Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Demise of the Panama Canal Yacht Club
These events actually took place in Feb 2009, but I have also posted it under 2008 to keep it with the rest of our Panama information.

A few days ago we heard from our friends on s/v Infini, still in Panama, that the the Panama Canal Yacht Club had been shut down. This wasn't a huge surprise, as there were rumors of it's demise when we went through the Canal in September 2008.

However, we just got an email from them with the details of how it happened. And all we can say is ... only in Panama.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the online publication Panama Guide. It is attributed to "Fran", obviously rent-paying resident of the (former) Panama Canal Yacht Club.

"On Thursday afternoon (the day after we paid our dock rent for another month), after the club manager left the office the sleezeball lawyers for Panama Ports Corporation whose stacks of containers have for years surrounded and steadily encroached on the club's land arrived and told the meek, mild, timid elderly little lady still in the office that they had an "order signed by the government" and were there to "simply do an inventory" and she would have to follow them around while they did it."

"Unfortunately, as they planned, she certainly would not know any better - like to say "no way" - as the manager would have. So having done the inventory, with a witness, made it legal rather than a "break and enter", and at 0300 hours Friday morning, the gated entrance to the club was sealed off by two massive containers, and the fence into the club was breached for access."

"The demolition crew arrived with huge spot lights, wrecking balls, trucks and back hoes and started bashing down the buildings. Sealing off the club may or may not have been legal - wrecking the place we've been assured is an illegal - probably criminal act. By 0800 hours, the water main had been busted, and the power lines downed.

"Now Friday was "Colon Day" another of many official holidays making a long weekend so naturally, as the Ports lawyers had calculated, there was no recourse that the Club or its lawyer could take, as all government offices and judicial offices were way to get an injunction to stop .....very slick on the part of Panama ports."

"When we all started waking up and seeing this incredible destruction and walking around asking questions we were told that they were only taking down one old empty shed that the workers had been using - to send a message. But as the day went on the demolition never stopped. It was dismal with all our the friends we've made among he workers (the real people) who showed up for work as usual, sitting stunned in shock and tears."

"All the contents of the office, the bar, the restaurant, the storage rooms, freezers and the workers lockers were being carted away and locked in containers which were moved to unspecified and unknown locations "for safe keeping" - uh huh."

"Now this has begun again...there really won't be anything left standing by the end of today."

"Yesterday we were told that we had six weeks to empty our shed that contained virtually everything we keep on the boat....YEAH, right! I said.....I should believe them???!!!!!!....after all the lies so far???..(they didn't seem to appreciate that observation)....anyway we almost emptied everything in one day that we were planning on working on for a month at our usual pace."

"But I will be dammed if we are removing OUR lock from the storage shed...because these sheds hold personal (customers') stuff that was not part of the club operation inventory and they will need each boater to sign off before they can touch the sheds and their contents."

"Well...they can send us a telegram to the San Blas Islands...we will be leaving our lock on the shed when we leave...right now we are being very difficult and fighting to have our power and water turned back on on the dock."

There was more in the article, but the sheer audacity of the Panama Port Authority to come in in the middle of the night and forcefully demolish the Panama Canal Yacht Club... amazing... will be interesting to see how it develops... I guess the cruisers are still at the docks (at least temporarily), but there is no longer a Yacht Club facility!

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Friday, September 26, 2008
Canal Recaps & Pics Posted
I have put a couple of new posts and some pics from our transit, but I sequenced them in order for our historical record. So those of you watching for the latest posts for updates, might miss it.

You can see them all together at this link: Panama Canal

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Monday, September 15, 2008
Balboa Yacht Club
We stayed about 24 hours at Balboa Yacht Club, situated right at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side.

A few facts:

- Only moorings there (no room to anchor right in this spot) - $22/night plus 5%
- Wifi available in the mooring field
- Free lancha, so you don't have to put your dinghy down
- Nice bar and restaurant
- BYC stands by on VHF 06
- The local cruisers are on VHF 74 and there is a net 8am every day except Sundays

- The HF net on this side is the Panama Pacific Net on 8143 USB, at 9am local time

We had to leave by Sunday afternoon, because Dave opted to check out of Panama at the Colon Yacht Club for Costa Rica (with intermediate stops), when we left Colon.

It was either that or check out of Colon for Balboa and have to check out of Balboa (another expense) later. What we didn't know when we made that decision was that we'd have to check out of Balboa, immigration-wise, within 48 hours of getting our Zarpe in Colon (or face a fine, or have to check back into Balboa). We were hoping the Balboa Immigration guy would let us stay til Mon morning, but no such luck.

So we left BYC yesterday and sailed 9 miles SW to the island of Taboga.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008
Panama Canal - Locking in the Rain

Catching up a little...
One of the passengers on the small cruise ship Islamorada that we rafted up with for the last set of locks sent us some pictures of us in the rain. (Thanks, Maria!)

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Saturday, September 13, 2008
Panama Canal Transit - Our Crew
Just wanted to recognize and thank our crew... guest linehandlers Ron & Dorothy Sheridan, and Jim Yates, who flew down from Florida to help us out. And of course, Sherry, our 4th linehandler, and Captain Dave, who impressed our Advisors with his skill on the helm.

Ron Sheridan, owner/captain of the CSY 44 Pilothouse Ketch, Memory Rose, currently based in Guatemala

Dorothy Sheridan, Chef Extraordinaire and First Mate on Memory Rose

Jim Yates, owner/captain of the Roberts 56, Carisma AND the Lindenberg 28, Bad Penny, both currently based in Satellite Beach, Florida

Co-Captains Dave and Sherry McCampbell

The pictures on the Panama Canal and Las Perlas sections of the blog have been taken by one of the above people. We had 5 people and 7 cameras!!! Thanks crew for the help, the pics, and the memories!! See you in Tahiti!!

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 2 Recap
When we woke up the next morning, there were about 8 large ships out there on the lake, between us and the main channel. From what we understand, part of the route between Gatun Lake and the next set of locks is too narrow for large ships to pass each other. (I think the part that's the problem is Galliard Cut, but I'm not sure). So they have to sequence the ships so there's a group that comes thru in one direction, and then a slug that comes thru in the other direction. And the tail end of each group waits in Gatun Lake.

Our Advisor Finally Arrives

We were up and ready to get going by 6:30am, as instructed. But our advisor didn't get there til about 8am. We got underway immediately and took the 'Banana Cut' route. It is a small boat channel, and saves about a mile and a half. We had about 25 miles to go to the next lock (Pedro Miguel), and an appointment for 12:30. So we had the pedal to the metal the whole time, even cutting corners on the wide sweeping channels (at the direction of our advisor) to save time. It was a pretty trip but I didn't see much of it... I was too busy feeding people. Jim and Dorothy took lots of pics. I was making breakfast and lunch, mostly.

You Can Still See Trees from When Gatun Lake Was Flooded

A Car Carrier called a RoRo (Roll On, Roll Off)

Dredges Keeping the Channel Open

Ships Passing By in Channel

The USCG Training Ship Eagle

The down locks on the Pacific side are two sets of locks... Pedro Miguel and Miraflores, about a mile apart. I think there are 2 chambers in Pedro Miguel and 3 in Miraflores. As we started into the first chamber at Pedro Miguel, the dark storm clouds that had been gathering finally opened up. It absolutely poured on us for the entire time we were in the locks.

As we pulled out of the last chamber at Miraflores, the rain quit. Our advisor (who had said, when Dave asked him if those dark clouds were going to rain on us, "No.") said he had never been in the locks in such heavy rain. He was not dressed for it... he had a jacket but it was more a windbreaker than a heavy rain jacket. At one point, once we got secured, he gave his radio to us to keep it dry (they are special radios on special frequencies, not standard VHF).

Our Advisor, Happy to Be Through the Locks Safely

Once you exit at Miraflores, you are only a few miles from Balboa Yacht Club, passing under the famous Bridge of the Americas.

The Bridge of the Americas

Onward To The Pacific!!!

We had called ahead on the phone a couple of days before to get a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club. They don't take reservations, so we called the afternoon before and again the morning of. Fortunately this time of year it's low low season, so there was a mooring available. For $25 a nite, it's not bad... convenient. But not absolutely necessary.

