17 April 2008 | Colon
We paid our canal bill today. Ouch.
Crossing the Panama canal is not cheap. The admeasurer measured us in at 49' and change but after looking at our documentation, recorded us at 50'. He indicated that he had to record us at the greater of the ships documentation or the measurement. The difference between 49'11" and 50' is about $350. If you have a 50 footer and want to sooth your anguish over the extra change simply consider the average cargo ship's vig, which is in the neighborhood of $250,000 a trip. Could be $500,000 or more if they buy a premium slot.
The current wait for new yachts arriving is 8 weeks. This pretty much eliminates cruising plans for the South Pacific. If you arrived today 4/18 and went through in three to four days (as one might expect) you could be in French Polynesia by June after a nice stop in the Galapagos. This gives you plenty of time to get to New Zealand or Australia and see the sights on the way. Add two months and you end up in French Polynesia in August staring storm season in the face and with 3,000 or more nautical miles still to cover.
Two boats we have talked to have come into Colon, received their date, had a melt down and then arranged freight. By this I mean they have pulled the mast off of the boat, packed it up and put it on a ship, or a truck in one case, bound for Panama City. On the other side you unpack the boat and put the mast back on, then sail away. This could run you $3,000 to $10,000 for a small boat. It is also a little more hazardous for the boat. That said it is a whole lot faster, running perhaps a week and a half or two.
Our tab ran something like this:
$910 - Toll for the Panama Canal
$300 - Taxes
$350 - Agents Fee
$100 - Rental of 4 Lines
$070 - Rental of 10 tires
$086 - Miscellaneous vigorish (not sure what this was for)
$090 - Charge for using a VISA (that VISA tells everyone not to charge in their contract)
The only ways to reduce this are to get an admeasurer that will record what he measures (our sister ship benefitted from this treatment) and/or cut the agent out. A 49'11" boat is good for a $350 savings and doing it yourself without the agent will cut out another $350 to $400.
While pricey I think I would use our agent, Enrique Plummer 507-6674-2086, again if I had it to do over. Enrique is bilingual and for us with our poor Spanish this is a pretty big help. Enrique generally answers his phone and gets back to you quickly if you have to leave a message. This may seem trivial, but I assure you it is above and beyond the call in this neck of the woods. Such expeditious turn around may make the difference between being moved up and staying in line. Enrique also cleared us in and will clear us out. We have never had to talk to anyone but Enrique and everything has been hassle free. He sourced the lines and tires (Panama Fenders) for the transit and has kept us posted on all of the timing issues.
I have seen others lose their spot due to payment issues (a VISA won't clear because the bank has stopped the card for possible fraud, etc...) or they have just missed a communication from the ACP. Agents have corporate accounts and they make you good with the canal so as long as you pay the agent you never have to worry about the canal. Agents also keep track of their boats and can work out new slots amongst their boats if conflicts arise. From a communications stand point the agent is talking to the ACP several times a day making it very unlikely that you get missed when things shuffle.
$2,000 is a big chunk out of the cruising kitty but it beats Cape Horn...