"" Writer's Wanderings: Through The Locks And Into The Lake To...

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Through The Locks And Into The Lake To...


Six o'clock in the morning I found myself wide awake as I realized there was activity in the corridor outside our stateroom. People were up and securing their vantage points for the journey through the Gatun Locks. By seven, we were both up and positioning ourselves on the forward deck to view the locks as our ship entered.

There are three levels of locks to raise the ship up to the level of Gatun Lake. I am not going to go into detail about how the locks work and all the history behind it. Suffice it to say that there is more than enough history and amazing stories of how the locks were made and the difficulties encountered in the amazing feat of construction, not the least of which was conquering the little mosquito that was killing off so many of the workers. Check out the History Channel and PBS for some great information and videos. If you just Google documentaries on the Panama Canal you will have a treasure trove. 

A few quick facts that we have learned over the several transits we've made. Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in promoting the building of the canal that was taken over by the United States in the early 1900s when France gave up. John Stevens was the engineer who, in eighteen months got the project going and figured out that instead of cutting through the mountain you needed to lift the ships over it. And then there was Dr. William Gorgas who discovered that it was the mosquitoes who were spreading the dread yellow fever and malaria and led the fight to clean up all the breeding grounds for them.

Again, it is an amazing story and I have some of it posted from our previous visits. You can find those posts on the travel page for the Panama Canal. 

We had booked an excursion to see the new lock that has been finished since our last passage. It included a stop at the Agua Clara Visitor Center at the new lock as well as a boat ride in the rainforest area to see whatever nature we could see.

The Agua Clara locks are totally different than the original. They have retention ponds for the fresh water that is used to raise and lower the water in the locks. The gates are completely different as well. They are hollow concrete and slide back and forth rather than open on hinges. The concrete gates are hollow in order to keep them light enough so that they don't require a lot of energy to open and close them. 

The new locks are specifically for larger ships that are too wide or too long to go through the old locks. They also are designed to  conserve the fresh water in Gatun Lake by recycling the water used with the retention ponds. There is a good history of the canal and the new locks at this Canal Tour Site.

After watching one ship pass through and another huge cargo ship enter, we were called to board our bus for the next part of our excursion. Our bus ride was almost two hours including a stop at a gas station that was kind of like a Circle K back home. We used what little Spanish I could remember to order a chicken sub which was about as good as you would expect from a place like that. The PaWa (bottled Panamanian water) was really good though. 

It was on to our canal nature cruise. More of that to follow.

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