We recently returned from a 10-night Panama Canal partial transit aboard Holland America Line’s ms Zuiderdam. Below I have highlighted briefly the history of the canal, the process, and our timeline when we crossed the break water and entered the Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal. You can see a comprehensive photo gallery of the Panama Canal here.
The Panama Canal was initially built in 1880 by the French but failed miserably because of financial issues and disease. Panama negotiated with the US in 1903 to build a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean together, thus starts the Panama Canal construction on the Isthmus of Panama. The Panama Canal was finished August 15, 1914 where the US would remain in control until 1999. At noon on December 31, 1999, Panama took over full operation of the canal where it remains still.
The Panama Canal serves as a shortcut, saving vessels some 7,000+ miles and having them avoid going around Cape Horn, South America. From the Pacific to Atlantic side is only 50-miles using the waterway.
The canal acts as elevators and raises the ships 85’ above sea level crossing the continental divide and then lowering the ships on the other side. It works the same in each direction with each set of locks having two shipping lanes.
Each lock takes approximately 25-minutes.
Timeline aboard ms Zuiderdam
5:45am – Pilot boat reaches ms Zuiderdam and drops off the Panama Canal river pilots.
6:30am – Row boats come up to the ship and grab the lines and attach to the locomotives used to center the ship through the locks.
6:45am – ms Zuiderdam approaches the Gatun Locks of the Panama canal and an arrow indicates we are using the starboard lock channel.
7:00am – ms Zuiderdam enters the first lock in the canal, following a container ship and gets lifted up.
7:30am – The second lock gate is open, under our own power the ship slowly enters the locks being guided by locomotives on each side.
8:00am – ms Zuiderdam eases her way into the third set of locks. This is our last lock before we enter Lake Gatun. At this point we will have made our 85’ rise above sea level.
8:30am – The final gate opens, the locomotives disconnect from us and we are under our power until we anchor in Lake Gatun and disembark
9:00am – ms Zuiderdam drops anchor in crowded Lake Gatun and disembarks guests on a tender boat to head to their shore excursions.
The one-millionth ship to transit the Panama Canal occurred September 4, 2010, the bulk carrier Fortune Plum.
Timeline of video taken between 7:25 – 7:40am.
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