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Queen Elizabeth Transits the Panama Canal – World Cruise 2012

February 3, 2012

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Guest Stories, Special Guests

Guest Blog – Richard Smith, Guest on board Queen Elizabeth’s World Cruise 2012


At 7.30 on the morning of 26 January 2012 there was a buzz of anticipation on board Queen Elizabeth as we approached the Panama Canal. The decks were packed with guests, the majority of whom had not transited the canal before.

A million ships have passed through the canal since it was opened in 1914 and this was only the second time that the majestic Queen Elizabeth had transited the canal.


Queen Elizabeth had left Southampton on her 2012 World Voyage on 10 January and after calls at New York, Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman she made a maiden call at Cartagena in Colombia before heading to Panama.

Queen Elizabeth under the command of Captain Christopher Wells, approached the first set of locks – the Gatun Locks – and it then became clear to those of us who had not transited the canal before how narrow the locks were and how little space there would be between the ship and the lock walls.

The three sets of locks making up the Panama Canal lift each ship 26 metres from sea level to the level of the Gatun Lake and then lower the ship on the other side to sea level again.


At each of the three set of locks eight locomotives (known as ‘mules’) pull the ship through the lock keeping the ship precisely in the centre of the lock. In the case of Queen Elizabeth the clearance on each side was only two feet.

After passing through the Gatun Locks, we then had the wonderful spectacle of the Gatun Lake and its beautiful forests and wildlife. The lake then narrowed and we sailed through the Culebra Cut before arriving at the Pedro Miguel Locks which were swiftly followed by the final set of locks – the Miraflores Locks – which brought the ship down to sea level and the Pacific Ocean.

The transit had taken us the best part of ten hours but it was a magical day. The precision of the pilots and locomotive drivers and the efficiency with which the whole operation was carried out by the Panama Canal authorities and the ships officers and crew made it a breathtaking experience. And it was exciting to hear the cheers from the crowds that had assembled at the Miraflores Locks to watch Queen Elizabeth pass through.

Queen Elizabeth is now sailing north to San Francisco for her maiden call tomorrow before continuing her World Voyage across the Pacific.

  1. Chris & Margaret Rose says:

    A great blog.
    It reminds us of transiting the Panama Canal last year on Queen Elizabeth’s maiden world cruise and maiden transit.
    It certainly was a fantastic experience…great to re-live it through Richard Smith’s words
    Thank you

  2. tony maguire says:

    Did any one feed the mules, i can remember my first trip as galley boy saving all the old bread,ever been had.

  3. Excellent, We have been through the Panama Canal locks twice and it was a thrill each time.

  4. Tom Morgan and Ken Youngert says:

    Thanks. Definitely something to look forward to as we are booked on next year’s QE transit of the Canal.

  5. Brogan Swan says:

    Wonderful blog from Richard,

    After being on her maiden world cruise last year i am joining her again in just 3 weeks from Melbourne, Australia, cannot wait.

  6. Judith Sayers says:

    Great blog, very interesting, we watched part of it on the bridgecam, nice to see more pictures taken close up. Thinking of you all in the sunshine, you’ll be pleased to know its very cold here!!!

  7. Sarah Morris says:

    My parents transited the canal in the 1950s on their way to go live in New Zealand. On the way, my Father thought he would have some mischief with a fellow passenger who was a bit gullible. He told her that ‘Mules’ pulled the ship through the canal, and you could go alongside and feed them! This poor lady went to the galley and came back on deck with a couple of fresh carrots!

  8. Beryl Moss says:

    What a fantastic blog. Its one of the things on my list to do and hopefully one day will achieve it.

  9. Terry Lynch says:

    Welcome to San Francisco! It was reported here that you were arriving at 4:30 A.M. I thought about getting up, but…..

    Hope you enjoy your time here. We are trying to find out when you will be departing and sailing under the Golden Gate. Hopefully it will be at a time we can watch from the San Francisco Veterans Hospital just outside “The Gate”!

  10. Roy Guy says:

    Thanks Richard for reminding us what a spectacle the Canal is. We sailed with Richard and his wife last year to the Baltic and thoroughly enjoyed their company. Photos are excellent. Keep sailing Richard, and hopefully we’ll meet up again some time.

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