Sunday, October 25, 2015

Transiting the Panama Canal

Today was our Panama Canal transit. It started early. We entered the Canal about 5:00 AM and got up on to the firs set of Locks (Gatun) about 7:30. There is a steady amount of traffic flow so we had to wait our turn. 

Here's a brief history of the Panama Canal:

The whole purpose of the Canal was to significantly shorten the amount of time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Instead of having to travel south around Cape Horn, which was pretty hazardous was much longer as well. 

The French made the first attempt at building a canal through this Isthmus of Panama. They began in 1881. However, they lost over 25,000 people working on it, primarily due to malaria and yellow fever. Before work could continue there needed to be a solution found to dragster dice the deaths from these diseases. And to do that they needed to find out what caused the diseases. 

Eventually it was discovered that the mosquito was the cause so efforts were undertaken to eliminate both the number of and the spread of mosquito bites which caused the disease. 

The French went bankrupt and no further significant efforts were made until the U.S. acquired the rights to build it. We can credit Teddy Roosevelt for making this happen. Much like President Kennedy did in the early 60's with the push for landing a man on the moon, so did Teddy regarding the Canal. He sent his Secretary of State John Hay to negotiate a treaty with Colombia (owner of Panama at the time) and in 1903 the treaty was done. 

It took about 10 years to build the canal. In contrast to how many men were lost to disease during the French attempt 20 years earlier the U.S. only lost about 5,000 workers. The successful mitigation of malaria made the difference. 

The Canal was completed and opened in 1914. It was finished six months early and came in under budget. And not a hint of scandal about the finances.  Now when was the last time that happened???!!!!

The U.S. Maintained control over the Canal until a new treaty was signed in 1977. There was a long transition period and full control was finally handed over to the Panamanians on 12/31/1999. The Canal remains today, one of the chief sources of income for Panama. 

That was the short version of the history of the Canal. I learned a lot more during the talks I attended but don't need to bore you all more than I already have on the subject. 

The Canal consists of artificial lakes. Gatun Lake in particular is an integral part of the success of the Canal. It was formed by building a dam and then the locks used to raise ships up 87 feet from the Atlantic Ocean to the lake are fed from the nearby Gatun River.  

There are a total of three sets of locks across the entire canal. The crossing is 88 kilometers, nearly 50 miles long.  It takes about 15 hours for a ship to transverse the Canal depending on traffic. 

In 2007 work began to expand the width of the locks so that the larger container ships and mega size cruise ships can get through. The current width limitation is about 110 feet wide. Our ship just barely squeaks by and we're a small ship. The new Canal locks will be 55 meters wide (180 feet). 
It is slated to open in 2016.

Some shots of our transiting, and then of Panama City on this night of a full moon.

1 comment:

  1. I loved getting the short history lesson of the canal!