Now that we've been in the Flamenco anchorage, that would be perfectly fine too. (The Flamenco anchorage, at least this time of year, is around on the other side of the causeway from BYC, pretty much right where Bauhaus shows it). In the Flamenco anchorage you pay $5.25 per day for dinghy dockage, for a floating dock with security. They supposedly have a $5/bag trash fee, but we've never been asked for it yet. Dave thinks the dinghy dock fee is reasonable, and apparently there's no way around it... we've asked several people and there seems to be no other place to leave your dinghy on this side of the causeway. But someone else told us that they don't enforce/check your receipt. So if you pay for a few days at a time, once a week or so, you can cut your costs by a third to a half. However, you know Dave, he insists on following the rules, so we are paying for every day.

Customs/Immigration issues... You have to get a zarpe for somewhere when you leave Colon. Your choice is to zarpe to Balboa, and then pay for another zarpe later to leave the country, or zarpe onward to whereever you are going next. For us, that was Costa Rica. For only $20, Tito in Colon got us our onward zarpe. Versus paying about $50 in Balboa on top of a $20 zarpe for Colon to Balboa. What we didn't realize when we made the decision was that, once you have your international zarpe, you have 48 hours to clear immigration and (theoretically) leave Balboa.

There is an immigration guy at Balboa Yacht Club, and our 48 hours was up at 5pm the day after we completed the transit. Dave asked him if we could stay overnight and leave in the morning, but he said we had to leave that day. With him right there, we couldn't really stay. So we left for Taboga that afternoon (only 7 miles away).

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 1 Recap
The transit wasn't very hard. We had good advisors on both legs (the evening lock up, and the next morning lock down). They both spoke good english, knew what they were doing, and knew enough about small boats to understand the situation. Dave is really good at driving Soggy Paws, so everyone was pretty calm.

Getting Ready to Leave Panama Canal Yacht Club

On the lock up, we were supposed to 'side tie' to another vessel. That's what Dave requested when we scheduled our lockage, and that's what the plan was when the Advisor got on board. He even pointed out the boat we were going to tie up to (the Islamorada, see pics in another post)

Our Advisor Comes Aboard Near The Flats

But as we were getting lined up for the first lock, he said the plan had changed. It was something about that it was not safe to have 3 small boats AND a big boat in the locks at the same time. And we were the last guy/smallest boat. So we got bumped to the other lock (there are 2 locks side by side) doing what's called 'center chamber', behind a big ship. (They always put the small boats behind on the up-locking and the small boats in front on the down-locking).

Waiting Our Turn To Go In

The reason you want to request 'side tie to a tug' is that you raft up to the tug (or larger vessel) and THEY handle the lines along the wall. We just tie up to them. It's much easier for the crew on your own vessel. (As long as the crew on the other vessel is competent.)

'Center chamber' meant that we had to work... They put us in the middle of the chamber, behind the big ship. We had our 4 long lines out bow and stern, and then we had to keep tightening the lines as the water rose.

As we approached the lock, we had our 125' lines ready with a loop in one end and flaked out on deck, with the bitter end secured to a cleat. The Canal line handlers up in the lock threw us a monkeys fist tied to small line, and we tied that around our loop, and they brought the loop up to them and dropped it on a bollard. Then we tended our lines as the water rose.

Jim Readies His Line

It was really hard work... the lines are so thick and stiff that we had to pull the slack in on the line with one hand and take it up around the cleat with the other, bending over the whole time. Because of the way the water comes in, it pushes the boat from one side or the other, so usually only the lines on one side or the other of the boat get any slack in them. The boat line handlers on the other side just keep their line secure.

In the first chamber, Ron and I were on the stern, and I did all the work. Ron gallantly offered to switch sides with me for the next chamber, and I gratefully switched sides with him. But the direction of the 'push' switched sides too, so I had to work again.

Dorothy, up on the starboard bow, had a little trouble getting her line secured at the first chamber, but we had Jim Yates on the bow with her, and the advisor was right there helping out a little also. By the second chamber, we were all 'old hands', and had no further problems.

Dorothy on the Starboard Bow

Locking up at night wasn't hard. We took the advisor onboard at 5pm and got to the approach area of Gatun Lock about 6pm. We had to wait for the other boats (a large ship and 2 other smaller boats). We got to the first chamber before dark, and then once in the locks, it's all lit up.

