Our recent Skipper's Tips article concerning the Panama Canal transit led to this note from Bruce Fletcher, who has been travelling and working in the Caribbean with his family for years.  The Fletchers are currently living in the BVI.

I went as delivery crew last May on an 85-foot trawler from the BVI to San Diego.  Our trip through the canal was easy and swift, but only because we used the service of a local broker.

The day before our arrival, we called on the sat phone to the broker (of which there are many) to let him know our ETA.  He met us at the dock where a space was ready, helped with our paperwork (done on the boat the same afternoon), delivered the lines and left us with our complimentary car and driver, for touring and shopping.

We spent only one day waiting on the Atlantic side, which we spent with a tour of the historical sites on the Atlantic coast.


We met several crews on their boats waiting for transit.  The designated anchorage is a buoyed-off area 1/2 mile off the Balboa shore, in a lovely 3-foot chop in the turning basin for the ships.  The average wait for transit was reported at 8 weeks.  I can think of few less pleasant ways to wait for a passage window.

The canal authority had recently introduced the NIGHT ONLY rule for pleasure craft (which is still in force, I hear).  You approach the first lock just before dusk, transit the bulk of the canal in the dark, and had better be capable of maintaining 8 knots (or better) or look for the secondary fee (fine) for overstaying in the lake and screwing up their schedule.

Apparently, a lift/trucking scheme, or dedicated lift/rail scheme, is in the works, which would be a mixed blessing, as the transit is a beautiful, if short, passage.

Once on the Pacific side, we again made directly for our prearranged berth at the marina at the end of the miles-long breakwater, and enjoyed several days of shopping and touring before the run north.

After quizzing other "do-it-yourself" boaters, I couldn't understand their reticence to use a broker.  The average fees paid by the do-it-yourselfers was US$800, ours was US$1,700.  That's $900 to save 8 weeks of torture, plus a courtesy driver/taxi tours and help with the paperwork!  Way worth it.