Workhorses of the Panama Canal

Among the largest floating cranes in the world, “Titan” was built by Hitler’s Germany and claimed by the United States as war booty. Titan entered service in Panama in 1999 after having served for 50 years in Long Beach, California. The crane can be floated into the locks of the Panama Canal and is used for the heavy lifting required to maintain the doors of the locks of the canal. It can lift 350 metric tons and is one of the “strongest” cranes in the world.

Titan Crane

Titan Crane

Container cranes (also container handling gantry crane or ship-to-shore crane) is a type of large dockside gantry crane found at Panama Canal container terminals for loading and unloading containers from container ships.

A Lineup of Cranes

A Lineup of Cranes

 

Centennial Bridge on a Rainy Day

Barely Visible – a surreal image of Centennial Bridge over Panama Canal.

The Centennial Bridge is the second major road crossing of the Panama Canal, the first being the Bridge of the Americas, built to significantly alleviate congestion on the latter on the Pan-American Highway.

Centennial Bbridge on a Rainy Day

Centennial Bridge on a Rainy Day

Opening the Gates

 

The gates remain closed until the water level in the present lock reaches the level of the forward lock at the Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Gates Closed

Gates Closed

The gates start to open …

Gates Opening

Gates Opening

Opening the Locks

Opening the Locks

Open Gates

Open Gates

Once the gates are fully open, it is clear sailing to Lake Gatun

Open Sailing

Open Sailing

A catamaran leads the car-container ship through the locks and onto Lake Gatun

A Catamaran Leads

A Catamaran Leads

 

Mules

From the outset, it was considered an important safety feature that ships be guided through the Panama Canal lock chambers by electric locomotives, known as mulas (mules, named after the animals traditionally used to cross the isthmus of Panama), running on the lock walls. These mules are used for side-to-side and braking control in the locks, which are narrow relative to modern-day ships. Forward motion into and through the locks is actually provided by the ship’s engines and not the mules. A ship approaching the locks first pulls up to the guide wall, which is an extension of the center wall of the locks, where it is taken under control by the mules on the wall before proceeding into the lock. As it moves forward, additional lines are taken to mules on the other wall. With large ships, there are two mules on each side at the bow, and two each side at the stern—eight in total, allowing for precise control of the ship.

The mules themselves run on rack tracks with broad gauge, 5 ft, to which they are geared. Traction is by electric power, supplied through a third rail laid below surface level on the land side. Each mule has a powerful winch, operated by the driver; these are used to take two cables in or pay them out in order to keep the ship centered in the lock while moving it from chamber to chamber.

Working Mule

Working Mule

Close to the Edge

The old canal locks can barely fit the huge container ships – they often come too close to the edge with hardly room to spare. With as little as 2 ft (60 cm) of clearance on each side of a ship, considerable skill is required on the part of the mule operators.

Little Room to Spare

Little Room to Spare

 

Closing the Gate

The lock gates for the third set of locks (expansion) on Panama Canal basically consist of two orthotropic steel plates (skins) held apart by truss structures and plates forming the compartmented buoyancy chamber that, when submerged, reduce the operational weight carried by two rolling wagons. These steel structures, as large as 187 by 105 by 33 feet, are supported by an upper wagon, running on rails situated in the gate recess, and a lower wagon, running on rails situated in the lock chamber. The gates are opened and closed by drive systems consisting of cables, winches, and sheaves.

Closing the Gate

Closing the Gate

Gate Closed

Gate Closed

Being Led Through the Canal

Under the old lock system at Panama Canal, tugboats’ engagement with ships has been limited to guiding them in open waterways and to the entrance of the locks, where powerful locomotives known as “mules” take over, latching on and keeping the vessels in place as the water level is raised or lowered.

There are no mules in the new locks setup. Instead tugs approach a ship, latch on at both the bow and stern and accompany it inside the 1,400-foot locks. With the lock doors closed on a 1,200-foot New Panamax, there’s little room to operate for the roughly 90-foot tugs positioned both fore and aft.

The shipping vessels run on their own propulsion throughout, and are under the control of a canal pilot who goes on board to steer. Communication between the tugs and the pilot are key.

A tugboat gently guides a large ship through the Aqua Clara Lock, Panama Canal

Being Led

Being Led

Entering the Lock

Entering the Lock

Pulling Away

Pulling Away

Waiting

The Panama Canal is undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks of Panama. However, despite its prominence, few people know that Lake Gatun, situated in the beautiful valley of the Chagres River, forms a major part of the Canal, carrying ships for 33 km of their transit across the Isthmus of Panama. The lake also provides the millions of gallons of water necessary to operate the Panama Canal locks each time a ship passes through, as well as supplying drinking water for Panama City and Colon.

Lake Gatun is a vast artificial lake formed between 1907 and 1913 by the building of the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River. At the time it was created, Gatun was the largest man-made lake and dam in the world.

Ships waiting in Lake Gatun to enter the Aqua Clara Lock …..

Waiting

Waiting