Panama Canal, Day Two

Tags: Gamboa, Panama, Panama Canal, Panama City

Date: December 31, 2022

On the second day of our Panama Canal transit, a new advisor turned up early in the morning on another big pilot boat. On this second day, we were scheduled to lock down with the Atlantic Brave:

Even though we saw the ship early in the day, we had quite a bit of motoring to do before reaching the locks which are close to the Pacific Ocean. We passed the town of Gamboa on the way. At the docks, we saw the floating crane called "Titan":

It was built in Germany in 1941 and called "Schwimmkran nr. 1". After the war, the crane was seized by the USA as part of the war reparations and renamed "YD-171". It was used by the US Navy until 1995, but since its name was a bit a boring, it got the nickname "Herman the German".

The crane was bought by the Canal Authority and transferred to Panama in 1996 and it is still in use.

Interestingly, there is a small connection to Denmark. On August 29 of 1943 Germany conducted Operation Safari in Denmark with the goal of disarming the country. The Danish military were of course aware that this could happen and had long since decided that navy ships should flee the country if possible and if not, the ships should be scuttled. At 04:08 in the morning of that day, the Danish Naval High Command sent the message "KNU" to the crews of the Navy ships. This meant that Germany was attacking (KNU was probably a pre-arranged code, but the Maritime flags have the following suggestive meanings: K = I wish to communicate with you, N = Negative, U = You are running into danger). Within five minutes, the first explosions were heard of the scuttling of the ships in Copenhagen harbor. Back to the crane: a sister ship to Titan (sister crane?) was used by the Germans to raise the fleet again. Here is a picture of the crane being used to raise a minesweeper:

Back to the Panama Canal. Here is a ship turning a corner in the canal while getting some help from a tug:

Dredging in the canal is a never ending project:

In fact, our advisor on the first day usually worked on a dredging ship, but did the small boat advising while his dredger is being refitted.

Here is our advisor for the second day, sitting on deck to take a picture of an approaching ship:

She is the only woman working as a pilot on the Panama Canal and she was extremely professional and diligent.

We got close to a number of big ships:

A second cruise ship:

Centennial Bridge in the distance and Culebra Cut in the foreground:

Culebra Cut (formerly called Gaillard Cut) is the place where most material had to be removed to build the canal. It is at the continental divide between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. The French had a very hard time here and did not even come close to removing enough material to make the canal. Later, the Americans finally managed to finish the canal here. In total, 90 million cubic meters of material was removed after years of work and a number of landslides. The summit of the hills here was lowered from 64 to 12 meters above sea level and with the locks this was enough to allow passage (the typical water level is 26 meters above sea level).

Here is Culebra Cut from the other side:

Looking back at the bridge:

Here we are tied up in the first of the locks on the Pacific side:

This is the Pedro Miguel lock. Unlike on the Atlantic side, where the tree locks are placed right next to each other, the three locks on the Pacific side are divided in two sections: first the single Pedro Miguel lock, then Lake Miraflores and finally the two Miraflores locks.

When locking down, the small boats are placed in front of the big ships, so we tied up first. Then the Atlantic Brave entered the lock behind us:

Notice how its lines are steel wires tied to a number of locomotives. The locomotives can tighten the lines and control the ship. The control is so precise that the big ships do not use fenders.

This is while the lock is being emptied:

We of course consider Atlantic Brave a big ship at 180 meters long and 28.2 meters wide. The maximum for these locks are a width of 32.3 meters and a length of 294 meters. This measurement is called Panamax and was used as a guide for building ships. Bigger ships were built, but then usually quite a bit wider than 32.3 meters wide to at least get a significantly bigger cargo size since it then became impossible to transit the Panama Canal.

In 2016, the new locks in the Panama Canal were opened with a maximum size of 51.25 meters wide and 366 meters long. This ship size is called New Panamax or Neo-Panamax. These locks are parallel to the old locks that we used, so ships much bigger than Atlantic Brave can transit the canal now.

After the Pedro Miguel lock, we motored a short distance through Lake Miraflores to the Miraflores locks. They have a very popular visitor's center where people can come and look at the Panama Canal in action:

Looking toward the Pacific before locking down:

Finally, we can see the last bridge before the Pacific:

This is the Bridge of the Americas and was finished in 1962. The name was a bit controversial, since it was originally called the Thatcher Ferry Bridge after Maurice H. Thatcher who made the legislation that resulted in the ferry that was used before the bridge was built. The Panamanian government was not happy with that name, so ten days after the opening of the bridge, they signed the following resolution:

"The bridge over the Panama Canal shall bear the name Bridge of the Americas. Said name will be used exclusively to identify said bridge."

"Panamanian government officials shall reject any document in which reference is made to the bridge by any name other than "Bridge of the Americas". A copy of this resolution, with the appropriate note on style, shall be forwarded to all legislative bodies of the world, so that all may give the bridge the name chosen by this honorable assembly, complying with the express will of the Panamanian people. Given in the city of Panama on the second day of the month of October of nineteen hundred and sixty-two. "

In spite of this resolution, the official name remained "Thatcher Ferry Bridge" until 1979 when control of the Canal Zone was partly transferred to Panama.

Here, we are looking back at a large container ship that is going through the new locks:

Both ends of the canal has large container terminals:

Ready to go under the Bridge of the Americas:

City view from our first Pacific anchorage:

Later the same evening: