Panama Canal talk
At the May meeting of the Kirkcudbright and District Probus Club, Bill Allan told members about the construction and history of the Panama Canal.
Bill had been through the canal a couple of times on cruise ships so he was able to illustrate the talk with his own photos as well as some historic photos of its construction.
The canal reduces a 6,000 mile voyage round the southern tip of South America to a 50 mile trip across Central America. From the Caribbean a set of locks raises ships from sea level to the man-made Gatun Lake, at 85 feet above sea level, which was created by damming the Chagres River.
At the other side of the lake the canal goes into the Culebra Cut through continental divide, then down to another flight of locks into the Pacific Ocean passing Panama City.
When the ship enters the canal, a little rowing boat comes out from the side bearing a cable which attaches the ship to a “mule” a railway engine that runs on rack and pinion tracks to deal with the steep ramps between the locks.
There are six of these mules, three each side, and their purpose is to control the ship as it moves under its own power through the canal locks. The mules use bells to signal to each other and to the ships. In 1881 a French company began digging the canal across Panama from the Caribbean side but the project was hit by poor planning, engineering problems and tropical disease. The company went bankrupt in 1889.
In 1902 the United States of America purchased the French assets but again the project was hindered by disease.
Between 1904-1913, 5,600 workers died from malaria and yellow fever. The canal opened in 1914 and was under the control of the United States until it was passed to Panama in 1999.
In 2007 work was started on a new set of larger locks at both ends of the canal and on widening and deepening the channel to allow larger ships to use it while smaller ships would continue to use the old locks.
The new locks were opened in 2016. There is also a Chinese proposal to construct another canal through Nicaragua.
Bill finished his talk with a sped up video of the trip through the canal – an eight hour journey reduced to three minutes!