Every port authority in the world has a few sadists, and the meanest and cruelest of these maritime professionals are often put in charge of the Designated Anchorage for Yachts. Exactly why this is internationally so, I am not sure—but it is. Trust me. These peoples’ sole qualification: They know nothing about—nor care about—those they contemptuously govern. In essence, they have a tiny bit of power, and their aim is to lord-it over their unfortunate subjects. They are over-grown school crossing guards, to the max. “Power-freaks,” as we used to say back in the ‘60s.
There is no international oversight on this Port Authority madness. Nobody cares how ‘sea-going transients’ are treated. They are not anyone’s constituency. We yachties are, in essence, fish-in-a-financial-barrel.
Like any professional group, these ‘yacht herders’ have aspirations. For instance, they get extra points if a sizable number of the pleasure craft are driven aground, pounded on rocks, and sunk.
Ditto, if the marine environment is damaged.
Double-ditto, if there are casualties!
The first thing they do is, in deep consultation with experienced circumnavigators, determine the least desirable, most dangerous, and most uncomfortable place for a recreational craft to anchor—and designate that area the only place a yacht can moor, upon pain of death.
Of course, this area must have (1) poor holding; (2) be far from town; (3) be exposed to adverse weather and (4) be subject to huge, constant commercial wakes. Even better, the ‘designated anchorage area’ is to be so small that, if properly scoped (well-anchored, in a safe manner) only one or two boats can stay within its confines.
Usually a few dozen skippers are required by law to use the Designated Anchorage—and are ‘solely and completely responsible for any and all damage’ incurred while so doing.
Thus, you have no legal choice but to anchor your vessel in an unsafe and unseaman-like manner—which keeps the local shipyards humming.
In addition, every local lay-a-bout in the area is informed of these ultra strict anchoring boundaries and deputized to terrorize the recreational boaters within, should they get even close to being out-of-bounds.
… has the wind shifted three degrees? If so, wake ‘em up and rouse ‘em out and make them re-anchor endlessly in the rain—just for the simple joy of watching them do so.
Why not poke the One Percenters (in their gilded, waterborne cages) with sharpened sticks? (All yachties are universally deemed rich, regardless of how poor they might actually be.)
Some people, of course, say I paint an unfair picture. They are correct. I apologize for my too-rosy-of-a-Port-Authority-world-view. A few ports are far, far less kind than described above.
Oh, the agony of their prissy, petty port routines!
Why are all pilot boats designed to create large, destructive wakes? Why do they like to circle you so close—at 3am?
The abuse starts early. Each yacht shall be, if possible, repeatedly ordered to re-anchor at least five times initially upon entrance—just to set the military tone, and get the yachtie in the proper ‘sure, abuse me at will’ spirit.
Often, in places like Colon, Panama, local unemployment is a problem. Equitable distribution of wealth is also a related problem. Most workable solutions to such societal problems are both complex and costly—but not all.
Thus, the local muggers are informed of the dinghy dock’s location, and the boat boys are lat/longed, too.
In some ports, law enforcement is told ‘to look the other way’ but in other commercial shipping areas … well, the officials are so busy taking bribes and collecting ‘baksheesh’, this step isn’t necessary.
Ex-cons need hope, too—why not issue them ‘ship-and-yacht agent’ business cards?
In addition to the above abuse, the port professionals are urged to be creative in the formulation of bizarre, unreasonable, unfathomable Port Rules & Regs.
My favorite port bizzarity was in Salalah, Oman, where a permit was required to dive over the side to clean your prop. This permit required three days and the services of an expensive agent to get—in addition to paying off a sizable slice of the local populace.
“Why, exactly,” I inquired sweetly at the time, “is a permit required?”
“Ah,” said the grinning, bribe-counting official behind the port authority counter, “you could be a terrorist and attempting to sink our naval vessels with your limp mines!”
“… his mind isn’t the only thing which is limp,” my wife chimed in—turn-coat that she is.
