Photo of the Week
January 9, 2000

The maintenance of the buoys that mark the Panama Canal channel, both within Gatun Lake and in the sea entrances, is an essential job.  The Crane Boat "Atlas" which removes in-place buoys for maintenance and replaces them with new or refurbished ones, a crewmember is dwarfed by the giant channel buoy about to be placed in he water. There are 181 lighted navigational buoys in place in the Canal at all time.  Panama Canal Commission, 80th Anniversary - Commemorative Album 1994.

I thought it appropriate to post this picture to show everyone what boat it was that participated in the turnover ceremonies at Miraflores locks last month.  Here was this great looking boat in the Miraflores locks (see photo below) all freshly painted and decorated and no one referred to it as the "Atlas".  They also referred to it as a "steam ship", which it isn't.  The "Atlas" is a diesel engine powered vessel and was built by the Panama Canal Mechanical Division's Balboa Shops in 1934. It was probably the largest vessel ever built by the Panama Canal and still in operation today.  The Panama Canal built many tug boats and other smaller work-horse vessels through the years.  Those days ended many years ago when it was found to be cheaper to contract.

I called my very good friend Ed Sykes tonight to get some first hand info on this historic vessel.  Ed served as the First Mate on the "Atlas" for many years and saw a lot of action and changes.  Another good friend, Clark Jennings was the Captain of the "Atlas" for many years.  

Ed told me that the "Atlas" was not only a buoy tender as shown above.  He told me that he was operating the crane the day that photo was taken.  It was a staged photo.  You can see the Dredging Division's field office in the background.  Ed told me that the most frequent jobs was the moving of Locks Locomotives from wall to wall or lock to lock.  The "Atlas" was equipped with a 75 ton crane.  Locks Locomotives weight is 55 tons each, so they were 20 tons under the max lift weight when moving these locomotives.  He told me that during Lock's overhauls, the "Atlas" played a big part in bringing the big equipment used during overhaul.  The "Atlas" has a large for cargo hold that could even hold Locks Locomotives for transport from Lock to Lock.  For comparison, the buoy being lifted above, only weighed 6 tons with chain and concrete block anchor.

The "Atlas" was retired in 1996 as a work-horse vessel.  It was replaced in by the "Oceanus" named after another Greek god.  The crane was removed from the "Atlas" and installed on the "Oceanus".  

The "Atlas" is used today as a  training vessel for Panama Canal Pilots. 


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