OK, that’ll be £250k, then Sir…
A conservative estimate, that is, of a “commercially sensitive” piece of information. $s or £s? Who knows (cares?) All we understand it that it costs a lot of money to transit the Panama Canal.
We’d been here before, but the other way round, as it were. This time, we were travelling West to East, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and woke to the same queue of ships waiting just outside the canal entrance as we recalled from the last time.
This time, however, the city of Panama was on the horizon. Who knew there were quite so many skyscrapers there? Not me!
All of this was happening as we were getting up. I’d poked my head out of the door to see what was going on as soon as I woke and then continued to look out every ten minutes or so between cleaning my teeth, showering, getting dressed and so on. Getting up never took me quite so long! (contrary to whatever you may hear elsewhere…. )
Before long, we were approaching the first locks, the Miraflores. There was a container ship in front of us, the SCT Distinction but the most important part of what was going on was, which lock would we be transiting? Because, our suite is on the starboard side and if we were going to see what was going on in comfort, we rather hoped we’d be using the lock on the left hand side.
Guess which one we were assigned? Correct. The right hand side.
As we went under the bridge, we couldn’t decide where to go for a better view of what was going on. For all the luxurious details of this ship, one thing lacking is an open, forward vantage point to watch things like this. Many were gathering in the forward facing Observation Lounge, which is great but which also has darkened windows. We wanted to the in the open air and to be able to see everything which is going on but for now, stayed on our own balcony to see how things went.
We watched the pilots arrive, way down there beneath us.
I took pictures of tugs for my “tugs of the world” series.
We tried to decide which was the front and which was the back of this tug. (no answer!)
And the officer on the bridge looked relaxed…so were we.
We spotted the rope throwers preparing to row over to throw the rope to us.
We spotted the arrow pointing to the lock we were to use.
But we seemed to be awfully high and way above all the action. We looked down and spotted somewhere we’d rather be, lower down. Maybe we should head for Deck 5? We did.
That’s better! By now we’d entered the lock and we could get a good view of the goings on.
Even if there was an orange rope to keep us safe from the edge. I mean, no-one wanted to get their fingers caught, did they?
Thankfully, Sunil was there to take care of us and in return, we all dutifully stood behind the orange rope.
In all seriousness, we were to get pretty close to that concrete side of the lock and really, no-one wanted to take any risks.
We had a good view of the little train, holding us steady as we squeezed into the lock, and of the people who work here. It’s big business and there are a lot of people employed to manage the safe transit of these mega-ships.
Ooo. Speaking of mega ships, some of them these days are too big to pass through these locks, so they’ve built a slightly bigger canal to accommodate them – or rather, a set of larger locks. So as we looked out over the greenery, there was a ship’s superstructure visible. There was a larger vessel, using the new, enlarged locks.
As we sailed out, another ship –the Maersk Malaga pulled into the adjacent lock, alongside.
Looking over the deck of the Malaga, we could get a great view of the ship in the new channel, the Oak Spirit.
Now, we’d not had any breakfast and it was getting on for 9.30am. Not wanting to fade away (!), we decided to take a break and head for the coffee shop, now we were through the Miraflores locks.
Did someone say how easily bored I get?! Not really – the whole transit is interesting and yes, rather exciting too, but it takes all day and a woman has to keep body and soul together, don’t you agree? A blueberry muffin and a mug of coffee was the least I could manage!
See? In no time at all, we were back out there, watching!
But we returned to our suite on the other side, to watch from a different viewpoint. After all, there’s really something to see wherever you happen to be – and in this case, it was a canal employee wanting a photo with the Explorer (and us, I suppose) in the background. A good job I was dressed by then, looking respectable, at least.
At this point, we heard a siren and a small fire engine tootled along through the training area with all bells and lights going. But it was driving no more than 20 mph and there didn’t seem to be any emergency we could see, so who knows? Maybe it was an exercise?
Terry Breen had been our commentator on our last canal transit and had pointed out this facility, including the training area for the rope throwers. All very interesting.
Watching the Malaga inch into the lock beside us, we were glad of an opportunity to see the whole little train process from the other side. The little trains don’t actually pull the vessel through the lock but merely hold it steady. There’s so much going on, it’s all really entertaining!
Leaving the locks behind then and entering “the cut”, we relaxed a little. Nothing much to see for a while, then and perhaps time to take a breather.
But then someone pointed out a crocodile on the waters edge. Oooo.
We decided it was probably lunchtime, so made our way to Chartreuse, the French restaurant for a bite to eat – Croque Monsieur for me and Croque Madame for my hero. Very good it was too!
But whilst we were in there it started to rain. We’d crossed the continental divide and perhaps that was the place where the weather turned, too?
It didn’t look too promising ahead. Oh well, we are in the tropics after all.
The next action was scheduled for 2.30pm and so we looked out in the hope of something to see. Actually, there wasn’t much going on – the Oak Spirit was parked up a short distance away from us,
in front of the new larger Gatun lock gates.
The STC Distinction was waiting on our other side, by the old locks, with the Malaga nearby. I guess we were all waiting for something to happen!
Around 3.30pm the first moves were made. The SCT Distinction moved into the lock first.
As it did, I notice the rope throwers getting ready for their moment of glory.
The rope catchers were ready too.
Job done, they returned to their station and we progressed into the lock.
This time, we were on the right – left – side, so we could sit on our balcony in comfort and watch it all going on.
The commentator pointed out the small traffic bridge across the lock here. I recalled the small purple bus I’d spotted last time and noticed that this time, it was a yellow bus, doing (nearly) the same thing.
As we inched through into the lock, over the trees I could see a familiar white superstructure of the Oak Spirit, progressing through the new locks over there.
But a bit nearer to us, something different was happening. A new ship, the Morgenstond 1 was just beginning its transit and my hero just had to investigate. What is is? What’s it carrying? Where’s it from? Such things are so easily answered and it’s awfully interesting to find such things out.
As a small private yacht squeezed in behind the Morgenstond 1, another larger container ship was already forming a queue.
As we stood watching, we spotted the Oak Spirit sailing out of the new locks. Soon, we too would be back on our way, sailing towards Cartagena tomorrow. Transiting the Panama Canal is a fascinating process and we had found the whole thing as interesting today as we did the previous occasion.
But oh my goodness, what a way to spend a quarter of a million, eh?