Colon, Panama, 7 to 27 February 2019
7 – 27 February 2019
National Flag of Panama
Colón is a city and sea port in Panama, beside the Caribbean Sea, lying near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. It is the capital of Panama's Colón Province and has traditionally been known as Panama's second city.
Wednesday 6 February 2019
Chichime, San Blas Islands, Panama to Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama, 76 miles, 14.42 hrs, 1.8 engine hrs, 5.27 knots average speed
Total Miles (since leaving Falmouth in August 2016): 12737 NM
Position: 09o22.096’N, 079o57.030’W
Shelter Bay Marina is situated at the entrance to The Panama Ship Canal. We timed our overnight sail to arrive in daylight and thank goodness we did! The area outside the canal was full of huge cargo ships anchored, waiting to navigate the canal. Ships were on the move all around, some arriving to go through the canal, some departing having come through the canal from the Pacific side. Pilot boats were whizzing around all over the place, looking like Lego models against the enormous ships, the pilots climbing the ships ladders to board, looking like tiny dolls! It was an awesome sight!
In order to get to the marina we had to pass between the two enormous breakwaters protecting the canal entrance. We radioed Port Control for permission to proceed but were told to wait for two cargo ships – one entering and one exiting. The seas were particularly rolly, throwing us around; not having the slightest effect on the huge ships!!
We refuelled before mooring up at the marina and once secured we filled our water tanks and washed the boat down of salt, taking advantage of the ad-lib water supply!
A free shuttle bus went daily to Colon where the large shops, chandlers, banks and supermarkets were situated. This journey could take anything from 45 minutes to 1.5 hrs as involved crossing the Panama Ship Canal, either by road across one of the locks, or by ferry. If a ship happened to be in the lock, the bus/ferry had to wait for it to exit.
Left: Crossing the canal in the bus, the road going across one of the locks. A ship in the lock further down.
The original canal and locks
View from ferry crossing
The marina hosted a welcome party for the rally and various other events including a rum tasting. Local cruisers met regularly in the ‘Palapa’ for drinks, bbq’s, film nights, pot luck suppers and jam sessions. There was daily aquarobics in the pool and yoga. I also utilised the gym on a regular basis. It was so nice to be able to just walk ashore! The marina even had a large screen TV where we could watch the 6 Nations rugby!
Being on the marina we were able to get many boat jobs completed, one of which was to have the zips replaced on our bimini by the sail loft. Coincidentally we had spent the Christmas before last with Bill and Caroline, the sail loft owners, in the Bahamas. They had just completed their circumnavigation then and were now taking a break from cruising, concentrating on the sail loft business. I spent hours unpicking all the old zips to make the job easier for Caroline and cheaper for us!
There were several nature trails around the marina, plus a resident crocodile that unfortunately I didn’t get to see.
Howler Monkeys that as a group ‘howl’ extremely loudly – like something out of Jurassic Park!
A Sloth! They only come down from the trees once a week to poop!
Suzanne and David (Suzie Too Rally Organisers) had arranged a Panama City trip for the group. We had two nights in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, situated between Panama’s Old Town and New Town.
Our first stop was Fort San Lorenzo.
View from Fort
The Panama Canal is 82 km (51 miles) long.
It was first transited on 15 August 1915.
In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted in 1889 due to engineering problems and high worker mortality (25000 deaths).
The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project ten years later in 1914 at a cost of $400 million USD.
In 1999, control passed back to Panama.
Approx. 14000 ships transit the canal annually at a rate of 40 per day.
The Panama Canal Train runs alongside the Panama Ship Canal.
The following morning we caught an Uber to the various marine stores – priorities(!) then on to Independence Square for a visit to the Panama Canal Museum which was very interesting giving the history of the canal.
Fish Market for ceviche lunch!
A wander around the Old Town.
Inglesia San Jose Church (above) with its golden alter. History says that in 1671 the golden alter was saved from pirates by monks who covered it in mud and tar to protect it.
Monumental Tower (1920) in Plaza De Francia (above) to honour the French who died in their failed attempt to build the canal.
Meeting up at the end of the day for sunset and drinks on the roof top bar!
Our final morning we took an Uber to the Parque Natural Metropolitano with Ian and Ann.
View from park across to Panama Canal There is a Sloth in there somewhere!
The bus returned us safely to Shelter Bay Marina via the Supermarket so we could all re-provision, and boy did we all provision well. Any opportunity for cruisers to food shop we take advantage of, as without transport provisioning can sometimes be a nightmare – carrying heavy shopping, a long distance, in the heat. Not sure to this day how we managed to fit all our shopping on the bus, even the isle was full!
Later in the week Ken and I took the bus to Colon Duty Free Zone (the 2nd largest duty free zone in the World). The area was so huge we needed a taxi to get around. We were specifically looking for solar panels, which we didn’t find, however we did purchase some antifouling paint (boat bottom paint) at a tremendous saving of $1250!!
Various boats were leaving the rally here to transit the Panama Canal and sail the Pacific Ocean. It was sad to say goodbye to some very good friends we’d made over the last few months. Some we may not see again as they continue their journeys to the other side of the World. We will of course keep in touch and follow their progress on Facebook and wish them fair winds and kind seas.
Next stop: San Andres Island, Columbia