Signing up to Transit the Canal

Finally, in our last week in Panama City, it was time to schedule our transit through the fabled Panama Canal. This process involves a number of discreet steps. Our friend Frank, from WINDSONG, was helping us through the process, especially inasmuch as he had already been through the canal 28 times!

Over the previous weekend, we researched the process and determined, roughly, from the website, that there were probably slots available for the following Saturday, October 11th, so we began to focus on that date.

On Monday, October 6, I went into shore and found a guy who would provide us with 14 used tires to use as bumpers for the boat. Each tire is wrapped in a trash bag and packing tape to try to keep the rubber from marring the outside of the boat. The same person was also able to provide us with four 125' 7/8" lines that we need to have on board for the transit. We agreed that he would bring them to the boat on Wednesday.

Later that day, Frank called me on the radio and mentioned that a boat had just arrived here after a transit and the odds were good that I could get their tires for free, so I called a launch and hustled over to the dock, where I was able to get 6 tires from the boat that had just come through. As I brought them back to RHAPSODY and was tying them on, the guy who was supposed to bring the tires and ropes on Wednesday showed up on a launch with them, so we hustled them on board, and by the end of Monday we had all our tires and lines in place.

Another requirement for transiting is to have sufficient crew on board to handle the lines. So, over the past few weeks I had been asking around, and Frank had come through, saying that he would make the transit with us, and not only that, but that he could provide some additional line handlers who would do it for free (as opposed to the $65/person to hire "professionals"). Joe Blake from AURA, the musician, volunteered to join us, as did Ed Thurton, the keyboard player from the jam the previous week. To that, Frank added another of his friends, Ed Kirch, who had also been through the Canal multiple times previously. So, by and by, we had all the line handlers organized.

On Tuesday morning we had Luis, our taxi driver, take us to the "Admeasurement Office" to schedule the "admeasurement". We're not sure why it's "admeasurement", and not just "measurement", but the long and short of it is, that in about 15 minutes we were able to make an appointment for a guy to come out on Wednesday, the next day, sometime between 9:00 am and 11:00 am to measure the boat. The transit fees are based on the size of the boat, and this necessary step has to be done before they will schedule the transit.

The next day, on Wednesday, we waited with baited breath for the admeasurement guy, and at 11:30 he showed up. He measured RHAPSODY from stem to stern (51'3") and from across the beam (15'9"). He then proceeded to fill out about 6 different forms, filling in the measurements, copying info from our ships papers and passports, and having me sign the lot. The whole process took about 2 hours, and at 1:30 or so we were ready for the next steps: payment and scheduling.

In the meantime, as a separate issue, I had been sending out a series of emails to several close friends back in the U.S. asking them to be online as we made the transit so that they could do screen captures of the webcams covering several points of the canal. I wanted desperately to have these screen captures to remember the transit and to use in the movie I eventually hope to make about the trip. I got a number of positive replies and was glad to have my friends supporting me back home!

After the admeasurer left, we called Luis again, and proceeded to the bank to pay the transit fees. The total for our boat was $1750, of which $900 is a refundable security deposit if all goes well. The deposit is forfeited if you delay in making the transit for any reason, including motor failure in the middle of Gatun Lake, tardiness, or whatever. The rest of the money goes for the transit fee, to pay for the admeasurement, and so on. Some of it even goes to a reforestation fund to help mitigate the ecological impact of the Canal itself.

Anyways, after about 30 minutes at the bank to do what should have been a 2 minute Visa Card transaction, we then went to the Port Captains Office, where we got our official clearance to transit the Canal. Essentially we "checked out" of Panama City and were given a "local Zarpe" that allowed us to move the boat through the Canal and travel around the other side of Panama.

So, by Wednesday, at 4:30 pm or so, it was all over except the shouting. We were told to call the scheduler's office later that night or the next day to get our official date/time. We called later that night and they confirmed that we would be able to make the transit on our desired date, Saturday, October 11th, 8am. After that there was only one more official step to do. We were told to call, the night before our scheduled transit, the scheduler one more time to get the actual start time for the transit, when we would be boarded by an ACP "advisor" who would be making the transit with us.

On Thursday, we decided to take a tour of the Miraflores Locks and see them up close and in person, so we called Luis again and got him to take us there and go through the museum and facilities with us from 10:00 a.m. until about 1:00 pm. After that, we came back to RHAPSODY, hustled the music equipment over to BYC for one last jam, which was a lot of fun, but a little sad as we began saying goodbye to all of the new friends we had made. On Friday, with Luis again, we made one more provisioning run, stocking up on meat, fresh foods, and any other last minute items we could think of. We brought two full shopping carts back to the boat and spent most of the afternoon finding places to stow it all.

By 6:00 pm on Friday night we were pretty much ready to go. We called the scheduler and he told us to be ready at 0630 am the next morning, and to give them another radio call then to find out when the advisor would be boarding our boat. We could hardly sleep that night, filled with excitement over the fact that the next day we would be going through the Panama Canal!

Last Images from Panama City
Images from our tour of Miraflores Locks