Borta med Bengt

En resa

THe week that past us!

Sunday 3 November 2019, Shelter Bay Marina

Next day we called the marina, got our place, and moored. Three marineros, including the marina manager, helped us tying up and welcomed us to Panama and to Shelter Bay Marina. All information about the clearance process was given so we just took our papers and went to the offices. First was the harbourmaster/port authority who cleared us in and filled in the application form for the Cruising Permit, costing 225 USD. This is necessary if you want to stay in Panamanian waters for more than three days. After that we went to immigration. A very nice young man stamped our passports, costing 20 USD, and took our fingerprints and picture. The third office was the marina-office were we also had to fill in lots of papers. For Bengt the daily rate is 62 USD (!). The staff is very friendly and always willing to help. For this money you have access to toilets and showers, the pool, shuttle-bus to Colon, water on the dock but electricity is 0,45 USD per kilowatt.

It took a few days to get used to lying in a marina again, last time was Marina Lanzarote more than one year ago. Most boats here are American which also needs getting used to but all are friendly.

We had a ‘list’ so we started immediately. Form 4405-I, measurement/handline transit request, was send to the canal authority, we called the day after and got a time for measurement on Friday but this was cancelled. After some more phone calls, always early in the morning, we got measured Monday 4 November. There are many holidays this week in Panama so things go a bit slow. Independence Day from Colombia, Colon-day and flag-day. Saturday was ‘day of the dead’ and to honour them no alcohol was allowed to be sold in shops and restaurants. A few days before flag-day the police went around in the marina to check if all boats had a Panamanian guest flag. Fines of several hundreds of dollars otherwise. Luckily for us we had a nice home-made flag under the spreader. Our staysail went to the sailmaker, the gas bottle to the filling station and we bought 80 litres of diesel. The genua had some loose stiches which we repaired ourselves. We washed just about everything in our washing-machine.

We decided to do the canal transit application ourselves and not use an agent. This saved us 400 USD. Nowadays you will have to rent lines and fenders (lines 22 mm/125 ft) which costs 120 USD. If you need line-handlers it will cost 100 USD p.p. The canal transit costs 1875 USD totally of which 891 USD is a buffer which you get back on your account a few weeks after the transit. The actual transit-fee is 800 USD.

Canal transit procedure with no agent:
- send form 4405-I to
- call +507 443 2298 almost immediately after sending form 4405-I to arrange inspection.
- after inspection was performed make the payment
- after you have paid call +507 272 4202 after 18:00 the very same day
- get a transit date. They will ask you to call them again one day before the transit date to provide you with the time you are supposed to pick up the canal advisor.
(Luna Mare July 2019)

The ad-measurer came Sunday and went through the paperwork fast. Most is done on a tablet nowadays. He measured the boat which turned out to be, fortunately for us, 49,05 ft overall. Had Bengt been over 50 ft the transit fee, 800 USD, would be almost doubled. He has a long checklist with items like; water for the advisor, toilet for the advisor, sunshade, food, anchor, navigation lights, VHF, minimum speed of 5 knots and a foghorn on compressed air. This we didn’t have but our line-handlers have one which they will take with them. He also asked about animals onboard, wrote no, not noticing the cat lying sleeping one meter from him.

Unlike in the eighties, when you went through the canal in one day, the transit is done in two days so the line-handlers will have to sleep over. The advisor is taken off. We asked our friends from ‘Luna Mare’ to help us which they will. Very nice! They even found a third line-handler for us so we do not have to hire any. Our line-handlers are already on the other side with their boat so they have the experience of the transit.

The transit itself seems to be a ‘problem’ like the passages to New-Zealand, Europe and South-Africa. Obviously things get a ‘problem’ when you already think of them as a ‘problem’. In the eighties we navigated with sextant, DR and paper charts and all went well. No information: no problems! Nowadays sailors have access to lots of information, even out on the ocean, but maybe lack experience or confidence which doesn’t get better by reading all the ‘info’ on internet or by reading blogs in ‘I know what I’m talking about’ style.

A lot of the sailors we talked to here in the marina are avoiding the Galapagos and sail direct to the Marquesas. The reason being the ‘bio-security’ requirements for yachts. Cruise-ships are welcome without hull inspection though. The same goes for New-Zealand which has very strict ‘bio-security’ rules and has turned into the most bureaucratic country, apart from Australia, sailors can visit and, of course, the visiting sailor has to pay it all.

The shuttle-bus will drop you off at the City-bank to make the payment for the canal transit. This is done in cash since a wire transfer takes about a week. We ‘collected’ all the necessary dollarbills in Aruba since the island has ATM-s that do not charge you 6-10 USD for withdrawing money. Aruba is also a safe place. It feels a bit like in the old days when I carried all my money around in a plastic bag.

Here in the marina the Americans have lots of activities which are announced on the net (VHF 77). Yoga, domino, pot-lucks, etc. We get a bit of a pre-school feeling but the pot-luck barbeques are nice and a good way to get to learn to know people. There are not many boats we know here but ‘Baloo’ with Bob and Anne was last seen on Curacao. We invited them for dinner one day and had a nice evening.

When checking the windvane it turned out that the whole rudder blade had broken off the shaft and disappeared in the ocean somewhere between Aruba and Panama. We had not used it yet as it was very windy and we didn’t want to experiment with it then. 900 USD gone with the water. We think it is an issue in the shaft and wrote to the manufacturer. To remove the bend shaft I had to go in the water and use a hammer to move it upwards. Our neighbour came out and warned ‘There are crocodiles here you know’. Fortunately we didn’t notice any and the shaft was removed. It seems that there are two crocodiles swimming in the marina. One big one, 4 meters long and one a bit smaller. We use the pool instead!
We removed the whole vane since we will continue without it. Our Aquair produces enough electricity to keep the auto-pilot going.

This was also the first time in a marina for our cat so the first night he went walkabout and was gone in two days. After this little excursion he stays closer to the boat at night now. The shuttle-bus drives you to the big shopping centre 4-Alto which has lots of shops and a big ‘Rey’ supermarket. Groceries are not cheap apart from fruit and vegetables which are of very good quality. The centre is ‘safe’. Colon itself has not changed much since I was there in the eighties, it is still not ‘safe’ to walk around in as a gringo.

Until next week!

Canal transit is scheduled for 11 November, Monday.