SEA BREEZES NOVEMBER 2011 • VOL 85 • NO. 791
In “From The Lookout” in the last edition of Sea Breezes, I reported on the massive £3 billion project to create two new lock complexes on the Panama Canal – thereby increasing the capacity of the canal (in terms of daily movements) and allowing even larger ships to make use of this famous short-cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
This project is due to be completed in time for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the canal in 2014.
News of this exciting project made me reflect on the importance of such canals for international trade and the astonishing engineering skills which lay behind their construction. I have vivid memories of my first transit of the Suez Canal on Glen Line’s mv Cardiganshire in September 1960 – the contrast between the (then) modern vessels making their way through this famous waterway and the ancient and almost biblical desert surroundings on either side of the canal was stark. I also remember the reliance on a searchlight on the forecastle which, under the control of the ship’s electrical officer, was used to illuminate the sides of the canal enabling the pilot and helmsman to navigate our way safely through the darkness of the night.
I was also lucky to pass through the Panama Canal on one of Blue Funnel’s ‘round the world’ services. Starting in the Far East, we crossed the Pacific, through the Panama Canal taking in a call at Jamaica before covering ports on America’s east coast, then round to ports such as Houston and New Orleans. After another call back to New York, it was back across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and on through the Suez Canal back to the Far East. Many years later when working for Sea Containers, the company acquired the concession rights to the Corinth Canal in Greece. A ship transiting the Corinth Canal is surely still one of the most dramatic sights in the modern maritime world, with the sheer vertical rock walls (about 90 metres high) on either side of the canal and a channel only 21/24 metres wide. In the 1980s, James Sherwood of Sea Containers deployed the mv Orient Express on a cruise route between Venice and Istanbul – for many of the passengers the transit of the Corinth Canal, with only a very small margin of clearance on either side of the ship, was one of the highlights of the trip. As ships have grown in size, commercial use of this canal has fallen.
Closer to home the great canal engineers in Britain followed the same logic of shortening shipping routes on the open sea by means of canal, and in addition, particularly in England, a wide network of canals helped facilitate the movement of raw materials and manufactured goods to and from inland locations from the industrial revolution onwards. Under the stewardship of British Waterways, many of these canals have been revitalised. On my old ‘home turf’ in Scotland, the beauty of the Caledonian and Crinan canals is simply stunning and thousands of visitors each year now marvel at the more modern engineering achievement of rejoining the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal via the amazing boat lifting mechanism of the ‘Falkirk Wheel’.
In my “Message From The Bridge” in April this year I paid tribute to the engineering skill which lay behind the construction of lighthouses such as Bell Rock (celebrating its 200th anniversary this year) and the construction of the canals mentioned above are other fine examples of vision, daring and, above all, excellent engineering. No doubt we will continue to update you on progress with the Panama Canal project in future editions of Sea Breezes.
The London Ship Show takes place at the Galleon Suite of the Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way on Saturday 22 October. Sea Breezes will have a stand – do come along and meet us there. For more details please visit www.ocean-liner-society.com
Captain Hamish A C Ross (Editor)