Panama - an aside message
Sun 6 Mar 2016 12:44
Before the canal was built the isthmus of Panama was used as a transit point both between the Caribbean Sea and Europe and the Pacific and far east and between the southern states of the US and California during the gold rush. All the gold from the Incas was transported by the Spanish up the west coast of South America, into Panama and up the Chagres River to waiting ships in the Caribbean, where it was then often plundered by the British and French on its way to the empty coffers of the Spanish King.
So with the age of railways it was only a matter of time before one was built to make these journeys quicker and easier. The building cost over 8000 lives mostly from diseases like yellow fever, malaria and cholera (as with the canal which devoured 20,000 lives, the greatest peacetime loss of life ever).
At the time before the canal the Yankee gold prospectors and their wives (dressed in the same garb) in the gold rush were using this route to reach the gold fields in California so the area of rivers and coastline was busy with Americans, Chinese, indigenous indian tribes, black families, the good and the greedy.
You may remember I mentioned Mary Seacole, the half Jamaican half Scottish lady, who worked in the Crimea at the same time as Florence Nightingale, and was successful on understanding that cholera is a water-borne disease which can be cured.
Well she arrived from Jamaica to help her brother who ran an hotel in the shanty town of Cruces. She soon set up her own British Hotel opposite her brother and later moved to nearby Gorgona and did the same there. She was both a successful doctress, having learned from her mother how to alleviate pain and sometimes cure diseases, and an entrepreneur.
However I can find no reference to Cruces on any map and Gorgona is now an island so I guess both towns sank beneath the rising waters of Gatun Lake when the canal was under construction. Her book ‘Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands’ was published in 1858 and is well worth a read, I have mine on my Kindle.
A little like the M25, as soon as the canal was finished it was never big enough. As ships grew in size and number so the canal has had to adapt. Dredging is constant, Regis one of our Advisors was an officer on one of them working on the new locks and he aspires to become a captain. Also, we have one working right next to us in the anchorage. Where the canal cuts through rock and shale at the Culebra Cut and the Gaillard Cut widening projects have been completed. The Gaillard Cut is being further widened now from 152 metres to 192 metres on the straight and 222 metres on the curves. This is to allow two wide-beam Panamax vessels to pass each-other at the same time which will increase traffic and reduce transit times.
The current expansion programme is costing $5.25 billion and includes new locks, twice as long as the existing ones. The chambers will be 427 metres long, 55 metres wide and 18.3 metres deep. The project is running over time, but Regis told us the builders are planning to test the locks in May and hand them over to the Panama Canal Authority shortly after if they are working ok. When we used the canal locks the total length of our accompanying ship with us behind or in front could not be more than 730 feet.