Sunday, March 3, 2013

Panamal Canal Transit - Update

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama (still....get us the heck out of here!!)

YES!!! It finally happened....we have an offical day of departure for the Caribbean, Wednesday, March 6th. Adios Pacific and Panama City, hello reggae, steel drums, even clearer blue waters and more consisitent wind (well, we hope). 

We have a date....March 6th!!!

As you have deducted by now, we are ready to move on and depart Panama (more on that later).  The official from the Admeasurer office visited us on our boat a week ago Friday, where he measured and evaluated our vessel to  ensure it was capabale of navigating the Canal.  All went well and the next step was to pay our tranist fees. The breakdown of cost for our 38 foot sailboat follows:

Transit fee for boat up to 50 feet:  $800
TVI Inspection Charge:  $54
Security Charge:  $130
Buffer Fee:  $891

Refund expected:  $891

The buffer fee works as a type of security deposit just in case we cannot make it through in the scheduled time frame (i.e. engine failure, etc).  Apparently, if we are delayed due to the Canal Authority, there is no charge. It states in the documents that we will be refunded the money within 2 to 3 weeks, but this being Panama, we are not holding our breath. Ironically, they transfer the refund into our bank account...huh?

But here is the REALLY interesting part.....they do NOT accept credit cards, wire transfers, or any other form of payment.  It's old school down here, cold hard cash only, baby!! So this presented a few challenges for us.

Where do we withdraw $2,000 where there are no Bank of Americas??
How do we avoid getting mugged while traipsing through the streets of Panama City?
Where do we hide it on the boat while awaiting our trip to the Administration Office?

Might as well draw a big, fat target that says, "Stupid gringo on his way to the Canal Authority with the equivelant of a Panamanian's annual pay".  We decided to take out $500 each day for four days....hiding the stash in J.P.'s stinky, musty clothes closet.  If we got robbed we would be comforted by the fact the banditos suffered through that mess.

I am happy to report that all went well with Ben delivering the wad of twenties without incident.  As a result we were able to call in and get our transit date.  Since the traffic in the Panama Canal has decreased (less shipping due to world economy down, etc.), we were able to leave within two days.  We politely declined and asked for a date farther out since we had family coming to be line handers. Surprisingly he asked what day we wanted and were granted our request for Wednesday, March 6th.

The fees inspired me to research other modes of transport over the Isthmus of Panama:

Taxi Cab:  $50  (one hour)
Bus: $2.50  (hour and a half)
Train: $25 (one hour)
Sailboat:  $1875 (two days)

So not the most practical or inexpensive way to transport oneself from Panama City to Colon, but then again the Doolittles are not the portrait of convention!!

We will be going through the Canal with huge vessels like this cruise ship or enormous tankers.

Mickey doing his research report on World War II.  As he was writing, we looked up and saw.....

....a battleship coming from the Panama Canal, driving by the anchorage! 
We need to get Captain Ben out of Panama City before he goes broke putting money in the swear bank.
Our transit will probably take two days with the Canal Advisor being dropped off on our boat Wednesday morning and helps us navigate through the first set of locks ( a couple of hours).  Most of our time transiting the Canal will be spent motoring across Gatun Lake. Once on the other side, we will tie up to an enormous mooring ball called a "Cheeseball" and stay the night.  In the morning, a new advisor is dropped off (they do not stay the night on the boat) and we spend the next few hours transiting the locks down to the Caribbean.

This is all subject to many variables, of course.  For instnace, we may be scheduled for a night transit or they could start us at sunrise and hurry us through in one day.  Apparently, boats should be prepared for many different scenarios. We are ready for anything, because if  there is one thing our sailing adventures have taught us, it is patience and flexibility.

If you'd like to watch us transit through, here is the webcam for the Panama Canal.  I will try and post a more specific time on the blog on March 6th.

So there you have it, some useful information for anyone considering a transit through the Panama Canal via small boat (or "Line Handling Vessels" as they call us).  We will be sharing locks with enormous tankers and cruise ships whose fare I assume are astronomically higher than our measly pittance fee.  Basically we serve as the little popcorn styrofoam filler to the huge, precious, money maker vessels that navigate the Canal every day. During the inspection, the official actually seemed shocked that we had radar on board and chuckled out loud when Ben stated that we did not have an AIS system (technology that allows ships to identify other boats on the water. It is used in high traffic areas or nightime navigation).

And now another edition of the.....THE FLOATING FRAT HOUSE FOLLIES:

J.P. disappeard into this V-berth one day with a pencil and notebook informing us, "Don't bother me for a while. I'm working on something."

A few minutes later he emerges and presents us with an illustration of a large fish with a royal crown on its head.  This is what he wrote:


This is the Fire Shark 259 called the Rich King Fish. It is full of diamonds, gold and money.  It eats anything. It's owner is born with a crown and it grows whenever it's owner grows.  It has razor sharp teeth and a powerful butt for gas.  Length 10 to 1,502 feet.

I gotta say.....the House Mother really hopes to see this fish while snorkeling in the Caribbean!!!




  1. The adventure continues! I can't wait to tune in and share the transit, wave to me : ) Love, Col

  2. Two more days ... exciting stuff! I'm sure everything will go smoothly and reggae and steel drums are waiting! We're looking forward to reading about it!

  3. Thanks you guys! We shall see if the wind dies down so we don't have to put off the transti for a day....don't want to deal with the big north winds that are blowing right now while going through. Weather forecast looks good though for Wednesday! We'll keep you posted!!