Around The World Voyage : Commentary : Leg 4

May 24, 2002

Thursday May 24rd, 2002 Arrival in Cristobal

Daybreak, 5:15 am Mike Gregovich had slowed us down to about 4 knots to time our arrival at the Port of Cristobal. A lot of tankers are on the radar screen, they are all checking in with the clearing house, Cristobal Signal, and making arrangements to take pilots on board to start their day through the Canal.

At 6:00 am this morning Captain Danll hailed “Cristobal Signal” on VHF channel 12 to announce our arrival and position. We also asked for the lat. and lon. of the anchorage area we were to proceed to , F – Flats. Since we will clear immigration here I hoisted our yellow ‘Q’ quarantine flag on the port spreader.

With permission from Cristobal Signal we entered the breakwater at 6:30 at a pace of 5 knots with a large tanker on our tail, the ‘Hebei Ocean’. We motored passed the town of Colon surprised at the high rise buildings and then closed in on an area more typical to a freight and cargo wharf area. Dan longingly admired a mini-freighter that was probably 120’ long and has the lines of the NORDHAVN 62.

Soon we were in fog, but it smelled of fire, no, we were running through a smoky haze… it partially obstructed our view, but must be just part of the local scenario – someone burning trash? We found our way to the Flats, sussed out the buoy boundaries and picked out our spot to anchor – in about 38’ of water surrounded by seven sailboats of various sizes. By 7:15 Mike had payed out 100’ of chain, and shut down unessential electronics. Dan informed Cristobal Signal that we had moored in the Flats and they told us to stand by on VHF 12. Fortunately we have a handheld VHF so we leave the main on 12 and the handheld on 16.

In the last three days there have been a series of events playing out behind the scenes all related to our upcoming Panama Canal transit. Kevin Ryan is winging his way down to join us, which will be a nice reunion to have one of our ‘homey’s’ aboard. Kevin owns Outbound Yacht Services in Dana Point and among the many jobs he has done for us over the years was the installation of the Hurricane heater (which we have not used on our leg) and the Spectra Water Maker – which has been awesome.

We are also waiting for our other guest, Tony Banse from Southern Boating Magazine, who will transit the canal with us. This is a last minute change from David Seidman, executive editor of Boating Magazine, who was scheduled to join us, but a family emergency altered his plans.

After we settled in, I put in a call to Delfino Maritime and our agent, Peter Stevens. Peter took our particulars and then said he’d make some calls and would re-contact us. About a half hour later Peter called back, saying he had arranged for the Panama Immigration Authorities to come out for a visit and had coordinated a slip for us at the Cristobal Yacht Club about 300 yards away. It looks like we could have gone through Friday, but since we now have Tim on the way we begged off for a Saturday transit. Guess we’ ll have to find an ATM once we get ashore, the Kuna have all my money now.

Around 9 a.m. a pilot launch approached and we took on our official Panama Canal Admeasurer, Mickey Donahoue. He had a big bag full of paperwork and equipment when he got aboard. First thing he did was get out a tape measure and get the overall length and overall beam. Mickey’s been doing this since 1977 and was with the original Canal company before the transition.

Then we sat in the salon and with a copy of our vessel documentation in front of him he filled out his paperwork. (CLICK HERE for the list of questions you will be asked if you transit the canal on a small pleasure vessel)

Basically there are two governing bodies operating the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal Authority – represented by Mickey Donahoue today on our boat - and, the Republic of Panama – all of our immigration, etc., is being handled by Delfino Maritime, the agent we hired in advance.

Capt. Dan had to fill out a crew list document of who was on board when we arrived and include passport #’s. Then he had to sign a blue paper - a release that essentially lets everyone in Panama off the hook if anything happens to your boat or crew. If something like your cleats get bent, it is because your boat is not designed for the Canal. Basically you have to sign to get through so there’s really no reason to even read the document, because you aren’t going to change anything and your only other choice is go around the Horn – is that a choice?

I’ll fill you in on the canal transit experience tomorrow night. One neat tidbit is it only takes 15 minutes to fill each lock. Mickey also told us an obvious thing that none of us had figured out yet: Cristobal Colon is Christopher Columbus in Spanish.

So with Mickey calling the pilot boat to retrieve him I got on the VHF channel 85 with Delfino and coordinated with Pete Stevens to pull in to the Panama Yacht Club – Cristobal. Mike hauled the anchor, it’s a muddy bottom, so we used the deck wash and did a lot of chain in/out – not a lot of water pressure on the deck wash – a little thing for future improvement.

We pulled in to the yacht club and were greeted by line handlers. We were soon secured and met Angie (male) who on behalf of Pete Stevens took care of us upon arrival. We cannot say enough good things about Pete and Delfino. So far everything has been clearly represented and taken care of for us. It ’s nice to have a friend looking after you, even more amazing to have a friend that we’ve only met by referral and only communicated with by phone, fax and email. NORDHAVN was tied up to a dock again for the first time since Barbados. Lots of nice slips here at the Panama Yacht Club – looks like a good place to hang out.

Glad to be in the Panama Canal Zone.


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