Panama 2008

Panama Canal
Colon (Cristobal), Panama

21 March 2008

Panama Canal Information
Colon (Cristobal) Information

Colon (Cristobal) Map

Panama Canal Map

Photographs and Commentary
click on pictures to enlarge

The Panama Canal was built by the United States and completed in 1914. It was not the first attempt to build a canal across the isthmus. In 1534, Charles I of Spain ordered a survey of a proposed route to the Pacific to ease the transit of gold and silver from the Spanish possession on the West Coast of the Americas. More than three hundred years later, in 1880 the French attempted to build a sea level canal. They worked for over 20 years and lost over 25,000 men to disease and injury before giving up. The US purchased the French Canal Company rights and properties for $40 million in 1904 and began construction.

The length of each Canal lock segment is 980 feet and the maximum beam (width for you landlubbers) is 110 feet. The Coral Princess, with a length of 964 feet and a beam of 105.6 feet is a snug fit. Because of it size, the ship requires three senior canal pilots to guide it through (we still bumped the side getting into the lower chamber of the Gatun Locks). The Canal is about 45 miles long with The Gatun Locks on the Caribbean (with three chambers) and the Pedro Miguel Locks (one chamber) and Miraflores Locks (two chambers) on the Pacific. Ships transiting the Canal are raised 85 feet above the level of the sea to the elevation of Gatun Lake, once the biggest man made lake in the world. The amount of water required for the ship to transit the Canal is 52,000,000 gallons. This is fresh water that winds up in either the Caribbean Sea or the Pacific. Panama has started building a new set of locks to accommodate larger vessels that cannot now pass through. Three chamber locks are being built parallel to the Gatun and Miraflores Locks. The new locks will have water saving feature that would reduce the amount of water required to raise and lower vessels to and from Gatun Lake.

The Canal's orientation is North/South so that traveling from the Caribbean to the Pacific is from North to South. Incidentally, the toll for the Coral Princess is around $245,600, the highest paid by a cruise ship. The lowest toll ever paid was 36 cents in 1928 by Richard Halliburton who swam through. The toll is collected in cash... no EZ Pass toll lane.

I had been fascinated by the history of the Canal and have looked forward to seeing it on this trip. What I wasn't looking forward to was the timing of our arrival. The ship was scheduled to enter the breakwater at Colon at approximately 6am (ship time... 5am local). This meant getting up around 5am so that we could have a good place at the bow to view the passage through the Canal. It was still before sunrise and all we could see were the lights of ships waiting for their turn to enter the Canal. By the time we got our turn to enter the Canal and traveled the 6.5 miles to the Gatun Locks the sun was up so that we could see the operation of the locks. Once we got to Gatun Lake, the ship dropped anchor and those people who booked excursions were taken by tender to busses to begin the trips.

Our excursion involved a transcontinental journey. That sounds impressive until you realize that crossing the continent here is a trip of about 50 miles... the very reason that the Canal was built here. Our bus took us to the Panama Canal Railway station in Colon for the first leg of the trip. The Panama Canal Railroad is the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas and predates the railroad across the United States by a number of years. We road in an old dome topped rail car on a route that paralleled the Canal. Once we got to the Pacific side, we transferred to a bus that gave us a tour of the area around Panama City and the Miraflores Locks. Unfortunately, there were no ships in transit in the Canal when we were there so we could not see the locks in operation. The bus took us back to Colon where we boarded the ship. The route traveled by the bus showed us the extremes of the country... from Panama City, a modern metropolis with many high rise buildings through small towns where there was plenty of evidence of poverty.

All in all, a very long and interesting day.


March 21 st 2008, Panama Canal & Cristobal, Panama
In the early morning Coral Princess commenced the landfall to the north entrance of the Panama Canal, at 06:18 a Canal Pilot was embarked and we commenced navigating inside the narrow channel. At 07:44 we entered the first of the three "Gatun Locks" making fast eight electric locomotives or "Mules" to safely drive us through the chambers. By 09:15 we had risen up to the level of "Gatun Lake" and once clear of the last lock we proceeded to our anchorage. At 09:46 the starboard anchor was dropped, and shortly after we commenced the Tender service.
Noon Position:                    Gatun Lake, Panama Canal
Temperature:                        25°C / 77°F
Wind:·                                  North Easterly 'Iy Beaufort Force 4
Barometer:                           1010.5 hPa
Weather conditions: Mostly Cloudy.
Once Tender operations were completed we waited for other vessels to clear the locks and then we started heaving up the anchor. As soon as the anchor was aweigh with the Pilot assistance we headed back again towards the locks for descending back down to the level of the Atlantic Ocean and then inside the channel bound for the port of Cristobal and arriving at the berth the Captain safely manoeuvred the vessel alongside the quay. With all passenger on board, at 19:11 we slipped our moorings, moved astern and headed north passing through the anchorage area and once clear of the ships at anchor the ship speed was brought up to maximum and the course was set towards Limon.

