Our next stop on the cruise was the Panama Canal! Although we have been through the canal on a few occasions in the past, we were anxious to see the new canal and learn more about it. We learned during our excursion that a large segment of the canal will be finished this year. Once it is completed, they will add water and begin to test it by allowing a few ships to go through. It is anticipated that the canal will be completely operational by 2020 and that the current canal will be closed (plans are to turn it into a museum). I guess we will have another excuse to go back in 5 years. The first few photos show our initial entry into the canal. You will see the two sets of locks and the other freighters beside and in front of us as we went through the Gatun locks. It is interesting to see the ship in front of you 20 feet higher than you as you enter the first lock and as they are about to depart the last lock. You will also see a good photo of the “mules” (locomotive engines) that guide you through the locks to ensure your ship is centered as it moves forward. It takes approximately 2 ½-3 hours to completely go through the Gatun Locks. Each lock is separated by a small lake. If a ship goes through the entire locks (Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks) it takes approximately 8 hours. Last year was the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal!
The next few pictures you will see the construction of the new Gatun Locks that will be able to hold a ship 60% longer and 60% wider than the current locks. They were just installing the lock gates when we were there which had just come over from Italy where they had been built. There are four construction companies working together to build the new locks and expand the canal channels. The money for construction is totally being paid by the income made on what ships pay to go through the current canal. It cost our ship $350,000 to go in and out of just the first set of locks on the Atlantic side! Most ships are charged around a $150,000 to go through the canal. The last few photos show our ship and another two ships leaving the canal. We were off the ship on our excursion where our guide better explained the process of how ships go through the canal and locks. It was really interesting to see our own ship go through the canal locks from the “outside”. It gave a different perspective than watching us go through the canal locks while on the ship earlier that same morning. It is always interesting to see the Panama Canal and be told how it works. It will be even more interesting to see the new canal when it is fully operational in 2020.
Greg & Sharon Conrad