January 11, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 6

Day 6 - Traversing the Panama Canal. We line up with many other ships to enter the first locks on the Atlantic side of the canal. The canal operates basically the same today as it did when it first opened in 1914. Since that time over 1 million vessels have used the canal. The process is slow but steady. All ship movements are scheduled with precision to maximize traffic flow.

The day is mostly sunny, with high humidity, and temperatures in the middle nineties. Rain stays away until about 30 minutes after we complete our transfer. Throughout the day the staff is serving water, juices, and fruit snacks in all the areas where passengers are likely to be watching the canal process.

One of the more obscure facts about ships using the canal is that total control and responsibility of the vessel is turned over to the canal pilots. This is in sharp contrast to harbor pilots required in most ports of the world where they serve in an advisory capacity with the captain still in control and still ultimately responsible for the ship.

Work is nearing completion on a third set of locks which will double the capacity of the canal and allow much larger ships to pass. Opening is expected in May of this year. Not surprisingly, many of the newest ships including Oasis class ships are too large for the new larger locks.

In addition to the new locks, a new highway bridge is being built on the Atlantic side, and after its completion, the existing bridge will be removed as there is not enough clearance.

As we enter the Pacific, there are about 15 to 20 ships waiting to enter the canal. We anchor overnight about five miles from Panama city, often called the Dubai of Central America. Tenders, actually ship lifeboats, will run for a few hours tonight and most of the day tomorrow to the closest harbor, Fuerte Amador.

The dining room is decorated with a Panamanian theme, the staff are all dressed in white jackets and wearing white Panama hats which are also provided to all the guests.

I learn at dinner, that at least one passenger was removed from the ship yesterday after suffering a heart attack, a second passenger suffered a broken leg, and a third a broken arm. I can't imagine the ship Doctor's charges for any of these. The retired oral surgeon that went to the medical facility for some aspirin for a head ache was charged $95 for a handful of aspirin and a quick check of his blood pressure.

Our entertainment tonight is Shirley Dominguez, a composer and harpist from Montevideo, Uruguay. She performs world wide and has had contracts with Holland America for 15 years. She just came from another HAL ship today, and will be leaving tomorrow. Not what many of would think of as typical cruise ship entertainment, but in my opinion definitely a step up from the ear deafening noise produced by many "musicians" today. Obviously many passengers agree as the theater was full.

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