Storing BlueJacket at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama

Sunday, May 11, 2014

009-22.060 N
079-57.060 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

We've been home in the Boston area for a little over a week now and I realized that I needed to get a blog sent before we headed off on our next exciting adventure.

As you may recall, we had an exciting trip through the Panama canal and then we pulled into the Shelter Bay Marina, which is located across the bay from Colon and is within the break wall which shelters the entire bay. It's a very nice marina with top notch facilities and we decided to store BlueJacket here after doing a lot of research.

I had looked at storing the boat in various locations, including the marinas in Bocas del Toro, which appeared to be quite a bit cheaper simply based upon rates, but when you added in all of the transport costs and other factors, the costs basically were the same and when you included the availability to easily provision when we return, the decision went to Shelter Bay.

Ft. Sherman movie theaterYellow-headed CaracaraThe marina itself is very interesting. It's constructed on the 23,000 acre grounds of Ft. Sherman, which was built starting in 1912 to protect the Panama Canal. It also turned into a jungle warfare training site due its extensive jungles. The facility was turned over to Panama when the canal reverted to them and according to residents, the facilities were in great shape. Now many of the buildings have disappeared or are in sad shape, such as the base's movie theater shown on the left. However, the roads remain and provide great walking trails through the jungle where you can see lots of animals and birds, such as the Yellow-headed Caracara on the right..

I must admit that I've never been in a marina with more transients. They're really the only game in town when it comes to boats getting ready to transit the canal or who have just come through the canal or if you need to do major provisioning on the Atlantic side. As a result there is a constant changeover of boats, which is both good and bad. Since most of the boats there are extreme cruising boats, you can some very well thought out and constructed boats. It's really quite an interesting place.

Crew of the BalatonWe had a very nice and eclectic set of dock mates on the 40+ year old ketch named the Balaton. The crew consisted of the 70 year old Hungarian owner, Nicholas, his partner Wren, a German captain named Michael and Colin, who had just came aboard and was from Scotland. Their plan was to transit the canal and then head to the Marquesas, 4000 miles distant, and then head to the Philippines which is another 6000 miles away. They have no refrigeration and provisioned the boat over just a few days (Sue would have taken a week+) and planned on eating primarily rice and beans and pasta. They also only carried 800 liters of water, which only gives each of them 1.3 gallons of water per day and they weren't planning on showering for the entire trip. Uhm, no thank you! They departed the day after hauled BlueJacket. We wish them a lot of luck!

After we completed our transit we took a day to relax and then began to get BlueJacket ready to store. One of the biggest issues that we faced was that rainy season had started and we were getting lots of rain and lightening, which isn't conducive to cleaning and drying the canvas or sails and storing them. Luckily we were able to find brief dry windows where we were able to get some of this done...that is until the water went out.

Collecting waterA few days after we arrived the water stopped flowing on the docks. I guess that this isn't uncommon, but this event appeared to be more serious than most. From what we were told, a 100 meter section of land associated with the construction of the new canal had slumped, breaking the water main. It effected everyone on the west side of the canal. Information coming from the marina was scarce and inconsistent. For example, they put up signs stating that they expected water to be back on within 24-36 hours, but didn't date the signs.

Well, they were wrong and it was 5 days before the water came back on. Luckily they had reserves for the bathrooms and restaurant, but when you're trying to store a boat, you needs lots of water to wash things. It was even worse for the people who were getting ready to transit the canal and/or head to the South Pacific as they needed water right away. The water would just dribble out of the spigot on the dock and I found that if I left a bucket under it, within an hour I could fill it. I did this day after day and by the time that the water came back on, I had filled our tanks and we had been using it to wash the boat.

