We arrived at the East end of the Panama Canal at about 5:15 am. We watched the whole thing - it was a long day!
The first survey of the proposed canal route was done in 1534 but it wasn't until 1880 that the job was begun and took 24 years to complete. The French worked the first 20 years, then the US picked it up for $40 million and in 1914, $387 million later, it was completed. The longest ship to go through is 973 feet long and the widest is 108 feet. The cost for our ship to go through was $245,600, the highest toll paid by a cruise ship. The average toll is $35,000. The lowest was 36 cents paid by Richard Halliburton for swimming through in 1928. Tolls are levied on a net tonnage basis under a special Panama Canal measuring system.
Because it will be easier to explain Maureen is going to simply type the write-up from the "Princess Patter" our daily on-board newsletter.
We will embark the canal pilots and other officials at about 5:15 am as we pass through the outer canal breakwaters at Cristobal. Prior to our entry into the first chamber we will be connected to eight "mules", diesel-electric locomotives that will guide us through the chambers. The mules help to keep our ship centralised in the chambers though we still use our own propulsion to move the ship ahead when required.
Once clear of the first set of three locks, the Gatun locks, the mules will be "let go" and various courses shall then be set across Gatun Lake. This 164 square mile lake was created by a 1 1/2 mile long, 1/2 mile thick dam. 14 towns and villages were flooded to make this lake. You can see in the photos the tops of trees and mountains covered by water.
The next area of interest is Gamboa, which is the base for all the dredging operations for the Canal Zone and must take place 365 days a year in order to keep the canal deep enough for ships to pass. After Gamboa we will transit the famous Galliard cut, which is the narrowest section of the canal and was carved out of bare rock. We will then enter and be lowered through the single lock at Pedro Miguel and then through Miraflores Lake, just a small lake. Then we will be lowered in two stages through the Miraflores Locks to sea level on the Pacific Ocean side by about 4:20 pm. We will then pass under the Bridge of the Americas and then out to the Gulf of Panama.
It was quite an amazing day, truly one of the man-made wonders of the world. Another wonder was the Champagne Breakfast we had on our balcony. It was just as good as the pictures show!
The current plan is for two new flights of locks: one to the east of the existing Gatún locks, and one south west of Miraflores locks, each supported by approach channels. Each flight will ascend from ocean level direct to the Gatún Lake level. The new lock chambers will feature sliding gates, doubled for safety, and will be 427 metres (1,400 ft) long, 55 metres (180 ft) wide, and 18.3 metres (60 ft) deep. The estimated cost of the project is US$5.25 billion and is expected to be open for traffic in 2015.
Some facts about the Canal:
Length of each lock chamber - 1,000 feet; length of our ship - 964 feet
Width of each chamber - 110 feet; width of our ship - 105 feet
Water usage - 52 million U.S. gallons of fresh water from the lake are drained into the sea by the locks every time a ship transits the canal but this is not a problem as they get 200 inches or more of rainfall every year.
The diameter of each culvert to fill the locks is 18 feet
Total length of the Canal - 50 miles
We then had a sea day while we made our way to Costa Rica.