More info on the Panama Canal

Before my next “update” – I thought I’d do a short informational post. I’ve been asked for some more details on The Panama Canal as I realize that it’s a pretty major thing to witness, something that is pretty fascinating.

First question: how much did it cost our ship to go through the  canal? Almost $195,000.

A lot of people (myself included) thought that the canal would be wider than it is. Here’s some info on that. You may have heard of the term Panamax. That is for “Panama Canal Maximum” and designates a ship that is the maximum allowable size to fit in the Panama Canal. Our cruise ship is not Panamax. Panamax is pretty darn big.

When they constructed the twin-lane canal, it was never envisioned that ships would grow to the size that they are today. In the last few decades, the canal hasn’t really increased the NUMBER of ships going through each day…but the total volume of each vessel has increased significantly so that it’s running at very high capacity. Shipping globally has increased significantly (thank you globalization). Many ships today are Post-Panamax, meaning that they’re too big to go through the Panama Canal. Sometimes it’s actually more cost effective to run a HUGE ship all the way around South America, or to transfer the contents across land or something. Anyways, the Panama Canal is very busy and important, but it’s starting to be a little too small for the world of shipping.

Which is why they’re nearly done the investigational process and are pretty much going to go ahead with a multi-billion addition of a third lane and widening of the canal. That’s expected to be ready sometime in 2015 or so.

It’s also surprising how long it takes to move through the Canal. There is the waiting for your turn in queue, the time it takes to move through the locks, and then sailing time through the lake between the locks. It’s only 50 miles from Atlantic to Pacific, but takes about nine hours.

Another interesting fact is that the whole thing uses no pumps. In fact, the entire canal uses up only 25% of the power it generates through hydro-electricity (and of that 25%, most of that is consumed by the ship towing trains). How does it work without pumps? Being a connection between two oceans…both sides are obviously at sea level (theoretically you could just have a flat canal between the two oceans…but that would be even more digging than already was done, and there’s the environmental consideration of making a non-natural direct connection between two ocean ecosystems). So the only elevation change needed is to get over the continental divide (about 85 feet above sea level). All of the water flows down through the locks into the two oceans from the Gatun Lake which is at the top of the continental divide. Gatun Lake itself is fed by rainfall (it’s a rainforest area, so there’s lots of water to operate the locks…though deforestation is causing water shortage concerns due to excessive runoff).

So, in sum…the locks just dump water from the top of the continental divide into each ocean…in the process moving the ships up to the continental divide and then back down to sea level.

Also interesting is that the huge 745 tonne lock gates are operated by 40-horsepower motors. That’s because when the water between the two adjoining locks is level, so there’s virtually no water friction…and the gates are hollow so they pretty well float in the water.

So there’s a little info about The Panama Canal.

Bye for now,


(P.S. Any other questions about anything you want to know about the trip, just let me know. I also appreciate your feedback on the blog.)

(P.S.S. Sorry for gushing so much in the start of the blog about how awesome this all is and how thankful I am to be here. Honestly though, this is still way beyond my wildest dreams.)

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