Monday 25 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Maiden transit of the Panama Canal


From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
Maiden transit of the Panama Canal.
24 April 2016

MS Expedition approaches Miraflores Locks
G Adventures expedition staff celebrate
The memorial plaque

Today I shared a first with G Adventures' flagship, MS Expedition. We both made our very first passage through the famous Panama Canal, that century-old engineering feat that joined – at great human cost – the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by digging a whopping (80km) trench across the Panama isthmus.

Normally a vessel of this size would be required to travel at night when conditions were safer. The big Panamax ships (built to maximum canal dimensions) are the ones allowed to travel during daylight hours for maximum visibility, but G Adventures insisted on delivering maximum enrichment to guests and secured a daytime slot at some expense.

I will detail the entire, lengthy process in a later article, but to give you some idea, it was basically an all-day affair, entering the first (southern) lock at Miraflores after breakfast and exiting the northern end at Colon just before dinner. Watching the big ships squeeze in and out of the 100-year-old, 32m wide concrete compartments, each filled with more than 100 million litres of water, is quite a spectacle. And to think this whole shebang was designed in the late 19th century, well before any decent computing devices were available, is quite amazing.

There was quite the celebration aboard ship as the MS Expedition entered the first lock around 9am. This whole process was viewed via webcam at

Cruise ships make up barely seven per cent of all canal traffic, but the Norwegian Pearl enjoys the distinction of paying the highest toll: US$490,000. This is calculated on the base rate of $5.10 per nett ton, but numerous add-ons, like pre-booking fee quickly add to the overall cost. The minimum costs for any vessel (eg private yachts) is currently US$800 and the lowest cost ever paid was 36c by Mr Richard Haliburton who swan the canal over the space of a week in 1928.

The fastest vessel through the canal was the USS Pegasus (a hydrofoil) that completed the transit in 2hr41mins in 1979. In its lifetime, more than one million vessels have transited the canal. Already expansion works are well progressed to allow even larger ships (from max width of 32m to 49m) which will, if claims prove true, effectively double the capacity of the canal.

Further reading: Cruising the World's Great Canals

All words and images (c) Roderick Eime

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