Panama Canal Celebrates One-MILLIONTH Passage

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Considering how slowly ships appear to move through the Panama Canal, it seems almost unbelievable that Canal management recently celebrated the one-millionth transit through the locks.  Then again, 96 years of 24/7 ops start to add up after a while.

That’s not Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas docked – she’s actually moving through the canal. Photo: ACP (obviously).

My dad would have been amazed.  He was born in the Canal Zone in 1927 because my grandfather was stationed there as a senior administrator for Canal operations.  We’ve all heard the stories of the incredible toll exacted to complete the Canal, not only monetarily but in human suffering and lives lost.  What we heard about growing up mostly was how smoothly efficient and almost magical the Zone is given the time and energy saved by all those ships going through instead of around.  My favorite Zone Fun Fact is that throughout much of the S-shaped region, the Pacific is actually east of the Atlantic.

One million vessels through the locks started making more sense after I did some research because it turns out it doesn’t take that much time at all to transit the entire system after all.  In fact, the Panama Canal Authority’s optimal transit target for each vessel is just 9 hours from one ocean to the other.  Your mileage may vary depending on a larger number of factors than you’d probably imagine.  Delays are based on the number of vessels in line, possible mechanical failures and other issues . . . but as it turns out, not so much on the weather (although the Canal was forced to close for several weeks due to damage from a series of earthquakes in 1931).

Not too much going on weather-wise at the Canal today, which is just how they like it. Image: ImpactWeather Gmaps.

I spoke with a representative of the PCA and when I asked her about the impact the weather has on the Zone, she said that except for the impact a tropical system might have on the region, ops continue 24/7/365 rain, shine or otherwise.  Despite her claim, the PCA did install a new radar system in 2003.  Her point, however, is well taken – high winds and reduced visibility from heavy rain might slow things down a bit, but at the Panama Canal, they don’t ever like to actually stop.

Which makes that million seem even more believable.

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