Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Canal transits with a difference

During our winter cruise we will transit both the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. Both have long and varied histories which are just as interesting as the inland canals of the UK, and both came about as a result of Victorian ingenuity, and the need to provide a commercial waterway in order to reduce transport costs - in the same way that our canal system was developed.

The Suez Canal

Although the Suez Canal wasn't officially completed until 1869, there is a long history of interest in connecting both the Nile River in Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. It is believed that the first canal in the area was constructed between the Nile River delta and the Red Sea in the 13th Century B.C.E. During the 1,000 years following its construction, the original canal was neglected and its use finally stopped in the 8th Century.
The first modern attempts to build a canal came in the late 1700s when Napoleon Bonaparte conducted an expedition to Egypt. He believed that building a French controlled canal on the Isthmus of Suez would cause trade problems for the British as they would either have to pay dues to France or continue sending goods over land or around the southern part of Africa. Studies for Napoleon's canal plan began in 1799 but a miscalculation in measurement showed the sea levels between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas as being too different for a canal to be feasible and construction immediately stopped.
The next attempt to build a canal in the area occurred in the mid-1800s when a French diplomat and engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, convinced the Egyptian viceroy Said Pasha to support the building of a canal. In 1858, the Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was formed and given the right to begin construction of the canal and operate it for 99 years, after which time, the Egyptian government would take over control of the canal. At its founding, the Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was owned by French and Egyptian interests.
Construction of the Suez Canal officially began on April 25, 1859. It opened ten years later on November 17, 1869 at a cost of $100 million.
The Panama Canal

Entrance to Gatun Locks
Completed in 1914, under budget and ahead of schedule, a canal was first attempted by the French and Ferdinand de Lesseps, in 1879, who attempted to build it without locks in the same manner that he had success with the Suez Canal. However, the plan of digging a ditch through the isthmus failed due to insects, tropical rainforest and disease. In 1889 the canal company folded after the loss of 20,000 lives during the attempt.
It was John Stevens, America's greatest railway engineer who came up with a workable plan. This was to dam the Chagres River to create the Gatun Lake. The dam would create electrical power to operate the lock gates and locomotive mules, gravity directing water into the locks. Three locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, raises ships which are in effect sailing up and over Panama. The plan worked. Another part of the success of this plan was the initial eradication of yellow fever and a serious campaign to make the zone liveable before work began. Dr. Gorgess had eradicated the yellow fever mosquito from Havana, Cuba, and he was called upon to work in the canal zone before construction started. The area was cleaned by insecticide and soap, with fumigating teams working around the clock. The programme called for new sewers, screens on all windows, piped water, paved streets, swamps drained and bush cleared. The plan worked, and today the canal zone is free of risk from yellow fever.
The current size of the locks restricts shipping to a maximum size, and suitable commercial vessels are built to a standard known as Panamax. However, there are new locks currently under construction which will allow larger ships to transit. These will be known as new Panamax, but there are already ships in use that will be too large even for them.

The cost of transit to a 69,000 tonne cruise ship such as Oriana, with a 20% premium to allow her schedule to be maintained with priority, is in the region of $240,000.

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