Panama Canal & how a postage stamp changed history

I gave you a lot of technical information about the canal on my last transit in 2018, like how many ships go through – 40 per day.  The cost minimum of $200 thousand and today’s figures remain about the same. The fact that the French started the canal in the late 1800s but never finished it.  One of the reasons was such a huge loss of life – almost 30 thousand workers most due to yellow fever and malaria.

Nicaraguan stamp depicting a
smoking Mount Momotombo

The USA looked at buying it from the French, but decided to explore the possibility of putting their own canal through Nicaragua.  It would have been an easier build because the land was flat. However, there was a volcano located near Lake Nicaragua where the proposed canal would pass.  The French of course wanted to sell to the USA and saw an opportunity to make this deal happen.  From a stamp dealer they purchased 500 Nicaraguan stamps depicting the smoking Mount Momotombo volcano and sent them in a letter to every US senator and member of the House of Representatives noting, “if active volcanoes (and their associated earthquakes) are so common in Nicaragua that they feature prominently on stamps, this is not the right country to build a canal.”  When voting took place the next day, the majority of politicians voted for the Panama route, and in 1904 construction work on the Panama canal resumed.  Just one year later, Nicaragua’s Mount Momotombo erupted.

So the US purchased the canal at a cost of $50 million.  France received $40 million and Panama $10 million.  Ten years and an additional $400 million later, the canal was opened in 1914.

Our ship ‘Insignia’ is heading toward the “old” or smaller locks to the left, while the huge Panamax ship to the right is heading into the new Panamax locks.

In 2016 the new Panamax or Neopanamax locks were completed.  Most Neopanamax vessels transiting the canal are containerships, some carrying up to 15,000 – 20 foot containers. With the opening of the Panama Canal expansion, it was to be expected that the waterway would shatter all sorts of cargo volume records and fees. So with the canal’s added capacity one figure in particular stands out: $829,468.  That’s the staggering toll a containership previously too big to use the old Panama Canal paid to pass through the new canal.

Sharing “our” lock with two private yachts “in the spirit of the canal.”

Taking a yacht through the Panama Canal would be a fantastic adventure, and one that has always been allowed “in the spirit of the Canal” .   They have to share with the larger vessels and it costs $1600.  That’s double what it was a couple of years ago, but keep in mind the true cost of the process, and enjoy the experience for all it’s really worth!

The Panama Canal takes in about $2 billion a year in revenue, and approximately $800 million goes into Panama’s General Treasury each year.  The canal recently celebrated its 100th birthday on August 15, 2014.

Passing our “big sister” ship Marina making her way north to the Atlantic was a special experience with lots of hooting and cheering from the passengers and the ships exchanging blasts on their horns!

This time cruising friends Dean & Kristine who have a suite at the front of the ship right by my old cabin invited us to an open house for the Panama Canal transit.  We started at 8am with mimosas and pastries.  Had a bit of a break, and then came back at one o’clock for the rest of the journey through the canal, for drinks and sandwiches and cheese and snacks.   It was a lovely day and the Lawrence’s did an absolutely fine job.  We had a lot of fun.  And a lot to drink and eat, and I believe it was an early night for most of us.

4 thoughts on “Panama Canal & how a postage stamp changed history

    1. Hi Susan, It was approx 8 hours from start to finish. Nice day and good weather. It was actually very hot. Hard to stand out on the balcony for very long with the sun. Good time though. xo Pat

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