El Corozal helped build the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is widely regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century and a small ship was instrumental in the construction of what is often considered one of its most difficult and dangerous sections.
It is the Corozal, a dredging boat built by the Scottish company Renfrew.
The Paisley Museum staff rediscovered a contemporary model of the lost ship in the middle of moving its facilities.
This prompted them to research a remarkable story that will feature prominently when the restored museum reopens in 2023.
“It’s pretty hard to imagine when you see it now,” says John Pressley of the Paisley Museum, referring to the ship.
“That ship was opening dredges that helped a lot to build the world we know today,” he adds.
“Building new ports, new docks, expanding waterways, creating better trade routes,” he explains.
As an American project, the government wanted the equipment and supplies to come from the United States.
But it was a Scottish shipyard, Simons of Renfrew, which, in 1911, beat the competition with an offer that was less than half that of its rival in San Francisco.
The Corozal’s job was to direct the ships working in the Culebra Cut, which was a difficult section of the canal, prone to landslides.
“It was the most powerful dredging vessel ever built,” says Pressley.
A workforce of around 18,000 people had been blasting their way with pickaxes, shovels and dynamite, and once a certain point was reached, the Corte was flooded and dredgers were allowed to enter.
“Then the Corozal came along and did a lot of this excavation work,” says Pressley.
“He was not alone. I think there were about 33 more dredges, which gives you an idea of the scale of the work they were doing. “
A model of the Corozal from the time it was built was rediscovered when the Paisley Museum staff moved to a new location.
The replica shows in detail how everything worked: a ladder made of huge buckets to remove dirt and mud.
“There are these huge digging buckets that can scoop tons of dirt into each shovel,” says Pressley.
“There is an amazing image of one of these cubes in the shipyard and there are 12 men trapped inside.
“I think there are 50 cubes on that ladder, so it could really produce a lot of dirt.”
Completed in December 1913, the Corozal was the first ship to cross the Culebra Cut, the last barrier to open the canal the following year.
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