THE PANAMA CANAL HAS THREE LOCKS. TRANSITING ALL OF THEM FOLLOWING A NORTHBOUND ROUTE (PACIFIC TO ATLANTIC) WILL HAVE YOU PASS THROUGH THEM IN THIS ORDER: • The Miraflores Locks are the closest to Panama City and the Pacific Ocean. The locks have two chambers and raise ships 54 feet up to Lake Miraflores. • The Pedro Miguel Locks are not far from the Miraflores Locks. They have a single chamber that raises ships 31 feet to Lake Gatun. • The Gatun Locks are the closest locks to the Atlantic Ocean. They have three chambers that lower ships a total of 85 feet back to sea level. For ships that are transiting from north to south, they enter the locks in reverse order, which means the Gatun Locks raise them instead of lowering them, and the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks lower them instead of raising them. IT’S A TIGHT FIT FOR THE BIG SHIPS! Many of the ships that pass through the locks are absolutely enormous, so it takes a huge team to ensure they pass safely without damaging the locks or their own boats. When a ship is ready to pass through the canal, a pilot from the Panama Canal Transit Authority boards the ship and is responsible for guiding it from end to end. It’s one of the few times a ship’s captain is not in control of his or her own vessel. If you are on the water, it’s easy to spot when a pilot boards; a speedboat pulls up alongside a cargo ship, a gangplank is extended, and the pilot boards. Pilots are necessary for smaller ships as well; our pilot joined us without using a gangplank because of the size of our boat. When the ship is safely out of all of the locks, another speedboat appears to reclaim the pilot and take him to his next assignment. Larger boats are pushed into position by tugboats, which ensure the ships are as close to the locks’ walls as possible. These ships are then connected to electric trains called mules, which are responsible for guiding the ship along a very precise route within the lock chamber. The mules e”ectively have full control of the ship during this time, and they do no disconnect until the chamber is open and the boat has cleared the lock. Smaller boats that don’t run the risk of damaging the locks do not need assistance from mules, but they do tie up to the walls during filling and draining to minimize the boat’s movement. Stephanie and Adam Hubka are part-time world travelers on a quest to maximize their paid vacation time and see as much of this amazing planet as possible. They have been to a combined 64 countries, 7 continents, and all 50 US states, you can read about their adventures at RoadUnraveled.com. FUN FACTS THE PANAMA CANAL IS AN INCREDIBLE FEAT OF ENGINEERING, BUT THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN HUGE CARGO SHIPS CROSSING BETWEEN OCEANS. HERE ARE A FEW OF THE FUN FACTS WE LEARNED DURING OUR VISIT: • The Panama Canal averages 42 transits each day. If you think that sounds low, it is — ships take between 8 and 10 hours to transit all three locks during a canal passage. It’s a slow, meticulous process! • Ships enter on a first-come, first-served basis. Many ships wait for approximately 24 hours in line, queuing in either Panama City or Colon, before their transit begins. • Lake Gatun was the largest manmade lake in the world until the construction of the Hoover Dam. The lake was built as part of the Panama Canal’s construction; it didn’t exist before 1904. • Every time a lock opens, 26 million gallons of water rush out of Lake Gatun. Lake Gatun is a freshwater lake that is refreshed only by rainwater; however, since Panama gets as much as 16 feet of rain in a given year, keeping the lake full has never been a concern. • When the locks open, Lake Gatun’s fresh water meets the salt water from the ocean. This causes chaos for the fish who live in the lake, and those fish caught in the lock often die or are stunned by the change in water. That’s why you’ll see tons of birds circling overhead around the locks—as our guide explained, they remember where to find a good sushi bu¡et! • Tolls to take the Panama Canal range based on a ship’s weight, and they can be expensive — to date, at least one ship has paid more than a $1 million toll to transit. Why do shipping companies pay such fees? The alternative is to sail down around South America, which adds 16 days of travel. Knowing that a ship can easily burn $100,000 in fuel each day it is at sea, combined with other operational costs and crew-related costs, the Panama Canal actually saves money in addition to more than two weeks of time. • While Panamax ships were once the largest that the canal’s locks could accommodate, two new locks opened last year that are much larger. Now, “post-Panamax” ships are able to pass through safely. Our visit to the Panama Canal exceeded our expectations and fulfilled a major travel goal of ours. We loved seeing the canal in action, operating exactly as it did when it first opened more than a century ago. Don’t let a visit to Panama City pass you by without visiting — or transiting — the Panama Canal!