Coasting off Panama
Oriana arrived at Pacific side of Panama in the evening after two days sailing down the west coast of Mexico and Central America. The ship stayed at Balboa overnight so that the Panama Canal transit could be made during daylight when passengers could view the operation.
Balboa is at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal on the Gulf of Panama. (The canal administrative offices are located here in a building opened in 1914.) An eastward transit of the canal begins at Balboa harbor. The Panama Canal is 48 miles in length (77 km), built to link the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans so that ships would not have to sail around Cape Horn to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific.
Passing Isla Taboga
The Panama Canal opened to traffic in 1914 after 34 years of construction. (French interests worked on building the canal from 1880 to 1893. The United States sponsored the construction work from 1904 to 1914 and operated the canal until 1999.)
Oriana began the transit by sailing from Balboa under the Bridge of the Americas
(then called the Vincent Thatcher Ferry Bridge and recently opened in 1964), which carries the Pan-American Highway across the canal entrance. The first of three sets of locks encountered was Miraflores
, lifting the ship 54 ft (16.5 m) up from sea level in two stages. Next was Pedro Miguel
, a single-stage lock system that further lifted the ship another 31 ft (9.5 m). From Pedro Miguel Locks, Oriana sailed through the 8 mile (13 km) long Culebra Cut.
Texaco tanker en route to the Panama Canal
(Also known as Gaillard Cut for Col. David Gaillard who supervised its excavation.) The cut marks the continental divide in Panama, where ships transit through the channel at 312 ft. (95 m) above sea level. Excavating the rock cut took six years and, even with explosives and early earth moving equipment, was the most labor intensive part of the construction. The highest point along the canal is Gold Hill, 587 ft. (179 m), on the opposite side of the canal channel from 370 ft. Contractor's Hill. In the side of Contractor's Hill was the Gaillard Memorial Plaque, commemorating the completion of the Cut in 1913. (The plaque is now displayed at the Administration Building in Balboa, due to canal widening.)
A canal transit is a very labor intensive enterprise. A canal pilot on the bridge guides the ship through the canal. Ships are pulled through each lock by electric towing locomotives known as "mules".
Balboa Harbor and Bridge of the Americas
(One of the highlights of a canal transit is watching the towing locomotives in operation as they scoot along the lock, gather alongside the ship, tie on, and pull the ship along. Then they shuttle back for the next ship.) The second generation of electric locomotives, built by Mitsubushi, had just been introduced in 1964 to replace the original 1914 GE towing locomotives. Lock workers must coordinate with deckhands and locomotive operators as they tie on and cast off the towing locomotives. Control towers on each lock system control the lock doors and flooding and draining of the lock compartments.
At the town of Gamboa, Culebra Cut emptied into Gatun Lake.