“A limpet is a type of sea snail, or aquatic gastropod mollusk, which …” I was about to say huffily, then finished off lamely with, “… oh, forget it!”
In a sense, these port sadists are doing a favor for their marine service industry—by getting the sailing consumer accustomed to paying high quality money for low quality abuse.
It’s all about ‘framing’ admitted one international port authority economist who coyly declined to be identified. “We want to lower the resistance to preposterous payment—in the hopes that the yacht will, eventually, pay almost any sum to be free of our abuse!”
“Huh?” this publication said in response.
“Let’s put it another way,” said the economist. “It is not easy to get someone to pay you for hitting them in the head with a hammer—but it is easy to get them to pay you to stop hitting them in the head with a hammer! See the beauty of the concept? Isn’t it econo-marvelous? And hammers are, even in the Turd World, relatively inexpensive. And widely distributed.”
We stared back blankly.
“ … the important thing,” he grinned back to us, “is to have no shame!”
The Port Suez Port Authority is the best. They require all yachts to call them before entering—and then sternly tell said yachts not to enter until given permission. Then they are never, ever given permission! Ha ha! Some poor saps have been circling out there for years, still paying for George W. Bush’s sins.
The only way anyone gets through this ‘humorous Mideast prank’ is to be informed by another better-informed yachtie that port authority permission will never arrive—no matter how long they wait—and that they should blow it off and keep coming.
This is hard to do for many law-abiding folk who have been brought up to respect authority and to obey the rules.
Oman has very few requirements to clear in—and lots and lots of ‘em to clear out. For example, you don’t have to have any marine insurance to clear in, but you must have a very specific policy to clear out … or (1) pay a fine; (2) buy it on-the-spot, and (3) “… sorry, I forgot my receipt book today, sir!”
Welcome to the New World Order—where the Third World finally seizes the levers of power—and suddenly nothing gets done (even slowly!), at great expense.
I’ve seen the future—and it doesn’t work, at least not in Colon, Panama, where the ‘lifetime adventure’ of a canal transit is now a non-stop ordeal of bureaucratic abuse, Panamanian-style.
It used to be kinda funny when, in the Third World, people demanded five dollars for doing absolutely nothing—now, these same folks are demanding five hundred dollars for same-same—and feeling entitled to it.
I used to joke about a Panama Canal transit—that no matter how bad it got, it was far far better than rounding Cape Horn.
I am currently attempting my third transit of the Canal. My first one was fun, my second one was … survivable … and this one has been totally miserable!
If I go around again, it will be via Cape Horn—and the vipers of Club Nautico, Colon, be damned.
Actually, it isn’t the Panama Canal Authority itself which is currently so out of control, but the local government of Colon. The fees to clear-in are completely arbitrary. One fellow started asking for a hundred dollars to issue a ‘year-long cruising permit’ for Panama Canal users—and, often, got it. Thus, everyone piled on the gimme-gimme bus, despite dozens of interdepartmental memos stating that no such fee applies. Each greedy official has a tiny little fiefdom—and tries to squeeze you for as much as they can.
I don’t squeeze well.
Of course, I understand that the ports are there to make money—and that we yachties can be an annoyance. But this ‘force them into an expensive marina and make ‘em hire a local agent so everyone gets a cut’ trend is horrible.
I have been repeatedly told by officials in small countries, “ … but it is only a hundred dollars, sir—nothing to you!”
A hundred dollars is not ‘nothing’ to me, especially when every local with a ballpoint pen is demanding a picture of President Ben Franklin.
I first circumnavigated in 2000. I’d say the fees are now more than ten to twenty times what they were—with no end in sight, and no increase in service (the reverse, actually). Soon, only the wealthy will be able to circumnavigate—from bank to bank, around the world.
Editor’s note: Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn have recently been (reluctantly) distributing their life savings along the seedy waterfront of Colon, Panama.