Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Panama Canal Transit
We made it to the Panama Canal finally on Thursday, 4/11. We had been prepped for the Panama Canal transit over the first few days of the cruise as the ship had not only a session about the Canal’s history through a Scholarship at Sea program, but there had also been a few documentaries shown that any passenger could access a number of times either in a theater on board or on a Princess cruises TV channel on our stateroom TVs. By the time this day came, I was surprised at the information I had learned about the history of the Panama Canal. It was an extremely hot day, even at 6:30 a.m. when I woke up and headed up to the forward part of the ship (front for those of you who are not up on your boating terminology!) If you know me well, you will know that I am definitely not an early riser and prefer to stay up late and sleep in. So I surprised myself when I woke up even earlier than planned, after a restless night of trying to sleep but trying not to miss anything good about our first and probably only crossing of the Panama Canal. Chuck had set the alarm for 6:45 a.m. but I was up and out of the cabin by 6:30 a.m., kissing him good bye and telling him I would be on the 14th or 15th floor forward, outside. When I arrived there were only about 20 other people up there with me. We were a few miles away from the actual entrance but I got a really neat picture of the sun rising just above the city of Colon, Panama. The guide who would be speaking throughout the day had suggested getting up in a good viewing area by 7:30 a.m. as that was the time we should be entering the canal. I didn’t want to miss anything since I am taking most of the pictures on this cruise. I found a spot right in front, and decided to stay there until Chuck could find me and be front and center of all the action. I was a bit disappointed because right in front of all of us at the railing were tinted blue plastic panels to break the wind. On either side of the panels in each section was a space of about 2 inches where if I finagled my camera at just the right angle, I was able to get a clear picture of what was in front of the ship. Someone nearby was complaining about the panels and said when he went online and watched videos of Panama Canal cruises on this ship last year at this time, those panels weren’t there, and people in the front had an open view. I started snapping pictures very far in advance because it was just so exciting to be entering the Panama Canal. Thank goodness I have a digital camera and can get rid of the pictures I took too early, or that were pretty much duplicates because I didn’t want to miss a chance at a good shot! I repeatedly turned around for the next 90 minutes looking for chuck. It didn’t feel right entering the Canal without him beside me to share it. Before the trip I really wasn’t all that excited about the actual Canal but I wanted to see the wildlife in the area. Shortly before we entered the actual canal, the guide doing the announcing said there was a crocodile sighting off to the port side ( left again for the non-boaters) and there happened to be 3 crocs sunning themselves at the edge of the water. I debated leaving my spot only for 1 second, and decided to stay put to save the place I was at for Chuck because I had such a good view. I had high hopes of seeing other crocs and wildlife during the rest of the day at the sides of the canal. I am writing this after the crossing, and am sad to report I haven’t seen a crocodile yet!!! But I was not about to give up my front row seat, so to speak and expected Chuck to arrive at any moment. As we got closer to the canal entrance, we saw 2 shutes in front of us. The one on the right already had a huge ship in it, as well as a small tugboat. During the whole day, we had a detailed description of what was happening and what we were experiencing. The speaker’s name is Bill Keane, and I had seen on the Cruise Critic website that he does these canal cruises all the time, and is an expert at it. His voice is broadcast on the two top decks of the ship as well as in the Horizon Food Court, and on the stateroom channel TVs, so it was hard not to be able to hear him. He told us that both the large ship and the tugboat were going through the Canal at the same time because if more than one ship can fit in 1 lock at the same time, then they will take more than one because it saves water. We entered the first lock and it was quite exciting. This was the lock called, ‘Gatun Locks” and we were entering from the Caribbean Sea side ( after going through the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale, Florida). It takes 12 minutes once a ship enters a lock for it to fill up with water to reach the height of the next lock, at which point the gates open, and the ship moves into the next lock. There were 3 locks that we had to go through at these locks. The whole process seems to take a long time. But when you think about how this system works, it’s really amazing and doesn’t take that long a period of time. The locks run by a series of gears, and gravity, and no electricity is used to transit ships through the canal. On the sides of the canal, are little small almost like train cars called, mules” that attach to the ship by cable and help pull each ship through without smashing into the sides of the canal. On each side of our ship there was approximately 18 inches between the ship and the edge of the canal. There are 4 mules on either side of the ship, so 8 all together. I took lots of pictures of the mules, and tried to get a shot of how little space there is between us and the edge of the canal. I kept repeatedly looking around me trying to find Chuck, but he was nowhere to be found. When I had left him, he was still in bed, saying he would be up on deck soon. My mind started racing with everything that might have happened to him, so finally, when we had reached the third lock, and were transiting into Gatun Lake (one of the largest man-made lakes in the world). Then, at 8:00 a.m. I gave up my coveted spot on the front railing and went in search of Chuck. Scanning both front railings on the top 2 decks, I headed to the stateroom. He was not there so I went to the Horizon Court Buffet thinking maybe he was watching from inside the cool air conditioned dining room. I couldn’t find him there, so sat outside on the front deck in the now very warm sun, and decided to stay put and maybe he would find me. It was 8:15 at that point and I sat for 45 minutes feeling all alone and missing Chuck during this very important experience. At 9, I was too hot and needed a glass of water so decided to try the dining room and then the stateroom pone more time. No luck in the dining room, but I was happily surprised and thrilled to be reunited with him in our stateroom where he had gone to check for me. We sort of fell into each other’s arms with a big hug, both of us expressing the same feelings about wanting to be with the other person during this momentous occasion. Turns out he had gone by where I was 3 or 4 times and couldn’t see me because at the railing, people were standing 3 and 4 deep trying to get a good view of entering the canal. After that we apparently had just kept missing each other while trying to find each other. We had a good laugh about losing each other on a cruise ship, and then went to breakfast fortifying ourselves for the rest of the day which would consist of approximately 9 hours to make it through the whole Panama Canal. It had been recommended that passengers find various viewing spots throughout the day to get a variety of views. For me that meant different areas to shoot pictures from so we spent the day in between the balcony of our room, the 2 top decks, the back deck of the floor we are on which is the very back of the boat ( the stern!) and the dining room. It was quite hot and humid which meant a steamy type of heat. Sometimes after being on the balcony for 20 to 30 minutes, we would need to go inside the cabin to cool off. Although I looked all day for signs of wildlife, I only saw birds, nothing else. I wish I had studied the type of birds that are down here in the canal region because there are so many different varieties, and I have NO idea what type they are. We spent a long time traversing Gatun Lake, going by many islands which, before Gatun lake was flooded, were actually mountaintops and hilltops. Over the course of the day, we went through 2 more locks, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores Locks. All throughout the day, the ship’s photographers were on the actual walls of the canal shooting pictures and video of everyone on the ship, who were encouraged to wave and smile, and also hang posters off their balconies that they had made so they would be sure to get on the video. There was even a Panama Canal poster contest. Unfortunately, neither Chuck nor I could think of anything creative to put on a poster, so we didn’t make one. But the ship’s photographers still got a few pictures of us on our balcony waving at them! At the end of the third set of locks, we crossed under the Bridge of the Americas, which allows traffic to go across the canal, and came out on the other side to a gorgeous view of Panama City, Panama. The buildings of this city were glinting white in the setting sun. Neither Chuck nor I had any idea how large Panama City is and it was an absolutely beautiful sight…as cities go. We will head over there tomorrow and will anchor in the sea outside of the port for the night. And that was my account of transiting the Panama Canal on the Coral :Princess cruise ship!
Posted by Chucks Happy Wife at 10:01 PM