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Issue 338 - February 2000

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US relinquishes control over Panama Canal

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The following article appeared in The Independent on Tuesday 14 December 1999.

Panama will soon have full sovereignty over its territory and the crowds came out to cheer yesterday. The Spanish King Juan Carlos, six heads of state and beribboned dignitaries from all over Latin America gathered in the isthmus to witness the ex-US president Jimmy Carter hand over the Panama Canal.

Bedecked with flowers for the celebration, the complex system of locks that raises 64 feet on a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific through a 51-mile-long cut in the mountains, is no longer considered vital for American domination of the hemisphere.
 

Picture of Panama Canal Lock

A ship squeezes through one of the 110 ft wide locks on the Panama Canal
 

The Panamanians are rather miffed that the Clinton administration has cold-shouldered their moment because of domestic politics.

When the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright bailed out at the last minute, anti-American sentiment soared. In 1906, the US president Teddy Roosevelt travelled to the canal construction site. It was the first international trip by an American president, and the absence yesterday of President Clinton, who with 60 official foreign visits is the most globetrotting chief executive on record, was taken as an intentional slight.

Curiously, though, most Panamanians are underwhelmed by the significance of the 31 December change in canal operations. Most still support some kind of US military presence in Panama, primarily to pump dollars into the economy. The US Navy retains the right to guarantee the security of the region and also to cut to the front of the queue when sailing through the American-built canal.

When the Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso decided to mark the change with an early party rather than wait for New Year's day, she ensured a greater VIP turnout but it put a damper on the festivities.

"The ceremony should have been on 31 December at noon, when by the Torrijos-Carter treaties the canal is actually turned over, so this dilutes the significance," complained Juan Antonio Tack who as foreign minister was a negotiator for the 1977 treaties.

With 14,000 ships passing through the canal each year, the canal has mammoth earning potential and is worth at least $5bn (£3bn).

Earlier this year, General Charles Wilhelm, head of the US Army's Southern Command, warned that Panamanian forces would be powerless to stop rebel incursions into Panama once US forces pulled out. On Sunday, militants over-ran a Marine base on the Panamanian border and killed at least 47 troops.

The handover is seen by some as an unwelcome retreat of US power and arrangements for managing the canal have been criticised. The contract was won by the Hong Kong company, Hutchinson Whampoa, but as Hong Kong is a part of China it led some to see the hand of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the agreement and to claim that the canal will be effectively under Chinese control.

Thus, in a low-key way, will end a US endeavour that was in its day the biggest, most complex and most expensive undertaken by the US outside its borders, a project that became a source of American pride, and international power, for most of the century. The US gained sovereign rights over the Panama Canal Zone, a 16km wide strip flanking the planned canal, in 1903, as a reward for sending a gunboat to help Panama wrest its independence from Colombia.

The canal was opened to traffic 11 years later. It was militarised during the Second World War, when up to 65,000 US servicemen were based there. Now that the Cold War is over, it is seen in Washington as a commercial transit route, no longer as a vital military asset.


December Meeting

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The first part of the December meeting was entertained by a series of slides presented by our Chairman, Brian Evans.

He started off with a number of slides of the old Anderton-type lift at Les Fontinettes on the Neufossé Canal in Northern France. This saw eighty years of service before becoming redundant in 1967 when a new lock was built to replace it.

These were followed by pictures of the River Vilaine and the Canal d'Ille et Rance. Moving on to Redon on the Vilaine, we saw the crossroads (cross-waterways?) where the Canal de Nantes à Brest bisect each other almost in the centre of town.

Our French visit was rounded off with a look at the large bridge across the estuary of the River Loire at St Nazaire and the tidal causeway to the nearby island of Noirmoutier.

After our tour of northern France, Brian showed the meeting slides of the Arun Cruise from Pulborough to Pallingham Quay Farm in 1997. He rounded off his show at Botley Quay on the occasion of the Solent & Arun Branch's Hamble Cruise in September 1999.

Brian managed, in his inimitable style, to tell stories and give reminiscences about the places we visited through his pictures.

The second part of the evening was devoted the traditional American supper. As always our members "did us proud" with a generous spread of food which was almost too much. A wonderful meal.

Peter Oates


January Meeting

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During the BCN Marathon Challenge boaters are encouraged to visit difficult and remote parts of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. At our January meeting, Southampton Canal Society members followed in their wake, but by slide and enthusiastic commentary from Chris and Helen Davey. This was a kind of 'double act' where Chris talked about the BCN and the boating technicalities, then Helen told us about the organising of the competition and the awarding of points.

The BCN Marathon takes place as near as possible to the longest day to give boaters the maximum daylight hours, but the organisation starts many months before and the last of the boatmen's logs are not scrutinised before the end of the calendar year.

The idea of the Challenge is to get boats to use difficult or unused sections of canal, for if these waters are not used they fall into disrepair and can be lost for ever.

Smethwick Junction
Smethwick - junction of the New and Old Main Lines on the BCN
One of many fine pictures (the original in colour) in Michael Pearson's book
'Canal City Souvenir' available for just £4.99

If obstacles to navigation are found, then BW employees or work party volunteers can later be directed to the troublesome spots bringing about necessary maintenance.

The more difficult a section is deemed to be the more points are awarded for navigating on it.

All this has to be decided months beforehand and a team of scrutineers recruited to visit points on the BCN, night and day, to make sure no competitor gets into serious difficulties.

Chris and Helen Davey are to be congratulated on all the work they do in planning, organising, analysing the competitors' logs after the event. They should also be complimented for the lively way in which they related all the details to our members.

Brian Evans


ONE-SIDED SURVEYS?

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The following is reproduced from the November 1999 issue of NABO News (the magazine of the National Association of Boat Owners).

