Panama Canal

The 80km (51-mile) Panama Canal extends from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Atlantic side, and handles about 14,500 vessels a year. The original locks, completed in 1914, are 330m long by 33.5m (110') wide, which determined the maximum usable size of cargo vessels for years. There are three sets of double locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific end and Gatun on the Atlantic end. The expansion begun in 2007 and completed in 2016 added two larger three-chambered locks, Cocoli on the Pacific end and Agua Clara on the Atlantic end, to accomodate super-sized vessels. Here a cruise ship approaches the Miraflores Locks from the Pacific end of the canal, passing under the Bridge of the Americas, and transits while a super-sized cargo ship makes use of the Cocoli Locks, visible behind, to transit.

The water for the locks is gravity-fed and comes from a huge artificial lake, Lago Gatun, formed by damming the Rio Chagres, 26m (85 ft) above sea level. The canal crosses the continental divide by the 12.5 km Culebra Cut through the mountain ridge. It takes ships a bit more than eleven hours to traverse the whole canal.

We chartered a small airplane, a Cessna 172 similar to the one we own, from a flight school at Marcos A. Gelabart International Airport (MPMG), just east of the Pacific end of the canal in Panama City, for Charlotte to fly up the canal to Colon and back for aerial photography. Visible are several ships transiting the locks, Gatun Lake, many ships en route or waiting outside either end of the canal, and the three highway bridges over the canal.




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Last modified 17 February 2024