A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco using the canal only needs to travel 5900 miles. However, sailing around Cape Horn, at the southernmost tip of South America would take a ship 14,000 miles to do the same thing.
The largest vessel that can use the canal is called a Panamax. Now with the increasing amount of ships that exceed that size, new locks have been built to accommodate these wider, longer ships. We have witnessed the progression of work on this new canal operation, which opened June 26, 2016. Estimated cost for this undertaking was US$6.2 billion dollars, doubling the canal's capacity and allows more ship traffic, and the passage of much longer and wider ships now. The most recent ship to use the new set of locks was the Norwegian Pearl, a 93,530 gross ton ship. The fee for this transit was reportedly a ½ million dollars. The cheapest fare was 36 cents for a man who swam across the canal decades ago.
For the first time in many years, we were up to see the start of our transit. The Amsterdam boarded the local pilot and narrator by 6am on the Caribbean side at the city of Colon. However, the transit did not begin until later in the morning, after 9am. When we woke up, the ship was still waiting to enter the first set of locks at Gatun. So we got to see the entrance where a new bridge is being built across the new set of locks. It should be completed within a couple of years. In front of us was a car carrier and two tankers in the opposite locks. Behind us was a pretty cruise ship, smaller than us, but looked familiar. Turned out it was the Seven Seas Mariner, which we have sailed on several times over the years. She is a very nice ship and all-inclusive these days.
The weather could have been better. What a difference compared to our trip in January, when it was comfortable, warm, but tolerable. Today was far different as it was muggy beyond belief, overcast, and getting darker by the minute as we entered into the first locks at Gatun. It was also interesting to watch a much larger vessel enter into the new locks when we entered into Gatun Lake. The Amsterdam sailed slowly through the lake until 12:45pm, when we reached the Culebra Cut. This was when the skies turned black with lightning strikes….one after the other, was following by very close-by rolling thunder. At the time, we were among a handful of guests and security guards out on the bow watching this action. There is nothing like the sudden streak of nature such as this storm that stirs the prehistoric rush of fight or flight reaction response. It has to be inherent in our genes, we guess. And the thought instantly crossed our minds that perhaps we need to get off of this metal-surrounded deck. But curiosity kept us all there, at least until the rain began falling. The most important thing was "save the camera". When the rain came, it was torrential, sending all of us inside to deck four behind the show lounge, and eventually down the steep stairs to deck three.
By the way, there was a very good Panamanian narrator, who gave talks during the better part of the transit. There were problems with the sound system on the ship, where in some areas, you could barely hear him speaking, while on the promenade deck, his voice was booming, so much so, that his words echoed, just about piercing eardrums. Truthfully, it has been like this the entire trip.
During the course of the day, Panama rolls were served on several decks (yes, we did get ours in the dining room at breakfast). Juice, coffee, water, and lemonade, as well as purchased beverages were available on all outside decks. And when it got hotter, cold face towels were passed around along with delicious fruit skewers. We had to laugh when the deck fellows came out on the bow with the wet towels just when the rain started falling really heavy.
We spent the majority of the day between going to the bow, and taking shelter on the lower promenade, getting the best of the pictures, and staying as dry as we could. Room service lunch was enjoyed in our cool room while we passed by Pedro Miguel Locks after 2pm. The scenery got interesting when we passed under the Centennial Bridge, and eventually began seeing the new set of locks on this side of the canal. Once again, we were able to see the container ship sailing through the new lock. Towards the end of the transit, we went to the aft deck eight while we passed by the final locks at Miraflores and went under the Bridge of the Americas. The bird life at this end of the canal was remarkable. Never saw so many frigates, pelicans, assorted terns, gulls, and even some ibis in flight. One small shrimp fishing boat was inundated with sea birds…almost unbelievable. The best part of exiting the canal near Panama City and Ft. Amador had to be the refreshing breeze from the Pacific Ocean….welcomed by absolutely everyone onboard.
At least 100 ships and smaller vessels were anchored outside the entrance waiting for their turn to go through the canal towards the Caribbean side. It was about 5:30pm by the time we were heading on our way towards Costa Rica, and our next stop in Puntarenas, Costa Rica on May 2nd.
We had company for dinner, Alene and Don, in the Pinnacle Grill at 7:30pm. Tina, the manager, had gone home in Ft. Lauderdale, and we had a new man who took her place. He was most polite and could not do enough for us. Our meals were very good, as was the service from the regular staff who has stayed on from the grand voyage.
A singer by the name of Colleen Williamson was the entertainer in the Queen's Lounge at 10pm. It had been such a long, hot, and active day, we missed the show. We did hear that the steel band the night before was outstanding, gathering a standing ovation at the 8pm show. They will be doing an afternoon performance tomorrow, and we hope to catch it.
A day at sea will be most welcome tomorrow…..
Bill & Mary Ann