We arrived in Colón, Panama, followed by blustery tradewinds and rolling seas that finally abated behind the canal zone’s massive breakwater. Mooring options are few on the Caribbean side of the canal: there are a couple of designated areas for anchoring among the commercial stacks and cargo ships, but they come with security risks and limited options for going ashore. Boats waiting longer than a few days often sail either to nearby Portobelo or further afield to the Guna Yala (San Blas islands) or Bocas del Toro. The lone mooring option on the Caribbean side is Shelter Bay Marina, where we berthed our Stevens 47 Totem to await transit.
Step one: Get your boat measured
Our agent, Erick Galvez with Centenario, met us shortly after we tied up in Shelter Bay to confirm the process. A friendly face at the dock and perfect English softened the news of delays. You have to go through measurement and payment first before entering the ACP system to get a transit date assigned – a transit date cannot be reserved in advance.
Galvez accepted our payment and scheduled an Admeasurer (measurements for transit are only done by an official representative of the Panama Canal Authority, or ACP) for the next day. If you choose to do paperwork yourself, it’s a call to the Admeasurer’s office (English is spoken by all canal officials) to arrange a time and location for your boat’s measurement.
Our assigned transit date meant two weeks in the marina, but Erick’s efforts sourced multiple opportunities for earlier slots. In the end doing rigging jobs for Pacific-bound vessels sweetened the deal of a longer stay.