Tigger Travels - Family Adventure Journal
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Lago Gatun and the Panama Canal Crossing! Part 3 -
Panama Cruise January 2011 - Last Trans-canal trip planned for the Disney Wonder at this time.
The Gatun Lake was, for many years, the largest man made lake on earth. It covers 165 square miles and once complete it took seven years to fill. It is the catch basin for numerous streams and rivers (including the Changris) and the nearly twelve feet (just under four meters) of rain that fall annually. In fact, December of 2010 there was 42 inches that fell in nine weeks and, for the first time in the history of the canal, it was briefly closed. (see the next page on the Culebra cut and the closure of the Freedom bridge)
One of our table mates, Ray, said that the last time he crossed the Panama Canal, he saw alligators and cayman throughout the lake and canal. We were not able to recognize any. The lake was also very muddy. This was due to the recent rains and a large amount of dredging that has happened in the past couple years of large amounts of soil rich in red clay. This dredged material is discharged on the far side of the lake and has been resulting in this reddish muddy water.
The islands that you see in the lake are the tops of what used to be mountains. Being a man made lake, it used to be a large valley. Just inside the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side on the right is the Gatun dam. It curves in to the lake and spills on the far side down about 70 feet. Gatun lake is the highest point of the canal.
Another feature that is visible in the lake is the sets of canal markers. These look like small white lighthouses. When you see the first one on the right, watch behind it to the right and you will see another up a hill in a clearing. The ships use these to guide through the canal. Watch forward to see the ones currently in use and they will point a straight path directly up the center of the leg of the canal. Every straight leg has a set of markers for each direction. The bridge crew line up to the markers and stay straight to avoid any under water obstacles.
The Disney Wonder traveled through the lake at about 9 or 10 miles per hour according to my TomTom. They hoped to go a bit faster due to the lateness of our passage through the locks but a slow moving tanker ahead of us prevented any make up of time.
The shores of the lake, as far as we could see, was densely covered with tropical trees and brush of all kinds. It looked so thick, many people commented how difficult it would have been to carve a path through. It is difficult to imagine Captain and Pilot Balboa in 1513 first finding the Pacific from the Atlantic coast approach. As thick as it was they would have taken many days to cut a path large enough to allow a man to walk through.
2011 Disney Wonder Panama Canal Cruise Index
Daily Navigator/Iwa Published Schedule