Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Panama Canal

Addendum on 06/22/16:  From the New York Times - The New Panama Canal:  A Risky Bet

After spending most of our time around the canal zone it seems I would be remiss if I did not share at least a few photos of the Panama Canal.  I had always thought that the Panama Canal was one of the man-made wonders of the world.  But a Google search did not have the Panama Canal on any of the lists.  The link above does sort of reveal how arbitrary this list might be.  When I reviewed the top seven or top ten lists, I did agree with those selections and none included the Panama Canal.  So, I was clearly wrong; nevertheless, the Panama canal seemed pretty spectacular to me.

We learned that only 50 to 60 ships can pass through the canal daily and that it takes eight to ten hours to traverse the 50 mile trip to the other end.  At a bare minimum, the toll for passing through the canal is over $100,000, and most often significantly more than this.  Curiously, cruise ships have paid the highest tolls.  That seemed odd to me.  But, by passing through the canal, a ship saves the 21 travel days that it would otherwise take to sail around the bottom of South America.  Very basic Panama Canal facts can be found on this USA today link.

Finally, I had always thought that the canal ran east to west, or vice versa, but again this is wrong.  The Panama Canal lies on the Isthmus of Panama which generally sits in an east-west direction in Panama. However, the location of the Panama canal is such that ships traveling through the canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean travel in a northwest direction while ships traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific head southeast!  Hard to visualize, I know.

On one of our first days around the canal, we saw this ship highly stacked with containers as it approached the locks at the northwest end of the canal.  The little car in the photo is driving along a bridge that we traversed many times during our trip.

There were three or four waders in the muddy shallows below.

On our final day as we were waiting our turn to cross the bridge over the canal, a tug boat guides the ship into the lock.  Vehicles can only cross the canal when the lock gates are closed, so on either side lights allow the flow of traffic in a coordinated way.

Ship entering the channel locks to travel southeast to the Pacific Ocean.

Ship next in line to enter the locks.

The empty shipping lane for travel in the northwest direction to the Atlantic Ocean

A nearly two minute video of a ship being managed in the locks.

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