Excitement abounded on the University of Southern Mississippi's newest research vessel Saturday as it began its trip through the Panama Canal.
It was a picturesque setting, truly, for the celebratory transit. USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett, USM Vice President of Research Dr. Gordon Cannon and other stakeholders watched the boat begin its journey as the sun set over the harbor on the Pacific side of the Canal.
"I think it's the most awesome thing ever," said a speechless Chairman of USM's Department of Marine Science Dr. Monty Graham.
Bennett and Cannon watched the 135-foot vessel from the bow as it left the harbor for an overnight trip through the first set of locks in the Canal.
"It's an incredible feeling to know that we are making our way down toward the Panama Canal and that this awesome vessel will soon be in Gulfport and the University of Southern Mississippi can continue the excellent work that it is doing in ocean science," said Bennett. "Just a proud moment for me as president and all these people that love USM."
As the vessel, which will expand oceanographic research for the University and other entities, made its way to the first lock of the Canal, a crew of line handlers hopped on to catch lines from the locomotives on top of the lock on either side. The lines connect from the locomotive to the ship in order to keep it balanced in the middle of the lock while the water pours in to fill the lock.
"It's very simple, the work, but it's so dangerous," explained line handler Humberto.
Humberto has worked on the canal as a line handler for two years, and he said he has seen coworkers' legs or hands injured due to the strenuous, yet necessary, work.
An addition to the Canal will open next year, according to the Canal's executive Vice President of Engineering and Program Management Ilya Marotta, and it will use tug boats instead of locomotives.
The crew from USM will continue part of the ship's journey down the Panama Canal Sunday and will return the following day. The Point Sur will arrive in Gulfport in approximately one week, where it will be housed at the State Port at Gulfport.