Category Archives: News & Blogs

Cruisers Show Appreciation


A group of cruisers set about bringing moorings to Dominica to help cruisers and islanders alike.

A group of cruisers set about bringing moorings to Dominica to help cruisers and islanders alike.

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Webb Chiles Sets Off Again

Continuing a circumnavigation that began in Southern California, a singlehanded sailor and his sloop cast off lines to cross the Atlantic on the long way home.

Continuing a circumnavigation that began in Southern California, a singlehanded sailor and his sloop cast off lines to cross the Atlantic on the long way home.

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CCA Selects 2016 Award Winners

The Cruising Club of America has selected the recipients of its 2016 awards to recognize excellence in cruising.

The Cruising Club of America has selected the recipients of its 2016 awards to recognize excellence in cruising.

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How To Cross The Panama Canal Without An Agent

Panama Canal Transit: done!

This year in August, I did the Panama Canal Transit. I crossed the Panama Canal with my sailboat Karl from the Atlantic into the Pacific. What an epic moment! I had tears popping out of my eyes. Seriously, it was quite an emotional moment when those massive gates opened in front of me. Unfortunately you will never see any of those feelings, because my GoPro decided to take a dive exactly at that minute. Crazy coincidence, yes. A friend of mine said it was

“…the cost of passing from one reality to another. Either give it up or it gets taken from you.”

Anyways, you are here because you want to read about how to cross the Panama Canal without an agent, so I will make sure I deliver!

Locks of Panama Canal opening during Panama Canal Transit with sailboat

Every great project starts with a to do list

Right? At least with me that is the case. Nothing more faszinating than ticking stuff off, I just love it!

First, I am going to give you a really short overview of the steps you need to go through for a successfull Panama Canal Transit. For those that want to know some more details, you can keep on reading below. And for those of you, that don’t like reading so much, I have added a video explaining the whole procedure at the end of this blog entry.

Checklist for Panama Canal Transit


Fill out the form 4405-i and send it to (Atlantic side) or (Pacific side)

Call the Admeasurer’s Office to get a date for your boat measurment at +507-443-2298 (Atlantic) or +507-272-4571 (fairy soon after you sent your e-mail, as in one or two hours later)

Reserve a slip at Shelter Bay Marina for your measurement (this is optional, you can also stay at anchor at “the flats” instead -green pin on the picture)

Get measured and fill out tons of forms and answer millions of questions

Deposit the money at Citibank (I read some places you can wire the money, too, but I was told no…)

Call the Scheduler’s office at +507-272-4202 to get your date of transit (anything after 6pm the day you deposited the money)

Organize your four 125 feet long lines and sufficient car tires (if you have sufficient on board, no need to hire them, if you don’t call Roger +507- 6717-6745 on the Pacific or Tito +507-6463-5009 on the Atlantic side). It’s 100$ for drop off and pick up.

Make sure you have four line handlers for the Panama Canal Transit (ask friends or hire professionals fro 100$ each)

One day before your scheduled date for the Panama Canal Transit, call the Scheduler’s office again +507-272-4202, just to reconfirm you date and to aks at what time you should be at “the flats” (green pin on the picture)

Make sure your engine is purring like a kitten and everything is ship shape!

Plan enough food and drinks for all the peeps coming for the trip

Get a Zarpe from the Port Captain in Shelter Bay (with all the info about your line handlers)

Day of transit: leave a good hour before your set date to head over to the flats. Communicate with the Panama Canal Authorities (Cristobal Signal Station) on Channel 12. You will meet your advisor here and from there on, he will tell you what to do

Transit the Panama Canal, go crazy when you get to the other side (optional: or when you spend the night on lake Gatun – not advised, though)

Make sure you get your deposit back. Call the Accounting Department at +507-272-7857 in case you don’t and tell them your Panama Canal Transit ID-Nr to get information about your status

The Costs of a Panama Canal Transit

Now you know what you have to do, to cross the Panama Canal…Usually, the fact that people are interested in most is: cuanto cuesta (how much does it cost)?

Chart with Costs for a Panama Canal Transit

If you are a hand line vessel below 50 feet, you pay 800$ for the Panama Canal Transit. In addition you pay a 54$ TVI Inspection Charge and 130$ Security Charge. If you do not have an agent, you need to pay a buffer of 891$ that you will get back after your transit. Well, if you do not damage anything, that is.

