Port of Call Panama Canal (Cruising Canal)
Two cruise ships negotiate the Miraflore Locks at the southern end of the Panama Canal
Panama Canal Map
The 48 mile (77 km) long Panama Canal links the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal is a key route for maritime traffic, cutting huge distances off many sea routes. As an example the insert on this Panama Canal Map shows that the canal reduces the distance by sea between the eastern and western seaboards of the US by over 8000 nautical miles.
At the northern end of the canal stand the huge Gatun Locks, which raise and lower vessels by 26 metres, the difference between the heights of the Caribbean Sea and Gatun Lake. Electric ‘mule’ locomotives pull the ships into and out of the lock basins.
The Gatun Lake acts as a source of water for both the northern and southern sets of locks. The lake was created by the building of the Gatun dam in 1907-1913, which flooded the valley of the river Chagres.
In the 1880s French engineers started work on building a sea-level canal through the Panama isthmus. Part of the design called for the digging of a 64 metre deep trench through the lowest section of the Culebra hills. After nearly 10 years of work, the trench had reached just 8 metres in depth. Dogged by accidents and disease, the French sold the scheme to the Americans. The project was redesigned, but the cut was still needed, though this time because of the lock system, it did not have to be as deep as called for by the French plan. Under the stewardship of US Army Major David du Bose Gaillard excavation continued, and the Gaillard Cut (now called Culebra Cut) was completed in 1913. The 64 metre summit had been reduced to 26 metres.
Bridge of the Americas
The impressive Bridge of the Americas crosses the canal at its Pacific Ocean end and marks the conclusion (or beginning) of your transit through the canal. The clearance under this bridge together with the size of the Pedro Miguel locks currently determines the maximum size of vessel able to navigate the canal – these ships are called Panamax. To the east of the bridge stands sprawling Panama city.
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