Day 6 - Panama Canal
Wednesday, January 23, 2013: We were up before dawn on Panama Canal Day, because we were scheduled to begin our transit at 7:30 AM and we had a lot to do before then.
|Up, showered, fed, and on deck by 7:00 AM, we were ready. Ahead of us, we could see Holland America's Statendam. Again.
|We watched the Statendam head into the first stage of the Gatun Locks.
|We followed her in and watched as the lock doors closed behind her.
|Then we watched as she was slowly lifted 27 feet to the next level. Note the small bridge in front of the locks where a colorful school bus is crossing, one of only a handful of places where vehicles can cross from one part of Panama to the other.
|The doors of the second stage opened for her to move forward.
|Off she went to the second stage, ...
|... doors closing behind her and her accompanying tugboat.
|Water was let out of the first stage to bring it back to sea level. The water is drained into underground tunnels that send the water back out, shown here.
|While we were getting positioned in stage one, an MSC container ship pulled up alongside us.
|We moved to the Hemisphere Lounge briefly to get this photo of the left lane and the closed lock doors ahead of us.
|We went down to the Promenade Deck, which was level with the concrete next to us. Tile markers indicated how many feet there were to one end of the stage and the other.
|As we started to move, so did the MSC ship.
|The markers on the walls now looked quite small from 27 feet higher up.
|Doors opened on both sides, and we moved into the second stage.
|These staircases give a sense of scale.
|We decided to watch the next stage from our cabin, looking down on the MSC ship.
|It was nice to be able to see the superstructure of the ship up close. Occasionally, we'd see a crew member taking photos. Transiting the Panama Canal is an amazing experience for everyone, even seasoned sailors.
|Our friend, Orchy, came along too.
|Here's the third and final stage of the Gatun Locks.
|And here are the gates between stages two and three opening for the MSC ship.
|MSC crew members were on deck enjoying some coffee during the transit.
|As the MSC ship neared the top of the third stage, we started to head out into Gatun Lake.
|Here's the view looking back.
|And another view. If you look closely, you can see the ships in the distance waiting their turn.
|We passed the Maersk Batam as we followed the carefully marked path through Gatun Lake.
|These markers were placed in various locations throughout the lake area.
|Gatun Lake is a man-made lake, created by damming a river. Some portions of the hills on the edges of the lake have had to be trimmed back a little, but efforts have been taken to prevent erosion and to replant the carved-out areas to look natural again some day.
|You might think this is a photo of the Pool Grill menu sign, but it is really a Maersk sighting.
|We did grab some food at the Pool Grill, however, and took it up one deck to our cabin. We ended up doing this several times during the cruise. Delicious and convenient!
|At times, the waterway was fairly narrow, as shown here.
|We had spotted some of these strange things in Colon the day before. In Costa Rica, we learned that they are termite nests, found most often on branches or in the forks of trees.
|The trusty Navigation Channel onboard showed us that we were, indeed, travelling from the northwest to the southeast, strange though that may seem.
|Here is some more erosion control work.
|We approached the Centennial Bridge that we had ridden on the day before. The Statendam is in the distance rounding the bend.
|It's a pretty bridge, isn't it?
|Much work has been done to widen the Canal for a planned 2014 expansion. On the right side of this picture, you can see the large trench that will end up being the larger locks in just under two years.
|It was very hot out, so we headed back to the Hemisphere Lounge to cool off and watch the view from there for a while.
|We treated ourselves to the non-alcoholic drink of the day, Razzle Dazzle, a lime juice and raspberries concoction.
|Next up was Pedro Miguel Lock. Again, the Statendam took the right channel.
|Off she goes, ...
|... down 27 feet.
|We were there ...
|... and we have the digital proof.
|As we pulled alongside the Statendam, the 27-foot-difference between our water level and hers was quite apparent.
|We spent a short time cruising on Lake Miraflores before reaching the last set of locks, Miraflores Locks.
|The giant arrow pointed us to the left channel once again.
|Well, hello, ms Statendam. Sorry if we appear to be stalking you.
|Here's the Statendam going through the first lock stage, ...
|... and here's the second lock stage with the Statendam long gone.
|After two days of the butler being very late with tea, followed by two days of having only pastries left for us in our room for tea, we decided to take matters into our own hands and visit the Islands Cafe where tea was being served. We loaded up on tiny sandwiches. Of course, once we returned to our room, we found plates of both sandwiches and pastries waiting for us. From that day on, sandwiches were always left for us.
|As we neared Panama City, we saw some of the Maersk container locations we had seen the day before.
|This giant machine is a very powerful dredger named D'Artagnon from Marseille.
|Looking back in the direction of the Miraflores Locks, this is a better view of the new canal's trenches.
|Now officially in the Pacific Ocean, we could see Panama City just over the hill.
|We couldn't believe our eyes when we reached this container port. There were three, count 'em, three Maersk ships!
|This beauty is the Maersk Kuantan, ...
|... and these are the Maersk Needham and the Maersk Tarragona, left and right, respectively.
|Our last milestone of the Panama Canal lay just ahead of us: the Bridge of the Americas. Once larger ships can transit the canal, this bridge will have to be altered or removed, but for now, let's appreciate its beauty.
|Here's the view looking back, ...
|... the view of the Panama City skyline, ...
|... the closeup of the Gehry building we promised earlier, ...
|... and the view of the three islands we visited the day before.
|This is a giant pelican gathering. There must have been a huge school of fish just under the water, because these guys were dive-bombing the water like there was a party going on.
We continued south as the sun set.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy