As workhorses of the canal, these tugs help ships enter and leave the locks. Alison Gardner
The motivation to build a canal for ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was clear, but the financial means and manpower to do so was long in coming. First the French gave it a try in the 1880s with the idea of building a shallow barge canal with no locks crossing the narrow Isthmus. After losing an estimated 26,000 workers to disease and accidents and having run up a bill equivalent to $287 million, the French abandoned the project which in eight years reported completion of only two-fifths of the work. Remnants of the French canal are still visible during transit today.
Roughly 14,000 ships equaling 5% of the world’s trade transit through the Panama Canal annually. Cecilia Rodriguez/@cecifoto
Next the Americans got serious about creating such an international waterway that would save military and commercial ships many weeks of extra travel around South America’s Cape Horn. Built over a ten-year period from 1904 to 1914, the Panama Canal has been justifiably proclaimed as one of the engineering wonders of the modern world.
Today all operations of the Panama Canal are managed by a Hong Kong conglomerate. Cortesia ACP
First attempted in the 1880s by a French company, the project was abandoned after eight years of effort. Remnants of the French canal are still visible during transit. Alison Gardner
Construction manpower was enormous consisting of more than 5,000 Americans, 11,000 Europeans and 25,000 Caribbean islanders. With plans to use 60 million pounds of dynamite, there were geological concerns about disturbing six identified fault lines and some active volcanoes, not to mention accelerating the daily earthquake count and recurring landslides along the selected route. Four thousand workers died from dynamite accidents alone. With 115 to 120 inches of rain a year, flooding was a constant challenge as were the 18-foot tides in the Pacific versus flat water on the Atlantic side. Despite all odds, the 48-mile-long (77 km) waterway celebrated the transit of its first client on August 14, 1914, two weeks after the start of WWI. With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge, the canal cost $352 million to build, and it came in under budget.
A planned expansion with an additional set of locks will allow the transit of even larger bulk carriers and cruise ships. Alison Gardner
As anyone who has sailed through the canal on a cruise ship or private yacht will know, there are three sets of locks. A two-step flight at Miraflores and a single flight at Pedro Miguel lift ships from the Pacific up to Gatun Lake; then a triple flight at Gatun lowers them 85 feet to the Atlantic side. It takes a whopping 52 million gallons of water to navigate each vessel through the canal regardless of size.
Owned and managed by the United States until 1999, the country of Panama has been owner of the Canal since that time. We wish the Panama Canal a very happy second century!
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.