The pictures below were taken from our balcony aboard the Coral Princess. They show highlights of our passage through the Panama Canal, which was a fantastic experience and the highlight of the cruise. Our ship arrived at the queue for passage before dawn, and it took a good part of the day to get through the locks. Check out my slideshow to see how this man-made marvel operates:
Instead of me attempting to describe it, here is an excerpt describing the Panama Canal and how the locks operate –
Panama Canal Authority:
The Canal is one of the most fascinating places in the world where human ingenuity, and the wonders of nature, come together to connect two great oceans and join the world.The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This waterway was cut through one of narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.
The Canal uses a system of locks -compartments with entrance and exit gates. The locks function as water lifts: they raise ships from sea level (the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); ships then sail the channel through the Continental Divide.
Each set of locks bears the name of the townsite where it was built: Gatun (on the Atlantic side), and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores (on the Pacific side).
The lock chambers -steps– are 33.53 meters wide by 304.8 meters long. The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the Canal are: 32.3 meters in beam; draft -their depth reach- 12 meters in Tropical Fresh Water; and 294.1 meters long (depending on the type of ship).
The water used to raise and lower vessels in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and the center wall.
The narrowest portion of the Canal is Culebra Cut, which extends from the north end of Pedro Miguel Locks to the south edge of Gatun Lake at Gamboa. This segment, approximately 13.7 kilometers long, is carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide.
Ships from all parts of the world transit daily through the Panama Canal. Some 13 to 14 thousand vessels use the Canal every year. In fact, commercial transportation activities through the Canal represent approximately 5% of the world trade.How it worksThe three sets of locks of the two-lane Canal work as water elevators that lift the ships to the level of Gatun Lake, 26 meters over sea level, and later lower them again to sea level on the other side of the Isthmus of Panama.