The transit of the Panama Canal is really something to see and experience. We entered the canal from the Atlantic side and approximately 12 hours later were entering the Pacific Ocean at Panama City or more correctly Balboa. The canal is busy with freighters and cruise ships going in both directions and without a lot of clearance. In the locks we had less than 30 inches of space on either side of the lock wall. Four locomotives pull each boat through the locks yet it is still two men in a rowboat that come out to meet the ship, attach the tow rope and row it to waiting staff on the lock wall edge.
The target you see in the attached photo is a real piece of trivia. Annually dock hands along the canal compete in a contest to determine who is the best line thrower of all the canal staff. The winner each year has his salary increased by 100%. The target you see is to determine accuracy in throwing the line to tie up the ship and the high bar represents the height of most ships going through the lock. Accuracy is one measure and strength to get the heavy lines up to the deck of the ship is another. Each lock has a practice area and a range.
Another surprise was the high end nature of Panama City. The skyline is full of skyscrapers and the harbour filled with beautiful yachts. We anchored out in Panama City and took a tender into the city. There we found the largest mall in the world!
Tonight (Tuesday) we cross the equator as we head south to Peru. In contrast to the first week, the Pacific is relatively calm and smooth sailing.
Today (Saturday) we are at anchor in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. This is a chain of 365 different islands all clustered together and have been inhabited ever since the first explorers of Central and South America arrived.
There is no electricity, no running water and with rising sea levels they will all be soon washed into the sea. Houses are constructed of bamboo and bathroom facilities are each located at the end of a narrow walkway out into the ocean with a little privacy fence.
The contrast between the luxury of the ship’s facilities and the poverty of these islands is staggering. To get to one of the islands we anchored out and were taken ashore in the lifeboats. Narrow streets with no vehicular traffic are lined with children, kittens, puppies and women selling colourful sewing. If you take a picture they ask for “one dollar”. If a family has four kids and two kittens, the price is “six dollar”.
Overnight we move on to the Panama Canal. We enter the mouth at 5:00 a.m. for the day long transit to the Pacific Ocean. Not sure if we are taking the old canal or the new one.
Woke up this morning to blue skies, eighty degrees and a flat sea. Tied to the pier the ship is not rocking and will make for a great day of sight seeing in this quaint Columbia port town of Santa Marta.
This is the oldest city in Columbia and the second oldest in South America. The port is guarded by a lighthouse high up on a very rocky island. The port is an interesting mix of high end container shipping, a local fishing industry and a major coal distribution centre. Tourism is major with cruise ships now regularly calling. Streets near the dock are lined with vendors selling local trinkets and a variety of fresh fruits.
After a day in Santa Marta the ship departed just after 5:00 p.m. for the San Blais islands where we will anchor and dingy in to shore.
We are underway having departed Fort Lauderdale at 9:00 pm on Tuesday evening. The weather is warm but rainy and very windy. For the past 12 hours the wind has been over 60 kph making for a very bumpy ride. The ship is very stabilized but you do need to establish your sea legs as you walk sideways down the hall. Has not stopped us from enjoying all the ship has to offer from a food and beverage standpoint. Last night’s sail away party was a great start.
Below are pictures of the Crow’s Nest which overlooks the bow of the ship and is a great vantage point to see dead ahead and shots of the carpets which keep reminding you of where the front and the back of the ship are located. They are also colour coordinated to port (red) and starboard (green).