Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Panama Canal.

WELL! What a day!

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In the early morning of Thursday, 21 April (the Queen’s 90th Birthday!) “Arcadia” arrived just off Panama City, which was just visible through the heat haze. It was already a very humid 29 deg at 7:30! In this pic the boat bringing one of the pilots out to us is visible on the left.

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It’s always exciting (well it is for James!) to watch the pilot boat approach the ship and the pilot climb the rope ladder onto the ship.

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Once the captain and the pilot received the time slot and ‘go ahead’ for “Arcadia” to proceed we were soon approaching the Bridge of the Americas ……….

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……. heralding the start of our eight hour transfer from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans. The 48 mile long canal saves shipping a 12,000 mile journey around Cape Horn.

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On our approach to the first set of locks we had a good view of the construction of the new larger locks (and the side pounds which save on water) necessary to take the much larger ‘super’ cargo ships. Already the cost of the improvements has reached $9 billlion!

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The first locks at Miraflores are two “staircase” locks (the ship goes from one lock straight into the next) and as we neared we could see the Celebrity cruise ship “Infinity” entering before us.

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It is a very slow job getting “Arcadia”, at 86,000 gross tons, lined up and in position to enter a lock which is only a few feet wider! There’s a long concrete “wall” sticking out from the locks for ships to position themselves on and, waiting at the end of the wall for us, are very powerful electric tugs which connect strong steel cables onto us to take us through.

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We had two tugs on each corner of the ship – eight in total.

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“Arcadia” is PANAMAX size which means we are the largest size of ship that can pass through.

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Each lock is 1000 feet long, 110 feet wide and holds eleven million gallons of fresh water. The canal is 101 years old this year and original gates still seal pretty well!

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Each tug costs $1.5 million and is electrically powered and hydraulically driven. It locates on a rack to provide traction and has two steel cables attaching it to the ship.

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The canal is very busy and while we are being guided into our lock another cargo ship approaches the lock next to us.

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Watching the tugs hold the ship central in the lock and move it forward is amazing. They take the steep incline from one lock to the next in their stride.

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The gates are 82 feet high and weigh 750 tons. They are driven hydraulically but there is a manual system of operation if that fails!

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As we raise up and move into the second lock a car carrier ship approaches ready to enter behind us.

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The cargo ship next to us is shorter and requires just one tug on each side. The cables from the tugs are attached to the bow of the ship.

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Once out of the Miraflores locks we travel across the manmade Miraflores Lake and into the Pedro Miguel lock.

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The two shipping tugs have helped us line up and enter the lock safely ………

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………. and the huge rubber covered rollers on the lock corner help to reduce damage to the ship. What a pity they don’t have them on our English canals!

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There’s no one swimming in the pool today – we were all too busy watching our passage through this amazing piece of engineering. The new wider, deeper canal (which joins into the original canal a bit further up) can be seen running parallel and 27 feet higher.

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It was great to watch other ships using the next lock. The new canal can be seen in the background.

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Once out of the locks and now 85 feet higher than the Pacific Ocean the next highlight is passing under the Centennial Bridge and starting the nine mile Galliard Cut.

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Just a couple of “we were here” pics!

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Next we passed the point where the Chargres River enters the system. The river was dammed in 1907 to form the gigantic Gatum Lake which provides the water for the locks at each end of the canal.

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The Gatun (ga-toon) lake is huge and beautiful with many little islands.

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At present there’s a shortage of water and the lake is 3 feet lower and the stumps of the trees which grew before the flooding are now sticking above the water.

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We passed several large cargo ships heading in the opposite direction across the lake ……….

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……… and then, just as we were relaxing, the three Gatun Locks were upon us. The Celebrity “Infinity” is still just ahead of us.

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The staff only are allowed up at the bow of the ship and we got this picture of our lovely, helpful cabin steward Stanley as he enjoyed his break watching all the goings on.

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As we approached the lock a rowing boat is sent out to collect a rope attached to the steel cable for the tug. It seems a bit rudimentary but it’s a tried and trusted way of doing it.

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As we close in on the lock you can see the little rowing boat at the end of the “wall” and the electric tugs waiting to take us in.

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Three million dollars worth of tug!

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The Gatum locks are a staircase of three locks. We’re in the first one with the next two ahead. The flat red roofed building on the right of the second lock ………

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…….. is a public viewing stand crowded with excited people. They waved at us and we waved at them (like you do!)

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Another massive container ship came into the next lock.

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And, after eight enormously exciting, and very hot hours, 11 million gallons of fresh water are released and we can continue our journey into the Atlantic Ocean. 

The cost of our wonderful trip through the Panama Canal was £250,000! Well worth the money!!!!!!

3 comments:

  1. The Panama Canal transit is an amazing day isn't it. We will be there for our third time next January / February - this time Atlantic to Pacific, aboard Cunard's QE. As they say....Can't wait!

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  2. When I transited the canal as a first trip engineer cadet on the MV Port Chalmers heading to New Zealand in 1971. We were told to save bread to fed the mules. The electric tugs are actually called mules after the mules that orginaly transited the Panama isthmus.

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  3. I remember doing the trip in 1957. Although both the ship and 'mules' (tugs) were considerably smaller than yours. We had a pilot and he showed us (children) magic tricks. Looks like you are enjoying yourselves.
    Regards
    Tom

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