Monday, February 13, 2012

Cruising to South America, Panama Canal

 January 13th, entering Panama Canal.

This is the first time I've been through the Panama Canal.  I'd read about it, how it was built, how it was transferred from US management to Panama management, all the issues with ships transiting it.  But seeing it was so incredible.  This is a series of locks that raise and lower massive ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa, all using gravity and pumps to move the water. 

Entering the canal.

A tug meets you at the entrance of the canal.  
The tugs are there for safety, to make sure the ship enters the lock in the center, etc.  Once the ship is actually in the lock, the tug goes to the next one.

All sorts of ships maintain the locks, from dredges to freight haulers.

 Once in the lock the ship is pulled along by engines on either side known as mules.  They travel up and down on tracks.  While the captain of the ship is always in charge, pilots control the ship as it moves thru the canal.

One of the series of huge gates that hold the water, lock to lock.

There are a series of gates that open and close, allowing water and ships to move either up or down.  These gates and the entire canal system was designed and built in the early 1900s.  Except for maintenance and  repairs, the major components are still the same.
 The largest of the ships on the ocean's waters don't fit into the Panama Canal as currently built.  A third, larger lock system is being built and is due to be open in 2014.

The largest ship that has passed through the lock to date had 11 inch clearance on each side.


 Electric engines pull the ships the length of the locks.  They're called 'mules' and they have never been live animals.
Cargo ship in the lock.

Because the largest of the cargo ships no longer fit in the canal, and the length of time as well as the weather condition rounding the Horn, a train track has been built the length of the Canal.  Cargo ships offload their containers onto the train, the train moves the cargo to a ship already on the other side of the Canal, and the ship continues on  to the cargo's destination.  The train track was built by Chinese companies moving cargo to the US.
The gates in the locks.  When the water level is even on both sides, the gates open.

 I'm on the bow of our cruise ship as we go through the locks.  I'm one of the few on board who haven't done this before.
A panoramic of the Panama Canal.

 The Freedom Bridge as you enter the Pacific Ocean.  Again my ignorance of South America and Panama Canal is showing.  This bridge is huge.

Panama City.  Once again I'm blown away by what I don't know.  I had always visualized Panama City as a small city at the end of Panama Canal.  This port puts San Francisco to shame.

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