The Panama Canal: The world's most interesting ditch

Originally published at:

1 Like

Buy local.


Speaking of ditches, it’s interesting what steps some will take to avoid them.

1 Like

I visited the canal for the first time earlier this year. It truly is a marvel of engineering and economics, with the original locks still operating more than 100 years after they opened. The video isn’t kidding about ships being built exactly to the canal’s width and draft – there’s typically only a few inches of clearance on either side of the first canal, which is why the “mule” locomotives are tethered to the ship to the left and right to keep it from scraping the walls.

Following quickly on the free movement of goods that the canal enabled, Panama embraced free movement of capital. Panama City is an ever-growing forest of mostly Chinese-constructed condo and bank towers that, despite the exposure of the Panama Papers, still seems to act as a great big money laundry.

They’re also making an attempt to build off the existing flows by also being a data hub, but that effort seems to be stalled.


An unlikely predecessor, that was quite the white elephant in and of itself, was the Hennepin Canal that linked the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. By the time it was completed, it was already obsolete, since it was built to roughly the same dimensions as other historic canals like the Illinois and Michigan, while the locks on the rivers were greatly enlarged during the same era - and it also needed 21 locks in about eighteen miles to get out of the Illinois River valley. The construction techniques developed for it ended up being applied to the Panama Canal, so it was at least useful as an engineering prototype.


When a Chief Cook sailing the oceans, I transited the Panama Canal more than 200 times. My fondest memories are of the sloggingly slow pace through putrified water, and the mosquitos that can eat the flesh from a human. Fun times…

P.S. I haven’t seen the new Canal, they say it’s a beauty.


Here’s a 1964 recipe for what to do with those leftover nukes…


Video narration:

After a few earlier false starts, the Americans went down to Panama in 1903…

False starts is putting it mildly. Before the American effort, the French, headed by the builder of the Suez canal, spent 20 years trying to build the canal. The work cost over 20,000 lives and nearly bankrupted the country.




Any idea why the narrator keeps pronouncing “US” as “you-essed”? Is it a regional thing? I haven’t heard it before, and it really stuck out.

Oh, and the Panama Canal is neat. Shame we have to spend so much money and resources moving so many things so far around the world. But locks are cool.


I am looking forward to a part two, with an assessment on how an all-year accessible Northwest Passage would change the game.


Note to myself: First look at the channel’s page!

Special shout-out to to citing their sources. The numbers popping up in the lower left corner are actually footnotes, and the corresponding links are in the description of the video.
1 Like

Only 85 feet? Hell, sea level rise should have that problem solved in just a few centuries!


There’s a good documentary on the Canal with the most appropriate title ever: it is, literally, the well known palindrome “A man, a Plan: Panama”.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.