Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 44, crossing the Panama Canal

We have thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea... now we are going to cross over to the Pacific Ocean.
Yes..., you guessed right...we are going to cross the Panama Canal!!

One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken,it had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.

The canal consists of artificial lakes, several improved and artificial channels, and three sets of locks. An additional artificial lake, Alajuela Lake (known during the American era as Madden Lake), acts as a reservoir for the canal.

Okay, lets go....
This is how the Panama Canal operates....
The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that serves to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is approximately 50 miles long, deep water to deep water, and follows a northwesterly to southeasterly direction. The Atlantic entrance is approximately 27 miles west of the Pacific entrance. There are three sets of locks.

We entered the Canal from the Atlantic & sailed at sea level from Cristobal Harbor to Gatun Locks, a distance of 7 miles.

We were lifted 85 feet to Gatun Lake in three lockages or "steps."

From Gatun we sailed, 85 feet above sea level, to Pedro Miguel, a distance of 31 miles...this was really cool.

A single lockage at Pedro Miguel Locks lowered the ship 31 feet to Miraflores lake.

A mile further south we entered Miraflores Locks and, in two lockages we were lowered 54 feet to the Pacific Ocean level.

We sailed 4 miles to the Balboa port area before entering the outer harbor.

The locks' chambers are 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long. The approximate dimensional limitations of vessels transiting the Canal are: beam 106 feet, draft 39 feet 6 inches tropical freshwater, and 950 feet in length. Water to move vessels up and down at each set of locks is fed by gravity from Gatun Lake, which is one of the largest artificial bodies of water in the world.

It can take up to four hours to transit this lake, depending on the size of the vessel. Water enters the locks through a system of main culverts. As the water is released into the main culverts, it is diverted into 20 lateral culverts and distributed through 100 holes in the floor of the chamber. For each ship transiting the Canal, about 52 million gallons of fresh water are used, fed by a gravity flow system through the locks and spilled into the ocean.

Eight hours later.....we have crossed form the Atlantic into the waters of the Pacific Ocean and we have had the unique opportunity to see one of the modern wonders of the world in operation!! This was really awesome.......

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