The anticipation which has dominated the last few days has given way to what could be described as a perfect morning. Gazing southeast from our anchorage across a mirror-like sea, the port of Colon at the northwestern terminus of the Panama Canal is before us. Mist rises from the golden surface, promising a tropical steam bath on an already hot day. A flock of pelicans flies below in perfect V-formation. Their wing tips gently tease ripples from the surface as if taunting the waters in their stillness, looking for fish. Aside the muted morning sounds of a working ship in the tropics, it is purely quiet and serene.
But this is not to last. We catch sound of a whistle. It comes from a small black and white boat and signals the arrival of the canal pilot. She embarks by accommodation ladder on the starboard side and moves purposefully to the bridge. Her job is to direct our crew during every minute of today’s eight hour transit to the Pacific. It is disappointing not to stop today for a visit to Cristobal or Balboa, to walk The Bridge of The Americas or to sample the local empanadas, yuca frita or sancocho stew. A Canal transit is all business.
Placed in service in 1914, 2013 completes the Canal’s 100th operational year. We are one of almost a million ships to make the transit in that time. As an engineering achievement The Panama Canal is often considered one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world. High elevation runoff feeds the central Gatún Lake. That runoff is emptied in both directions through three sets of locks, first raising us through Gatún, then lowering again through Pedro Miguel and Milaflores.
After today we are only 30 days from completing this voyage. Western North America, Hawaii and the islands of the South Pacific are still ahead. But today we took a shortcut around South America. And we find ourselves thinking of home.