Entering Gatun Lock at Night

When we got thru the last chamber at Gatun Locks and went out onto the lake, it was pretty dark out there. Though our advisor knew about where it was, and it would show up on radar, a waypoint for the bouy would have been useful.

Gatun Lake Sailboat Bouy: 09-15.665N 079-54.138.

There are two huge moorings there, and at least 4 35-55' boats could raft up to the two, easily. The moorings are so big that you don't tie off to it from the bow, but actually side tie (raft) to it.

Jim on the Mooring in Gatun Lake

We finally got secured about 10pm, and the pilot boat showed up about 10 minutes later to take our advisor off. The Soggy Paws crew had a congratulatory drink and a snack, and went promptly to bed.

Our Advisor Leaves for the Night

We were the only boat we could see on the lake. The other two smaller vessels that we were supposed to have been locking through with... a large fishing vessel and an excursion boat (the Islamorada) had gone on. Unfortunately, it's not as exotic and remote as it sounds... The mooring was off some kind of maintenance facility that was also pretty lit up. But we did hear a very loud troupe of howler monkeys on shore. We looked for, but did not see, crocodiles.

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In the Pacific Ocean!!!

With 4 cameras aboard, we took about a billion pictures yesterday and today. I will post a few very soon.

But we are now on a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club in the Pacific Ocean. Yahoo!

No problems on the transit (other than getting very wet handling lines). We had good advisors (one last night and one today).

Thanks, Nicki... great job posting. Sorry about the raindrops on the camera... it poured rain the whole time we were in the Pedro Miguel & Miraflores locks. (and quit just as we pulled out of the locks).

Crew is celebrating. More tomorrow!

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Panama Canal - Miraflores Lock

Thanks to cousin Bryan for capturing this picture as we locked thru at Miraflores!

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Panama Canal: Tracking Post Day 2
10:00 AM EDT: ETA at Pedro Miguel lock is 1:30 PM EDT.

1:40 PM EDT: Entered Miraflores lock in a rainstorm!

Soggy Paws in the Miraflores Lock

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Friday, September 12, 2008
Panama Canal: Tracking Post
This post will be updated as I receive new messages.

8:45 PM EDT: Soggy Paws entered the first Gatun lock (east). They are behind a ship?

9:30 PM EDT: Entered the 2nd lock. Waving at the cameras!

10:50 PM EDT: Done for the night.

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Gatun locks: 8:15 PM EDT
This is Nicki posting for Sherry and Dave. I just received a text message from Sherry stating that their ETA for the Gatun locks is 7:50 PM EDT.

UPDATE: Current ETA at Gatun is 8:15 PM EDT, east locks.

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Pilot Time: 5pm (6pm EDT)
We are supposed to meet our pilot on The Flats at 5pm. There is still a chance the schedule might get changed, however. Our friend here who is a retired pilot told us that anything could happen. She strongly recommended that we call about 2pm and double-check the time.

But for now we are planning to have all our stuff done by 3pm. Dorothy is working on a last load of laundry for everyone. Ron and Jim are inspecting the lines we got yesterday from Tito. Dave is working on paperwork... getting our Zarpe and paying our bill at PCYC. I am cooking a big stew for the crew and our 'Advisor'.

Tito Delivering Our Lines

I'll do another post when we confirm the pickup time (about 2:30pm Local Time.. add 1 hour for EDT).

Nicki has promised to do another post when we start through the locks at Gatun, but we will probably be going through about 6pm local, 7pm EDT.

The Gatun Locks webcam

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Stocking Up
We are not sure when we are going to have as easy access to such a great variety of reasonably priced stuff. So we've been stocking up.

In the past week, we have bought 5 cases of rum in liter bottles and 3 cases of wine in liter boxes. And another $300 worth of groceries (that's on top of the $500 we bought 3 weeks ago).

And yesterday we did a final shopping, with friends Jim Yates and Dorothy Sheridan along. Everyone got a chance to see what a good Panamanian grocery store is like, and pick out their favorite brand of cereal, etc. (Meanwhile Dave and Ron were back at the boat swapping water maker pumps).

Stowing all that stuff has been fun, especially with Dave and Ron still with their heads in the engine room, and all the 'stuff' that normally lives in V-berth out in the salon.

On advice of some friends who have preceded us across the Pacific, we decanted 36 liters of rum into 2 5-gallon water containers. This makes a very space-efficient storage location, no glass, no cucaracha-laden cardboard boxes, only the weight of the rum itself. It also makes the rum less visible and therefore less likely to be taxed or confiscated by a Customs guy. The rest of the rum was 'socked' (each bottle put in 2 old socks for protection) and stored in nether lockers.

We bought our rum from a local guy who came out to the marina with a brochure, and he delivered it 4 hours later. (Umberto 6706-1015). We paid cash on delivery, $60/case for the good stuff and $45/per case for the mixing rum. Plus a $10 delivery fee. He has lots of other liquor in his brochures, and will sell individual bottles.

The boxed Clos brand wine (from Chile) we just bought at the grocery store for $2.09 per liter. That's a heckuva deal. There are better wines, but if you stop drinking 'the good stuff', the Clos is very drinkable, and the price is right. And this stuff is so much more convenient than wine in bottles. No bottle to break, less weight, much better storage form factor and much easier stowage. We put most of the wine under our bed. Dorothy did a great job of packing things around in there (while I was stowing stuff in the fridge).

Note the boxes of Triscuits... Jim Yates brought a case with him from the States. That is one of the few items we have been unable to find in Panama.

So we are well stocked, with plenty of food for the 5 of us for the next 10 days, and then enough staples to last Dave and I quite a long while.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sightseeing a Little
Yesterday we took a break from 'getting ready' to go to Panama City.

It was partially a sightseeing trip, partially to go 'collect' 2 of our line handlers (Ron and Dorothy Sheridan) and partially to get a few things in Panama City.

Though taking a bus is the cheapest way... The bus departs once an hour from the Colon bus terminal near the marina, and only costs $2.50 for a luxury A/C bus with movie.

We opted to take the train. The train makes a round trip from Panama City daily, leaving Panama City about 7am and returning from Colon at 5:15pm. We originally thought is was totally a 'tourist train', but found out that it has a practical purpose. It brings workers from Panama City to Colon, primarily staff of the Free Trade Zone. Apparently the employers lease cars on the train to bring their workers back and forth.

Only one car on the train is for the tourists, a nice observation car. It fills up quickly, so we were glad we got there early (about 4:45pm). It was a nice 1 hour ride to Panama City.

Gatun Lake from the Train

We stayed overnight in La Estancia, a small bed and breakfast situated in what used to be Officers Quarters on Ancon Hill. This is a nice setting, close to the city, but away from the city. At $70 it is a little higher than we usually choose to pay, but breakfast was included and it was really a nice place (hot water, very good beds, nicely kept). There were birds and monkeys in the trees.

Dave and I did some running around in Panama City early in the morning. When Ron and Dorothy arrived, we all headed out to Miraflores Lock to have lunch and see the museum. We also got to see a ship transiting the lock.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Dirty Nasty Colon, Panama
Well, now I know why Dave really avoided Colon before.

The Panama Canal 'Yacht Club' is living on borrowed time. Everyone expects that eventually the port operations will force them out. So the yacht club facilities have been allowed to decline. The docks are OK but the building is old and dirty.

The facility has been totally surrounded by the industrial shipping operations.

The Front of PCYC, Container Terminal in the Background

We currently have a ship just across the canal that is unloading powdered cement. They drop a big scoop into the hold and bring it up and across into the back of an open semi truck. The wind has been blowing from the ship directly toward the yacht club. So EVERYTHING is coated with a layer of cement dust. I have never seen Soggy Paws so dirty. It is driving Dave crazy.

Dave Working on a Project in the Yard

Also, with the wind blowing from the docks, yesterday we got a large slug of diesel fuel down in our corner of the marina. It was a large spill... or someone flushing their bilges. No one seems to care here.

And did I mention the dump? The Colon dump is nearby. It's not too bad except when it catches fire. Then a stinky smoke hangs over all of downtown Colon and the marina. It was on fire last night.

