Bill Bialkowski presented on the history and current status of the Panama Canal. The canal has underdone considerable development over the years, culminating in major rebuilding in the last few years.
The original (1914) canal had locks 1000 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 42 feet deep; the reworked canal adds locks 1400 feet wide, 180 feet wide, and 60 feet deep. The largest ships capable of transiting the original canal were called "Panamax" ships, while the new locks have led to a new designation for the largest ships, "New Panamax".
Among other craft, the canal currently carries about 1600o ships per year, with about 60 million containers: a massive amount of traffic.
Warships were another complication: the largest ones were unable to pass through the canal, and from 1955 0n all aircraft carriers were too large for the canal. It's still a question whether the USS Nimitz class supercarriers will even fit in the new locks.
Bill delineated the very interesting political and engineering history of the canal, starting with the abortive French effort that was thwarted by lack of engineering expertise (the engineer having only the Suez Canal as background). The Panama Canal, with locks and considerable geological challenges, was another beast altogether.
French canal-building efforts were also derailed by enormous malaria deaths among the workers as well as yellow fever. The vector of malaria transmission -- mosquitoes -- was not understood.
Bill also described the alternative routes that were considered for an Atlantic/Pacific canal (especially through Nicaragua) although the Panama route was eventually chosen using some geopolitical presuasion by the United States.
Bill supplied many other interesting canal facts, and concluded with photos of his own taken on his cruise-ship passage earlier this year.
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