Monday, July 25, 2011

The Gatun locks in the Panama Canal

Saturday night blurred into Sunday morning. I got home at 2:15am, showered, set my alarm for 3:30, and laid down. I think I slept all of 30 minutes. Up out the door by 4:15 am. Destination? The Gatun locks in the Panama Canal in Colon. 
I get on the Panama-Colon bus at 4:30 am....and wait another 45 mins for the bus to move. Now when I say bus, I'm not talking about a nice, smooth, air conditioned greyhound. I'm talking about one of the modified school buses that are abundant down here....noisy, hot, and bumpy. But you can't beat the price: $2.15 for a 2 1/2 hour ride to Colon. 

Now, my cousin Ricky told me what to do, what to say, and what bus stop to get off at. What he didn't tell me is that the bus was going to move at a snail's pace, stop and every local stop, and squeeze as many people on as possible at each stop. And then, even though I knew the name of the stop and had asked the driver to tell me when to get off, there was this fear of not knowing where I was or where I was going or how long it really took to get there. So, yes, there was some nervousness. But, finally...I made it. I see Ricky waiting for me and get off to start my next adventure. I am getting the true Panama experience!

So off we go to the locks. Ricky is a great tour guide....showing me where he used to work and pointing out the area where they are building another canal. We meet up with his friend Bobby, who is the captain of one of the tugboats. These are the tugs that guide the ships into place as they approach the locks.
The precision that is involved in this process is amazing!! There isn't a traditional wheel that the captain uses....just about everything on this boat is computerized. You can see in these pictures...the 2 joysticks on either side of the captain is what he uses to steer. These new tugs can move 360 degrees around!!

Once the ships are in place, these "mules" on the sides of the locks attach themselves by rope to the ship. As the ship moves through the locks, these mules (there are eight total....2 on each side at the bow and 2 on each side at the stern) keep the ship in place so it won't scrap against the sides of the locks. The canal locks are only 110 ft across.

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