Thursday 9 April – Panama Canal day
We arrive at the Pacific entrance at about half five in the morning, which is not far from Panama City itself which is glistening in the morning sun.
We take on a pilot and pass under the Bridge of the Americas at about 6:30.
Not a lot happens until we hitch up with a tug boat or two and reach the entrance to the first lock at about half seven although we do pass the working site of the new locks being buit which will take bigger ships.
It was supposed to be finished last year but on what we saw, it is highly unlikely to be finished until late 2016 I would have thought.
We are told that we have had to pay £250,000 to pass through the canal so that is about £80 each person which is where the money is coming from to build the new locks.
As we get close to the lock side, remarkably, a small rowing boat approaches at the front with two rowers and a line from the lock side which then was attached to Aurora at one end and the other onto the mules that guided us through the lock.
We have three mules on either side, one at the rear and two at the front.
When I say mules, they are really railway engines on a cog railway that hook up to us on either side and make sure we don’t move from side to side as we have only 2ft clearance between us and the lock side on either side!
The mules do not pull or push, they make sure the lines they have to the ship remain taught so as to ensure we stay in the centre of the channel.
There are two channels and therefore two adjacent locks which means that another vessel, like a freighter is alongside us for most of the passage through the locks and others follow behind.
There are two locks and then a short run before a third set of locks in total raising us 85ft above sea level. Some people were not at all impressed with the procedure and preferred to sunbathe!
Once at the top, we have a passage through a channel only big enough for one vessel of our size so there is no overtaking and no passing by ships going the other way. A passing place is provided though.
Out into the lake and we now have lots of wooded islands of mostly green leaved trees but the occasional yellow or mauve one in evidence.
The murky water of the channel has now given way to a more pleasant bluey grey colour but very little evidence of litter or pollution.
We had, at their invite, spent about an hour with Mick & Brenda on their balcony for a leisurely and quiet time viewing the scenery in good company.
Not much wildlife in evidence other than some Frigate Birds following our movement in the locks area but others saw a monkey and heard screeching monkeys.
On reaching the three locks that take us down and into the Atlantic, the same procedure as before is adopted and we fall through three locks with freighters in front, to the side and behind us.
A very efficient transit that got us into the Atlantic by about 3:45.
Not many people on the banks and no housing unlike the Kiel canal transit* but those, mostly workmen, who were on the banks waved at us and took photos, perhaps they see very few cruise ships on the canal.
Both sets of locks have viewing areas where coach trips end up, presumably from Panama City or from other cruise ships that do not pass through the canal.
A fascinating experience and well worth the length of time spent at sea to get here. Tonight’s evening entertainment is from an amazing flautist, Clare Langan.
Onwards to our next stop, Curacao.
* We travelled the Kiel canal in the summer of 2013. See post in July 2013 on:- http://www.thereadrovers.wordpress.com