Panama and Shelter Bay Marina
Panama has surprised us in many ways. We must admit that we did not have high expectations of Panama, well we had high expectations of San Blas, which were fully met (San Blas islands in Panama), but for us Panama was equal to the Panama Canal and access to the Pacific Ocean. We were wrong. Not because we were on any excursions and got to see a lot of Panama, but the places we came made a big impression on us. Mostly nature, the people and the communities we met.
Our experiences in Panama stem mainly from the marina on the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side, Shelter Bay Marina
Already on the way to Panama we got a taste of the hospitality. We are unexpectedly in 3-4 knots countercurrent for the last 36 hours, so our schedule is being squeezed. We have done what we otherwise try to avoid: Having to be in a certain place at a certain time. Nanna had the opportunity to visit us, the first time it was possible after we sailed away. Nanna lands in Panama, we have arranged a taxi, but what if we do not arrive before she is at the marina. We email the harbor general manager JuanJo, who reassures us that if Nanna comes before us, he will receive her and he has booked a hotel room for her, so we do not have to worry – that kind of service we are certainly not used to, and it gives lots of peace when we have to sail a longer distance from Curacao to Panama.
Shelter Bay Marina
Luckily the countercurrent subsided and we arrived a few hours before Nanna arrived. As we approached land we could smell the jungle, the same smell we know from the tropical house in the zoo.
Shelter Bay Marina is well protected in a corner behind a huge breakwater, the same breakwater that the large ships sail through towards the locks. So once we had coordinated our passage among the large ships with what may be equivalent to an airport control tower, we were able to sail through, turn right, and toward Shelter Bay Marina.
The marina is located in what we would call the jungle. You sail in with mangroves on the left and the bridges and buildings on the right. In the water live saltwater crocodiles, and in the background you hear impressive, but also a little scary, roars from a bunch of howler monkeys in the forest that reach all the way down to the marina.
As a long-distance sailor, the marina is fantastic, and it must also be for permanent residents, because there are several who have never moved on. Cruisers network on channel 77 every morning, the bus twice a day for shopping in Colon, Palapaen, where barbecues and Happy Hour are often arranged with the other sailors, and not least the incredibly sweet, funny and service-minded employees in the marina, are all something that brings this Marina to the very top of the marinas we have visited on our trip.
Some people reach right into our hearts
JuanJo and his team does something very special in terms of creating a great atmosphere. We became good friends with especially JuanJo and Eddie, we think many do. They are so kind, incredibly funny and helpful, and have a humor that fits well with ours. Often when we sail on from somewhere, there are some people who have reached right into our hearts, and they certainly did. Even though they cheered as we released the mooring lines to sail through the Panama Canal. Good humor – we hope…
Panama also became the place where the last things were prepared for the Galapagos and the Pacific. Once we get out into the Pacific, repairs and getting parts for the boat are much harder, so it was important getting some items on the growing ‘juhuu list’ closed. That we later challenge how much one can repair out in the Pacific, we will return to in a later post. We had the old solar panels placed on the side of the rail so we can now charge the batteries even better. Our engine had stopped charging the batteries so it also needed to be fixed.
Again it was good to be in a Marina with great a community, and especially Andy from the English boat Spruce threw himself into the fight. Andy and Sue have been sailing around the world for the last 12 years and have a lot of useful tips for French Polynesia. We found that it was the control panel that was having problems (and which also explains why we more and more often had difficulty starting the engine). Andy helped bypass the panel to activate the generator on the engine. It worked fine until we got a new circuit board and replaced it in the panel. Andy and Sue are definitely also people we very much hope to meet again.
Shelter Bay Marina has another thing we have not experienced before: The Jungle and Carlos, an employee who loves to tell about it, and has weekly walking hikes trips into it, as well as if you want a trip beyond the regular route. And to be fair, says Carlos, it is not a real rainforest jungle. The marina is located in an old American military base, Fort Sherman, where there have been small roads with palm trees along, lawns and more. But when the Americans left the base, it has taken care of itself and turned into a forest that certainly looks like a real jungle. However, there is not the balance that would be in a real rainforest, it takes maybe 500 more years. One challenge, however, is some of the plants the Americans have brought in to reduce sanding of the canal. Invasive species that spread rapidly and suffocate other plants.
There is plenty of wildlife. We have seen howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, marsupials, colorful frogs and insects, but there are also sloths, toucans and more.
“JuanJo knows boats, I know the jungle”Carlos
We were also in the jungle some evenings in the dark, where we found our way into some of the abandoned air defense batteries that are now just inhabited by bats and other smaller animals. When we told Carlos about it he said that it was a very bad idea to go in the jungle at night as there can be snakes, holes etc. We defended ourselves by saying that we had JuanJo with us, who of course knew what he was doing. “JuanJo knows about boats, I know about the jungle” was the answer simply.
Maybe the trip home from French Polynesia goes through the Panama Canal again. It will also provide an opportunity to see more of Panama, e.g. Bocas del Toro. In that case, one of the highlights will be to come back to Shelter Bay Marina and experience the atmosphere again and see good friends again.
But now we first have to go through the canal and out into the Pacific, by the way with FantaSea, who we started the circumnavigation with from our home port Lynetten, and Touché, who we also know from home.