Photo of the Week
May 24, 2014

I was reading through some old Panama Canal Reviews recently and came across this very interesting article.  In the past, I have posted all kinds of information about the famous French Clapet barges that were originally in service by the French and then extensively used by the United States in the construction of the Panama Canal.  Well here is another story in the life of the clapet barge.  This photo and article are from the November 4, 1955 Panama Canal Review, Vol. 6, No. 4

Photo caption:     

BARGE No. 20, which was sold last month after nearly a half century of Canal service, is shown here on the right just after she and two other barges arrived in Balboa after a 17,500-mile trip from Cristobal, via the Straits of Magellan.  The photograph was taken in 1912.


     A Magellan of the Canal's floating equipment was sold last month after nearly 50 years of honorable Canal serv­ice. Barge No. 20, which once made the trip from Cristobal to Balboa via the Straits of Magellan, is being put into condition by its new owners, Luis Eduardo Barrera and Cesar Torrientes, to haul cargo between Panama and the Darien.
     The barge dates back to about 1908. For several years it carried sand and crushed rock from the Nombre de Dios sand pits and the Portobelo quarry to Gatun where the sand and rock eventually became part of the Atlantic Locks.
     About 1912, three old French clapets which were used in a similar service on the Pacific side had to be replaced. Barge No. 20 and two sister craft were selected as the replacements.
     The Canal, of course, had not then been flooded. Moving three steel barges, each about 160 feet long, across the Isthmus of Panama meant that they would have to be taken apart and shipped by rail.  It was finally decided that the most feasible method would be to tow the barges around the tip of South America.

     On February 11,1912, the tug
Reliance, a 134-foot craft designed for deep-water work, left Cristobal with the barges in tow. Tug and tow were manned by a crew of 34, under the command of R. C. Thompson, master of the Reliance.
     During the first three days out of Cristobal they ran into heavy weather which kept the decks awash. At times the towing machine at the stern of the tug was submerged while the prow of the vessel was in the air. After several days of this battering by waves and wind, the Reliance and her triple tow put into Savanilla Bay, not far from Portobelo, for repairs.
  Good weather, fortunately, followed.  The 1,100-mile run from Para to Pernam-buco in Brazil, for instance, took only nine days and five hours. Other than difficulties with their supplies of coal and water, the Reliance and her tow made the rest of the trip without incident.

     Finally, after a voyage of 126 days— during 86 of which the tug and the barges were actually under way—the craft reached Balboa. It was the first time that a tow of this of this sort had made a voyage of such length.

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