The early morning show

 

We woke at 5:50am this morning and turned on our TV straight away.  Though it was dark outside, the best show in town was about to begin and we didn’t want to miss a thing.

 

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Actually, it was just about getting light by the time I’d showered and dressed, so whilst my hero had gone out onto the deck, I simply poked my head out of the balcony door to see what was going on.

 

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We’d reached the breakwater at the entrance to the Panama Canal and the commentary about to begin.

 

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As my camera acclimatised itself to the warm, humid air outside, I decided to go and join what appeared to be the majority of people up on the top deck. 

 

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I-Made was already out there with his drinks trolley serving hot drinks.  (Did I tell you how well we are taken care of here?!)

 

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Inside, in the observation lounge, a more substantial breakfast was on offer but we decided to stay out in the open and make the most of the journey.  After all, this was one of the highlights we didn’t want to miss.  Considering it was only just past 7 am, the ship was buzzing!

 

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By now, we were approaching the entrance to the canal proper and could see where the new locks are being constructed.  We’d heard about this from Terry Breen, the on board lecturer making her 80th transit today and who has shared so many interesting points about the canal with us during the last few days.

 

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There’s a huge amount of work going on but sadly, the build is behind schedule and the new, enlarged locks won’t open in time for the centenary celebrations on August 15th this year.

 

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We were heading for one of the two operational locks here, following one of the ships in there already.  We had a specific booking for our transit, we were told, because we have “precious cargo” on board.

 

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As we approached, we passed by the site of a new bridge which is being built across the mouth of the canal

 

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then, right by buoy 16, we could see “the French Cut”, the site of the first, failed attempt to build a canal.

 

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Having ticked off these things we turned to our port side and made note of the new lock gates, brought from Italy to be fitted to the new locks.  Hard to get the scale of them, but the green box to the right is a standard sized shipping container, so they’re huge, right?

 

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At this point, I-Made passed by with his tea trolley and I took advantage of his offer.  So, it was with a cup of Earl Grey tea that I stood and watched as we approached the first set of lock gates.

 

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Actually, I was distracted, because there were things happening on the shore.  People were going to work and a brightly coloured bus was tootling along the road, possibly making the same trip as it does every day.

 

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But I needed to concentrate on what was going on ahead.  Look, there’s the lock gates – before long we’ll be starting to go through there.  But just a minute, did I see a car drive along that “shelf” near the water?  Surely not…

 

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Whoa!  Look what just crossed there, in front of my eyes!!

It is such fun to simply stand and watch.  There is so much happening, so many things to see and to work out how they work.  We love it!

 

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At this point, we heard the news that we were going to take the right hand lane, and thinking that we’d have an equally good view from our own balcony, we stepped inside and came down one floor to watch the next stages.

 

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Now, we’d been told to look out for the arrow sign which would indicate which lane we should take.  We spotted it there at the end of the jetty and became confused – surely, we were going to wrong way?

 

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Well, no, because someone else was hard on our tail!  That arrow was intended for the Hanjin Elizabeth, who was going to sail through the neighbouring lock alongside us.

 

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Just beneath us, though, action was happening as the rope men were rowing out to throw the line to our crew.  This was another thing we’d been advised to look out for – apparently all kinds of modern methods have been tried and tested, but the good old, low tech way remains the best.  So, these men row out to each ship, they throw the line by hand and practice their aim at targets along the canal side so they become pretty good shots!

 

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Having checked that our crew member had caught it, they returned to the shore.

 

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With a friendly wave of course! 

 

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The line was going to attach our ship to one of these engines, known as “mules”.  The mules (we were attached to four on each side I think) don’t actually pull us through the canal but hold us steady in the middle of the lock.

 

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We looked back and spotted the same procedure going on with the Hanjin Elizabeth.  My goodness, those chaps have to be able to throw pretty well, don’t they?

 

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As the Hanjin Elizabeth sailed alongside us in the neighbouring lock, her crew were taking photos of us too!  Lots of waves, friendly greetings and interest on both sides.

 

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We popped inside to see the view from the bridge.  We appeared to be making good progress.

 

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Whilst standing outside we couldn’t help but feel curious about the contents of those containers!  Stacked twelve deep and five or six high, there was row upon row of them, the whole length of the ship.

 

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The two small tugs were tucked in the locks behind us and as we went for a spot of breakfast, we took the chance to look around and see what was what behind us.

 

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By the time we returned to our prime viewing spot, we were approaching the next lock, keeping pace with the Hanjin Elizabeth alongside.  As we are raised to the next level, the little mules travel up a steep incline to keep at the right height to continue with us.  Interesting, isn’t it?  

 

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After a while, the Gatun Lakes were in sight.  These man-made lakes form part of the canal route and also form a holding place for shipping waiting for a passage through.

 

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We watched as the Hanjin Elizabeth let go of the mule connections and sailed on past us, out of the locks.  Her crew waved bye to us as they passed.

 

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Look what a tight squeeze it was!

 

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But actually, she wasn’t going very far, for as she tied up alongside, we sailed out of the lock and right out into the lake, leaving her behind.

 

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And that’s where we are now.  We’re sailing through the Gatun Lakes on our way to the next set of locks and taking the chance to catch up on blogging, journalling and cooling down.  It’s hot and sticky out there, believe me!

The far side

Impressions of Cartagena