This photo of the third step of the Gatan Locks on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal shows the two channels in the locks, the bow of our ship in the right, a container ship in the left, and Gatan Lake beyond. Today’s transit of the canal was very different from what I experienced thirty years ago. Today, I had read The Path Between the Seas and knew what I wanted to see; the ship brought on board a canal expert that explained things as we passed, and we were given a certificate authenticating our passage.
Thirty years ago, I remember foolishly thinking how convenient it was that Lake Gatan was there to provide over half the length of the canal. I didn’t know that Lake Gatan was made by damming the Chagas River near the Gatan Locks. Fifteen villages had to be relocated, but this solved the problem of the Chagas River flooding during the rainy season, a problem that had stymied the French when they were trying to build the canal. I especially wanted to see the Culebra Cut. This is a mountain that had to have a nine mile, twenty-five-story-deep channel cut through it. Earth from this cut was moved by rail to build the earthen dam that created the lake. It all is an engineering marvel, especially considering it was completed in 1914. About nine hours after we entered the Gatan Locks, were exited through the two locks on the Pacific side, the Pedro Miguel and the Miraflores.
Once we were through the first set of locks and into the lake, I went to a lovely chapel service which began with singing Great is Thy Faithfulness, followed by the Apostle’s Creed. I felt right at home. The homily was based on John 20:19 which says that the disciples had the doors locked because they were afraid of the Jews, but Jesus entered and said “Peace be with you.” I leave you with His words.