I joined the E/V Nautilus in Colón, a busy industrial port on the Atlantic coast of Panama. Upon my arrival I had little time to get to know the crew and find my way around the ship; we were about to begin our transit through “the path between the seas”.
At 17:30, two Panamanian pilots boarded the ship and guided us towards the entrance of the first set of locks of the canal. There, we were joined by a dozen “line tenders” who were in charge of securing the Nautilus to the “electric mules” that controlled the sideways movement of the ship and guided it through the lock chambers. After three hours of careful operations, the three consecutive chambers filled, lifting the Nautilus 85 feet up to the Gatun Lake. Slowly, we transited the dark waters through a humid starless night. Guided by the pilot’s expertise and the navigation lights of other ships, the next set of locks became visible by midnight. After passing under the Centennial bridge, the lonesome Pedro Miguel lock lowered the ship to the small Miraflores lake: the gateway to the last two locks between the Nautilus and the Pacific. Light rain showers accompanied those of us who were still awake to see the final stretch. And a little after 2 am the Nautilus was navigating in the Pacific ocean for the first time.
Crossing the Panama Canal on my first day aboard the Nautilus was an incredible experience. It is hard to describe the awe and wonder evoked by such a feat of engineering; where men, water, and metal worked together to gracefully move a 1200 ton ship across the American continent. Throughout the 10 hours it took us to cross the canal, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who witnessed its construction, the thousands of men who died in the process, and the vast implications it had on the entire world.
Juan Mayorga is a Latin American Fisheries Fellow from Bogotá Colombia, and an expected MESM 2016. He is specializing in Coastal Marine Resource Management (CMRM), and is interning with the Ocean Exploration Trust doing deep ocean science and exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus this summer in Galápagos. To follow more stories aboard the Nautilus, visit the Nautilus Live website. To hear more from Juan, visit his website.