top of page


Updated: May 30, 2022



Being a north country lad from the English Lake District, I was interested to discover that Gongoozler was believed to originate in the Lake District. Most attempts to explain the word’s origin suggest that it began life among nineteenth-century “bargees”—i.e. people who live or travel on canal boats—and originally referred to all those who sit idly on the riverbanks and towpaths of England and watch life go by on the canal.

It is first recorded in Glossary of Canal Terms, in Bradshaw’s Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales (1904), by Henry Rodolph de Salis (1866-1936):

Henry Rodolph de Salis mentioned Cumbria, in north-western England, as its possible place of origin, but it has been speculated that gongoozler is related to two verbs recorded in the dialect of Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England:

to gawn, meaning to yawn, gape and to stare vacantly or curiously,

to gooze, also to goozen, meaning to stare aimlessly, gape.

I got wondering whether this could be applied to cruise passengers transiting the Panama Canal, or indeed the relatively new pastime of cruise ships that don’t transit the canal at all but do give their passengers a taste of the canal.

Cruising from Florida, cruise companies are now offering Caribbean cruises with the opportunity to sample one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th The Panama canal provided an essential shipping route between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. Three sets of huge locks carry the ships from Ocean to Ocean.

Cruise companies are now entering the canal from the Caribbean sea experiencing the Gatun locks before entering Gatun lake. Where they turnabout and head back to the Caribbean. Could this be the new form of GONGOOZELING?


More traditional transits of the canal will continue through the hot and sticky tropical rain forest before arriving at Pedro Miguel locks and finally Miraflores Locks before entering the Atlantic ocean. Ships travelling between New York and San Francisco save 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn, which would cut about 22 days off the journey time at 15 knots.

The canal was completed by the USA but was in fact started by the French. It was Mr Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat who first started the work back in 1881. The work had to be stopped in the year 1894 because yellow fever and malaria claimed the lives of an estimated 22,000 workers and spending nearly USD 287 million bankrupted Mr Ferdinand de Lesseps.

The canal was completed by the Americans in 1914 and continued to be operated by them until 1977. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government in 1999. It is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.

The original locks were built to accommodate ships built over 100 years ago and shipping has moved on a pace since then, capacity had increased and the canal was constrained by operation times of the lock cycle.

Miraflores Locks

Miter - a pair of canal lock gates that swing out from the sidewalls and meet at an angle pointing toward the upper level.


In 2006 it was decided that the canal had to be expanded. By 2016 the work was completed adding a third lane and two sets of new locks.

The new lock chambers are 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep, which allows for the New Panamax (or Neo Panamax) sized vessel to pass through. These dimensions now allow for an estimated 79% of all cargo-carrying vessels to transit the canal

The new locks use rolling gates instead of the miter gates used by the original locks

Tugboats are being used in the new locks to position the vessels instead of the mules (electric locomotives) used in the old locks.

My memories of transiting the canal on Island Princess are a little blurred, not sure if it was the early hour at which we had to rise to clear the ship for transit, or the Taquilla Sunrise party on the officer's deck as we started the transit. I do remember being on deck for much of the day watching the mules navigate the ship into the locks. A deck buffet was served by the pool by Bruno and the Italian caterers. I’m sure it would not be allowed today without refrigerated counters. Back in 1974, it was cooled by trays of ice which melted very quickly.



628 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All


May 30, 2022

Wonderful shared memories of both ships and transits through Panama. Sadly I never managed Suez.

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
May 30, 2022
Replying to

You didn't miss much. I really did not enoy the Suez transit. it was a bit of a nightmare from start to finish.

     Please subscribe to  Salty Seadog

Thanks for joining us

bottom of page