The Panama Canal.
The canal is truly one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels. Stretching for 80km (51 miles) from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colón on the Atlantic side, the canal cuts right through the continental divide. Around 13,000 vessels pass through the canal each year and ships worldwide are built with the dimensions of the Panama Canal’s locks (305m long and 33.5m wide) in mind.
In 2010, the canal brought in US$2 billion in revenue. Ships pay according to their weight, with the average fee around US$30,000. The highest amount paid was around US$376,000, paid in 2010 by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl; the lowest amount was US$0.36, paid in 1928 by Richard Halliburton, who swam through.
The pre-expansion canal has three sets of double locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side and Gatún Locks on the Atlantic side. Between the locks, ships pass through a huge artificial lake, Lago Gatún, created by the Gatún Dam across the Río Chagres (when created they were the largest dam and largest artificial lake on Earth), and the Gaillard Cut, a 14km cut through the rock and shale of the isth- mian mountains.
With the passage of each ship, a staggering 52 million gallons of fresh water is released into the ocean. Panamanians voted to expand the canal in 2006. The US$5.25 billion plan will widen and deepen existing navigation channels as well as enable the construction of two new locks. Originally planned for inauguration at the canal’s 100-year anniversary, it now looks like the expansion will not open until 2015.
Facts & Figures:
- Active work started by the French January 20, 1882.
- Number of lives lost during French control 20,000.
- Work began by the United States May 4, 1904.
- First ship through the Canal September 26, 1913.
- Date of official opening August 15, 1914.
- A boat traveling from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.
- Time to transit Canal 8-10 hours.
- Number of ships crossing daily 40.
- Number of ships crossing each year 12-15 thousand.
- Each door of the locks weights 750 tons.
- Time of passage through locks 3 hours.
- Amount of water filling each lock 52 million gallons.
- Gatun Lake (area) 164 square miles.
- Gatun Lake is at a nominal 85 feet above the Pacific Level.
- Estimated cost of the Panama Canal built by U.S. $375,000,000.