Panama Canal

On February 10, 2018 which happened to be my 75th birthday, we made the full transit of the Panama Canal.  Our driver met us at our hotel at 6:00am for the 30 minute drive to the Flamenco Marina for our 7:30am departure aboard the Pacific Queen.  The boat has a capacity of 300 passengers.  Our trip had to be pretty close to full capacity.

They boarded by color coded groups.  Our group was gold, which I thought was good until our group was called next to last to board.  So there were about 275 people ahead of us selecting seats and viewing locations.

With all those people, it wasn't easy to get up front for photos. If you were persistent, you could eventually get images like the one to the right.
The front of our boat can be seen in the foreground. We are in the same lock section of a bigger ship.  The bigger ship is being guided by "mules" which are electric locomotives.
As we headed for the locks, we passed under the Bridge of the Americas.  This bridge, built in 1962, was the first bridge over the canal.  Prior to its construction, one had to cross the canal by ferry.  

The cost for ships to transit the canal depends on the size of the ship and its capacity.  Our boat was 120 feet long.  The charge for it was $4000.  Some of the container ships pay $300,000 to $500,000 per transit.  The record cost is 1.2 million dollars for a transit.
​From the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, the canal is 50 miles long.  Gatun Lake, in the middle, is 85 feet above sea level, thus necessitating the system of locks to raise and lower the ships.  The water is moved from Gatun Lake to each subsequent chamber of the locks by gravity.  There are no pumps involved.

There are three sets of locks.  We started in Panama City on the Pacific side of the canal.  The first set of locks are the Miraflores.  The three photos below show the lock after we first entered.  The second photo is several minutes later showing the water at about halfway up.  The third photo shows the water full as we progress to the next chamber.
The building on the left of the above third photo is the Miraflores Museum, which we visited the day after our complete transit of the canal.  At left is a photo from the museum showing the old locks in the foreground and a ship passing through the new locks in the distance.  The chambers in the new locks which were completed in 2016, are wider and longer to accommodate bigger vessels.

It took us about 7 hours to do the full transit.  Below are ships lined up to enter the canal from the Pacific side.  Once in position they wait about 20 hours before starting their journey through the canal.
The canal passes through the only gap in the continental divide, seen in this photo. Also, seen in this image is the Centennial Bridge, the second bridge over the canal.  In this area the sides of the canal are terraced to reduce erosion.
Even with terracing, they still get some silt build up.  This requires some dredging as seen here.
Along the the canal were these signboards.  They are used for pilots to position their ship in the canal.  If they line up with the crosses, they are in the center of the canal.  When they line up with the vertical lines they are on the right side of the canal, which is important if they are facing traffic coming from the opposite direction.
The locks were finished in 1913, prior to the welding process being developed in the 1920's, so the steel plates were riveted in place on the lock doors.
Below shows the progression of the MSC Pohlin through the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side of the canal.