Note: The post below was published prior to the Panama Canal expansion, which was completed in 2016.
On the ninth day of our cruise from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale swings the Island princess in the Gulf of Panama into the 13 km long entrance area of the Panama Canal. The times for a passage are generally calculated at 10 to 12 hours. We are curious how long our passage through the canal will take.
6:00am - reaching the canal zone
Entry into the canal zone at Balboa on the level of Panama City had been announced the day before by on-board TV for 7:00am However, the Island Princess had already turned into the Panama Canal at 6:00am She drove slowly towards the first lock. At dawn we saw the one in front of us Puente de las Americas. It is the main link between North and South America.
Panama Canal Passage - Puente de las Américas
6:30am - Miraflores Locks
Late risers follow the threading of the Island Princess into the 305 meter long lock on the on-board TV. Together with other guests, we prefer the open-air spectacle of the lock. On average, ships are in the two consecutive Miraflores locks raised by 16,50 meters. The ship needs almost two hours to pass both lock chambers.
Panama Canal Passage - Miraflores Lock
8:15 am - continue to Miraflores Lake
Between the Miraflores Locks and the second lock system, the Pedro Miguel Locks, which is almost two kilometers long Miraflores Lake.
Panama Canal Passage - Out and about in Miraflores Lake
8:30am - Entry into the Pedro Miguel lock
In this lock our ship is raised again by 9,50 meters to the top of Lake Gatun. From the lock we have an unobstructed view of the 2004-lane that was inaugurated in August 6 Centennial Bridge. The Puente de las Américas and the Centennial Bridge are 15 kilometers away. The suspension bridge with its huge pylons was built to relieve the Puente de las Américas. We Germans are enthusiastically told by the Panamanians that the bridge was constructed by Bilfinger Berger, Mannheim. It spans the canal at a height of 80 meters. Its wingspan is 1.052 meters. Safety was a top priority in the construction. The bridge is designed to withstand earthquakes.
Panama Canal Passage - Pedro Miguel Lock, behind it the Centennial Bridge
9:30am - Island Princess leaves the Pedro Miguel Lock
The ship continues on its way through the 13 kilometer long Gaillard Canal. The Centennial Bridge will be passed. Behind the bridge we have an unobstructed view of the gigantic construction work to expand the canal zone. The Panama Canal will be expanded within seven years for the generation of post-Panamax ships. The plans envisage that the extensions to the 100th anniversary of the canal will be completed in 2014. More information can be found in our article on Panama Canal.
Panama Canal Passage - View of the expansion works
One hour after leaving the lock, the Rio Chagres flows into the canal on the right. The Island Princess follows this natural waterway for over eight kilometers.
Panama Canal Passage - tributary of the Rio Chagres
12:00pm - Lago Gatun
A 24-kilometer section of the Panama Canal runs through the Gatunsee. The lake is the work of man. It was created by damming the Rio Chagres. A huge valley basin was flooded.
The former hills of the depression now protrude from the water as islands. They are home to animals and endemic plants of the rainforest. The water surface measures more than 420 square kilometers. The lake, which was dammed up between 1907 and 1913, continuously supplies the locks of the Panama Canal with water. The storage capacity of the lake was given as 5,2 cubic kilometers.
14:00pm - Gatun locks
The Gatun locks are the last lock stage on the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Two ships are already in the locks ahead of us. At around 15:30pm the Island Princess is allowed to advance into the lock.
Panama Canal Passage - Entrance to the Gatun Lock
In the lock next to us is the “Tokyo Express”, a container freighter from Hapag Lloyd. With a loading capacity of 4.843 standard containers, the ship is 294 meters long and 32 meters wide and just fits into the lock.
Panama Canal Passage - Container ship in the Gatun lock
The three successive lock chambers of the Gatún lock raise or lower the ships by 16,50 meters. Fate means well with us. We look at the lock system and the surrounding land for a good three and a half hours from above. Then finally the Island Princess is allowed to leave the locks at around 19:00pm This is followed by the three kilometer long exit canal towards the Atlantic and Cartagena in Colombia.
Panama Canal Passage - Gatun Lock Visitor Center
We will not forget the passage through the Panama Canal. For one day we were allowed to enjoy this mighty waterway with its varied tropical landscape, the two mighty bridges, the Gatunsee with the many islands and the three lock systems. Since August 2019, the Puente del Atlantico a third canal bridge was added. The 2.820 meter cable-stayed bridge crosses the Panama Canal near Colón.
Beluko - Update May 2020