The Miraflores locks is the part of the Panama Canal located closest to the Pacific Ocean and Panama City. There is a visitor center with a museum and multiple viewing platforms. Everything has been layed out for the visitors’ Panama Canal viewing pleasure. It is widely referred to as an engineering marvel, no wonder why two keen engineers (and two general keeners) were overly stoked to see it in real life action!
The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean and was built between the years of 1881 and 1914. With the drilling performed during the construction, a hole could have been drilled straight through our planet plus another 900 kilometers! In order to save labor during construction, man-made Gatun Lake is utilized for the passing. The lake is 26 meters above sea level and explains the need for the locks.
The Panama Canal is the only canal in the world where the captain of a ship give the control of the vessel to a trained pilot. The Panama Canal pilots are marine officers graduated from nautical school, who are especially trained to transit vessels through the canal. The size of the Panama Canal locks dictate the size of most cargo vessels. The largest ships that can fit through the canal are called Panamax. Generally, the size of the vessels transiting through the canal must fit within the dimensions 32.3 meters by 294.1 meters. More than one million vessels have transited through the Panama Canal since the opening in 1914.
We witnessed two of these today. Both ships were boats carrying boats! Apparently 6% of the transiting ships carry boats, whereas the most common type is container cargo ships making up for 54%. The rest make up for a mix of various cargo ships and tourist ships.
Notice in the photos below how the first ship (the other one is behind in the right sets of locks) approach the last sets of locks, gets lowered down and then pulled forward by six trains before eventually arriving at the Pacific Ocean. The little hills for the trains are made to compensate for the height difference made by the locks.
We were not the only keeners on the viewing platform. That is where we spent most of our time. However, at 4 pm we realized the centre was closing at 5 pm and we had to spring into action to see it all. We went through the museum and learnt about the past, the present and the future of the canal. A third sets of locks are currently being constructed. They will be bigger than today’s, allowing for larger ships to pass though. After the museum, we caught the day’s last showing of the Panama Canal 3D movie. It was informative, and also highly entertaining. All 3D effects were being utilized. Containers went flying through the air, steel beams extended towards us with little movies inside them and so on. It was a great finish to a truly interesting experience!
Panama Canal, it was well worth the drive!