And the crime? The Colon bus station is only about 2 blocks away, but its not safe to walk there. In the area along where you'd walk is lined with apartment building that in the States would be called slums. Everyone has anecdotes about cruisers getting mugged, robbed, and at least one guy was knifed 17 times. We take a taxi. At $1 it's reasonable (or $10/hour to take you around town).

All that said, the facility is convenient for transiting the Canal and for provisioning. It is only a $1 taxi ride to get to several huge grocery stores. And of course being able to order stuff from Panama City and the States via Marine Warehouse is very useful.

But I can't wait to get out of here!!

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Thursday, September 04, 2008
Official Panama Canal Transit Date: September 12

Well, we have it. An official date for our Panama Canal Transit. We will leave Colon the evening of September 12, and do our up-locking during the late hours of the 12th. We stay overnight on a mooring in Gatun Lake, and then lock down to Balboa on the 13th.

Yesterday our agent, Tito, took us down to the ACP (Authority Canal de Panama) office and we registered Soggy Paws with the ACP. After registering and scheduling the measurement, Tito got us in to the Canal Operations Room. This is where the guys that actually control the traffic at the Colon end of the canal operate. They have a control tower view of the port and the beginning of the Canal, and an electronic status board of where all the ships are (probably using AIS). We got to meet the head guy, Captain Federico Cockburn, whose official title is Senior Canal Port Captain. He gave us a tour of the control room.

Dave in the Canal Operations Room with Captain Federico

Then the measurer came to the docks to do the official measurement.

Dave thought Soggy Paws was a shade over 50 feet, from the tip of the bowsprit to the aft end of the dinghy davits/solar panel arch. We were anticipating getting hit with the 'over 50 feet' fee, which is $250 more than the 'under 50 feet' fee. We had contemplated disassembling the arch, but decided it was too much work (not just the structure but the wiring for the solar array, the radar, the anchor light, etc).

We were pleasantly surprised to find that we measured out at a few inches under 50 feet.

The measurer is also supposed to inspect and make sure that we had the required 4 125-foot lines, and appropriate fenders. However, all we had to do was wave Tito's receipt at him, and he checked the box that said 'inspected'. Tito will furnish the lines and fenders on the day of our transit, and be responsible for getting them back after the transit. He is well known at the ACP, and one of the reasons we chose to use him, rather than try to do it all ourselves 'on the cheap'.

After about an hour of paperwork and discussion with the measurer, we had our official ACP Number.

The next step was to go pay the fee at the bank. They made a credit card impression that INCLUDED the $891 damage deposit. They hold this credit open until you actually complete your transit, and then close out the transaction without the damage deposit (hopefully). This process is much easier now with credit cards than it used to be with cash transactions.

Here are the fees we paid for Panama:

Panama Canal Fees
- Transit for vessel < 50 feet $500
- TVI Inspection (Measurement) $54
- Security Charge $55
- Buffer (Damage Deposit) $891
- Tito's Service Fee $50
- Taxi (ACP visit, bank, etc) $20
- Line Rental (4 125-foot lines) $60
- Fender Rental (10 fenders) $30
- Agro/Health Inspection $17
- Linehandler Fees (if any) $110 per person

Customs Fees
- Cruising Permit for Panama $69
- Passport Stamps $10 per person $20
- International Zarpe (to leave) $20

We think we have 3 friends coming from the States to do line handling, and are looking for the required 4th line handler from the cruising community locally. Hopefully we won't have to PAY for a line handler, but we've already had offers from the local dock hands.

After 6pm on the day we completed the paperwork, we called the ACP scheduler for our transit date. Though I think we could have gotten through earlier, we asked for a date of Friday, September 12th, because we have friends flying in to help with the transit, and they don't arrive til the 11th.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Panama Canal has webcams on the main locks. We will be passing through Gatun Lock, southbound, on the evening of Friday, Sep 12, and through Miraflores Lock, southbound, on the morning of Saturday, Sep 13.

Here's the link to the Panama Canal webcams page. Maybe you can see us transit. We won't get specific times until the day before, and as soon as we get them, we'll post what we know.

Background information on the canal is better found at the Panama Canal Wikipedia Link

A great history of the Panama Canal is The Path Between the Seas. You can order a used copy at for under $10, or probably find it at the library. Very fascinating, both the engineering side of the construction and the international politics at the time.

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