National Geographic : 1978 Feb
debate goes on the canal does too." In 1914 the Big Ditch was completed. The total cost was 387 million dollars, including 40 million for French property rights and equipment, but the new waterway cut 9,000 miles off the voyage between New York and San Francisco. In 1978 the debate goes on. Delayed by lock repairs,Capt. N. Doryzas has been waiting his ship's turn for two days, among two dozen other vessels. Pilot Dick Andrews takes command. CaptainDoryzas is nervous about possible collisions.Dick is not. It's his 1,127th canal transit. Even the captains of warships must yield control of their vessels to pilots here-a procedure unique among all the world's waterways. The canal itself is unique. The PilotsHandbook, for example, charts currents at the Gatun sea entrance with split-level movement: Fresh water on the surface flows in one direction, while heavier salt water at the bottom moves the opposite way. The handbook discusses hazards of "bank suc tion," "vessel 'squat' and 'surge' in Gaillard Cut," shoaling, tides of 20 feet on the Pacific side and mere inches on the Caribbean. Dick's orders to the engine room are gentle: "Half ahead, please." We pass a fruit ship named Jakov Alksnis in Cyrillic lettering. "The second (Continued on page 287) jungle-lined Gatun Lake. Some three dozen ships travel the canal every day.