When I walked away from my career in hopes of adding some more excitement and adventures to my life, the experience described in this posting is exactly the kind of unique situation I had in mind. Of course I’d never thought specifically about a steamship ride before, but I absolutely love fact that I got to do something so unique that had never even entered my mind previously.
On January 22nd, we boarded the Cap Blanche at the Panama Canal and rode all the way to Valparaiso, Chile. I took about 500 pictures during my 10 days on the ship, so I hope I did a good job organizing this incredible experience into text with the highlight photos. What a way to start the trip though! At the north end of the Panama Canal in the Caribbean Sea, then going through all the locks in the canal to end up in the Pacific. It’s actually about an 18-hour process from one end of the canal to the other, costing the owners of our vessel $128k in fees just to go through. (Anyone want to dig a canal with me somewhere?)
Why this picture above? It’s just one of those moments right after we pulled away from the pier and the thought is pounding through my head that “THIS IS ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS I HAVE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE!!!” We were waiting just outside the Panama Canal with the 92 other ships I counted, ready to start the voyage to South America. Not sure if this comes across clearly in text, but I was absolutely beaming with excitement at this point.
This is one of the busiest shipping points in the entire world, so it's not like we could just pull away from the pier and start gliding down the river. We were instructed to set anchor just outside the harbor in the Caribbean for about 20 hours before actually gaining clearance to start going through the canal.
So it wasn't until our 2nd day on the ship that the pictures below help recreate the amazing experience of actually going through the Panama Canal. A special "pilot" is brought on board the ship to help the crew navigate through the canal in this very slow and cautious 18-hour process. It’s very quiet, everyone is very careful, and as you get to each lock, it's an amazing process of lowering our ship downward about 30 feet at a time by letting the water out of the lock. The Cap Blanche just barely fits through with about 2 or 3 feet to spare on each side as it is guided slowly by cables and tourists gather in nearby restaurants to watch the action.
(Pic above: A look at one of 6 trains that used cables to keep the ship at the proper distance from the walls, and the inside of one of the gates as we are being lowered.)
Aside from getting the deal of a lifetime transporting myself and my bike to Chile, (thank you again Peter and your contacts!) it was also a ton of fun to hang around the ship, get to know the crew, and see how things work. For starters, Peter and I each had our own private sleeping quarters, which I guess is actually pretty standard for these type of ships. That came as a nice surprise to me though, as I had envisioned some kind of “bunk” group sleeping quarters before we got the good news.
Pictures below show what “Crew Room 308” was like though. Clean and simple. Just perfect for being rocked to sleep every night by the soft Pacific swells. (Well, I actually took about 3 naps per day, too : )