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Posted By Robin & Jim

Once again, I'm sorry we haven't blogged in a long time but we were on a trip through the Panama Canal (plus a few other stops), then to visit our Dads before finally getting back home to our boat in the Keys last night.  Now we're in high gear getting provisions vacuum-packed and stowed for about two and a half months in the Exumas (far Bahamas).  We still have a healthy to-do list before we can leave, on top of unpacking, laundry, and catching up after being away since March 5th.

Why would boaters go on a cruise ship, you ask?  Our DeFever Cruisers club decided to hold its annual Rendezvous aboard a Holland America Panama Canal cruise, and we had 54 intrepid trawler folks with us (including Arthur and Ruth DeFever - he's still designing boats at 92).  We especially wanted to see the Panama Canal - and it was truly a thrill!  Frankly I prefer a boat that I'm driving, but the cruise was just lovely and we were well taken care of, with stops in some pretty places - so what's not to like?

Our ship is a "smaller" cruise ship - the MAASDAM is 770' long and 101' wide, which means we have 4.5' of space on each side of the ship in the 110' wide Panama Canal.

maasdam

The Panama Canal itself was the real highlight - completed in 1913 and operating continuously since then with only two very short interruptions in service.  I was so excited that I was in position with my camera on the ship's  top deck at 0515, before the Canal Pilot was even aboard.

gatun locks

 The first flight of three locks on the Caribbean side are the Gatun locks, with a combined lift of 85'.  Once lifted, ships transit the man-made Gatun Lake and the very narrow Culebra Cut to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks on the Pacific side. 

As ships enter the locks, a row boat comes out to catch a heaving line from the ship and connect it to a heaving line from the special train-like Mules that run along each side of the Canal.  Although it seems very strange to use a row boat in the sophisticated operation of the Canal, handling small-diameter lines in a confined area would probably be an entanglement hazard for an outboard motor. 

rowboat

The Mule's job is to keep the ship centered in the lock chamber, but the ship moves in and out of the lock under its own power. 

mules

The entire transit of the Canal took about 8 hours, passing close by the thick jungle in Gatun Lake.  We marveled at the achievement of constructing the Canal over 100 years ago under incredibly difficult circumstances, with malaria and yellow fever taking the lives of thousands and thousands of workers.  The Canal has quite a storied history, well worth reading about.

DFC group