Panama Canal Transit 

                                                                        Gatun Locks

January 10, 2010

This was our second transit of the Panamá Canal.  We made sure we were up in time to see the Gatun locks - the first set on the Atlantic end of the canal.  The three locks combined raise the ship approximately 85 feet, and it is an amazing sensation to both feel and watch that process.  It takes only about 15 minutes per lock, and the sensations are totally different from the locks that lower the ship to sea level.  A considerable amount of time is spent traversing Gatun Lake before entering the Pedro Miguel lock, which starts the process of lowering the ship to sea level on the Pacific side.  Just a mile further south from the Pedro Miguel lock are the Miraflores locks, where the process of lowering the ship back to sea level is completed.  It takes three locks to raise the ship and three to lower it back to sea level.  Gatun lake was formed by damming the Chagres River, which was one of the greatest challenges to the construction of the canal.  The other huge challenge to the canal construction was the Culebra Cut, now known as the Gaillard Cut, which has always been unstable.  If you plan to travel through the Panamá Canal, we strongly recommend that you read David McCulloch’s book, The Path Between The Seas before you go.  The experience is much deeper when you understand what went into the building of the canal.  At this point anyone traveling through the canal will see where they have started construction on the new sets of locks that will accommodate the huge container ships & larger cruise ships.  The locks will be able to accommodate ships that are both wider and longer than the current locks can.  They have also started the dredging necessary to widen the canal in some places.  The current plan is to have the new locks completed by 2014, exactly 100 years after the original opening of the canal.

There are only two bridges across the canal: the first one built is the Bridge of the Americas, which is just toward the Pacific Ocean from the Gatun Locks.  The other bridge is the Centennial Bridge, a cable suspension bridge, which is located just north of the Pedro Miguel lock.

During the time of our transit, there was a Panamanian couple on board wearing traditional costumes.  The lady’s costume is completely hand-embroidered in cross stitch (see photo below).  It takes up to two years to complete such a costume, and the workmanship is exquisite.  Last time we went through the canal our evening’s entertainment was a local group demonstrating folk dances.  Unfortunately we did not have that this time.

© Susan L. Stone 2015