My Day Sailing Through The Panama Canal

by | Sep 15, 2019 | Live Work Play Travel, South America Live Work and Play, The Oceans | 0 comments

A storm chased us through the Panama Canal

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A fear of flying (that’s another story) forced me to look at alternatives to get me from London to Sydney without having to get on a plane. The alternative I chose was to spend 42 days at sea cruising. I would be visiting places such as The Azores, The Caribbean, Panama Canal and City and Tahiti before reaching Sydney. The cruise to me was a means to an end, to get me from A to B without having to fly. I had no plans to enjoy the voyage but I unexpectedly began to. This is my encounter of my day sailing through the Panama Canal.

 

What and Where is the Panama Canal?

 

The Panama Canal is a link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

 

The Panama Canal is a link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and many vessels of all sizes transverse it regularly. They use it so they don’t have to go all the way around the bottom of South America. I was on an ocean liner and like all boats we had to congregate at the port to ‘report in’ before the pilots could even begin to guide us through. Waiting with us were small yachts to large container ships and ocean liners like what I was on. About 35-40 sea vessels per day traverse the canal. This equates to about 13,000-14,000 vessels per year.

 

How the Panama Canal Works

 

The Panama Canal is 83 kilometres or 51 miles long. It traverses the Isthmus of Panama and has a number of locks that lift and lower ships so they can pass through the canal. Why are the sea vessels lifted and lowered you ask? I asked that also and learnt that the oceans that the Panama Canal connects are not the same level. The Pacific Ocean lies a little higher than the Atlantic Ocean, about 26 metres I believe. With the help of Lock Gates, the vessels entering the canal are lifted and lowered so they are at the right level to enter the ocean.

 

The Locks

The original Panama Canal locks are only 34 metres (110 feet) wide but a third lane of locks to allow larger boats pass through opened in 2016. Thank goodness it was built because otherwise ships would have to traverse the often dangerous route around the southern most tip of South America. Not having to go that way has meant around 20,000 miles, or a few weeks sailing has been cut from the journey.

Like all cruise ships, my cruise ship provided loads of information on each destination and the Panama Canal was no exception. To say I learnt a lot is an understatement. For instance, I didn’t know it would take all day to pass through the canal. I always thought it was a quick trip and maybe took about an hour, but instead it took about 10 hours. And can I say, it was so interesting and there was always something to see.

 

The 3 Sets of Locks in the Panama Canal

 

There are three sets of locks in the Panama Canal. The three-chambered Gatun Locks, the one-chambered Pedro Miguel Locks and the two-chambered Miraflores Locks. Each lock is built double to accommodate two transit lanes. So the lock doors open and ships are hauled through the locks with the assistance of small railway engines. You can see the tracks on the side of the locks. The locks are 110 feet wide and 1050 feet long. If sea vessels are wider or longer than this they cannot use the Panama Canal, lucky for us, our ocean liner fitted.

And yes, you could feel the ship going up and down. Basically, we sailed in to a lock, water was either pumped into the lock or removed to make the vessel reach the level of the ocean it had to reach. As I walked around the ship I was amazed at how the whole process of moving sea vessels is such a well organised process.

Like most of the passengers on the ship, I spent the day outside on one of the many decks experiencing the Panama Canal. I should add The Panama Canal was quite a party zone. People on all sorts of water vessels were waving and saying hello to each other as we moved through the canal and locks. Some vessels even blew their horns.

 

The rugged landscape of The Panama Canal

 

The lock door opening slowly to let us through

 

To see the surrounding landscape that many workers had to transform in to the locks is truly amazing. Many areas of the canal had to be widened and mountain rock cut through which is evident with some of the cliff faces you pass. According to hospital records, 5,609 people died of diseases and accidents during the 10-year construction.

Another note of interest added to the day was that we were outrunning a storm. Many of us passengers were predicting when we thought the storm would hit. The storm did hit us later that night but after we had docked in Panama City.

Once through the final lock it was plain sailing from there on in. It was a bit of a let down to be finally through as I was enjoying the whole experience. Once docked at Panama City I alighted the boat for an evening of local entertainment, food and drink. It capped off a great day.

 

Last words on sailing through the Panama Canal

 

One of my favourite parts of my 42 days at sea voyage was sailing through the Panama Canal. I had learnt about it at school but to actually experience it was just fantastic. I consider it a highlight of my work and travels abroad. After all, it is considered to be one of the seven modern wonders of the world. After cruising through the Panama Canal, I think I would agree with that.

I travelled aboard the Belorussia, once a large ferry ship that sailed the Baltic Sea. It was leased by P&O for the voyage from Southampton to Sydney. The Belorussia is unfortunately not sailing the seas anymore as it had an accident while in dry dock – or so I heard. If you want to experience The Panama Canal, or any other oceans for that matter I highly suggest you check out P&O cruises.

 

Thanks for sharing!

Useful Travel Resources for Your Next Adventure!

 

Accommodation: Where Will You Sleep Tonight? If you want a bed in a hostel dorm find a great deal with HostelWorld. I mostly stay in hotels now, Booking.com is my favourite site for booking hotels from budget to ‘I feel like splurging’. For something completely different I house and pet sitting through Trusted Housesitters – this has saved me thousands on accommodation, no joke!

Flights: I always head to Skyscanner first to find a cheap and flexible flight.

Car Rental: When I need to rent a car I turn to RentalCars.

Train Travel: I love riding the train rails and get the best value from raileurope. And Japan has a great one too – JapanRail Pass.

Bus Travel: Check out Busbud for bus tickets.

Pre-organised Tours: I’ve been on a few in my time with Contiki being my first and favourite. if you are 18-35 years of age you should check them out.

Jump-the-queue entrance tickets: I don’t enjoy standing in long queues which is why I book my entrance tickets and day trips in advance. My favourite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Travel Insurance. There are a number of reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having bought a policy as you never know when something might happen. SafetyWing is great digital nomads and long-term travellers and World Normads has policies for general and adventure travel.

 

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Hi. Sharyn here. Savvy Australian female with a passion for travel and working abroad. I’m on a mission to provide you with my best tips, tricks and hacks to work abroad and travel the world. If I can do it, so can you!  Read more.

 

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Hi, Sharyn here. I’m the face behind Live Work Play Travel. I’ve travelled all my life thanks to my dad who worked for an airline – thanks dad! I’ve been a travel writer/blogger and living a location independent lifestyle since 1993. My aim with Live Work Play Travel is to provide you with the info to start living, working and travelling around the world like I do. I currently live in Melbourne with my partner and 2 kids. 

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