Those costs add up to 1.875$ plus 100$ for the drop off and pick up of lines and fenders. If you cannot find line handlers for free, they usually charge 100$ per person. And of course you will have costs for food, drinks, diesel etc. which I will leave out of this calculation.

An agent will cost you between 400 and 500$ and usually includes the lines and tires as a service. So those costs plus the line handlers are optional, the 984$ for the Panamal Canal Transit are inevitable for each vessel below 50 feet.

two grils ready for panama canal transit

The day of getting measured

The most work during the preparation to cross the Panama Canal (apart from getting your boat shipshape) happens at the day of measurment. An official will come to your boat (make sure you tell him your dock number and boat name) and bring tons of forms that you need to fill out.

He will ask you questions like:

Does your head work? Yes, of course (he will let you prove that to him)!

Do you have a holding tank? Of course…(luckily he does not check on that one…)

What’s your average speed under engine? Six knots (it used to be five, the guy that came to my boat wanted six…but for the transit itself it’s fine if you do five)

Panama Canal Transit preparation on sailboat Karl with Canal authority and Nike

Do you have sun shade, enough food and drinks for the advisor? Sure.

Do you have your lines and fenders? Yup.

Do you have a horn that works independently? Yesssss (an electrical one that is run off your boat batteries does not count!)

I think that’s about it. At least those are the more tricky ones where you just have to say the right stuff.

Big container ship in the panama canal

For the measurment itself…As you can see, the costs go up quite a bit if you are above 50 feet. You might want to consider dismounting your bathing platform or anything that would possibly get you below 50. It’s worth the effort!

Your measurment will be valid for 60 days. Therefore, you will have to find a date within the next two months. Be aware that there are times that are way more busy than others. Usually, November to March will be busier than other times because many people will try to cross in those months. Its therefore recommended, to get measured with a bit of a buffer, get a date and then you could spend your waiting time in the San Blas islands.

I crossed in August and only got measured two days before my desired transit day. I did not get my dream date but I was able to cross one day later. But don’t expect for things to run that smoothly in high season.

sailboat on dock with tire fenders for Panama Canal transit

Depositing the money

Now, I have read many things about Colon and how dangerous it is. Yes, it’s not a stroll through a beautiful park…but in my opinion, it is not that bad that you need to invest 500$ into an agent to do all the money busienss for you. Here’s a litte video to get an impression of the town (starting at 0.45 min).

There is no ATM at the Citibank (I know, sounds weird, but that’s how it is). You will most likely have to go to a couple of different banks to get all your cash together. The ATMs usually have a 500$ maximum you can take out.

streatszene with kuna family and streatvendors in Colon in Panama

You can get your money in a place where it’s a little nicer to take out cash, e.g. at Millenium Plaza or Quatro Alto. Bring two or three people with you, just for the sake of not being by yourself. Of course you don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself when you go to Colon with tons of cash in your pocket. So leave all your expensive stuff at home.

If you don’t want to grab a cab on the street, just call a cab driver that you know and go with him. He will drop you off in front of Citibank and there is not really much of a big possibility of you to get robbed.

Everyone is different, of course. And if you have the feeling you won’t feel comfortable with it, then do get an agent. I for myself did not feel the need for it. But then I had been in Colon many times before to get tools and parts and I knew it would be ok for me.

Screenshot of navigation chart panama canal the flats

The Panama Canal Transit – Day 1

Usually, you will leave around 1pm or 2pm on the day of your transit. But the officials will tell you at what time you will have to pick up your advisor at the flats anyways. Make your way over to the flats and try to cross the canal entrance lane on the shortes way possible (not like the track I did on that picture). Drop your anchor between the yellow buoys and tell the Cristobal Signal station on channel 12 that you have arrived at the flats. Wait for your advisor standing by on Channel 12.

Once your advisor is on board, he will be the one in charge telling you exactly what to do. You will go through the first set of locks up to the Gatun lake on the first day. You will either hook up to one of the red buoys there or you will have to anchor. The advisor will leave your boat here. It is preferrable to go to the buoy. Many boats have had problems with their anchors getting stuck on some garbage on the bootom of the lake.

two hands nearly reaching

Since they are operating the new set of locks, though, it seems they don’t want you to cross the new lock entrance area. That is why they make you anchor instead. Try to find a way to convince your advisor to let you go to the red buoy. It will save you a lot of potential trouble. And remember: each extra night you will have to spend in the Panama Canal – for whatever reason – will cost you around 500$ extra.

