One of the most exciting portions of the trip was riding in a speed boat in the Panama Canal cutting in and out of the huge ships that ply these waters. These ships are huge and it was thrilling to be this close to the big cruisers. We were East of the Miraflores Locks in the Galliard Cut heading towards Lake Gatun. The Gallard Cut is the portion of the Panama Canal that was cut through the mountains to connect Lake Gatun with the Pacific Ocean. This eight mile section was the most difficult portion of the building of the canal.
Some interesting facts about the canal:
- The canal is 48 miles long
- Lock on both ends lift the ships 85 feet into Lake Gatun
- It takes 20 – 30 hours to cross the canal
- Ships wait 2 – 3 days anchored in the ocean waiting for their turn
- It costs $200,000- $300,000 for a ship to cross the canal depending on what they are carrying
- The locks operate totally on gravity water flow from Lake Gatun
- Lake Gatun is an artificially built lake in the mountains to shorten the need to cut a longer canal through solid rock on the Pacific side.
- It takes around an hour for a ship to pass through the locks
- If a ship is too heavy and thus has a deeper draft in the water (the locks are only so deep), they will remove containers from the ship, move them to a train and transport them to the other side of the the isthmus and deliver they back to the ship to continue it’s voyage.
- The Panama Canal was begun in 1881 by the French and completed by the Americans in 1914.
- The Canal will have it’s 100 year anniversary in 2014
- The Canal operates in one direction for 12 hours and then switches directions. Parts of the Canal are too narrow for bi-directional travel and thus too dangerous.