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Pictorial - Transiting the Panama Canal in a Car-Carrier

written by: Chief Engineer Mohit Sanguri • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 10/31/2010

Every sailor looks forward to a Panama Canal trip. Crossing is a grand experience. We become humbled after observing the sheer magnitude of the work done and experiencing the spirit of human perseverance that triumphed over nature. Here we cross the Panama Canal in pictures.

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    Panama Canal

    The Panama Canal represents the perseverance of mankind and the superiority of human intelligPanama Canal Lay Out Diagram ence in overcoming all obstacles. Built between 1904 to 1914 the Panama Canal is a 77 kilometer long conduit joining the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It cuts the distance of ships traveling from the East to West America and vice versa to about half of the distance it would have taken while rounding Cape Horn. In a Panamax ship on a charter of 32,000 USD per day, it amounts to a lot of money in savings.

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    Capricornus Leader

    Pure Car and Truck Carrier M.V. Capricornus Leader, on which I crossed the Panama Canal, is a Panamax-sized Car Carrier with a Gross Tonnage of 61854 Metric Tons. It is a huge ship with thirteen car decks and a capacity of carrying about 6,500 cars. The ship is owned by NYK shipping of Japan and managed by Wallem Ship Management, Hong Kong. It is a UMS class ship with a Mitsubishi 8UEC60LS II Main Engine with an output power of 15540 [email protected] RPM. The length of the ship is 199.94 meters, with a Capricornus Leader width of 32.26 meters and a total height of 49.29 meters.

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    Waiting for our turn we see beautiful Panama at night

    Joy is in the air
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    Entrance to the Panama Canal

    Panama Country Side We entered into the Panama anchorage at midnight and crossed the Bridge of Americas, Miraflores locks, and Pedro Miguel Locks at dawn. At daylight we were greeted with views of beautiful villages along the canal. A little further ahead we saw the Centennial Bridge with its huge span of over a thousand meters.

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    Miraflores Locks

    Miraflores Locks The Miraflores locks are on the pacific side of the Panama Canal and raise the ship 87 feet above the sea level. At Miraflores Locks, there is a visitor's center where tourists can view the operations.

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    Close up of Miraflores Locks

    Tourists at MirafloresMiraflores LocksChannels
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    Lush green forest along the canal

    Panama Forest along CanalPanamax Bulk Carrier in Panama Canal
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    Passing below the Centennial Bridge

    Panama's Centennial Bridge was built in 2004 and is a cable-stayed bridge with a span of 1052 meters that supports the six lanes of the Pan-American Highway. It crosses the Gaillard Cut close to the Pedro Miguel locks near the Pacific side of the canalCentennial Bridge 

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    Bridge Ahoy

    Down UnderUnder the bridge
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    Crossing the Gaillard Cut

    Gaillard Cut The Gaillard Cut, named after Major David Gaillard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is a manmade valley that cuts the continental divide. It is about 12.6 kilometers from the Pedro Miguel locks, and it is estimated that sixty million pounds of dynamite was used to make it. Its construction was a great engineering achievement of its time. The French had started work on the cut and tried to dig it up to sea level, but after 14,256,000 m³ of earth and rock were removed and thousands of deaths were caused by malaria, they quit. It was later completed by Americans who took over in 1904.

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    Gaillard Cut

    Gaillard CutPassage along Gaillard CutAcross the Gaillard Cut
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    Anchorage on the way

    Anchorage at Gatun After we entered the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean and crossed the Miraflores Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks, Gaillard Cut, and passed under the Centennial Bridge, we arrived at Lake Gatun after a long transit. Lake Gatun is an approximately 24 kilometers wide artificial lake formed by the building of the Gatun Dam. We anchored here to wait for our turn to cross the Gatun Lock and pass on to the Atlantic.

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    Waiting for our turn

    Gatun AnchorageAnchorage GroundBeautiful Gatun Lake
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    Entrance to Gotun Locks

    Entrance to Gotun Locks After our turn came, we became ready to transit the Gatun Locks. The Gatun Locks are a set of three lock chambers that will bring down our ship 87 feet to sea level. Each lock is 100 feet wide and 1000 feet long and takes 15 minutes to fill up. Around 52 million gallon of water is lost to the sea in each transit. Our Pilot said that the Panamanians are very happy when it rains as it brings them more business.

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    Mules of the Panama Canal

    Mules wait for our ship Ships crossing the locks move ahead with their own propulsion, however the slow speed of transit along with the shallow depth of water make steering ineffective for the ship. For the purpose of steering and guiding the ship, a set of locomotives hold the ship with steel wire ropes. The locomotives are traditionally called "mules." The mules weigh 50 tons and have two powerful engines of 290 horse power each. The track way is geared and the wheels of the mules are also geared for the great traction required to control the ship.

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    Locomotive Engines Used for Pulling Ships

    Locomotive EngineMules guiding a Panamax Bulk Carrier
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    Container Ship crossing us

    Ship Crossing ByBon Voyage my friend
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    Lock Gates Ahead

    Gatun Lock Gates The Gatun lock gates wait for us ahead to bring us back to sea level. We had risen 87 feet at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel and now we came back to the sea level. Contrary to popular belief, sea level is the same on both sides.

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    Close up of the Gates

    Lock gatesCanal de PanamaStudents on a tour
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    To open Seas and Freedom

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    Image Credits

    Wikipedia Commons: Panama Canal Lay Out Diagram

    All other Photographs by Mohit Sanguri, Chief Engineer