The Panama Canal Transit – Day 2

On the second day, a new advisor will come on board between 6pm and 8pm. You will then motor along the Canal until you reach the three locks going down before entering the Pacific. The only issue we have had was in the first lock going down when a big ship came in behind us. The container ship pushed so much water into the tight locks that my boat Karl and the Catamaran we were rafted up to, were pushed dagerously to the side. Make sure your outer line handlers are on their toes and have a fast reaction. Some people have seriously damaged their boat in this moment.

two big container ships at the entrance of the panama canal

It helps to do one or two previous Panama Canal transits as a line handler before you go with your own boat. I went with two other boats to get an idea what the transit is like. Also, it is nice to help others to cross and if you are lucky, they will handle your lines in return.

Arriving in a new Ocean

After the third lock, you enter the Pacific. You will have to drop off the advisor at Balboa Yacht club. Usually they will come with a boat to pick him up. Sometimes, your tires and lines will be picked up here, too. You will have to discuss that with whoever provided them for you.

You have different options where you want to stay for the night. There are moorings at Balboa Yachtclub, slips at Flamenco or La Playita. And there are two anchorages, one in front of La Playita Marina and one on the other side called Las Brisas.

Scyline of Panama City from the water

That’s it – you did it!

It’s over so fast. For me, the sensation of having crossed through a country to go from one ocean to the other in about 48 hours was quite impressive. I had planned to enter the Pacific long time ago…In the end it took more than two years longer than I had thought it would. But I don’t regret the extra time I got to spend in the Caribbean. I could have easily spent another year or two…but new adventures in the Pacific are calling.

Getting your deposit back

Some people have stated, that they did not get their deposit back. When you do hire an agent, you don’t have to pay a deposit. For me, this has been the only reason to actually consider an agent at all. In the end I decided to risk losing my money. I just cannot imagine that the chances are very high you lose your deposit without there being any reason for it.

In my case, I had waited for a month for them to wire the money back. Then I called the Accounting Department at +507-272-7857 and a very friendly and helpful lady asked me for my Panama Canal Transit ID. Once she had the number and typed it into the system, it took her a minute to find the information. She told me the money had been sent that day and should be there the following.

cranes and containers in front of the Panama Canal entrance

The money did arrive the next day. Now you could say maybe she had not transferred it yet and just did it because I called. Fair enough…Still, this would involve one more call from you to get your money back. Still not worth 400 -500$ (for me, that is).

Good luck for your transit!

All there is left for me to say is that I wish you good luck for your own Panama Canal Transit! In case you found this Blog post helpful for your preparation, please share it with your friends. And please leave a comment if you have any suggestions, questions or aditional info that you think I should add.

Oh, and of course, the video…I split it in two parts. Part I deals with the preparation of the Panama Canal Transit. Part II (will be released soon) is about the Crossing itself and how to get your deposit back.

Last but not least, a massive thank you to Maria, Jeff, Mark and Cid. They handled the lines on Karl during the transit and we had a fabulous time together! Thank you!

Safe transit,

Nike & Karl

Container boat getting ready with tug boat for Panama Canal Transit

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Check out my new blog

I’ve changed  (life) and blogs a few times since I last wrote in this blog. Make sure to add this new one to your RSS feed

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UNTIE THE LINES II #56 – Ciao Cayman

The penultimate episode of UNTIE THE LINES season II is one more Cayman Video. I had spent three weeks on the island and I made some great new friends. It was a real treat to visit Cayman. Two people, Davide and Jeff, had offered me to stay in their homes. And I gladly accepted.

three people and sailboat karl on a dock in cayman island

It is actually quite the funny story how I met Davide. He is from Italy and works in Cayman as a dive instructor. When he first wrote me, he called himself a “sailing maniac”. Because he had watched my sailing videos and had followed me on Facebook, he had seen a picture I posted stating that I was visiting Cayman. He sent me a message, asking where I was at. And when I told him the name of some bar I was at, he replied “don’t move, I will be there in ten minutes”.

Five minutes later we had our first beer together and started chatting about his crazy plans of building some community in Italy. I am really greatful that I meet so many awesome people through my sailing documentary and my journey in general.

