Catch up...........Portobello to Shelter Bay, Colon, Panama

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Wed 6 Feb 2008 00:14

After a cracking sail to Portobello it was time to be re-united with the rest of the BWR fleet. It had been several weeks since we had all assembled in one place. So after a bit of sight seeing we all got together for lunch and a rally briefing for the Panama Canal transit.


We had anchored on the north side of the bay about a mile distant from the town itself.  A very peaceful spot, with very good holding in deep water.


We were once again entertained by flocks of Pelicans and Frigate birds, plus the sight of a couple of Panamanian Eagles.


Interestingly, some of those who anchored off the town soon learned the hard way that the holding is not good. Much excitement once the wind got up!


Portobello is a fascinating place steeped in history and full of spectacular contrasts.



Portobello in the 17th and early 18th Century was the main storage depot for the Spanish Gold and Silver that was being plundered from the whole of South & Central America by the Spanish conquistadors. The picture above is of the customs house, which was the main store house and it is surrounded by forts on both side of this natural harbour.


It was by its very nature a magnet for Buccaneers and Pirates, such as Sir Frances Drake and Henry Morgan who attacked it on a regular basis and indeed Henry Morgan famously stormed it with 460 men and took the city and held it to ransom.  There is in fact an Island off the entrance the harbour which is called Drake Island because Drake died in Portobello and is reputed to have been buried at sea just off this large rocky outcrop.


It is hard to imagine the wealth that was transported from here to Seville in Spain.  One account states that there were so much volume and so many varieties of precious metals and gems here that the streets were laid out with them in anticipation of the next fleet of Spanish galleons arrival. Eventually the pirates were victims of their own success as the Spanish King, frustrated at the continual losses,  decreed that hence forth all shipments would be returned to Europe via the Southern Ocean. A fraught journey, with many natural hazards, but none the less more reliable.



This is a sad place. Whilst they have a stunning set of antiquities and ruins, it is badly neglected and there is extreme poverty and squalor here. The way the locals look at you does not make for a warm comfortable feeling………….




Right next to the ruined castle, adjacent to the Customs House, are shacks made from rough breeze blocks, corrugated iron sheets and PVC plastic. All unfinished. There were dogs every where, but  virtually no cats. So it has got something going for it………………………………



On the other hand, the restaurant some 2 miles out of town, on the southern foreshore was a spectacular setting above the water in the bay. We had a splendid lunch and it was fun participating in the briefing and joining in, in the repartee once more.  Some of the Ralliers got a little tired and emotional at the “do” and ended up playing football with the local children in the market square. This of course had to end in tears and the oldest participant in the fleet, Pat aged 74, fell over and fractured his wrist. This was a good wake up call for the rest of us. But bad news for Pat, who has now had to be flown back to the UK, for an intense course of therapy and medical care. Hopefully, to return in a couple of months time.


The local transportation is colourful, if a little uncomfortable…………….



This bus is the main form of transport for the locals, and is the link to Colon, the second largest city in Panama. It is aptly named…………….


After our arrival in Shelter Bay marina, which was the old Fort Sheridan, AKA the US Army military HQ, when the American’s  owned the Panama Canal. We had the “pleasure” of a trip into down town Colon. This was with the BWR agent (Stanley) to organise our visas, immigration arrangements and Cruising Permits. This turned into a complete farce. Eventually, Paul (from Anahi) and I, took a taxi back to the Marina. Due to traffic jams, the taxi driver took to the back streets. Well the first thing we did was to lock the doors! This is one VERY scary place and not a good place to be out and about if you are a Gringo. To give you a clue, we saw two guys in battle fatigues, with pump action shotguns, standing guard outside an entrance to a bar…………


All very sad really, because this was a thriving spot at the turn of the 19th Century, when the canal was being constructed. There are some lovely art deco buildings that are just falling down amongst all the squalor. It is just crying out for some TLC. But the local monthly wage is $400 for a typical family of four, so there is little money to go round, especially as there is around 50% unemployment.


Then there is the canal itself.  This is a truly magnificent example of mans ability to triumph in adversity. So much so it deserves a chapter all on its own………………….