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Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth Makes Her Maiden Transit of the Panama Canal

January 28, 2011

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Queen Elizabeth, Updates

Well it’s certainly been another busy week Blogging, but when there’s so much going on, it’s great to be able to share the stories and pictures with you, especially on a Maiden World Voyage.

Last Saturday was another exciting first for Cunard’s latest Queen as she transited the Panama Canal for the first time. Every transit offers something special, but it certainly feels like being a part of history when it’s the first time for a ship to go through. This is the third transit I have written about on the We Are Cunard Blog so if you didn’t manage to catch the other two on Queen Victoria in 2009 and 2010 you can click on these links: -



Queen Elizabeth’s transit started early in the morning as the Pilot came on board along with officials and the Panama Canal Lecturer:

Queen Elizabeth was to be part of Convoy No. South S 12 Z, and the Transit would take the whole day, but what a stunning day it was as we approached the first of the Gatun Locks. This picture really illustrates the magnificence of engineering the locks are, with a local bus crossing the road bridge as we made preparations to enter the first chamber.

With just inches to spare Queen Elizabeth entered the first chamber and all the guest and crew decks were packed as the lock gates closed behind us.

Then as Queen Elizabeth was raised in the lock by the enormous power of the water from the Gatun Lake, our photographers gave everyone a great smile as they saw the Cunard House Flag straight ahead of them. They had joined the Pilot boat as the officials joined the ship, and they took lots of pictures of our first transit from the locks, and I’ll post those pictures along with a remarkable video next week.

Meanwhile everyone enjoyed a wonderful commentary from the bridge by Ed Paulk, the Panama Canal Commentator, who also gave a detailed lecture later in the Royal Court Theatre.

Queen Elizabeth is the largest Cunarder to transit the Canal, but Queen Mary 2 may be able to when the new wider locks open in 2014. Meanwhile Captain Julian Burgess and Deputy Captain Aseem Hashmi, were on the starboard bridge wing watching carefully as Queen Elizabeth moved in to the next chamber.

Chief Officer Patrick Maguire was on the port bridge wing with the Canal Pilot, again watching carefully as Queen Elizabeth gently moved forward. The whole process is aided by the glass floor panels on both bridge wings enabling the Officers to see the walls of the canal locks which you can see in this picture.

It really is a tight squeeze coming through the locks and to minimize the scratches to the ship’s hull, special rotating rubber wheels help guide the ship out of the locks in to the Gatun Lake.

The scenery through the Gatun Lake, the Gaillard Cut and on to the Pedro Miguel Locks is stunning and so much variety as well. There is constant work going on the entire length of the Canal, and you’ll get a better idea of that in next week’s blog with views looking towards the ship. There was a very special moment as we went through the final set of lock chambers in the Miraflores Locks, which mark the gateway to the Pacific.

There are viewing buildings on the side of the locks at Gatun and Miraflores, where tourists watch the ships go through the Canal. The reception at Miraflores was particularly impressive with huge cheers coming from the building. They were clearly impressed by Queen Elizabeth, but I realised the other reason when I looked down and saw the Panama flag being held over the ship’s side by some guests.

The Panama Flag belonged to Doug and Kay Sansom from Pensacola in Florida. I met up with them the following day and they told me the story of how they had a Panama Flag with them on this voyage. Doug told me they were on the final transit of the Panama Canal on QE2 and they bought the flag at the Charity Auction and had it signed by Captain Perkins, the Master at the time. They were thrilled to be able to proudly show it off on Queen Elizabeth’s maiden transit; what a great Cunard story.

Back to the day, and by late afternoon we were already approaching the final lock chamber before being lowered down to sea level once more. I managed this shot by hanging my camera over the ship’s side by the forward crew deck where crewmembers were waving at the onlookers on the shore side.

The final stage of the transit is really when the ship reaches the magnificent Bridge of the Americas and here Queen Elizabeth gets ready to sail under it and in to the Pacific Ocean. Insert

As the ship passed underneath, Panama City felt remarkably close on the port side with a myriad of interesting structures forming the dramatic skyline.

Queen Elizabeth is now on her way to Los Angeles having called at the Mexican ports of Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas. We’ll return to the Panama Canal next week with some unique pictures taken by our on board professional photographers along with a very special video. I’ll also have more news from around the fleet next week, but in the meantime thank you again for logging on and for all your comments. Cheers for now, Alastair

  1. Christina Goozee says:

    WOWEE … How wonderful Thanks for the pictures. One day we will make that voyage.

  2. Tim O'Neill says:

    Hey Alastair,

    I only recently discovered your blogs, and I’m enjoying them immensely – including the archives!

    One of my \must do\ trips will be the Panama Canal, and to do it on Cunard would be the \icing on the cake\!

