The title of this piece is a palindrome — a string of letters that reads the same way forward and backward (minus the punctuation). It isn’t an accurate summary of the process that eventually led to “the path between the seas”, though; there were several men who had various plans. It is a canal that cuts through Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Roughly fifty miles long, it takes eight or nine hours to transit if you do it non-stop.
Sally and I made the journey aboard a ship called the Seven Seas Navigator, and it took quite a while longer than that, partly due to some scheduled leisure time on Gatún Lake, a midway point in the crossing. Here are excerpts from our journals, dated April 6, 2000:
Around 6:00 a.m., while we were still in bed, Sally sensed something different about the ship’s motion. She got up to check it out, and discovered we were lying just off the entrance to the Panama Canal… the ship was just outside the breakwater at Colón, the Atlantic entrance to the canal. We were having to wait our turn to go through. Eventually we inched our way to the first of the Gatún Locks, which we entered about 9:30.
A small powerboat joined the Seven Seas Navigator in the lock. We found out later that the small boat’s transit fee was $500; the Navigator’s fee was $61,000.
Sally and I roamed the decks, taking photos liberally. The transit of the Gatún Locks took over two hours; about halfway through, the mob of passengers at the bow had thinned out considerably. Some of the oldest passengers were wilting in the tropical sun (it was approximately 85° F); others simply lost interest and returned to the pool area to fight over the deck chairs…
When we left the third and final of the Gatún Locks, the ship chugged into Gatún Lake, rounded a corner, and anchored off the Gatún Yacht Club. It’s a yacht club in name only — it’s really just a few low buildings which provide minimal services to people off cruise ships. In other words, there are restrooms, a sad little bar, and some trinket stands.
There were activities available during the afternoon — a nature hike, and an opportunity to view other ships going through the locks — our ship got underway again around 5:30 p.m.
We didn’t linger over our dinner because we were anxious to get back to the bow for the next set of locks. The Pedro Miguel Locks are a single chamber at the southeastern end of the narrow Gaillard Cut. We arrived around 9:00 p.m., but the canal authorities compelled us to tie up for about an hour due to heavy ship traffic in the area.
A little before 11:00 p.m., the Navigator was underway again, crossing the relatively small Miraflores Lake. In minutes we had reached the entrance to the dual-chambered Miraflores Locks. As with the other locks, two guys in a rowboat brought out the lines attached to the strong cables which will hold us in position in the lock. The dock ends of the cables are fastened to “mules”, electric locomotives which run along a track, keeping the cables taut. (Most of our shipmates had also absorbed these bits of canal jargon and statistics. Conversation that evening had included phrases like “gross tonnage”, which aren’t in most people’s everyday vocabularies.)
It was after midnight when the ship cleared the second of the Miraflores Locks and had returned to sea level. Off the port bow we could see the skyline of Panama City, which is quite impressive (from a distance, anyway). Off the starboard bow, Sally noticed the constellation Scorpio. Dead ahead was the Bridge of the Americas, a span across the mouth of the canal and part of the Interamerican Highway. It was about 1:00 in the morning when our ship passed under the bridge and into the Pacific Ocean…