Panama Canal - Pathway Between The Seas
An early highlight of our cruise was the eight hour transit through the original Panama Canal. The history of the Canal is well known, a great source is Pathway Between the Seas by David McCullough. The Canal opened in 1914 and over a million ships have made the transit cutting off almost 8,000 miles from the around South America option. In 2016 a new parallel canal was opened with much bigger locks allowing the modern day large container (and cruise) ships to make the passage. Island Princess can fit in the original Canal, so we had a more interesting journey. The 51 mile transit between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean required the use of three sets of locks (Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores) to raise the ship 85 feet into Gatun Lake and lower it back down to enter the Pacific.
This is a century-old engineering marvel to observe. The building of the massive locks is one thing, but to see what the workers had to do to cut through mountains and granite to open a path to the man-made Gatun Lake and then the Gaillard Cut to complete the path from the lake to the Pacific is even more impressive.
In each lock, the ship was cable tied to small electric locomotives (called mules) on each side and guided in. The six foot wide gates were shut, and fresh water was either flooded in or drained out to change the elevation. Once the water level was equal, the gates opened, and the mules helped the ship exit. Each lock allows two way traffic, so we could see a reverse process ongoing right next to us.