The Corozal: A Scottish dredger which helped to build the Panama Canal

Gillian Sharpe
BBC Scotland

Image source, USMA LIBRARY
Caption for the image

Simon’s shipyard was Renfrew upon the Clyde where Simon built the Corozal dredger

This ship was known for being a small, efficient vessel that could do big things.

It is widely considered one of 20th century’s greatest engineering feats. The Corozal-built dredger by Renfrew was crucial in building what is sometimes regarded as its most difficult and dangerous section.

Paisley Museum staff discovered a modern ship model that was misplaced while moving. This inspired them to research a fascinating story, which they will share when the museum is reopened in 2023.

John Pressley, Paisley Museum’s director of the Paisley Museum says that it is difficult to imagine when you look out over the Clyde towards the Simon’s yard. Now, it is covered with housing.

This entire place used to be a hub of industry, with noise and smoke. He adds that they were creating dredgers, which helped build the world.

“Burning new ports, docks, and expanding waterways to create better trade routes, as well as new harbors.”

In 1904 the United States began construction of the Panama Canal. This canal was intended to reduce the number of sea crossings that are dangerous between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Oceans.

This was an American government project. The equipment and materials were to be imported from America.

However, it was Simons of Renfrew from Scotland that beat the competition in 1911. Their bid was half of San Francisco’s.

Corozal had the job of leading ships that were working in the Culebra Cut. It was difficult and prone to mudslides.

Pressley says, “It was probably the most powerful dredger ever built.”

The Cut had a workforce of approximately 18,000 people who were working with picks. When the Cut reached a certain point, the Cut was flooded.

Pressley stated that “The Corozal came in then and did a lot this excavation work.”

It wasn’t just one dredger. There were probably 33 additional dredgers. This gives an indication of how large the job they did.

Paisley Museum employees moved to a new location and discovered a model of Corozal.

This video explains how everything works. It is essentially a ladder with huge buckets that scoop soil out of mud.

Pressley says that there are huge excavating equipment which can produce tonnes of soil per scoop.

“The shipyard has an extraordinary picture of one bucket with 12 men inside.

I think that there are 50 buckets up the ladder, so it could really produce a lot of soil and dirt.”

It was finished December 1913. The Corozal became the first boat to cross the Culebra Cut.

It was home to yards that could accommodate all types of ship along the Clyde, including passenger boats, lines, and naval vessels.

The events that took place on the river, including the Corozal, were a global phenomenon.

Abigail McIntyre, Scottish Maritime Museum: “The Clyde were an absolute powerhouse building.”

“And specialisms had this ripple affect around the world.

So, having a Renfrew dredger built is a testament to the fact that even small yards could have a significant impact on the international stage.


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