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Zaandam in Panama Canal
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I watched through the webcam screen as the passenger ship Zaandam and her sister ship Rotterdam traversed the moist darkness of the Panama Canal. My eyes were fixed on the artificial light of the screen as I held vigil over the vessels that were carrying my parents among the passengers and crew. These precious lives were in desperate search of a hospitable port that would have the courage and compassion to open a berth and offer help to the sick and all those who were longing for an end to their exile at sea. COVID-19 and other illness had spread fear as well as sickness. Many turned them away.

The journey through the canal was a hopeful but seemingly tenuous journey as the ships were expedited through the darkness from the Pacific to the Atlantic side of the thin waterway. The negotiated passage through the canal offered a fresh hope that safe harbour at Port Everglades, FL might be possible.

Although encompassed in darkness these arks seemed to glow as they made their overnight journey through Panama and were birthed into Atlantic waters as dawn readied to creep toward them over the horizon.

Waiting had become an imposed condition for passengers, crew and anxious friends and family at home. Unable to reverse the turn of events that brought them to their present state of distress and equally helpless to fast-forward to a destination, the seafarers were obliged to absorb the shadowy emotions of the present moment and find whatever glimmering light they could muster to shine on a route that could bring them home.

The image of the glowing ships passing through the darkness of the canal is a metaphor for our present situation of waiting. We are forced to wait as we pass through these waters that will bring us through this narrow and dark time to something new. We are unable to reverse to an earlier time or speed up the journey to a safer one. However the necessary journey will lead to new waters —as uncertain as they might be.

As I reflect on waiting in the present moment as lived through my parents’ experience on Zaandam, I think it is important to not squander the present moment. While we wait we are obliged to absorb everything the present moment has to offer so that we may learn from the current struggles and build on the new ways we are finding to be community.

Let us not allow the imposed distancing to numb us. Instead let it sensitize us to the forces that draw us together. On the other side of the barriers and masks and through the windows of homes, businesses and ships are people to whom we can offer hospitality. We can extend lifelines of support across the distance and through the barriers.

Zaandam and Rotterdam were eventually offered temporary berth in Port Everglades. Although most passengers have now journeyed home (my parents included) the crew and some passengers have been sent back to sea for more imposed waiting. My hope is that the new ways we are finding to offer hospitality are not temporary and that we can find a permanent place in our ports for all.

Shane, Author
Media Type
Item Types
I watched through the webcam screen as the passenger ship Zaandam and her sister ship...

Place of Publication
Port Hope
Date of Publication
11 Apr 2020
Geographic Coverage
  • Panama, Panama
    Latitude: 8.99797 Longitude: -79.59269
  • Port Everglades:
    Florida, United States
    Latitude: 26.09317 Longitude: -80.12428
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.95012 Longitude: -78.29953
Shane Watson
Creative Commons licence
by-nc-sa [more details]
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Cobourg Museum Foundation
Agency street/mail address:
c/o Victoria Hall, 55 King Street West
Cobourg, ON K9A 2M2 Phone number: 19053737222
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Zaandam in Panama Canal

I watched through the webcam screen as the passenger ship Zaandam and her sister ship...