Panama Canal

10 04 2011

1st April 2011

As long ago as 1524 King Charles V of Spain considered the building of a canal in this area  In 1878, the Geographical Society of Paris organized a committee, headed by the then world famous Ferdinand de Lesseps, who recently completed the Suez canal.  Work was begun in 1881, but the project proved more difficult than anticipated.  Yellow fever and malaria killed some 22,000 workers; the construction problems were insurmountable and along with financial mismanagement the French company was bankrupt by 1889.  Finally, in 1904, after US  intervention and investment, construction began again on one of the greatest engineering feats of the world,   More than 75,000 workers took part in its construction, the first sailing through the completed canal was on August 15 1914,  Its completion was helped by a sucesful campaign to eliminate yellow fever and malaria.

We arrived in the waters of Panama City at around 6 am and saw many passengers on deck armed with their cameras to record the event.   The 50 mile journey through Canal was to last around eight hours and for most of that time we had a commentary from Graham our Resident Excursion Officer. 

It cost Aurora some $322,000 to make the passage

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We sailed under the Bridge of Americas which carries the famous Pan American Highway, and then proceeded to the Miraflores Locks which raised Aurora 54 feet.  The next lock Pedro Miguel lifted us 31 feet.  Then it was under the recently opened (2004) Centennial Bridge.  before proceeding through the Galliard Cut (the work having been done by hand!)which slices through the Continental Divide.   We crossed the Gatun Lake (until fairly recently  the  largest man-made lake) and saw a crocodile on a bank and various bird life.  The vegetation was thick, some of it quite colourful.

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At the other end of the Gatun Lake we came to the Gatun Locks which took us back down the 85feet.  Each lock was 110 feet wide – Aurora is 106 feet wide!  We were guided through the locks by a “mules” on each side with steel cables attached to Aurora.  These mules ran on rails alongside the lock.  Fascinating to watch.

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New widening works on the canal enabling ever larger vessels to pass through are programmed to finish by 2014 costing some $5.2billion

It was a fantastic day, we had never before thought we would get to travel through this amazing piece of engineering.  We have seen some quite wonderful natural sights on this voyage; the canal was the best manmade one .


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