Panama Canal Hoy!

Welcome to the Panama Canal! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today marks the last full day of our UnCruise Adventures Uncharted Isthmus! Sloths, Monkeys and Mangroves itinerary aboard the Safari Voyager . It’s a good one, however: we’re set to make a full transit of the engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal.

The concept of a shortcut between the Pacific and the Atlantic was born in the 1500’s, when King Charles V of Spain ordered the first topographic studies done in the region. Centuries later, the construction of the Canal proved to be a nightmare that would consume the French and the Americans, not to mention countless labourers from around the world who struggled with the region’s challenging terrain and hordes of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

After spending the better part of the afternoon at anchor off Panama City…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…we began our journey towards the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Panama City, looking splendid amidst moody skies. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The first man to seriously attempt the construction of the Canal was Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat who financed the Suez Canal. De Lesseps was a visionary, but he vastly underestimated the terrain of Central America.

Initially, De Lesseps figured he’d dredge the canal at sea level, as he had done with the Suez Canal. Having only scouted the area during the dry season, de Lesseps unwittingly plunged his men into the ferocious rainy season of 1881. At one point during construction, the death toll was recorded at 200 people per month. These deaths were attributed to a potpourri of factors, from floods to snakes to malaria.

Eight years later, Ferdinand de Lesseps was arrested for misappropriation of funds. The French cancelled the massively over budget program, which had lost 22,000 lives and over $287-million dollars. His plan to dredge the canal at sea level was a failure.

The Canal is great for ship-spotting: Azamara Quest makes her way out of the Canal…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we pass under the Bridge of the Americas. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The Panama Canal would ultimately be constructed by the United States of America, which would also administer it until January 31, 1999. Rather than attempting to dredge a sea-level canal, as De Lesseps had, American engineers planned to employ a lock system to raise and lower ships from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. They would also need to create the world’s largest man-made lake – Gatun Lake – in order to complete the project.

Although the wet season and mosquito-borne diseases like Malaria were better understood thanks to the efforts of doctors like Walter Reed, the Canal would still result in the deaths of nearly 6,000 people during the decade-long construction project. The Canal opened on August 15, 1914 – just weeks after the start of World War I in Europe. The S.S. Ancon was the first of 1,000 vessels to transit the Canal that year.

Fishing and cargo traffic tied up just past the Pacific entrance…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…while the sun sets on a cargo ship headed out to sea. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

More change has come to the Canal recently. In 2016, the Panama Canal Expansion was officially inaugurated, after nine years of construction. These new locks on the Pacific and Caribbean sides can accommodate “Post Panamax” ships that are traditionally too large to have made the transit. While this route opens the Canal up to ships that are longer than 965 feet and wider than the standard 106 feet, it doesn’t help cruise ships that are too tall to pass under the Bridge of the Americas. So, if you’ve dreamed of transiting the Canal on Queen Mary 2 or Oasis of the Seas, bad news: they’re still too big.

Here aboard the Safari Voyager, we’re nice and small. Since the new locks are for the exclusive use of Post Panamax (read: big) ships, we’ll be using the “classic” Panama Canal.

Tonight, dinner was served out on deck…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…buffet-style. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

From the Pacific Ocean, we first anchored out in a staging basin off Panama City. Here, a local pilot came onboard to check the vessel and ensure everything is up to his specifications. The Panama Canal is the only place in the world where the Captain actually cedes control of his or her vessel to the local Pilot, who in this case is a Panama Canal pilot. Every ship, regardless of shape or size, must cede control to the Pilot, who is then legally responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel.

After exiting the Bay of Panama and sailing up the approach channel, we entered the canal proper through the Miraflores Locks; a set of three lock chambers that begin the climb up from the Pacific.

After Miraflores, we entered the single-chamber Pedro Miguel Locks. From there, we cruised the Culebra Cut, bound for man-made Gatun Lake.

Sunset from the Safari Voyager…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as pilot boats race ahead of us…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we enter the Miraflores Locks. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Half of the fun of this transit is watching the massive ships of all shapes and sizes; and the scale of these vessels – and the Canal – was only amplified aboard the petite Safari Voyager.

Tonight, we’ll continue our transit, entering Gatun Lake and exiting the canal via the Gatun Locks. Tomorrow, we’ll dock at Colon, Panama, where our cruise aboard the Safari Voyager will sadly come to an end.

Electric mules are attached to our lines….Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…pulling us forward and keeping us aligned in the locks. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Giant cargo ships loom large from our small vantage point…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as the mules pull us into…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the Miraflores Locks. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Guests watch our transit until well into the evening…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…when we leave the last set of locks and head for Gatun Lake. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Just as UnCruise has shown us a hidden Costa Rica that many cruise lines pass right by, it has also showcased the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal in a way that is so up-close and personal that you feel you could reach out and touch it.

The line’s credo is Unrushed, Uncrowded, Unbelievable. I can’t think of three better words to describe the past week here aboard the Safari Voyager in Panama and Costa Rica.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report aboard UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager has sadly come to a close. Tune in for our Voyage Recap tomorrow and our deck-by-deck Photo Tour of the Safari Voyager! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Safari Voyager - Costa Rica & Panama

Day 1Arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica & Embarkation in Puerto Caldera
Day 2Manuel Antonio National Park, CR
Day 3Curu National Park, CR
Day 4Oso Peninsula, CR
Day 5Golfo Dulce & Golfito, CR
Day 6Isla de Coiba, Panama
Day 7Transiting the Panama Canal
Day 8Disembarkation, post-cruise Panama City stay and recap.

Comments are closed.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!