Joining a Crew
Landlubbers looking for a free canal transit can sometimes join a yacht as a line handler. This is not a pleasure cruise, however. Don’t consider this unless you’re fairly strong, respond quickly to orders, and are prepared to get a little training.
Yachties sometimes pay for the service, but not if there are enough volunteers around. Yachts are sometimes required to stop in the middle of the canal, sometimes for the night, so be prepared for the possibility of sleeping onboard.
The transit is a one-way trip; so if you need to get back, figure out ahead of time how you’re going to do it. The yacht owner sometimes coughs up the bus (US$2) or cab fare (about US$40).
The best places to look for needy yachts are the Balboa Yacht Club (tel. 228-5794) or the Flamenco Yacht Club (Isla Flamenco, tel. 314-0665, www.fuerteamador.com), on the Pacific side of the isthmus, and the Panama Canal Yacht Club (tel. 441-5882, http://public.cwpanama.net/~yacht/bottom.htm) or Shelter Bay (tel. 433-3581, www.shelterbaymarina), on the Caribbean side. Ask around.
Note: The Panama Canal Yacht club is right next to Colón. It’s dangerous to wander anywhere outside the grounds of the club.
It may also be possible to sign on as a crew member on a yacht for a longer trip, but this is not common, especially for those who aren’t experienced sailors. Ask around at any of the yacht clubs. The dock master will likely know who’s going where and/or is in need of new crew members.
It’s also sometimes possible to pay for passage. Local authorities are keeping a wary eye on this practice, however, out of concern people are slipping illegally in and out of the country.
Travelers with recreational drugs—which they should definitely not have in Panama anyway, as it can land them in jail for years—should get rid of them before boarding a boat. If the yacht is stopped and any drugs are found aboard, both the traveler and the yacht owner are going to be in big trouble. It’s foolish, and grossly unfair to the owner.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition