A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

… is probably the best know palindrome in the English language.  I had to get it in.

We’ve sailed through the Panama Canal three times and each time it brings wonder at what people and our technology could do 110 years ago.  Each time I learn something new.

We had dinner the other night with a retired Chief Engineer who talked about sailing through the locks.  He said that he was required to have both boilers up and running going through the locks although it should only require one.  (He retired 20 years ago when some steam ships still passed the locks). 

When you go into the locks you need to go in with a lot of throttle (or whatever you call it on a ship) because you are pushing a large mass of water against closed doors at the end of the lock.  All that water must push out along the sides of the ship or under her.  Zuidersam is Panamax in width, although not in length.  That means the water has only about 6 to 10 inches on each side of the ship to escape.  You need to go close to full bore and skillfully throttle back as you approach the lock’s doors. 

The last two times we went through the canal we set our alarms to get us up early so we could see the approach.  This time we set the alarm to go off as we were scheduled to start the locking process.  I like to sleep with the drapes open because I enjoy waking up to natural light (I make some concession to that during Alaska summers).  I was awakened by the sunrise just as we passed under the new (opened since our last transit in 2018) Atlantic Bridge.  Suzi and I enjoyed the dawn sail in toward the Gatun Locks.

We went forward for the approach, and then aft for exiting the locks and were treated, not only to good views but a rainbow.  The ship locking through in the other direction was the “Great Intelligence” out of Hong Kong.  The ship locking through just before us was the Holland America Volendam on the Grand South America Cruise.  This meant that throughout the transit there was a lot of horn salutes between the ships.  We docked together in Panama and saluted each other as we arrived and departed as well as in the locks.  In 2015 Prinsendam went through with another HAL ship, and I don’t remember as much joyful noise.

After locking through the Gatun Locks, we retired to our balcony (a splurge for us) and enjoyed the rest of the transit from there, including sitting under the cover of the balcony above us as we passed through a most enjoyable and refreshing thunderstorm, our feet getting wet while the rest of us stayed dry.  We skipped the lectures on the history of the Canal, been there before, and just enjoyed the day in what has to be a peak experience for anyone who loves ships.

I didn’t describe much of the locking process.  If you are interested, here are links to blog posts from our two prior passages.

3 thoughts on “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

  1. Jim, it helps me solidify things in my memory and gives me a record of the trip for later. I started doing this in kind of journal form when we did family vacations so the kids would have a record of where we went, what we did and stories about the trip or things we saw on the trip.

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