This was the hottest day so far and a long one. We were up at 6:00 am expecting cabin service in plenty of time or get up on deck to enter the first lock on the Panama Canal system on the Atlantic side. We waited as long as we could but it never arrived and we scrambled up on deck deciding breakfast could wait a bit and the ship staff were giving away panama sweet buns filled with fruit which were quite yummy. Maxine has to have her coffee first thing but she was able to get it on deck as well.
At Daniel Ostler's the (the shipsTravel Guru)suggestion we went up to a small wing deck on deck 8 outside the gym to get some altitude for the start of the transit. Daniel is a Canadian who has traveled to 168 countries so far and is the guy you want to talk too about any of out ports of call on this trip.
The Rotterdam entered the first chamber of the three Gatun Locks. We entered the left or West channel and were slotted beside a PanaMax ship that is called a RORO or roll on roll off vessel whose cargo gets inboard under it's own power. They are the largest ships that are able to traverse the canal at this time and are mostly auto carriers and large trucks. We travelled slightly behind it for the whole passage.
We were guided in by very large tug boats and once safely in the lock four powerful locomotives called mules were attached to each corner of the ship which maneuvered us along between the three sets of locks.
Once the gates closed behind us, water started draining from the second lock by gravity at the rate of 3 million gallons a minute till the levels between the two chambers equalize when the gates opens and we were towed into the second chamber that was 27 feet higher than we were. This process was repeated again for the third chamber and at 8:40 we exited the locks and entered Gatun lake about 97 feet higher than we started out.
We sailed under our own power through a zig zag channel in and around a lot of little islands that used to be very large hills before the dams were built which created the lake it self.
The ships crew emptied the swimming pool and refilled with filtered Panama Canal water and any one who wanted could swim two laps in it and receive a certificate saying they had swum the canal which is the best way to do it as we saw several alligators along the way.
At the south end of the lake about near a town called Gamboa, an hour and forty minutes later we entered the single Pedro Miguel Lock which lowered us down 27 feet in one step and we entered the narrowest part is the canal called the cut. This was the most difficult part of the whole system to build and the French effort there saw more than 20,000 lives lost from accidents and disease. The French were unable to complete the project for various reasons and the United States onset took the project on 1904. They dammed the Charges River thus ensuring a reliable supply of water to operate the locks at higher elevations.
At the end of the cut we caught glimpses of Panama City ahead on the East side of the channel and at about 2:25 pm we crossed under the Bridge of the America's and on into the Miraflores locks which in two more steps lowered us down to the level of the causeway that took us towards the Pacific Ocean. A distant view of ultra modern high rises in Panama City was totally unexpected and incredible off to the left side of the ship. We will have some time on the return transit to get a closer look as we have booked a land excursion then to see the canal from a dry land perspective.
We entered the Pacific at about
3:30, turned right and were on our way to Costa Rica where we will arrive sometime tomorrow night after a welcome relaxing day at sea recovering from the heat and miles ow walking and climbing up and down stairs trying to photograph every angle of the whole operation. I completely filled a16 gigabyte Compact Flash card and will get some pictures up loaded soon.
We are off to Costa Rica tonight and will be there bright and early. I am exhausted from running up and down stairs and back and forth from bow to stern many times trying to photograph everything that was going on.
Good night all.