It’s fairly common knowledge that the Panama Canal is an engineering marvel. But being there and experiencing it first hand is an absolutely eye opening experience.
The journey from one side to the other is relatively quick, less than half a day, but the shear amount of focus and energy required, coupled with the excitement of a first time transit, can make it quite exhausting.
The Canal passes right through a large lake in the middle of Panama, called Gatun Lake. Because the lake is at a higher altitude than both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it is bordered on either side by a set of locks.
We arrived at the first set of locks, appropriately named Gatun Locks, just before sunset, which provided a perfect opportunity for photos.
Each set of locks is composed of three steps, and to enter cables are connected to the ship from strong, mechanized carts referred to as mules. The mules physically pull the ship into each step and hold it in place as the water level is raised or lowered.
The Canal usually caters to large container ships or tankers. Compared to those, we are a fairly small vessel, so for efficiency we were paired with another similarly sized ship to sit at each step with.
Once we were through the first set of locks night had begun to fall, and the remainder of the transit was done in the dark. The channel was very well lit, so this was an amazing sight in itself.
By the time we reached the second set of locks four hours later, I had been working almost nonstop for the entire day. Finally relieved from watch, and content with the parts of the Canal I had witnessed so far, I went to catch up on sleep and by the time I woke up we were back in the Pacific and moored near Panama City!