Moving BlueJacketIt took well over a week to get BlueJacket ready, but eventually we were ready and we hauled on April 30th. The original plan was that we were supposed to have been moved to a work yard so that I could install our tarps and sun shades and then on May 1st we would get moved into the secure storage yard. We had planned our flights on this and were scheduled to fly home on May 2nd, however the day before we were going to be hauled the brilliant people who scheduled all of this suddenly realized that May 1st was their Labor Day holiday and shuffled our move to the secure yard to May 2nd. Of course they didn't tell us this and we didn't realize this until we walked into their office and saw the schedule change on the board. Luckily we were able to get them to agree to place us directly into the storage facility and allow me to put the tarps on there (normally no work is allowed in the storage yard). That was great, but it took 1 day away out of our schedule and the day that we got hauled was incredibly hot and windless and I ended up with heat exhaustion, but everything got done.

Peru tripWe had planned on cruising much longer, but due to the battery issues we ended the season sooner than expected. So, we decided to do some inland travel and picked Peru as our destination. I had wanted to get there with the boat, but after studying the currents, dockage, political situation, etc, that didn't appear to be a wise idea.

We originally had planned on leaving directly from Panama, but after studying the climate it was clear that we didn't have the right clothes/equipment on board the boat. The price differential between flying Boston to Peru vs. Panama to Peru was only $150/ticket, so we decided to return home first as we would be able to get what we needed and probably save money in the process.

Detailed mapWe used Kuoda travel to plan this trip and they did a fantastic job. This is a completely private tour with private drivers and guides for the entire trip. We'll fly from Boston to Panama to Lima, Peru where we'll spend a couple of days. Then we'll fly south to Arequipa , which is known as the White City. From there we'll head to the Colca Canyon, which is the deepest canyon in the world. Then we'll head to Puno, where we'll tour lake Titicata, which is the world's highest navigable lake at 12,500 feet.

From there we'll take the Andean Explorer train to Cusco where we'll spend 5 days exploring the area, including Machu Picchu. Then we'll fly to the Amazon delta, where we'll spend 3 days. Finally we'll return to Lima before flying back to Boston. The will be 19 days in all and we depart on Tuesday. So, if/when you get travel reports from Peru, you'll understand why!

-- Geoff & Sue

P.S. I created an 8 minute time lapse (10x normal speed) video showing our transit through the Panama Canal. So if you're interested in seeing what it's like to go through these locks (and spin 180 degrees in one), watch the video on YouTube.

For the cruiser:

Oropendula NestsWhile I think that Shelter Bay has very nice facilities, their concept of customer service needs to be completely revamped. A prime example of this involved the water main break. They only got on the VHF 1 time to let the cruisers know what was going on and they only posted 1 set of signs, which without a date, was a joke. They stated that had looked into bringing in water trucks to supply water to the marina, but that was too expensive. Excuse me, but most of these boats are paying $1+ a foot to be there and there's no water! It constantly felt like the only thing that mattered was their bottom line and to hell with the customer.

They charge $10/week for Internet, but they only have a 6 Mbps microwave link to Colon. This is shared by about 150 boats, which means that you end up with abysmal transfer rates. Even if you decide to use it way off hours, you'll find that your bandwidth is limited to 256 kbps, which is incredibly slow. I needed to get an 80 MB file and it took me the entire night to get it. If you do the math, 150 boats * 4 weeks/month * $10 = $6000/month. Believe me, they're making money hand over fist with their Internet and delivering a crappy product.

As we found out after the water came back on, the laundry is run by the hotel and the hotel's laundry goes first. They have a lot of machines, but they only allow the cruisers to use a few of them and then they limit it to 1 machine per person. Washers and driers are $2/load, but it often takes 2 drier cycles to get things dry.

Crimson-collared TanagerElectricity is billed at $0.45/kw and you get your boat length in gallons of free water per day at dock.

The restaurant is quite good, but the serving staff is very lethargic. There's also a hotel above the restaurant which has small rooms with no refrigerators for $115/night, which is very useful when your boat is on the hard. They have a nice looking pool, but I couldn't see my feet when I got in, so we didn't use it.

I believe that they get away with their actions, or lack there of, due to the highly transient nature of their customers and the fact that they're the only marina in the area. If we were transient and there had been another marina in the area that had water, we would have been out of there very quickly. It would have been interesting to see how they would have reacted to the water main break had that been the case.

Log ID: 2245

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