Tuesday, June 9, 2015

We Became Part Of History.......Panama Canal Expansion Project

In a world where bigger is better and excess is the norm it's no wonder that we've outgrown the famous Panama Canal. When the canal first opened in 1914 the term "Panamamax" was spouted off for the first time. Simply stated, panamamax is the maximum size a ship can be to safely transit the canal.  Any ships that don't fit into the specifications would not be allowed to make the transit and instead would need to take the longer route. Currently the maximum length of a ship to pass through the canal is 950 feet while the width is 106 feet, although are exceptions to these rules. A ships height is also a factor since it has to pass under the Bridge Of The Americas but dimensions vary depending on water depth.

These days Panama is all abuzz with the birth of the term, "New Panamax," as a new set of locks prepares to dazzle the world. Known as the Panama Canal Expansion Project the intent is to double the capacity of the canal by 2016.  The new set of locks will accommodate much larger ships plus increase the volume of ships that pass through daily.

Plans for the project include the following:

To built two new locks, one on the Atlantic and the other on the Pacific side. Each will have three chambers with water saving basins.

Excavate new channels and widen the current ones.

Accommodate ships 1-1/2 times the current size to pass through with twice as much cargo.

Raise the maximum operating level of Gatun Lake.

Ports around the globe are having to be revamped also in order to allow for the larger vessels.  Renovations include dredging, blasting and bridge raising which is being done in order for the ports to handle the New Panamax ships.  The project was first proposed by Panamanian President Torrijos in 2006 but didn't officially begin until the following year.  Originally it was hoped that the project would be completed by 2014 in conjunction with the 100th year anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.  But with various setbacks and strikes the project was never done and is now scheduled to open in December of this year.

Never forget this day in history

Lots of People!

The lines snake around
Finally on the bus, already a little wet

We are in one of the locks!

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to make history by visiting and standing in the massive locks before they were filled with water. The site was open to the public for a brief period allowing more than 45,000 visitors to marvel at the construction. Our day began with a drive into Panama City to the site where we managed to find a rather close parking spot. We followed the crowds and took our position in the long line with no end in sight.  Extremely well organized for Panama, the volunteer staff provided FREE water and there were plenty of porta-potties along the route too.  The vivacious, cheerleader-like staff wore bright yellow tee shirts that read "Somos Parte De La Historia,"  translated means, "we are part of history."  The excitement was evident in their faces as they escorted the crowds from buses that brought us all into the massive locks.  Soon after the skies opened up and it began to pour with buckets of rain dumping down on our heads.  Thankfully my dear husband remembered to bring along an umbrella which helped to at least keep our heads dry. But as the rain inched up it soon was above our shoe level as we trudged through ankle high waters.  Perhaps this was Mother Natures way of doing her part as she helped to fill the locks with millions of gallons of water.

This is a huge lock!

This is where the water will drain out

A view of one of the huge gates that
will slide out to close the lock

This is the rail the gate will slide out on

But the spirit of the crowds and the staff never dampened as people stood in awe viewing this spectacle of engineering.  The shear enormity of the humongous locks and gates that would once again prove to the world that Panama is something special. As we looked over at the buses they appeared like tiny bugs compared to the sky high locks behind them.

Mother Nature is trying to fill the lock
with her rains!

Louise and Terry trying to stay dry

The busses look so small in the huge locks

A view down showing two locks

An incredible experience
Looking out toward the Bridge of the Americas

After our tour inside the Locks, they took us to the end
so we could look down the three locks.  This was a massive project

During our time in Panama we've been fortunate enough to view all of  the locks.  From the more famous Miraflores Locks with its viewing platforms to the unobtrusive San Pedro Miguel locks that follow the roadway.  And then over to the Caribbean side for a peek at the Gatun Locks along with the construction site of the expansion project nearby. And then we took to the high seas as we boarded a 42-foot catamaran for a real life canal transit.  Thankful to friends that let us tag along we spent several days going through Gatun, San Pedro and Miraflores before docking in Panama City. What a thrill to see the locks from the inside out where Clyde even served as a line handler.  And now as Panama prepares to open up the new locks, once again we were there up close and personal as we trudged our way......along the gringo trail.

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