In the Early Hours of the Morning

In the early hours of the morning, we approached the entry to the Panama Canal, to the first set of locks, Gatun Lake Locks.

Alongside the canal, a bus passes by

and this tree is full of white balls. At first I thought they were birds, but they are not. A fruit of some kind, perhaps?

A tugboat joins us

and moves in more closely

to gently guide us

this way and that, to keep us on a straight path.

We moved up to the Crow’s Nest on Deck 10 so we could see forward as we approach the first gate of the Gatun Lake Locks.

The gate opens

and we slowly approach the second gate ahead of us as the water rises.

Below you can see the modern mules that pull the ships forward while in the locks. Back in the day, the mules used were the hay-eating, braying, four-legged type of mule.

The water raises us higher as the ship ahead of us moves forward to the gate in front of it, and we move ahead.

And so we maneuver through this set of locks, ever so close to the sides of the canal

You can see why a new canal is needed, since many ships are much larger than the one we are on. Those ships must now go around South America, a much longer journey.

Once into Gatun Lake, the ship docks and we disembark to begin our journey to Panama City. As we travel, we pass the site of the new canal, and we see some of the new gates – which will be ten stories high as compared to the seven stories of the current gates and will be one and one-half times wider. In addition, instead of opening like a door, as the current gates do, they will slide to the side – like a pocket door.

Beyond the barbed wire you can see the cranes working. Look hard, they really are there!

Here you see the path of part of the new canal. They say it will be completed this year, but to my eye that appears doubtful. There is much left to be done.


Did you know that only fresh water is used in the locks? Did you know that each lock must be flushed after each ship passes through, and each ship must donate 52,000 gallons of fresh water to accomplish that? In the new canal, a recycling system is being installed so that the water will only have to be flushed out after three ships pass through. This will be a much more economical system, and will reduce the cost for the shippers.

We head on to Panama City – but that will wait for another day.

About Carol

I'm me - nothing unusual, just me. Widowed, 2 grown children who are my best friends, 1 dog, retired, loving being retired. I am woman, I am strong.
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9 Responses to In the Early Hours of the Morning

  1. Rosemarie says:

    Fascinating views and explanation of the canals and locks.


  2. Cee Neuner says:

    I agree fascinating views. I would have loved to have seen it and photographed it myself.


  3. Carol, this is fascinating! From the hair’s breadth to spare on either side of the ship to photos of a new canal. Thank you so much for sharing this.


  4. Wow, thanks for the up close view of the canal and an explanation of how it works. I have been in much smaller locks so always assumed the Panama canal was much bigger. I had no idea they were building a newer one, but now I can see why it is necessary. Also the use of freshwater was new to me as well. Truly fascinating!


  5. Shown and told in a much more INTERESTING way than in a classroom, I learned more about the Panama Canal in this post, than I ever did in school!


  6. lisa says:

    I didn’t know any of the details your mentioned. Fascinating! While it’s not pretty, it is much needed! Thanks for sharing. xo


  7. Heather says:

    That is a massive construction project. I am flummoxed by the projected completion date. And skeptical. Also, thanks for the educational post. We have locks around here, but being in fresh water, they are also simply full of fresh water. Do you know if the salt-lessness is to prevent corrosion?


  8. I bet that was an amazing experience, going through those locks. I didn’t know they’re building a new set of taller and wider locks. What an engineering project! Thanks for teaching me something new, Carol. 🙂 That last photo looks like something out of a futuristic movie.


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