    How come? …

    My family came to Canada when I was an infant (we sailed to Halifax on the \Aquitania\), and when the Avro \Arrow\ was scrapped – talk to your Canadian friends / colleagues to get the full story on that!!! – we returned to the U.K. on the \Queen Elizabeth\. (Some of the people involved with the \Arrow\ chose to go to the States, and join the organization we know today as NASA!)In my twenties, I returned to Canada – this time to Quebec City – on the \Franconia\. (Her sister ship was the \Carmania\.)

    So, I was … I am … I always will be: a \CUNARDER\!!!

    Fair winds and calm seas!

    Tim O’Neill
    Vancouver BC

    January 28, 2011 – 04:20 P.S.T.

  3. Judith Sayers says:

    Great pictures once again. What are the little grey machines at the side of the canal for? I looked on one of the links to previous transit by the Queen Victoria, and they seemed to be running alongside, are they towing the ship? Very interesting to see it all, we cant do all the trips unfortunately, so its nice to see what goes on on some of the ones we miss!! Roll on April

  4. Joanna Armitage says:

    Wonderful blog and great pictures of this historic moment Alastair. My late father came over to the UK from the States on a Cunard ship – the Cunard tradition is a big part of being on board for me.

    Very much enjoyed the maiden Med voyage on QE and now looking forward to the maiden Fjords in May. QE is a beautiful ship. So in the words of Tim from Vancouver, with a slight amend in my case – once a Cunarder always a Cunarder!

    Keep up the great blog Alastair, we look forward to it dropping into our in box.

  5. Beryl Moss says:

    What great photographs and am looking forward to the video next week. To transit the Panama Canal would be a dream come trus of course with Cunard. Maybe one day this dream will come true.

  6. Now that looks like a squeeze. We have never done the Panama canal yet. Something else to go for in the future. What was that yellow thing in the sky?

    Ann and Eddy

  7. Susan & Stephen Darlington says:

    This looks very familiar for us,… on the Queen Victoria,.. what an exciting day it was for us,.. amazing how they do this,.. thrill for us to be part of it last year.
    Thanks for sharing .

  8. mary murdoch says:

    Hi Alistaire. Great blog . We also went through the panama canal on QE2′s last world cruise it was absolutely amazing. We met Carol Thatcher that day and she was just so lovely and we enjoyed her company and a drink very much. Hopefully some day we can have the same experiance on the QE. Have a great time and enjoy. mary

  9. Margaret Tayler says:

    Brilliant photographs – brought back the memories of passing through the Panama Canal on QE2 in 2007. Friends,Anne & Make Easey were on that voyage and they are travelling with you on this voyage. If you should happen to meet them would you pass on my regards to them. Thanks.

  10. Gavin Tippet- Port Douglas Qld Australia says:

    Hello Alastair
    Again what great Pics of the Queen Elizabeth going through the Pananma Canal.
    I can recommend transitting the canal to all. I did it last January 26th 2010.
    Its a day I will remember for all my life.
    Looking forward to see you in Sydney on the 22 Feb 2011

  11. Sarah Nicol says:

    We watched both the QE and QV on the Panama Canal webcams, but your photos are fantastic, Alastair.
    I remember geography lessons at school, being fascinated by the Panama Canal and dreaming of going through it one day. I am still dreaming, and your photos from the Bridge are raising the excitement again! It is so interesting to see something of the ‘workings’ of ship life.
    The bus on the other bridge ahead of you gives an idea of the dimensions of the lock gates. Nothing like the Crinan Canal in Argyll near to where we live!!
    Thank you Alastair for another interesting blog which opens up the wonderful variety of our special world!

  12. Gary Tolley says:

    That was a marvellous blog Alistair.

    I missed the transit via the webcams, but as all things new aboard the Queen Elizabeth, I bet it was a fantastic spectacle! So many “first times” for this wonderful ship, the guests and the crew and so many memories for everyone to treasure! Well done everyone, you make us “land-lubbers” so proud.


  13. Rob Holloway says:

    Great pictures, especially the image of the ships side to the canal wall looking down from the bridge wings. The bus picture was a new piece of knowledge for me, learn something every day.
    We were on a recent 14 day cruise out of Barbados around the Islands (not Cunard, sorry ) and at a navigation talk given by one of the cadets on the bridge, explained that the Panama Canal is the only port transit in the world where the local Pilot has full control of the Bridge to navigate the ship through its passage.

  14. Rob Holloway says:

    In terms of the Avro Arrow comment by Tim (#2) which at the time was light years ahead of any fighter jet in the world , see link
    I have a model on my desk.
    It might make an interesting talk for passengers on Canadian aviation history.
    In 2006 (approximate) a full Arrow Replica was built to show in the Toronto Aviation Museum by people who had originally developed its plans.
    Not quite Cunard news but a response to Tim’s comment on did you know

  15. Jackie Behar says:

    This is all so fabulous! I am following the blog with glee……not only because my lovely daughter is on board, as you know, but having had such a wonderful time on the ship over xmas and new year I am eagerly following QE’s every step! And oh how I miss those daily conundrums!
    Best wishes to all on board!
    Jackie Behar

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