Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Day at the Lock Races

We took a taxi over to the Mira Flores Locks on the Panama Canal. These are the first locks on the way in from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Surprisingly this is south bound traffic, as the canal is actually a north-south thoroughfare. There’s an interesting Panama Canal history museum there too.

mirafloresIMG_8724 The car carrier, or ro-ro for roll on-roll off,‘Pacific Highway’ approaching the first lock at Mira Flores on its passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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The small locomotives, mules, taking the lines of the Pacific Highway. The mules keep the ships centered in the locks. Today the actual ship movement is under ship’s own power. Originally the mules did the ship movement when the canal was built.

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A drag race between the container ship ‘APL Qatar’ and the ‘Pacific Highway’ in the dual locks. The boats go through together.

mirafloresIMG_8740Mule headed down the track to the lower lock.

mirafloresIMG_8720 The original lock control building, 1913, with the gates in front.

Just read an interesting ‘history’ of the Panama Canal from a freebie Kindle download. The Panama Canal , A history and description of the enterprise, by J. Saxon Mills. It was written in 1914, so the history part is pretty much canal opening current affairs. The US interest in creating the canal was primarily military. After the Spanish-American war it was clear that the ability to move naval assets quickly and reliably from the Pacific to the Atlantic and vice-versa was important to the US’s control of the waters near her shores. The French canal company had essentially gone broke from mismanagement and corruption.  The US negotiated with Colombia to take over the canal and control the 10 miles strip coast to coast. The Colombians didn’t like the terms and the US didn’t want to up the ante. The easier path was to take a wink-wink, nod-nod with the group who wished to separate the state of Panama from Colombia. As they started their separation, the US helpfully stationed a Navy ship at each end of the cross isthmus railroad, just to make sure no one else intervened. As soon as the Panamanians finalized their separation, the Panama Canal treaty was signed giving the US exclusive rights and effective sovereignty over the canal strip. This lasted till the 1970’s when some Panamanians decided the deal wasn’t so sweet. The canal was transferred back to the Panamanians and has been run smoothly 24/7 for the last decade or so by them.

mirafloresIMG_8744  ‘Pacific Highway’ kicking out some turbulence on its way out of the locks and off to the Pacific. When cruising boats share the locks with big ships they have to carefully deal with this rumbling water on each lock.

Paul

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