2016 Panama Canal Cruise
March 21 - Transit Panama Canal
The sailing schedule for the Westerdam had us approaching the Panama Canal very early. We got out of bed before dawn so that we wouldn't miss anything. We ordered breakfast in our stateroom so that we could watch the activity from our veranda. There wasn't much to see until the sun came up and until we finished breakfast.
Around 6:30, we passed the breakwater that officially put us in the Canal Zone. We could see it easily from our stateroom. We couldn't see anything else, however, so I decided to walk up to the bow to watch our progress from the front of the ship. I wasn't the only one doing this. The area on our level, the Upper Pomonade deck, was opened especially for the canal crossing. Dozens of people were there having a party. The ship's stewards were in force serving coffee, rolls and bloody marys. The mood was exuberant. Although it was crowded I could plainly see ahead and to both sides. We were following another cruise ship and approaching the first locks.
The first locks are the Gatun Locks. They have three steps which raise ships to Gatun Lake. Once on the lake, ships sail through it and the narrow Culebra Cut. The descent to the Pacific Ocean is through two sets of locks - The Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores Locks. Read this Wikipedia artical about all of the locks.
It was interesting to watch the ship in front of us that was one step ahead of us and towering over us. It was fascinating to watch the procedure of getting us through the locks. While approaching each set of locks two men in a rowboat carry cables to our ship so that they can be grabbed by our crew. Once they are secured, the rowboat returns to its dock. The other end of the cables are attached to mules - motorized tractors that run on rails alongside the locks. There are two sets of two mules - one set at the bow and one set at the stern. Their purpose is to hold the ship steady so that it doesn't hit the sides of the locks. The space between the ship and the locks is tiny.
We made it through the Gatun Locks with no problems. When we entered Gatun Lake, Captain Smit steered us in a circle so that we could see construction progress on the new locks, a part of the Panama Canal expansion project. The new locks are wider and deeper so that larger ships can navigate the canal.
At this point in the journey, it was getting very hot and very humid. I went back inside to cool off.
The rest of the day we spent going back and forth to the bow to watch our progress. When it got too hot, we went back inside. Lunch was on the Lido deck at the buffet.
We went through the final locks, Miraflores, around 5:00 and entered the Pacific Ocean. There were lots of day trippers watching us from observation buildings alongside the locks. We could see the tall buildings of Panama City in the distance.
After the excitement of the canal crossing, it was relaxing to sit down to dinner in the dining room. I had hot and sour shrimp soup, pork ribs with rum honey glaze and chocolate panne cotta. Samosas, green beans salad, beef (Japanese) and pineapple custard for Ann.
For our nightly entertainment, we listened to a duo playing classical piano and violin music.
This is how we got to the canal:
This is the transit of the canal: