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Panama: To use an agent or not?

By doina — last modified May 02, 2007 09:04 AM

Published: 2007-05-02 09:04:37
Countries: Panama

Like most cruisers facing the Panama Canal, we were faced with two decisions:

  • To use an agent or do it ourselves?
  • To stay in a marina or anchor out?

We elected to use an agent and a marina and we’re glad that we did!

As we approached Colon from the San Blas Islands, we felt glad that we had made a reservation at Shelter Bay Marina. We saw many boats anchored out in front of the “Colon Yacht Club” and it appeared to us to be a dirty, rolly anchorage full of ships and with limited facilities ashore at the “Yacht Club”. Still, this is the cheaper way to go and for those on a tight budget, that is probably where you will end up. For those with just a bit more in your pockets, Shelter Bay Marina is a refreshing respite in an area of great confusion. Bruce, the marina manager, a cruiser himself, has everything well under control, including a new restaurant that serves superb meals so cheap that you can’t afford to eat on your own boat!

From Shelter Bay Marina, you can take a tour of the Gatun Locks before your transit, go shopping in Colon (better to wait for Costco in Panama City), and wait comfortably for your transit date.

We were met at the marina by David, the owner of our agency MatchShip and his assistant Xang Yu, both of whom were very very professional and helpful in setting up our transit. They arranged for our ACP measurement appointment, our extra line handlers that we needed, (you need four plus the skipper), 4 x 125 foot lines, 12 tires and plastic bags and tape to wrap them in, AND provided us with a cellular phone so that they could contact us with information about our transit as it came available! MatchShip contacted the ACP daily until they showed up to measure us, and then daily to bug them for a transit date. We had our measurement within 3 days of arrival, and our transit date was 5 days after that, amazingly fast for a cruising yacht under 65’ ! Many of our friends waited a full 2 weeks after their measurement for their transit date!

For us, it was well worth the agency fee to have all of our paperwork and transit documents done for us. And when you compare the agency fee to doing it yourself, which includes half a day in a taxi going to immigration, customs, etc., the benefits to using an agent are clear! I strongly recommend MatchShip or a similar agency as they are WELL worth the money!

Larry Jacobson, s/y JULIA

Transit March ‘07