Yesterday was a sea day, with my fifth presentation. Celebrity showed a documentary from Nova titled, A Man, A Plan, A Canal - Panama to provide some background for the highlight of the cruise - today's Panama Canal transit.
We were up at 6 a.m. (with the rest of the ship) when the pilot boarded to start the day. There were lots of ships in the area and we were told that up to 38 ships a day can make the trip northbound. Panama City sits just south of the mouth of the Canal and looks like the skyline of New York. We approached the Bridge of the Americas which connects North and South America at the mouth of the Canal about 7 a.m. and at 8 a.m. started through the two Miraflores locks. Each lock takes you up (or down) about 27 feet. There is barely two feet on either side of the ship. We discovered that one of the best viewing spots was the fitness center, which besides being on the 10th deck at the front of the ship, was also air conditioned!
Started by the French in 1880, the initial attempt to dig the canal ended in failure due to financial pressures and disease. The United States took over the project in 1903 and Canal opened in 1914, managed by the U.S. until 1999. By the centennial celebration in 2014, the existing two lanes of locks will be expanded to three increasing the capacity as well as the size of the ships that will be able to make the transit.
About 10 a.m. we transited the Pedro Miguel locks into the Culebra Cut, the narrowest portion of the Canal, about 1/5th of the Canal's length cut through the rock and limestone of the Continental Divide. This leads into Gatum Lake, surrounded by rain forest, which provides the water to raise and lower the ships through a gravity system (no pumps). It's pretty amazing.
The final set of locks to lower us back to sea level are the Gatum locks connecting the Canal to the Caribbean. We're now sailing in the Caribbean, I assume is a circle as we dock in Colon, Panama tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. It's been a very interesting day.