Transiting the Panama Canal.
A look at the map of Panama shows that Panama basically runs East to West and
the canal itself
runs mainly North from the Caribbean southwards to the Pacific.
The canal spans about 40 miles and normally takes 6 to 8 hours for to complete a transit.
The largest ships that can transit the canal are 965 feet long, and 106 feet wide. Ships built to those dimensions
are known as "Panamax" size ships.
Each year more than 12,000 ships transit the canal, shaving about 7,830 miles from the trip around
Cape Horn at the tip of South America, also escaping the notoriously bad weather at Cape Horn.
From the Pacific, ships pass through the Miraflores locks, rising 50 feet to the level of Miraflores Lake.
A short cruise across Miraflores Lake bring ships to Pedro Miguel Locks where ships are raised
another 35 feet to the level of Lake Gatun.
At the Caribbean end of the canal, ships are lowered 85 feet back to sea level by the Gatun Locks and
then exit the canal into the open ocean.
Each of the locks has two channels, so that two ships can pass through each lock independently.
Following a disastrous first attempt to build a canal across Panama by the French,
beginning in 1880, the U.S. signed a
treaty with Panama in 1903 and began construction of what is now the Panama Canal. Completed in about 10 years
the construction required about 35,000 workers and completely cleared Panama of malaria and yellow fever which had killed
almost 25,000 people during the French effort.
As with many things, the idea of the Panama Canal is simple. However, the actual engineering
and construction of the canal make it one of the greatest civil engineering tasks ever undertaken and completed.
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