Last week I received a questionnaire from BW that was very biased and also didn't ask the questions boaters need asking. So I've designed my own. Before filling It in and sending it to BW, please photocopy it blank, and pass it on to other boaters to repeat the process. To make a point the first question below is designed as if BW had constructed this questionnaire. It is included to raise a smile and need not be filled in.

  Very good Excellent Magnificent
Do you think BW is box box box
 
Which statements do you agree with? Agree Disagree
BW spends too much on fancy literature. box box
BW charges too much for moorings. box box
BW charges too much for boat for Licenses. box box
To be charged to moor at the bottom of your own garden is extortion box box
Because BW looses £50m a year, BW senior salaries should not be so high. box box
Because there are others who would do his job better and cheaper, the Chief Executive should not receive £100,000 plus per year. box box
Nor should the other half dozen Senior Managers at Head office. box box
"Consultation" means asking boaters how best to run BW and then discussing the options offered, in open debate. box box
"Consultation" doesn't mean spending our money to exclusively promote and sell BW's ideas at the expense of any we might have. box box
When BW say they are going to continuously raise all prices, on all fronts, to the "limit the market will bear', do you think it will help if boaters and Boating Organisations shout loud and clear "Enough is enough" box box
For the sake of our pockets, I think boaters should shout louder to BW about BW's increasing prices. "BW your prices are too high!" box box
When boaters ask for more facilities their requests are used as reason to increase prices. Until BW prices are frozen, I will live with the facilities offered. box box

Signed (if you want to): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Date: . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Send to Dr Fletcher, British Waterways, Willow Grange, Church Road, Watford, WD13DW

Produced by Simon Greer (0860688134) in support of clearer, simpler communication between Boaters and BW. Please feel free to add your own statement.


WATERWAYS QUIZ

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A few questions to test your knowledge. There's no prizes but the answers will be published next month.

  1. High tide at Teddington is how long after high tide at London Bridge?
  2. When was the River Wey Navigation opened to Guildford?
  3. Who wrote the book 'Narrow Boat'?
  4. Newbury once had extensive wharves. What currently occupies the wharf site?
  5. In which county is the Hay inclined plane?
  6. Who wrote the first 'Bradshaws' guide to the canals?
  7. What is the fall of the shallowest lock of the Oxford Canal?
  8. In a traditional back cabin, what other purpose does the step serve?
  9. On which navigation is Saltaire?
  10. Who was the engineer of the Gota Canal in Sweden?

Historic barges salvaged after decades in water

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The following article appeared in The Independent on 18 December 1999

The canal boat 'Herbert' being lifted at ChesterIN its 19th-century heyday, it was the workhorse of Britain's canal network, but a barge of a kind archaeologists had feared lost was handled with immeasurable delicacy in a £20,000 operation to salvage it yesterday.

Archaeologists at the York Trust, which advised those preserving Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, were consulted before the timbers of the world's only surviving "canal flat", Onward, was lifted from a Shropshire Union Canal wharf in Chester. A wooden cradle was built beneath it before cranes hoisted up its bow.

This type of canal boat had not seen the light of day for 50 years. Flats were built in the 1800s to transport corn, linen and pig iron. They carried an astonishing 70 tonnes of freight along the narrow waterways.

Onward's length also made it adaptable to work the tidal Dee and Mersey rivers but in the Fifties, it was abandoned, buried along with other flats and narrow-boats as a cost-effective way of filling the Tower Wharf Basin at Chester. A British Waterways engineer stumbled upon the boats while developing a scheme to regenerate Chester's canalside, and archaeologists have subsequently excavated the timbers over the last year.

Two Mersey river flats, Herbert and John, which are almost as rare, followed Onward out of the water, yesterday. Herbert was badly damaged at Eastham at the junction of the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey in 1902, while John sank in the Mersey in 1989.

The three boats were immediately transported to the boat museum run by a British Waterways' trust at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. "We are particularly interested in finding out more about the flats' ability to carry enormous loads in very shallow inland waters," said Martin Cook, who has led the salvage effort.


Photo competition

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At the April meeting we will having our annual members' slides evening. This will give everyone the opportunity to show some pictures who feels they might not have enough of interest to make up a whole evening's show. So if you can put together about 10 to 15 pictures, look them out now.

It is hoped that by April we will have the facility to project prints (up to 7" x 5") onto the screen as well as transparencies. This will be confirmed in next month's Newsletter. So if you don't take slides this will be your opportunity to show something of waterways interest as well.

Towards the end of the evening, we will be holding a photo competition which will open to all members - you don't have to be showing slides / prints earlier in the evening. What we're looking for is one picture which can be anything to do (even loosely) with the waterways. It might be scenic, humorous, anything. The competition will be judged by all those present at the meeting.

And as an incentive to enter, there will be a book given to the winner as a prize. The book is "Victorian and Edwardian Canals from old photographs" by D D Gladwin. This book contains some 168 photographs dating from before the First World War and is, we think, out of print. We are grateful to Mike Pomeroy for donating this book to the Society.


Society Library

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The Society now has two new librarians to look after and lend out books from our waterway-related library. Alan and Adrianne Howarth have taken over responsibility for our collection from Tony Fry. They say that they intend to bring many of the books from the library to most meetings. The committee would like to thank the Howarths for taking on this task. Alan and Adrianne have decided that the library books will be displayed as part of the Sales Stand. So, please go along and see them; look out a book or two.

We must also thank Tony Fry for looking after the library since Sue Lewis had to give up the job. Of late, Tony's circumstances have been such that he has been unable to attend our meetings as often as he would have liked. However, he was instrumental in ensuring this asset was not lost to the Society. As borrowers, we must ensure that these efforts have not been in vain.


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Page created 11 May 2003 - layout changes 7 December 2003

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