Panama Canal talk

The Galloway News - - DISTRICT NEWS -

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!

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