December 31, 2021 87°F/31°C
The Panama canal took over 10 years and 75000 workers to build, funded by the U.S. and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the French abandoned their 23 year-long attempt at building it in 1904. Like many huge infrastructure projects, it was as much about military strategy as economics. President Teddy Roosevelt felt the canal was essential to the efficient movement of the U.S. Navy between the two oceans.
The massive amounts of earth moved during the digging of the canal were used largely to create what is now Panama City. When the parallel mega canal, completed in 2016, was built to accommodate newer, bigger cargo ships, the earth from that project further enlarged Panama City’s landmass.
We transited through the original 110ft (33.5m) wide locks completed in 1914. Because the original canal is fairly narrow, we had a good view of both sides from Decks 2, 7, 8, and 9, as well as a view of the ships coming through the locks in the opposite direction.
Just before 8:00 a.m. we entered the channel leading to the Gatun Lock, the first of 3 we’ll transit today. Our Panama Canal Authority pilot came aboard overnight to help guide is through the canal. We’re were also assisted by electric “mules” on a funicular style mechanism (#156 & 198 on the starboard side of the ship, 2 others on the port side) to which we were tied, and a tugboat. We moved through under our own speed at a whopping 1 knot.
At almost exactly 09:00 we cleared the gates, to be sealed into the lock within which we’d be lifted to the approximately 31 mile long Gatun Lake, the artificial lake built by damming the Chagres River bed to create an intermediary level between the 2 oceans. This first pair of gates is about 74 feet high. Inside the Gatun lock we were lifted 85 feet (29.5 m) in 3 steps.
It sure is different from going through the locks on the Rhine!
Just before noon we passed the protected environmental area of Gamboa, and then through Calebra Cut, which is an artificial valley with manmade steps recalling the shape of Mayan ruins, but actually created to prevent landslides. From inside the cut we got a great view of the Puente Centenario (Centennial Bridge).
We entered the Pedro Miguel Locks just after 1 p.m. This single step lock drops 31 ft (9.4 metres) over a period of about 45 minutes.
Our final lock before reaching the Pacific was the Miraflores, largest of the 3 through which we passed. We reached it so quickly that I very nearly had no photo. It is a 2-step lock which dropped us the final 43-64 feet (13-20 m), depending on the current Pacific tide. Miraflores has the tallest gates, at 82 feet, with each leaf weighing over 650 tons!
Once again we were accompanied by “mules” (just imagine the early years when it was ACTUAL mules!) which help to keep the ship centred in the lock, and our own tugboat.
Almost as soon as we were through the last lock, we were under the Bridge of the Americas, and then into the Pacific Ocean.
So what does it cost to go through the Panama Canal? Freighters pay a canal toll based on a combination of size and value of their cargo. Cruise ships pay a canal toll based on the number of passengers aboard; the Star’s toll today was in the order of $100,000 !!
After all that transcontinental travel, we were ready to party 2021 out of existence.
To ring in 2022 at midnight, the Star’s entertainment team created a sparkling New Year’s Eve party under the stars, with the roof on Deck 7 open to the night sky and warm air, great live music, a juggling bartender (!) and champagne flowing absolutely non-stop.
Wishing all our friends and family health and happiness in 2022. Prospero Año Nuevo!