PANAMA CANAL - USS San Diego (LPD 22) made its way through the Panama Canal for the first time in her history March 25.
San Diego, the sixth ship in the San Antonio-amphibious class, departed Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. March 15 to transit to its future homeport and namesake city. Part of the journey took them through the Canal, opened in 1914. The canal serves as passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and saves ships the 8000 mile journey around South America.
A series of three sets of locks, Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores, separated by a fresh water lake, slowly brought San Diego up, through mountains up to 85 feet above sea level, almost eight inches from the Atlantic to the Pacific sea level through the Isthmus of Panama.
Since homeport shifts are rare, most of the fleet stays in their respective oceans. A Panama Canal transit was a first, not only for the ship, but also most of the crew.
"Typically, only when a ship is newly commissioned and moves from east to west coast, that is when canal transits occur," said Cmdr. Kevin Meyers, San Diego commanding officer.
The canal locks are 110 feet wide; San Diego, one of the largest class of U.S. Navy ships able to fit through, is 105 feet wide. With assistance of the diesel electric tractors, called mules in honor of the original method of towing, and careful navigation by the ship's bridge team, the ship made it through just fine on her first, and possible only, trip through the canal.
"One can never say never, but the likelihood of San Diego leaving her home city is slim, and the Navy rarely sends a ship through twice," said Meyers.
San Diego began construction 2007 and delivered to the Navy in December 2011. San Diego will be commissioned in May and will be the first ship named for the city to be homeported there.