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Panama Canal pilots train on tiny model ships

Staff writer |
Crossing the Panama Canal is no easy task. That's why, whether you're on a small sailboat or a gigantic cargo ship, your voyage across Central America's famous manmade waterway is helmed by a member of the Panama Canal Pilots Association.

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But now the pilots face a very big challenge. With the $6 billion expansion of the canal that is underway, canal pilots will soon have to contend with post-Panamax behemoths, modern, super-sized vessels that don't currently fit through the locks of the canal.

So the Pilots Association is sending some of its members to a special training facility in France to help them learn how to deal with the new locks, tugboat system and channels that they'll have to navigate on completion of the expansion.

That facility happens to be in the French Alps near the famed ski resort of Grenoble and the pilots will be training on one-25th scale model boats.

The site is called Port Revel and maritime pilots and captains have been going there since it opened in 1967 to train on a 13-acre, manmade lake using meticulously recreated ships including tiny cargo boats.

Port Revel, however, is a temporary solution for the Pilots Association. The country plans to build its own training center complete with a lake and 1:25-scale boats.

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