Small sailboat in a big sea of container ships�
25 November 2008 | Panama City, Panama
So a quote from the movie Jaws popped to mind as we approached Panama City - "We are going to need a bigger boat". Why? Because anchored in front of the Panama skyline were 40-50 huge ships, you actually see them come into view prior to the skyscrapers. These large container ships which we avoid by miles out on the open ocean are what we needed to navigate through to get into our anchorage near the entrance to the Panama Canal. Up to 975 feet in length and over 150 in width these things are monsters.
We called Flamenco Buoy Station on the VHF a few miles out from the Flamenco Sea Buoy to announce our arrival which is standard procedure. No answer. We tried again when we were within 5 miles of the sea buoy and got the go ahead to continue on our course to the La Playita anchorage announcing when we were passing the sea buoy. Flamenco Station is similar to Air Traffic Control but they closely monitor the movement of all water traffic on the Pacific side of the canal. They dictate to the big ships when to move, where to drop anchor and just about everything else. We little sailboats are the least of their worries but still nobody in their space moves without their approval.
Our first day in Panama we spent checking into the country and starting the Panama Canal transit paperwork. We hired a taxi driver (Lois) recommended by some fellow cruisers, who basically is someone who knows the check in and transit process and has rates by the hour ($8/hr to be exact). Panama is huge and having a knowledgeable driver who knows your exact needs is crucial. Lois took us to Customs, Immigration, the Port Captain, and finally one of the hundreds of Autoridad de Canal Panama (ACP) offices to get our transit paperwork moving. He also is arranging for a fee our tires and lines for our transit. We will need 12 tires, wrapped in plastic as bumpers to protect our boat and 4 125' lines for maneuvering within the locks.
We celebrated that night with Dan and Loraine from Zephyrus a successful arrival to Panama at Bennigans. Yes, it's the same chain as in the states - pub food at American prices plus high speed wireless. After many months of low speed wireless in Ecuador we were elated for the fast wireless. Bennigans is pretty much the only internet option for us while in the anchorage. So the 'free' wireless is quite expensive as it costs us dinner and drinks but toss in the AC and it's a rather nice place to spend time as opposed to the humidity and rain that blankets the city at all hours.
Tomorrow Hiatus will be officially inspected and measured for the canal transit. We will need to show them our tires, lines and prove the boat is sound for the transit. Once approved we will head to the bank to pay our transit fees. After the payment is processed we will receive our transit date and time. We are hoping for a specific date as friends from Portland will be flying down here but it's up to the scheduler and out of our control. So we cross our fingers and hope for the date we requested.
Once we do have a confirmed transit date and time we will post the details here on our blog as you will be able to follow us online through the Panama Canal webcams.