Davide offerd to take Jeff and me on a dive at Eden Rock. As I said, he works a diving instructor, so we only had to pay for the bottles, which was great. The coral formations were outstanding with beautiful colors and crazy shapes. My wish was to see some christmas tree worms and Davide did find us some.

screenshot of christmas tree worms from a cayman video diving eden rockOf course, we also had to go and eat some wicked tasty gelato and have some italian food. Davide let me use his flat as my temporary office to do some computer work, which is always a great treat. And one night we went to some crazy night club where I nearly got a heart attach when I heard what they charge for a beer. As you can tell from the picutre, it’s good that non of that is part of this last Cayman video…

man and woman making funny faces

Well, and Karl needed some little last minute repairs before I could leave, too. In Cienfuegos, Cuba, some Swedish drunk had dragged on top of Karl in a storm and had damaged my roller furler. I had managed to use it on my sail to Cayman. But it had gotten stuck every once in a while. Since I had not trusted the damaged furlex, I had ordered a replacement and had it shipped to Cayman. Quite straight forward, worked out really neat.

Jeff was so kind to lend me a hand when I changed out the roller furlex. It is a bit tricky, especially if you don’t want to lose any of the tiny bearing balls.

sailboat karl at a dock of a house with a pool in cayman island

Oh, and for those of you that remember that I said my engine did not fire up when I arrived in Cayman…It was one of those stupid things. The cable lug of my electrical fuel shut off had wiggled itself loose, which is why no fuel had gotten to the injectors.

I had checked my tank just in case, to make sure it was no algae. And whilst I had those annoying 50 diesel tank bolts off, I decided to clean the tank. In that process, I also took off the pick up pipe, to clean it and to clean the fitting. Too bad it was still lying around once I had the 50 bolts all back in and nicely snug.

Yes, I do curse. And yes, that was a moment that I did curse.

I hope you enjoy this Cayman video and that it brings some warmth to you, in case you are living in one of those places where it’s cold winter right now. Next week it’s time for the grand finale…so stay tuned!

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Wind Power on the Horizon

The first oceanic wind farm is opening in the United States off the coast of Block Island. Here’s what you need to know.

The first oceanic wind farm is opening in the United States off the coast of Block Island. Here’s what you need to know.

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Woman Sets out to Break Solo Sailing Record

A Canadian woman is setting off on a voyage around the world in the hopes of smashing the record for oldest solo circumnavigation.

A Canadian woman is setting off on a voyage around the world in the hopes of smashing the record for oldest solo circumnavigation.

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West Marine Announces BlueFuture Grant Winners

Sail Newport

West Marine has selected 25 non-profit organizations around the country to receive their 2016 BlueFuture grants.

West Marine has selected 25 non-profit organizations around the country to receive their 2016 BlueFuture grants.

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Rolex World Sailors of the Year Selected

sailors of the year

Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark and Santiago Lange have been selected as the Rolex World Sailors of the Year for their accomplishments in 2016.

Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark and Santiago Lange have been selected as the Rolex World Sailors of the Year for their accomplishments in 2016.

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Women’s Sailing Convention in California

The Southern California Yachting Association will hold its 28th Annual Women’s Sailing Convention this February, open to all female sailors of all levels.

The Southern California Yachting Association will hold its 28th Annual Women’s Sailing Convention this February, open to all female sailors of all levels.

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What’s Going On With Karl’s Engine…And Myself

I am lifting a garbage bag half full of fresh veggies over Karl’s railing and of course

two of the tomatoes broke and successfully covered the rest of the vegetables in a slightly sticky and smelly juice. Probably not very surprising since I dragged them along from Portobelo on two bumpy bus rides, shoved them into a cab, a ferry and finally into my kayak. And of course my backpack is rather soaked as well because one of the incoming waves caught me when I departed from the beach.

But at least I made the 3pm ferry although I got there at 3.17pm. I guess sometimes the Panamanian laissez-fair also works to your advantage. And at least it’s not raining.


When I used to live in an apartment in Hamburg, the first thing to do coming home after a couple of days away, would be to switch on the light, most likely drop my bag, grab a cold drink and sink into the couch.

The first thing I did today after coming home was to check if there were any snakes in my cockpit (I found a small Boa lounging underneath my cockpit bench about two weeks ago). And instead of switching on the light, I fumble around in the dark for one of my Luci solar lights instead, in the hope that it still has some charge left. The third one finally seems to have a little juice and I start searching for my meter to check my batteries. And of course they are nearly dead. Actually, I don’t remember ever having run them that low, which is a bit scary.


