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Swimming, whether as a hobby or a sport, is a very enjoyable activity and one that is relatively easy to engage in, as well as economical. As the works in the Panama Canal progressed, there were greater opportunities to find and furnish places for these enjoyments. Therefore, to prevent a disorderly use of these areas, in December 1913 Colonel George W. Goethals, President of the Canal Commission, published Circular Letter No. 515, whereby swimming areas were being restricted to prevent any interference with the works of the canal. A special site was reserved for the use of personnel stationed at Fort Elliot and Fort Otis. The Police and Prisons Division was authorized to specifically enforce these provisions. Those who worked with floating equipment (dredges, tugs, excavators, cranes, etc.) could bathe in the ocean or the lakes near their work sites in their off-duty time, as long as they observed existing provisions.
The desire to swim across the Panama Canal was expressed by many individuals, as soon as the works were nearing termination. On November 12, 1913, special permission was granted Captain Allan Borran and Hellen My Golding, to swim in the Canal, excluding Gaillard Cut, which was not yet completed. On November 22, beginning at Gatun Locks, Captain Borran swam a distance of some 20 miles from 5:20 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Two days later he resumed his swim at 10 a.m. to arrive at Balboa at 2:30 p.m. A total of thirty miles covered in 16 hours an 35 minutes, in addition to the resting period already stated.
Hellen My Golding swam from Cristobal to Balboa in several stages, although her attempt did not include a swim through the locks. To this time she is the only woman to have ever attempted such a feat.
The first ocean-to-ocean crossing of the canal was made by J. R. Bingaman and James Wendell Green who, upon requesting authorization, stated that they ought to be granted this honor, inasmuch as they were Canal Company employees. On August 18, 1914, barely three days after the official opening of the canal with the transit of steamship Ancon, they were granted authorization.
They initiated their journey on August 22, but because they were Canal employees, they were only allowed to swim on Sundays (their main argument). In this manner, on October 18, they concluded the 45-mile journey with a total of 26 hours and 34 minutes waters time. They were assisted by boats with food, timekeepers, and officials. They were authorized to swim the locks when these were not in operation; therefore, they had to climb or descend them by stairs.
The most publicized event was August 14, 1928, when Governor M. L. Walker agreed to the crossing by Richard Halliburton. The document read as follows:
Ancon, Canal Zone
Ancon, Canal Zone
In reference to our personal conversation today, I wish to inform you that Canal officials have no objection to your proposed swim from Colon to Panama.
To this regard, you are hereby cautioned that you will need a series of anti-typhoid vaccinations. We would also wish to inform you that alligators have been seen frequently in the Gaillard Cut.
Likewise, you are authorized to be accompanied by a boat carrying an expert marksman, a photographer, and a reporter. You are also authorized to swim the locks.
We wish to clarify that any expenses incurred by this expedition shall be borne by you and that the Panama Canal shall not be liable for any damages you may sustain.
M. L. Walker
M. L. Walker
Halliburton swam through the locks, which were appropriately raised and lowered, as they would have for the largest vessel in a fleet. Based on his body weight (140 lbs.), he had to pay 36 cents. Halliburton’s journey lasted 10 days, with a total of 50 hours waters time. After his successful crossing, he wrote the book New Worlds to Conquer, published in 1929 by Bobs-Merrill & Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. The eighth chapter entitled "The SS Richard Halliburton" (page 90) is a very detailed and anecdotal description of his endeavor.
A new attempt to cross the canal was made by Marvin Beacham and Regis Parton in 1936, but the respective authorities denied their request, even though their preparations had been well under way. On June 22, 1950, Charles Mcginn swam from Gatun to the Miraflores Locks in 36 hours. The trip lasted six days, including rest periods.
Captain Robert F. Legge made the journey from Gatun to Miraflores in October 1958 in 21 hours and 54 minutes. He paid 72 cents for this crossing. Subsequently, Governor William Potter presented him with the Panama Canal Master Key in the grade of "Honorary Ship" in recognition of his achievement.
On May 12, 1959, Sergeant George W. Harrison swam from Gatun to the Miraflores Locks in 22 hours and 52 minutes, resting outside the water to take food, and apply oils and massages. However, he did not swim across the Pedro Miguel Locks, but rather walked across on its edges. (Panama Canal Review, August 1966, page 8).
The last attempt to swim the entire canal, non-stop, was by the Hindi Mihir Sen, on October 30, 1966. However, he had to give up after 15 hours on account of strong stomach cramps, after having swum 12 of the total 45 miles of the route.
After this, no more authorizations of any kind were granted for these feats.
The use of the waters of the Big Ditch for diving, water skiing, aquaplaning, low-draft boats, hydroplanes, ferries, yachts, and other types of water vessels is well defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, which is reviewed annually. The Code consists of 50 Titles, each divided in chapters.
Book 35 contains provisions on the Panama Canal It is interesting to note the drive and motivation of the ten individuals who engaged in this feat. Most of them did so to satisfy a desire, to reach a goal in their lives, and to overcome an obsession