On arrival at Shelter Bay marina on the 24th February I was informed that there was a 5-day carnival celebration about to happen in Panama and most of the country would grind to a halt. The Panama Canal never stops but the official admeasurers, who visit yachts before a transit date is given, were short staffed and this caused several days delay. Thankfully the items ordered from the US were waiting for me including two new Genoa cars and a couple of cruising guides for the Pacific.
There is an active community of yachties at Shelter Bay, a mix between those only around for a few days before transiting and those who live onboard permanently. A different event is run every evening ranging from open mic night on Fridays to movie night on Thursdays, all good fun. As the marina is quite isolated a free bus runs once or twice a day to a big shopping centre near Colon and I made use of this several times to start building up stores for the Pacific. It was good to catch up with some familiar faces including French couple Victor and Julie who I had last seen at the bar in Cape Verde the evening before we all set off across the Atlantic. A notable visitor to the marina while I was there was Dee Caffari who was waiting to transit the canal on a swanky multihull.
I had decided to appoint an agent for the canal transit, Erick Galvez, who came highly recommended from other cruisers. Erick made life very easy and was always quick to respond to any questions I had. His services included dealing directly with canal authority, providing the mandatory eight large fenders and four 125 foot lines, handling the money transfers (no need for me to take several trips to banks in Colon), booking the measurer, providing line handlers (for a fee), avoiding the requirement for an 800 USD deposit and providing the exit zarpe for Panama. Eventually on the 28th, Fathom was visited by the canal official, the boat measured and later that day we were given a transit date of 8th March. I had to tell a white lie that Fathom had a holding tank to avoid the need to have a portable toilet onboard.
A requirement for going through the canal on a yacht is that in addition to the skipper, four line handlers are needed. I had quite a bit of trouble finding four because many yachts were scheduled to go through around the same time and people had already been snapped up. I posted a notice in the marina office and one afternoon was visited by Anne and Jim who had been crewing on an Oyster as part of the Oyster World Rally. Couldn’t quite believe they were happy to downsize from a luxury 55 footer to little Fathom but they agreed to come along. I couldn’t find anyone else so had to stump up some more cash and pay for two professional line handlers provided by Erick. On the 2nd & 3rd March I joined yacht ‘Little Dove’ as linehandler for their canal transit to gain some experience which was very worthwhile.
For anyone interested in the costs of going through the canal it isn’t cheap! Here goes:-
|Transit tolls||$800.00 ( 50 ft and under) or $1,300.00 ( over 50 ft and under 80 ft)|
|Transit Security fee||$130.00|
|Fenders & lines rental||$75.00|
|Agent service Fee||$350.00|
|Professional line handlers||$100.00 each|
|Check out fee||$35.00|
Info and photos on Fathom’s canal transit in the next post.