I was only supposed to be away for two days, so I left the fridge on the lowest setting, hoping the solar panels would be sufficient for those 48 hours and my cheese would still be good when I return. But because things almost never go as planned, I returned to Karl no earlier than ten days later and my batteries are now down to 5V and the fridge obviously gave up working quite a while ago and my solar charge controller seems to be dead, too. I wonder if I should check how bad the damage is but in the moment of undoing the metal latch, I already regret my decision and start writing a list in my head for the next day:

– Charge batteries (damn it, do I have any gas left?)
– Empty nasty fridge and clean
– Laundry
– Bomb cockroaches (yeah, they love it when I am not there and get a bit too comfortable)


The next thing to check is the one that always scares me most. Shyly I lift one of the floorboards to take a peek into the bilge. Dry. Wow, awesome, that’s great news, we are not sinking, that’s really good news. Did I really think Karl would sink? No, but don’t you always have this tiny bit of doubt in the back of your head purely due to the fact that your home is surrounded by water? Maybe I am just paranoid.

But why am I writing all this? If you own a boat yourself, then you know all of this, or have at least similar experiences, so there is no need for me to tell you about it. There is only one reason for me sitting here with my computer on my lap typing away: I am alone.

And I don’t think I have been by myself since…arriving to Panama, which was about three months ago. That is a long time! And yes, I was getting a bit twitchy during the last two weeks but when I finally came back to Taboga Island today and saw Karl on his mooring, I felt kinda weird. A little bit as if I had forgotten how all of this works all by myself.


It’s not only that. Two days ago, my parents told me that they are coming to visit me for a week. This will be their first time ever to visit Karl and me. And I cannot even take them out for a spin because Karl’s engine is dead, finito, Endstation.

I am super thrilled about them coming but at the same time I am a bit terrified. Do you ever get that feeling when something means so much to you and you know it’s slightly different from what your parents might have had in mind for you but still you want them to see it through your eyes and understand? Well, it’s one thing trying to get the message across in words, pictures and I even have videos to show them what’s going on in my life…


But now they will come here, set foot on Karl, see him, touch him, feel him, smell him (need to add “vinegar rub” to my worklist for tomorrow). It’s a big thing for me. And I realize how much I am still a small kid when it comes to my parents, even with my 35 years.

Anyways, the main reason I am telling you all this is because of that engine issue. It’s pretty bad and I have to ask myself if it makes sense to fix this old engine whose spare parts are scarce and quite pricey, or if I look for a new / old engine to replace it. I am tending toward the new / old engine option. But no, there is no further information about this yet. And there won’t be any for quite a while…

After my parents leave, I will head to Colombia to meet my sister. We had planned to meet in Ecuador, where Karl was supposed to be by now. Actually, we were originally supposed to meet in the Marquesas (looking at that engine incident, I have to say that my gut feeling was damn right telling me not to do the big crossing yet). Having a cruiser in your family requests a lot of patience and flexibility from other family members…I think I stretched it quite a bit this time (I hear my sister mumble to herself “this time”, Nike?).


My alone time is therefore down to a couple of days until I come back from Colombia, only to leave a few days later to head to Miami (more info about the “meet & greet” event later on this week!) for a week on my way to my “other home” in Germany. Yes, I am going home for some time again. Maybe two months, maybe three, I don’t know yet. Since I was supposed to be in the Marquesas by October, I had planned to spend a part of the hurricane season with my family and once you tell your mom you are about to come home for some time you cannot just take it back, that’s just not how it works with moms.

But I would be lying to say that this decision was only made to keep my mom happy. I had felt that I needed some family and friend time, more than just the two weeks that I had last Christmas with them. And yes, I am also happy to run away from my engine problem. More than happy, actually. It’s quite a big thing and I don’t know yet, how to tackle it. The time back home will give me a chance to do some research on second hand engines, maybe to reach out to some engine companies trying to get some sponsorship or simply to win the lottery.

Now you know why there is no update yet about the engine. I promise that I will keep you informed on the subject as soon as I have new info. And I also tell you with quite a lot of certainty that this is not the end of the journey. Karl and I are not done, yet, we still have many things to explore together!


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