My daughter Mary-Lynne and I did the Panama Canal transit from the Puerto Rico side to Acapulco, Mexico. A very pleasant gentleman who I had met on The Royal Princess. When I was with Barb, my lovely wife, on the Alaska cruise liked the Alaska presentation that I did so much, he hired me to accompany his business group on the Royal Princess later the same year on a cruise through the Panama Canal. He was taking a group of executive big shots like company owners and CEO's on a combination business and pleasure trip with wives to celebrate an association anniversary. It was my job to photograph every aspect of the trip and produce an audio - visual presentation on the whole thing as a special souvenir of the event. It was incredible.
We pulled away from the dock in Puerto Rico where we joined the ship about nine one evening under a placid tropic sky with a fragrant island and sea scent in the air. The ship left the dock so smoothly that movement was almost imperceptible. It was to be the beginning of an unforgettable journey.
While we did visit several wonderful island spots along the way, it is the Panama Canal that is our focus. The Canal was completed in 1914 an effort of human accomplishment to rival such wonders as the Pyramids of Egypt and perhaps even the Great Wall of China. Many explorers had searched for a passage between North and South America with no luck. It was decided that where there was no natural passage to be found, one would be created.
In 1904 the US Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Canal and created this engineering marvel in just ten years, one decade and it changed the face of our planet and the world of travel forever.
The Canal is about 50 miles long and it takes you from the Caribbean Sea to the Northern Atlantic in a transit that takes about 8 hours. The journey is one filled with many visual wonders and beautiful sights that all but defy description. In my case I sat on the rear deck of the ship just outside the doors of the Lido Deck restaurant. My table had a big umbrella to keep off the hot tropic sun and my cameras were spread out across the table each one with a different lens on it. I used to have a camera for each lens to save time rather than get into changing lenses along the way.
We saw everything during the trip through the canal from other ships, locks, people and even a prison carved out of the jungle. I wondered how it would feel looking through the non air conditioned windows of that prison at luxury cruise ships with people lounging on the spacious decks being served hand and foot in the ultimate of luxury and all of it just a few feet from your cell. I would think it would be almost enough to drive one mad with envy.
For a cruise ship to transit the canal is no small thing in terms of the fees. One ship, the Rhapsody of the Seas paid $165,000 for a single passage I think the Royal Princess paid almost 100,000 for her to pass through. The lowest fee paid was back in 1928 by a gentleman named Richard Halliburton not for passing through the canal but just to take a swim in one of the locks. That little dip cost him all of 26 cents.
By going through the Panama Canal it saves a ship around 7872 miles on a journey from New York to San Francisco.
As you look at the selection of images included with this story you will see the Royal Princess moving through the locks with just inches to spare on each side of the ship. The ship does not transit the canal, on its own power, that would be impossible. The ship is actually pulled through the locks by one of those funny looking little machines on the rails which are called mules.
The most, narrow section of the canal is called the Gaillard Cut. The entire trip from the Gatun Lake to the Bridge of the Americas on the opposite side of the canal takes about 8 hours during which the ship will move about 50 miles. During the course of the transit the ship is raised some 85 feet then lowered again to sea level.
The lock gates may well be one of the largest things ever made by human hands at 47 to about 82 feet high, each gate is about 65 feet wide and can weigh from 400 to 700 tons and yet they are moved with incredible ease.
Mary-Lynne and I stayed on deck the entire 8hrs of the trip through the canal. We didn't want to miss a single sight, it is certainly an experience you would not want to miss although some of the people did stay in cabins doing everything from watching television to sleeping not to mention various other distractions.
There are certain journeys that it is said qualify as a trip of a lifetime. A passage through the Panama Canal in either direction would most certainly be one of them.
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