My Trans-Atlantic Crossing
In 14 days, I sailed from Mallorca, Spain to Colon, Panama. That’s a voyage of 5,524 nautical miles, spanning 5 countries, 4 islands, and 2 continents. Along the way I got to see 3 nautical icons up close: the Strait of Gibraltar, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Panama Canal!
Strait of Gibraltar
I have sailed the Strait of Gibraltar before, taking a high-speed ferry from Spain’s Cadiz province to the Moroccan city of Tangiers for the day. And yet I was still thrilled as we passing through the Strait of Gibraltar! I could simultaneously see both the European and African coasts — Cool fish!
The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is only 7.7 miles (14.3 km) at its narrowest point and 3,000 ft deep at its deepest. It takes about 35 minutes to get to the other side.
Most fascinating is that the Strait is actually closing due to tectonic plate movements (but no worries, we won’t be around to see it or the subsequent evaporation of the Mediterranean Sea).
The name Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Tāriq, which means “mountain of Tariq” and refers to what is known as the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock, standing just shy of 1,400 feet, was formerly known as one of the Pillars of Hercules.
Today, about 30,000 Gibraltarians live at the base of The Rock. A British overseas territory, Spain still contests control of the strategic location and has proposed sharing sovereignty. In 2002, a referendum was held, but a whopping 99% of Gibraltarians voted to remain solely a part of the British Empire.
During the crossing, we were in the middle of the ocean for a full 5 days with no land in sight. Friends asked me if this made me nervous – Nope! I loved the idea of being far and away from everywhere!
The second youngest of the five oceans, the Atlantic was created 130 million years ago, after the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. The Atlantic Ocean is also the second largest ocean, covering 22% of the Earth’s surface and 26% of its water surface. It is the saltiest major ocean.
The average depth of the Atlantic is more than 12,000 ft (nearly 4,000 meters) and its greatest depth is a whopping 27,490 ft in the Puerto Rico trench. The Atlantic’s widest stretch spans Brazil and Sierra Leone, totaling 4,000 miles.
Multiple bodies of water are adjacent to the Atlantic, including the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Hudson Bay, the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea; the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Celtic Sea, and the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal. Whew – that’s a lot of water!
Once I arrived, I was super thrilled to visit the Panama Canal! The Canal – all 48 miles of it – joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, saving ships 14,000-miles of sailing around the tip of South America.
The canal project was initatiated by the French in 1880, but they abandoned the endeavor after nearly 22,000 workers died. The Americans then took up the challenge and completed the building during 10-year period, 1904-1914. In 1999, the Panamanian government took over full administration of the canal.
To date, more than 800,000 ships have passed through the canal. Between 35-40 ships pass through the canal every day, taking t 8-10 hours to traverse the series of artificial lakes, man-made channels and three locks:
- Miraflores Locks: Double-lock system with a total lift of 54 feet.
- Pedro Miguel Lock: Single lock with a lift of 31 feet.
- Gatun Locks: 3-stage system dropping the ships back down to sea level.
The canal is currently undergoing an extensive expansion program, due to be completed by its centennial in 2014. The expansion will include 2 new locks, one for each ocean, as well as widening and deepening of current channels to allow for larger ships to pass through.
While I was at the Miraflores Locks a cruise ship passed through. Clearance on each side of the ship was a mere .4” = now that’s a snug fit!
Want to see the canal for yourself? Check out the Live Canal Cameras! http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html
This entry was posted on Monday, December 19th, 2011 and is filed under Travel Favorites.