The Dreamers: Part 7 of 10
Rosa stepped into the bustling control room, bracing herself for a historic day – the first transit through the newly completed third lane of the Panama Canal. This massive expansion project had dominated her last five years as Canal Administrator, but today made the years of stressful toil worthwhile.
She watched proudly as technicians put the finishing touches on the gleaming new control consoles governing the Third Set of Locks paralleling the original two lanes. The $5.5 billion expansion was the largest upgrade of the canal since its 1914 opening, enabling transit of modern post-Panamax mega ships too large for the original locks. It symbolized Panama’s continued independence, innovation and economic ambition.
Through the window, Rosa observed the fresh concrete and enormous new miter gates that could accommodate vessels carrying up to 14,000 containers, nearly triple the prior limit. After nine years of fierce public debate, two national referendums, tireless design efforts and contentious construction, the expansion neared completion right on schedule.
Rosa hardly recognized the weary face staring back at her from the mirror these days after managing such a Herculean project. But finally inaugurating the new lane’s operation today alongside Panama’s president made every sacrifice worthwhile. Her nation was realizing the full potential of its cherished canal, just as leaders from Vasco Nuñez de Balboa to her grandfather Pedro had boldly dreamed.
Donning her crisp blue Canal Administrator’s uniform, Rosa bustled through final launch preparations. She conferred with pilots, tug operators, line handlers and crane crews to ensure flawless teamwork for this first giant vessel’s passage. The visiting heads of state meant no embarrassing snags in front of a global audience.
Precisely on cue under Rosa’s guidance from the control deck, the mammoth new lock gates began swinging open. Tugboats shepherded in the gleaming green supertanker, over 1,200 feet long with a 160 foot beam. Rosa beamed with pride as it glided ceremonially into position.
With a skillful series of commands to her expanded team, Rosa directed ballasting operations to raise the leviathan ship up and over the continental divide through steps in the three consecutive giant lock chambers. Twenty minutes later, her screen showed the massive vessel successfully exiting into the Pacific, inaugurating the canal’s new lane in perfect form. Applause erupted in the control room.
Over the coming weeks, Rosa oversaw the training of a new generation of canal pilots, handlers and operators on the modernized facilities and equipment. Within months, traffic through the new locks increased rapidly as global shipping lines clamored for the competitive advantage of Panama’s improved canal access.
Rosa’s name became internationally renowned as the visionary leader who shepherded Panama and its canal boldly into a new era. She was featured in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list and invited to prestigious conferences worldwide. But she remained laser focused on her mission.
Ten years after its inauguration, the expanded canal now handled over 13,500 transits annually and over 450 million tons of cargo bound between Asia and America’s east coast cities. Economists estimated the ship time savings cut nearly 8,000 miles off the typical voyage between these vital markets, fueling global trade.
Panama’s economy continued booming from added toll revenues as Rosa ensured smooth 24/7 canal operations. She took pride knowing her nation was recapturing its historic role as the linchpin of world commerce first envisioned by explorers centuries ago.
On the anniversary of the expansion’s opening each June, Rosa brought her grandchildren to walk the canal’s edge and peer at the mega-ships and cranes lining the channel. They gazed in awe just as she had listened to Pedro as a child. She shared stories of how teamwork and imagination had tamed nature to unite the world’s oceans.
The cycle continued as Rosa inspired new generations to dream at whatever task was before them. History faded from textbooks but lived on vibrantly in those who took up the spirit of common human enterprise. Whether working a lock wall or commanding the control center, all played a part writing the canal’s next chapter.
With time left before retirement beckoned, Rosa began laying long-term plans to ensure Panama’s waterway remained a vital 21st century trade link. But she took care not to micromanage the future. Those who followed must find their own path, just as she once did.
Rosa’s enduring monument would be sustaining the universal yearning to build, connect, and journey forward as one across whatever voids may divide us. That timeless drive once compelled a daring Spanish explorer and her grandfather alike. And like them, Rosa would continue faithfully tending the light of imagination so it could spark builders generations after hers. For dreamers never cease.