When I took my first cruise in 2007 I had heard about the Canal but was not too familiar with it, as my cruising time went on I learned more, ran into people that had experienced it and I knew one day I had to see it for myself. Well, on my next cruise we are lucky enough to transit the Canal and I thought now would be a good time to educate us all on how it actually works.
Construction originally began back in 1881 and the canal was eventually completed in 1914. The introduction of the canal system meant ships no longer had to make the often dangerous route past Cape Horn and through the Strait of Magellan. The exclusion of this route meant ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific could cut their sailing time in half.
At first the canal was Colombian owned, next French, and American, then it came under the control of the Panamanian government in 1999.
The Canal is a 77.1 Kilometre shipping canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Oceana via the Caribbean Sea. The canal works via a system of Lock Gates; these are located at 3 different places along the length of the canal. They are Gatun lock gates, Pedro Miguel lock gates and Miraflores lock gates. The current locks are 33.5 metres wide.
The system works by raising and lowering ships as they transit through the canal, at one point the ship finding itself 26 metres above sea level. There are six steps in all, three to lift and three to lower. Each lock has two chambers this allowing two ships to transit at the same time.
To transit the canal each vessel must pay a fee. Obviously that fee is dependent on the ships size but the most expensive regular toll ever paid was by Norwegian Cruise Line’s, Norwegian Pearl, who paid a whopping $375,600. The average toll is around $54,000.
The lowest toll ever paid was by Richard Halliburton in 1928, who, weighing just 150 lbs. swam across the Canal over a 10-day period. He paid just $0.36
We are lucky that we are actually doing a daytime transit so as we make our way through each lock system we can see how it all works, admire the greenery and look out for crocodiles in the water, not all of those things would quite be the same trying to strain your eyes to see in the dark.
We leave Aruba on January 17th and head towards the canal, reaching the start of it on January 19th. We make our transit throughout the day and this is definitely a day onboard I am looking forward too. On January 20th we head through Colon before making our way out and heading towards Roatan.
I can’t wait for this experience, I remember sitting having a conversation about the Panama Canal with someone I met on my second cruise, ever since I have been looking forward to the day I got to see it for myself.