The Canal


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Published: June 13th 2017
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Geo: 8.99427, -79.5188

Monday 30/03/09 At Sea Temps Air 27°C Sea 28°C

Around mid day we started to notice the odd green turtle swimming around in the sea, we'd been told in Acapulco that the turtles migrate to beaches all along the coast there every year to lay their eggs, and as the afternoon progressed we passed alongside hundreds of turtles all making their way back to the nesting beaches still some hundreds of miles away.

The clouds started to darken after lunch and we expected a passing shower which never materialised, but when we looked over the starboard side there in the distance was a waterspout, you could clearly see the funnel emanating from a massive dark cloud formation on the near horizon down to the sea, what a sight! Other than a strong surge of wind we were totally unaffected by it, and after some 5-6 minutes it slowly broke away from the surface of the sea and disappeared.

Not long after the waterspout we were treated to a number of pods of dolphins performing their usual antics, tail slapping, walking backwards on their tails, and generally enjoying themselves, a memorable end to a memorable day.

Tuesday 31/03/09 At Sea Temps Air 29°C Sea 29°C

During the course of the day we passed more pods of dolphins but there were no more sighting of turtles. In the afternoon whilst wandering around the decks I noticed a proliferation of brown boobies, always a beautiful sight, so I took the opportunity to stop and stare for a bit, what grace and poise, a sight you never tire of, such attractive acrobatic sea birds, (what were you thinking of?) they performed their aerial manoeuvres, swooping for fish and generally keeping pace with the ship, whilst gliding alongside the decks often no more than 12' away, such graceful birds.

Wednesday 01/04/09 Temps Air 32°C

Panama Canal Facts

The Canal officially opened for traffic 15th August 1915 it comprises of three sets of locks each of which has two lanes and which operates using the natural gravity of the water held in the central Gatun Lake. The locks elevate the ships 26m above sea level from where they then make their way across the Gatun Lake before repeating the process in reverse at the other end being lowered into either the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean depending on their direction of travel.

During its construction over 152.9 million cubic meters of material were removed. The lock chambers are 33.5 m wide and 305 m long. The gates at the Miraflores locks are 25 m high and weigh 730 tons. For each lockage approx. 197 million litres of fresh water is displaced to eventually flow out to sea.

The transit for large vessels needs to be booked months in advance such is its popularity, there's a complicated formulae for the cost of transit but for large ships it runs in the £100,000! Use of the Canal saves approx. 8000 miles and takes some 18-20 days off the journey time as well as avoiding the dangerous rounding of the Cape Horn.

We commenced our transit of the Panama Canal at 06:00 we'd been up from 04:30 but the pilot was late arriving so we eventually left the pilot holding station at 06:00 passing under the Bridge of the Americas the gateway to the Pacific entrance to the Canal at around 07:00.

The ship travels at a speed so slow you really can't tell if you're moving or not unless you visually check against a static landmark at around 07:45 we reached the Miraflores locks, where once lines from the quayside are brought out to the ship by boatmen, the lines are connected to locomotives which in tern both pull and guide the ship through the lock. The number of locomotives used depends on the specific vessel, in our case we had six, three on either side with the rear ones on each side being used to keep the ship on a course completely parallel to the sides of the lock, in our case there was only 2' clearance on either side so there's little room for error.

During the transit the pilot gave a running commentary about the building of the canal and the sights to be seen as we made our way through, and the local flora and fauna, from their vantage point on the bridge they pointed out crocodiles basking on the sandy shore, along with iguanas and numerous different birds.

The journey was everything I expected it to be and I was really pleased to be making this journey as it's one I always wanted to make although I don't know why. Something must have triggered an interest when I was younger, perhaps it was one of the lessons at school when I was more receptive rather than belligerent, I don't know but I've always been interested in the canal, Sth America, The Incas, and the Mayan people.
After passing through the Gatun locks we finally cleared the breakwater at 18:00 the transit taking an enjoyable 12 hrs and we entered the Caribbean.


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