It's easy. I'm dead serious. When we got to the end of it, I thought we must have missed a step because we didn't have to pass out a single copy of our cruising permit or crew list or boat registration. It didn't even take much time or much effort or a ton of travel expenses - less than $10 for the bus and a couple of taxis.
And yet, everyone says, "GET AN AGENT." The people who worked in the office of Shelter Bay Marina looked at us as if we were veritable geniuses when we told them we had done all the paperwork ourselves. You'll hear that it's too complicated for the uninitiated to sort out and that the money is well spent for peace of mind, but I don't buy it.
The only possible reason I could see paying $350 to $500 for an agent is that you don't have to put down the deposit, the agent being bonded for you. Otherwise, this is the least bureaucratic system we've dealt with since we left, except maybe checking in with Mr. Bush in Providencia. It's simple, no hassle, and they even let you pay in quarters.
So here's how it works. First, you call the Admeasurement Office in Colón and make an appointment to be measured. In our case, no one answered when we called, so we decided to make the trip to the Admeasurement Office, Building 1001, at the Cristobal Signal Station down at the port. We took a bus from Portobelo, arrived at the bus terminal in Colón and walked the block and a half to the port. The next part is literally the only tricky thing about the whole shindig and that's only if you can't make an appointment via phone. The Admeasurement Office is at the end of the Cristobal Signal Station pier in the shipping port, but you have to have some determination to get there. You have to go through security at the port and then get on a port authority shuttle. Our shuttle driver said that the building we needed was outside the port, but Vlad asked him just to check the building at the end of the pier. He did, and it was indeed Building 1001. Other people, I believe, took taxis and had some hassles there as well.
The security guard provided our next hurdle. He said regular people weren't allowed on the premises and that we would have to get an agent. After a bit more conversation, he went inside and said that someone would see us now. We went in, and it was as though they handled regular people sans agents every day. The lady at the front desk took our information and gave us our measurement time. (Bring your documents because she does need your boat info, though no copies.)
We then waited until the day before our measurement day and headed to Colón. After calling the Cristobal Signal Station on Channel 12, we anchored in the Flats overnight, and the admeasurer showed up the next morning. She didn't measure the boat because Bettie had already gone through the Canal (and, yes, we did have to get another admeasurer visit anyway), but she did check a few things and gave us our paperwork.
The next day we took our paperwork and our $1,875 in cash and spare change down to the Citibank at the Cristobal piers. Now, we paid partly in spare change because someone - that would be me - miscalculated the amount based off of what I had heard from other cruisers, and so we had to dig under the settee cushions for the last $50, gathering all the dimes, nickels and quarters we could find and lugging them into the bank in what has become our de facto coin purse - the Ziplock baggie. Needless to say, our teller was not amused.
After we paid, we waited a day and then called the Marine Traffic Scheduler and requested our transit date. We proceeded to call once a week until the day before our transit when we called again at 4:00 p.m. They confirmed our transit, and the rest is history.
So to recap:
Step One: Call the Admeasurement Office at (507) 443-2293 or go to Building 1001 located at the Cristobal Signal Station inside port security.
Step Two: Go to the Flats to be measured. (Sometimes the admeasurer will come to Shelter Bay, so you can catch him there as well.)
Step Three: Bring your Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection form as well as all your other documents to the Citibank located at the port and pay $1,875. You can also pay via wire transfer but not with a credit card.
Step Four: Call the Marine Traffic Scheduler at (507) 272-4202 and arrange your time.
The costs for the Canal transit, of course, went up by around $300 a few months before we went through, so here are the current costs for an under 50-foot boat.
- $800 - Canal toll
- $184 - Random fees
- $891 - Refundable buffer fee
- $70 - Roger's line rental fee
- $2 - Roger's price per tire
We rented our lines and 12 tires from the inestimable Roger (Panamanian number - 6717-6745), who has the best prices we've found, and they were delivered to our boat in Shelter Bay Marina. The total cost for us to go through the Canal, minus the refund, was $1,078. We saved $256 at the very least by not using an agent (the cheapest agent we heard of was $350 including lines and tires), an easy savings for not a lot of hassle. And, yes, we are geniuses.