Day 75 – Panama Canal Transit – August 4th, 2015 (The Plateau-Gatun Lake and Culebra Cut)

The Panama Canal is really 3 separate sections, with the middle being the transit through the man-made Gatun Lake and Culebra Cut. Navigating through Gatun Lake is a scenic 15 mile passage through a fresh water lake with numerous islands, which were the hills before the land was flooded. This is followed by the 8 mile Culebra Cut, which is the section of canal that was excavated through the Continental Divide.

On clearing the Gatun Locks, on most transits, we have anchored for a couple of hours awaiting the opposing convoy to pass. However, this morning we immediately commenced navigating through the lakes, albeit at a reduced speed.

Departed Gatun Locks and entering Gatun Lake for transit to Balboa and the Cut

Having cleared Gatun Locks, we are sailing along the first leg of the buoyed channel, passing numerous ships at anchor that have a lesser priority than Sea Princess. The lake consists of hundreds of square miles of fresh water dotted with small islands.

Some of the many small islands while navigating through fresh water Gatun Lake

Some of the small islands on the port side as we navigated along the first leg. The following 3 photographs are just some of the sights along the first 3 legs of the voyage through the lake.

Gatun Lake islands passing down the port side

Gatun Lake looking aft on the 2nd leg

Range marker in line on the clearing of the small island ahead

Each of the islands consists of dense tropical rainforest, as rain is almost a daily occurrence in Panama. In fact, it is the abundant 300+ inches of rain that provides the necessary raw material to raise and lower the ships.

Dense jungle of the Gatun Lake rain forest

Dense tropical rain forest.

Gatun Lake channel markers close-up

A set of range markers used on each leg of the voyage through the lake to assist pilots maintaining the centre of the channel.

Gatun Lake some of the many islands

Another view of the many islands.

Judi enjoying the views of Gatun Lake from the balcony

Judi enjoying the view from the balcony.

Passing an opposing ship in the lake

Passing another ship in the lake. Passing other vessels in the lake is common, but no passing is permitted in the narrower Culebra Cut.

Exiting the lake and entering the muddy river approaching Balboa with railway to left

At the end of the lake we entered the Chagres River, which also has a buoyed navigable channel. Notice the difference in the colour of the water, which now is a very muddy brown. Passing other vessels in the river is still acceptable.

Narrower leg at the end of the lake

One of the longer legs of the Chagres River

Balboa maintenance yard and approaching the Chargres River Bridge to port

Balboa is the location of the Canal’s maintenance yard and is the start of the Culebra Cut. Above is the maintenance yard with bridge over the Chagres River in the background.

Balboa maintenance yard and mega crane

Mega crane in the maintenance yard.

Looking down the Chargres River

Looking down the Chagres River. On one of our previous transits we did a tour, visiting a luxury resort about 1 mile down river.

Culebra cut with tier shoreline to stbd

Navigating along the first leg of the Culebra Cut

Culebra cut meandering down to Centennial Bridge

From the end of the first leg looking at the Culebra Cut meandering down to the Centenary Bridge.

Culebra Cut wide angle of Sea Princess bow

Wide angle shot of Sea Princess navigating down the Culebra Cut

Culebra Cut approaching the Continental Divide section

Approaching the section of Culebra Cut through the Continental Divide

Culebra Cut tiered rock face of the Continental Divide to port

The highest part of the cut through the Continental Divide on the port side. The shoreline is tiered back to prevent erosion and slides.

Culebra Cut Sea Princess holding up Centennial Bridge


Culebra Cut approaching Centennial Bridge

Sea Princess approaching and passing under the Centenary Bridge

Approaching Pedro Miguel Locks and the new locks channel

Approaching Pedro Miguel Locks, with the existing locks to the left and the excavation project constructing the new channel and locks off to the right.

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