Famous Panama Canal | CruiseBe
Back to all travel blogs

Famous Panama Canal

Nikolkaya • 9 minutes read • October 30th, 2015
When the famous Alexandre Gustave Eiffel - the creator of the Eiffel Tower - was arrested, Ferdinand de Lesseps, an outstanding engineer of his time and author of the breakthrough of the Suez Canal, went mad, leading King of Spain Philip II to forbid even the though of such projects. 

Yeah, it was that way.
First thoughts about the connection of the two oceans came to the Spaniards in the 16th century. Too long and dangerous was the way around South America. But King Philip II of Spain imposed a ban on the consideration of such projects because 'what God has joined together, man cannot divide'.
And the first attempt to dig the 

Panama Canal

was carried out by the French. In 1879, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who by that time had already dug the Suez Canal, and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, famous for the grandiose Eiffel Tower, organized a 'Universal Inter-Oceanic Canal Company', which promised to become another outstanding construction project of the century. The company's shares were purchased by almost a million people, and tens of thousands of French went to Colombia (then the territory belonged to Colombia) for work.
However, after nine years, it became clear that the venture would fail. The company went bankrupt - it spent $300 million (almost 2 times more than was expected), and completed only a third of the construction. There were several reasons. The main reason was that the project was wrong. Ferdinand de Lesseps had insisted the canal be dug at sea level, following the example of the Suez Canal, without locks and slopes/lifts. This, in fact, was the reason they went bankrupt - they ran into a heavy rock. Plus, the poor quality of leadership in the organization, and the inability to cope with tropical diseases - malaria and yellow fever - was killing the workers. There is evidence that, as a result of the campaign, at least 20 thousand people were killed. The newspapers wrote that the French were carrying their own coffins with them during construction.  The word 'Panama' became a synonym for scams and fraud on an epic scale, and thousands of owners of shares in the 'Panama Venture' finally went broke.
Ferdinand de Lesseps and Alexander Eiffel stood accused of large scale fraud, incompetent management and improper expenditure of funds. They were eventually sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and fines. The company was dismissed and the project was stopped. Ferdinand de Lesseps did not survive the frustration and went crazy.
Then the case was taken by the Americans.
In 1902, they bought the property of the 'Universal Company' for $40 million and asked Colombia for a long-term lease of a strip of land for a lump sum of $10 million and $250 thousand per year. Bogota refused. And then the Americans provoked a revolution, after which stubborn Colombia had lost some territories, and independent Panama appeared on the world map.
At the same time, in Havana, it was found out that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes, and a proposed method of reduction of the risk of yellow fever by eliminating mosquito habitats was implemented. Remembering the failure of the first attempt to dig a canal, the Americans first sent in major expedition led by William C. Gorgas — 1,500 people to exterminate mosquitoes.
The scope of the campaign was unprecedented; they drained the wetlands, felled small trees and bushes, burned herbs, removed oil and destroyed mosquito larvae in breeding habitats. All this hard work quickly brought positive results - the risk of infection was minimized.
The construction of the canal by the United States Department of War began in 1904. The chief engineer of the canal was John Frank Stevens. This time, the right project was chosen: locks and lakes. The construction took 10 years, $400 million and 70 thousand workers, of which, according to American data, about 5,600 died. On the morning of October 13, 1913, U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, in the presence of numerous dignitaries gathered at the White House, went to the special table and with a magnificent gesture pressed the gilt button - the 2,845 mile (4,000 km) long cable, specially lined from the dam in Gamboa to the White house, that obediently fulfilled the will of the President. A powerful explosion shook the wet tropical air 4,000 miles from Washington, on the Isthmus of Panama. Roughly 44,092 lbs (20,000 kilos) of dynamite destroyed the last barrier near the city of Gamboa that separated the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Such a story.
Now let's move on to the present day.
The channel operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The passage, of course, is paid. Cruise ship, for example, pay about $315,000 for passage and a small yacht pays $500. For a container ship, the fee is calculated depending on their capacity, expressed in a standard 20-foot container - $49 for each container.

The American project was much more successful than the French. The canal consists of two artificial lakes connected by canals and deep creeks, as well as two groups of locks. The difference between the Ocean level and the level of the Panama Canal is 84.9 feet (25.9 meters).

Stepped locks raise and lower ships to different water levels.

For cars, there are special bridge-roads over which they can drive while the vessels are waiting.

At the last moment, when the water gushes out from the lock chamber, the road is disconnected.

Parts of the road are taken away in special niches.

And the entrance for the ship into the chamber is opened. 
All the canal's locks have two lanes, which provides the possibility of simultaneous movement of vessels on the opposite side through the canal. In practice, however, usually both lanes work for the passage of vessels in one direction. The dimensions of the lock chambers are: 100 feet (33.53 m) wide, 1000 feet (304.8 m) long, and the minimum depth is 41 feet (12.55 m). If the ship is too heavy, then there are huge cranes that unload the containers and send them to another ocean by rail.

Ships go through the locks at a speed of 3 mph, and the accuracy of passage is controlled by cables attached to 4 to 8 'mules'.

Mules are special, small locomotives on an electric track.
Their task is to center, with the help of ropes, the ship in the lock so that it doesn't touch the walls during movement or change the water level.

At the entrance to the first lock, pushers helped the ship not turn around and accurately enter the chamber. Then the ship was held by a locomotive, with cables, from the bow and stern.

The canal lets vessels of different types pass through - from private yachts to large tankers and container ships. The maximum size of a vessel that can pass through the Panama Canal became a de facto standard in the shipbuilding industry, being named the Panamax. Large ships sail very close to the walls of the lock chambers. Our liner, for example, had a gap of no more than 1 foot (0.5 meter) on each side.

Of course, we all took photos of each other waving our hands, wishing one another a good trip.  Passage through the lock can take up to two hours, but there is nothing more to do.

After the locks, we made it to the artificial 

Gatun lake

, formed after the construction of the Gatun dam across the Chagres river. Here, other vessels waited their turn to pass in the opposite direction. In addition to the fee for the pass, anyone who wished could buy another right of passage without waiting in line. At auction. They say, for such a right in 2006, the Erikoussa tanker paid $220,000.

And we slowly went along the canals, through lakes and rivers, getting closer and closer to the Pacific Ocean.

And here is Panama City, on the coast. Even from afar it is obvious that they do well for themselves. That, in general, is clear.

It took us a total of 6 hours to completely pass through the Panama Canal
Another dream come true.
Author: nikolkaya
Source: nikolkaya.livejournal.com
Translated by: Gian Luka

Did you enjoy the post? Share with your friends!


Latest posts

Follow us on Facebook

Related blog posts you can't miss

This author doesn’t have more blog posts about Panama Canal, Panama