Entering Limon Bay breakwater
Approaching the breakwater for Limon Bay, the Caribbean entrance to the Canal

approach to Gatun Locks
Approach to the Gatun Locks

a segment of the French canal

A segment of the failed French sea level canal about a mile from the Gatun Locks

Approaching Gatun Locks

Entrance to Gatun Locks. The ship on the right is entering the lower chamber and the ship on the left is in the middle chamber. Ordinarily, the right hand side is Pacific bound while the other takes ships to the Caribbean. Heavy southbound traffic has caused the use of both sides taking Pacific bound ships.

Entrance to Gatun locks

The gates on the lower chamber on the right are closing and the ship will be raised to the level of the middle chamber. The ship on the left is in the middle chamber and almost level with the top chamber.

Road bridge below lower gate of Gatun Lock

Road traffic is allowed on the bridge below the lower chamber gate. When a ship is entering the locks, traffic is stopped and the bridge swings out of the way. The Coral Princess is about to enter the left lane.

two ships in Gatun Locks

The ship on the right has been raised to the level of the middle lock and is entering it. The ship on the left is entering the upper chamber.

at entrance to lower chamber of Gatun Locks

The lower gate is about to open for the Coral Princess. Lines are being attached to two "mules," locomotives on each side of the bow and two on each side of the stern. The ship enters and leaves the chambers on its own power under the command of Canal Pilots. The mules role is to keep the ship straight. We did manage to bump lightly on the left hand side.

Lower gate opens to admit Coral Princess into Gatun Locks

The lower gate is opening for the Coral Princess. The ship on the left is now being raised in the third chamber to the level of Gatun Lake. (Photo by Susie)

Coral Princess in lower chamber Gatun Locks

The Coral Princes is entering the lower chamber while the ship on the right is in the middle chamber and gate is closing. The ship on the left is almost at the level of Gatun Lake, 85 feet above the sea level.

Coral Princess entering middle chamber Gatun Locks

The gate to the middle chamber has been opened and the Coral Princess proceeds in. (Photo by Susie)

Coral Princess in middle chamber of Gatun Locks

The Coral Princess is almost completely in the middle chamber. The ship that preceded us is now on Gatun Lake. (Photo by Susie)

ship entering upper chamber Gatun Locks

The ship on the right has been elevated to the level of the top chamber and is now proceeding into it.

Gatun Lock Contro Building

The Gatun Locks Control Building. Most of the controls date back to opening of the Canal in 1914. At this point the lines are passed from the mules that took us through the lower and middle locks to another set of mules that will take us on the final leg of the passage through the locks.

Two mules at Gatun Locks

Two of the Mules

Gatun Lake and Gatun Dam

Gatun Lake with Gatun Dam in the background. Several dams control the level of the lake, once the largest man made lake in the world.

Panama Canal RR train on shore of Gatun Lake

The Panama Canal Railroad winds its way along the shore of Gatun Lake. Jan, a member of our group and an avid railroad buff, was able to ride in the locomotive on our transcontinental journey.

Cruise ship in Culbra Cut

A cruise ship in the Culebra Cut viewed from the train

Pedro Miguel Locks seen from train

The Pedro Miguel Locks, a single chamber lock, as seen from the train

One of the Gatun Lake dams

Another of the dams controlling the level of Gatun Lake

Lower chamber of Miraflores Locks

The lower chamber of the Miraflores Locks

Upper chamber gate of Miraflores Lock with Control Building in background

The gates to the upper chamber of the Miraflores Locks with the Control Building in the background

Upper chamber Miraflores Locks

The upper chamber of the Miraflores Locks

canal mule

Close up of one of the canal mules

Panama City

Panama City, a thriving metropolitan area

Future Trump City

The area of Panama City to the southeast of the area shown in the picture on the left is being developed by Donald Trump... who else?

Fran & Mel's Pictures
Susan K at the Canal

Getting ship's lines

Getting the ship's lines to attach to mules


Susan K at the Canal

Road bridge opening

Road bridge and first lock gate swinging open to allow Coral Princess to enter the Canal

On Gatun Lake enroute to Panama Canal Railroad

on the lighter

Warren L, Susan K, Warren K and Luellen

on lighter

Sam, Bob and Leda

on lighterr

Linda, Jan and Lynne

On lighter

Susie and Mel

Army Navy Y

Bridge of the Americas

Bridge of the Americas (Pan American Highway crossing of the Canal)

Army and Navy YMCA

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