Panama Canal, Panama
The idea of digging a passage across the Isthmus of Panama uniting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans finally came to fruition when the Panama Canal was completed on August 15, 1914.
The French began this massive construction project and the United States finished the job. Total cost was $375 million, and nearly 25,000 people died during the effort.
The canal was managed by the United States until December 31, 1999, at which time (by treaty) is was taken over by the Panamanian government.
One of the powerful and noisy Panama Canal tug boats.
At night ships are steered into the appropriate locks by large, brightly lit arrows pointing the way.
This photo shows one of the electric locomotives (or mules) used to guide a ship through a Panama Canal lock.
The Panama Canal is a very busy transit channel for ships from around the world. Often the canal is so busy that some ships must wait for the opportunity to enter. This holding pond on the Caribbean side shows a few waiting for their chance. Did you know that the average price paid to Panama to transit the canal is $55,000; small yachts pay a few thousand dollars, while loaded container ships pay from $50,000 to $250,000, with cruise ships paying from $80,000 to $300,000. Sounds high, but it eliminates 20 additional days of travel around South America, a journey that can cost much, much more.
The Panama Canal is one of the greatest engineering works ever to be undertaken and each large ship that transits the Panama Canal has its own tug boat, in the event its movement needs to be controlled and expensive damage be prevented. Some of the larger vessels need two, and those tugs are relatively small, but very powerful.
This large container ship is just beginning to inch its way through a canal lock. Note those little gray electric locomotives (usually two on each side) attached to the ship as it begins to pass through the lock. Their called "mules" and their job is to keep the ship on a steady course which helps to prevent accidents that could damage the locks; accidents that could shut down this valuable passageway.
The lock chambers are massive concrete structures. Each lock chamber requires some 26,700,000 US gallons to fill it from the lowered position. Once full, the ship enters and the lock doors are closed at both ends. That same amount of water is then drained from the chamber to lower (or raise) the ship to the next level.
This is one of the Panama Canal visitor centers, and on any given day hundreds of tourists and locals come here to watch the massive ships move through the canal. The center is easily reached from Panama City, and tours are reasonably priced.
Note the container ship leaving the lock complex to the open water ahead. There are three sets of locks in the canal, and all are used 24/7 365. When a ship traveling from the Atlantic side reaches the Gatun Locks, a series of three locks raise that ship about 85 ft. to Gatun Lake. Then it's a 40 mile trip to the locks at Pedro Miguel, locks that lower the ship 30 feet. At the Miraflores locks the ship is lowered an additional 52 feet to Pacific Ocean sea level. The reverse is true for ships traveling in the opposite direction.