Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 24, 2017

Driving My Mercedes To Italy – Day 12 Transiting Panama!

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 6.52.57 PM

The Duesseldorf Express cargo ship in the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal

COLON, Panama

The Duesseldorf Express cargo ship spent the night in port here, after a 12-hour transit of the Panama Canal. The ship is stopping over en route from Los Angeles to Genoa, Italy, with my old Mercedes in a container onboard.

The ship arrived a bit ahead of schedule early Tuesday, waited for its turn in line, and then made the 77-kilometer (48-mile) canal journey without a hitch.

The canal authority operates webcams at the Centennial Bridge and Miraflores and Gatun locks. So I knew it might be possible to actually see this ship, that for 11 days has been nothing but a blip on the tracking screens until now. The bridge and Miraflores cameras wouldn’t load, so I didn’t catch it until the final locks – at Gatun.

It was fascinating to watch the 930-foot-long ship be guided by tugs, and pulled by teams of locomotives on tracks alongside the locks. Once inside the first lock, the gates closed behind it, the water level was lowered and then the front gates opened, and the Duesseldorf Express was pulled into the next set of locks. They closed off, that lock was drained, the forward gates opened, and the ship pulled out and into the lake that empties into the Atlantic. The locks lowered the ship a good 30 feet from the level of the man-made Gatun Lake in the center of Panama. The Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of Panama had raised the ship up to the level of Gatun Lake.

(There are differences of a few feet in sea levels of the Pacific and Atlantic, on either side of Panama; but the real differences that the locks and Gatun Lake mitigate, are the variances in the tides – 20+ feet in the Pacific, just three feet in the Atlantic.)

When the ship was passing the town of Gamboa, along the shores of Gatun Lake, I remembered about 10 years ago when my daughter April and I happened to be kayaking in that area. Some insignificant piece of camera equipment fell overboard. I could see it in the clear waters, but couldn’t reach it. So I jumped in, to try and retrieve it. I couldn’t reach it either, so April splashed in too. We never did get it, but it seemed fun to be swimming in the Panama Canal – a body of water that never occurred to me to have any recreational use. I wondered why.

Our guide paddled over and said, “You ought to get out of there.”

“Yeah?” I said. “The water’s actually cool and refreshing.”

“This lake,” he said, gesturing with his free hand, “is infested with caimans.”

Caimans, if you don’t know, are an “alligatorid crocodilian” species. Their proliferation in this man-made lake is an unintended consequence of its artificial creation; the fresh water lake provides a perfect breeding habitat for them.


What “Infested with caimans” means

No wonder nobody swims in it. We were back in our kayak quickly.

Also leaving quickly, after overnighting at the docks in Colon, is the Duesseldorf Express. It was due to leave port in the early hours of Wednesday, to begin a day-long journey to its next stop, which is in Cartegena, Colombia.

Tomorrow, I will divulge some possibility interesting observations as to the exact whereabouts of my 450 SL on the Duesseldorf Express.

Jerry Garrett

May 24, 2017




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