, is there something specific to the canal that would make his boat not meet the minimum speed requirement that you mentioned in your post.
Yes. (My negativity may have come across a bit strongly. Yes it can be done, but....)
My trip through was 5 years ago and stuff changes, prices go up, plus I went from the Caribbean to Pacific so some things are different (free anchorage on the Pacific side, none (?) on the Caribbean side.
There were two smaller boats trying to get through when we did it. Both had problems.
The Canal authority does seem to have an systemic set against smaller boats. Their fees are higher (double); the speed requirement is enforced where the larger yachts never are forced to prove they can do 8 knots, and few can for that long distance; a bit more stringent in every way.
The two boats:
1) He was border line on the speed and it was recommended that he should be towed at a cost of $3,600. This can only happen by a Canal tug. So he said he would motor. Each time he tried he blew his engine up and they towed him back and charged him another $800 fee (that was the standard transit fee, they never charged him the extra $800 for being small again). When we met him he had been towed back twice = $1,600 and when we were there he failed again = $2,400 and he came back with just one more $800 in his pocket.... He was to go through again a few days after us for his 4th go.... but we never saw him again so whether he got through or not I dont know.
Remember he also had to get his 4 line handlers each time!
2) This was a young Dutch guy and intrepid as all buggery and we received emails from him in later years always in bizarre places, once after he rolled and lost his stick in the southern ocean.
He was a lovely guy and invited us on board for dinner one night and as soon as we got on we saw just how small this boat was. How was he going to sleep 5 people on board? (you have to accomodate you 4 line handlers) Below was a very bachelor salon and galley and Nicolle suddenly wasn't hungry at all
Nor was I
But we had to eat... it.
When the Admeasurer got on he inspected the galley and said it wasnt fit to cook food for the Advisors (you have to feed the pilots and your 4 line handlers). The Admeasurer returned TWICE before he approved the galley! And charged him and extra $100 fee for each time.
Then the poor bum couldnt get anyone to be a line handler! Not one cruiser would go with him. Who wants to sleep 5 in a bed in the wet season where theres lots of nice boats going (like ours
). So he had to pay some locals to line handle... but they had caught whif of the problems and charged him $100 each. So plus $400!
The only other thing worth mentioning is the distance on one day is about 35nm so the boat needs to be going flat out for quite a long time. Our speed was about 7 knots, far faster that I normally motor. So if they want the smaller boats to be able to do 5 knots I think it will be doing that the whole way. 6 hours at top revs ain't to be sneezed at.
We could have done it with 5: Me, Nicolle, and 3 handlers, plus the advisor, but we thought that feeding, entertaining and administering to them all it would be easier to have Nicolle not being a linie handler but doing all the cooking/household stuff. So we had 6 plus the Advisor. I think that worked well.
So yes, it can be done and I should not sound like it can't. But small boats going through must be aware of the higher transit fee (its double or there abouts) and higher degrees of difficulty at each corner.
BTW Photos below note: * Plastic on bimini: you must have the Advisor protected from rain.
*You share a lock with a ship. They are in front of you and when the lock openes and they hit the throttle you see the prop wash from close up
*The Advisor (pilot) is the guy with the life jacket on. Theres lots of people aboard and that huge rope is an absolute. 4 must be hired, your own wont do.
*In the daytime photo the guy at the wheel is a backpacker. We rang a backpackers hostel in Panama city and were deluged! The other handlers are cruisers. The Advisor is in the white shirt.
* Don't go swiming!