The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is a 77.1 km (48-mile) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 metres (85 ft) above sea level. The current locks are 33.5 metres (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2015.
Open Water Swimming
In 1913, Captain Alfred Brown (aka Captain Allan Borran), a lifeguard from New York who described himself as the champion long-distance swimmer of the world, together with Elaine May Golding (aka Hellen My Golding) who was billed in the press as the champion lady swimmer of America made a partial 10-day stage swim across the Panama Canal from Cristobal to Balboa bypassing the lochs in an era before the canal was fully opened to boat traffic between 12-16 December 1913. Their permit required them to skip Gaillard Cut, then known as Culebra, which still was closed to ships as well as swimmers. Golding swam breaststroke.
It is also reported that Captain Borran swam 20 miles on 22 November 1913 and then two days later swam 10 more miles to cover a total of 30 miles in 16 hours 35 minutes. Golding swam from Cristobal to Balboa in several stages, although her attempt did not include a swim through the locks.
In 1914, Panama Canal employees J.R. Bingaman and James Wendell Green, who were Panama Canal employees, started a stage swim on 22 August and completed the 45-mile ocean-to-ocean swim on 18 October after 26 hours 34 minutes in the water. Governor George W. Goethals granted Bingaman and Green permission to swim through the locks chambers and climb up the ladders at the ends at a time when the locks are not in use as long as the operation were not interfered. They swam freestyle in stages including the loch chambers only on Sundays and other times they were off work.
In 1928, travel writer Richard Halliburton reportedly swam the length of the Panama Canal, swimming 50 hours total in the water over a 10-day period while escorted by a rowboat with a rifleman and rowboat operator. Governor M.L. Walker granted him persmission to swim along with a small launch, a cameraman, a newspaper reporter and an expert rifleman. Charges for the passage were made in accordance with the ton rate, and Halliburton, weighing 150 pounds, paid 36 cents. After his successful ocean-to-ocean crossing, he wrote the book New Worlds to Conquer that was published in 1929 by Bobs-Merrill & Company and included a chapter entitled "The SS Richard Halliburton" that gave a very detailed and anecdotal description of his swim.
In 1936, two U.S. Navy men stationed at Coco Solo including Marvin Beacham of the Submarine base and Regis Parton of the Fleet Air Base, both members of the Southern Cross Swimming Club, planned to make the first non-stop swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. They were to be accompanied by two U.S. Navy launches carrying men with rifles and a net insure their safety against fish, alligators, suction and other accompanying dangers. The project was ultimately canceled.
In 1950, Charles McGinn, a U.S. Military Academy cadet of the class of 1953, completed a 6-day stage swim between 22-28 June from Pier 6 in Cristobal, spending about 36 hours total in the water escorted by a rowboat manned by Robert Kariger. He spent approximately 5 hours each day swimming, finishing at Balboa Yacht Club pier
In 1958, 52-year-old Captain Robert Legge, the 15th Naval District Medical Officer, swam 35 miles in the Canal from Gatun to Pedro Miguel in October in a total time of 21 hours 54 minutes. He was charged 72 cents in tolls, the rate for a 1-ton vessel in ballast. He was presented with the key to Panama Canal Locks by the Governor of the Canal Zone.
In 1959, 32-year U.S. Army sergeant George W. Harrison sponsored by the First Battle Group of the 20th Infantry swam from Gatun to Miraflores Locks over a 2-day period on 12-13 May 1959 in 22 hours 52 minutes, stopping for rest and food and walking around Pedro Miguel.
In 1962, 42-year-old oceanographer Albert H. Oshiver from Washington, D.C. swam from south Gatun to Gamboa in 29 hours finishing at 5 am on 30 December 1962. He was accompanied part of the way by a motor boat operated by W.R. Byrd of the Terminals Division and all of the way by a cayuco attended by Pedro Torres. At night he wore a flashing red light strapped to his forehead and Torres had a battery powered light on his finger to show the swimmer his course. He was presented with the key to Panama Canal Locks by the Governor of the Canal Zone.
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