three locks on either side of the canal.
Essentially from 6:00 am until noon, both ends of the canal allow only entry into the canal and from noon to 6:00 pm both sides only allow ships to exit the canal. As a result you really only see ships passing in the opposite direction when in the man made lake.
Both Jill and I were quite surprised at the few number of ships we encountered on the lake. It is estimated that only 30% of the ocean traffic is currently using the Panama Canal because the larger ships afloat today simply will not fit in the 1913 locks. This should change once the new locks open.The old locks will continue to be used.
One last comment on the Panama Canal. Ships cruise right into the locks, usually with tugboat assist. On approach to the locks, two guys hop into a rowboat (Yes, I did say a rowboat and approach the ship where cables are dropped for them to fish out of the water and are attached (upon return of the rowboats) to very large and heavy electric locomotives. In the case of the infinity, we had four locomotives on each side of the canal. The cables are designed to keep the ship in the middle of the canal. We had about 2 feet on either side of the ship. The cost for the Infinity to go through the Panama Canal was $450,000. You can arrive at the canal and take your chances as to when you get through (the cheapest transit) or there are I believe 20 reserved slots (which our ship had) and there is one slot daily that goes up for auction. Costly but very time saving to use the canal as opposed to going down to Cape Horn and back up the opposite side of South America. Time is money!
- Return To: South America & the Panama Canal 2016