Very interesting read, thank you!GLOVIS CAPTAIN is about to enter the Gulf of Panama and will anchor up this evening just off the entrance to the canal.
She will have paid a fee to jump the queue and so I am pretty confident she will transit the canal tomorrow.
In the wee small hours of tomorrow morning a canal pilot will board the ship and she will then head up towards the first set of locks, the Miraflores locks. This is the first of a set of two locks which will lift the ship a total of 85ft. After Miraflores the ship will motor the short distance to the second set of locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks. The ship will now be level with Gatun lake and she can make her way to the final set of locks, the Gatun locks which will then lower the ship 85ft to the Caribbean in 3 stages.
The Panama Canal provides a shortcut for shipping travelling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and vice-versa. Instead of having to route to the south of South America and then back up, a distance of about 10,000 nm the canal offers a mere 51 mile transit. This comes at a big (normally well into 6 figures USD) price, calculated by a complicated formula, designed to maximise revenue to the canal operators. The original canal opened in 1914 and was an immediate success. In the first year it handled about 1000 ships and by 2008 it was handling nearly 15,000. These figures alone don’t tell the whole story because ships were getting bigger and bigger and one of the limits to the size of ships being built was the size of the locks in the Panama Canal. Ships that were built to fit (just) into the locks were described as Panamax ships. That is why so many cruise ships, container ships and car carriers are 32.3m wide and have a draft of under 12.6m.
The expansion of global trade and the increase in shipping meant that the canal was becoming a bottleneck with frequent delays and queues of ships waiting to transit. Fees for queue jumping became ever more expensive and ever more necessary to avoid delays. Alternatives to the canal were seriously being considered eg the NW passage and a number of alternative canal routes that avoided Panama completely. Panama relies on the income from the canal and could not afford for any of the alternatives plans to be viable and so the plan for the expansion to the existing canal system was commenced in 2007 and completed in 2016. This introduced two new sets of locks built parallel to the existing locks. Significantly, they now allow ships up to 366m long, 49m wide and with a draft of up to 15m to transit the canal. The new locks are of a modern design which use less water and are regarded as safer and more reliable too.
So a Panamax ship like GLOVIS CAPTAIN will use the old locks - Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun locks to transit whereas bigger ships like GLOVIS SUN have to use the new locks at Cocoli and Agua Clara.
The canal is big business and so is generally a pretty slick operation entirely dependent on how much you have paid. The Tesla ships are normally booked in several weeks in advance and are given a pretty high priority. Delays of more than 24 hours are rare and normally we can expect the ships to start their northbound transit in the small hours of the morning and be in the Caribbean around 8 hours later.
There are webcams at the locks so you can watch the ships going through. The link to the webcams are here There are plenty of youtube videos and documentaries on the canal, its operation and construction, many of which are very good.
For GLOVIS CAPTAIN, I expect her to be at Miraflores around 6-7 am UK time tomorrow. By the time she reaches Gatun locks it will be daylight. I expect her to be in the Caribbean shortly after 3pm UK time.
Thanks to @Mister J for providing the above graphic.
Yes, it is quite narrow in places but particularly in the Culebra Cut. Here, 2 way traffic is not possible with the large ships using the new locks. Traffic is controlled by radio from the control centre direct to the canal pilots which are onboard every vessel - no exceptions. In order to reduce the number of conflicts they have introduced a wave system - a northbound wave of 5 or 6 ships followed by a wave of southbound ships - twice a day. There are holding areas (anchorages) in Gatun Lake if you miss the wave or are held up for any reason. The old locks allow for 2 way traffic but the new locks are one way only. As a result, it is rare to encounter opposing traffic in Gatun Lake, and although the channel appears narrow, it is well marked and dredged and would allow ships to pass quite comfortably.Mr. Miserable, I presume the canal is two way passage so that both directions can go freely at all times without worry of opposing traffic?
How is traffic regulated in the narrow passages of Gatun lake? Looks like some sections are perhaps 500 meters wide?