Three Canals and the Moon

On the Panama Canal!

Among the major news items this week was the Ever Given, the enormous ship causing havoc in the Suez Canal by obstructing boat traffic by getting stuck in the shore at an angle that prevented the passing of any other vessel. After five days of eleven tugboats tugging at the vessel, while other equipment and people dug at the sand embedding it, help was anticipated from the full moon on Monday night.

Around the world, the moon pulls the tides in our oceans to and from all our beaches. Every day, there are two high tides, which are the highest during the full moon. Sure enough, the extra lift given to the vessel by the rising tide on Monday was enough, with the tugboats tugging and the land equipment digging, to free the Ever Given and release it. That was the same moon that shone into my eastern skylight during moonrise on Sunday evening and through the western skylight as the moon set Monday at dawn.

The news focus on the Suez Canal turned my memory to a trip we made in the spring of 2011 to the country of Panama, where we traveled the Panama Canal. We flew into the city of Panama on the Pacific coast, then spent several days exploring some small nearby islands. Our timing was planned around the availability of boarding a passenger ship to travel the canal one-way to its other end on the Atlantic, actually the Caribbean. The trip was to be about ten hours to travel about fifty miles. I had a good book with me, assuming the view would be interesting for about an hour, maybe two, after which I’d settle into my book in the shade.

The entire trip was fascinating and I didn’t read a page of my book! Do you know anything about canals and the locks they use to allow boats to travel in both directions at the same time? I’d traveled on a French canal, the Canal de Midi, on a boat we’d rented for a week, so was familiar with the process, small scale, but the process used for enormous vessels in the Panama Canal was at such a different scale that it was mind blowing.

In France, we would motor our canal boat into a marked section with metal gates that would close ahead of us and behind us. We would secure our boat to lines on one side, then would wait for water to fill our section, raising our boat to a higher level. When we reached the higher level, one of us would get out and rotate the mechanism that opened the gate in front of us, allowing us to continue on until we reached the next set of locks. It felt a little scary the first time, but we learned to trust the process.

Think of it as an elevator for ships. In the Panama Canal, between the Atlantic and the Pacific, the locks raised the ships 85 feet using three locks to reach Miraflores Lake before passing through another three locks to lower them to the level of the other ocean. A strong memory from the Panama Canal was watching one person in a small rowboat pulling a line from one of the giant container ships to lead it and secure it to a line from the land above. It was important to have each vessel firmly secured to prevent its movement when water was rushing in or out to fill or empty the lock.

To return to the Ever Given, about fifty ships successfully pass through the Suez Canal each day and have for decades. Supposedly, it was a combination of a strong wind storm (though they are not uncommon in that area) and human error that caused this ship to go aground. Likewise, it was a combination of human labor and a full moon that released it. As human beings, we are continually reminded of the importance of working with nature.

Published by cyrein

Quaker, adventurer, wife, mom, sister, friend, special ed teacher, learner

2 thoughts on “Three Canals and the Moon

  1. This is one of my favorites — the massive undertaking is remarkable. And the cosmic forces affecting the planet brought us through. We are partners with the moon, with nature, and the universe. Many layers to this story.


    1. Thanks, Barrie. Yes, fascinating to me, too, even more when I was actually there. I hope we get to see the Suez Canal when we’re in Egypt in November!


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