Sailing In Panama and on the Run from Nemo of the North

A weeklong charter on the Caribbean side of Panama ends and takes on a new life—on the Pacific side, at the entrance to the world-famous canal.

February 21, 2013

The mantra for this trip is that far-away blizzards do have their upsides, especially when they blow while you’re exploring new places. We’d barely made it halfway through our crewed charter aboard the Trade Winds Explorer in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama when word trickled in: “Big snow coming back home.”

Wake up to emerald waters, swaying palms, and 90-degree heat, and news like that may not sink in at first. (Since, though, I’ve come to appreciate the term snowbird.) We were having a great time, so it was easy to ignore the impending doom.

On this charter by Trade Winds (, a company that features club memberships, fractional ownership, as well as per-cabin bookings, we never did spy the three-toed sloth, as I predicted in my previous blog, but nobody cared.


_Click here to see more photos from the trip!_

Our group of six—the Linsdells, a family of four, including twelve-year-old twin girls, and a couple, yours truly and her other half, Capt. Rick Martell—had had a busy week. We snorkeled in the Hanging Gardens, a spot rich with healthy marine life. We’d roamed the 30-acre Green Acres cacao plantation owned by Dave and Linda Cerutti, and sampled their organic chocolate. We had great sailing, enjoying 6-knot reaches in southeast wind. We’d kayaked from dawn to sunset in waters laden both with chubby starfish and tiny crabs. We took naps and read books while swinging in hammocks strung from the main boom of the sturdy, 70-foot cat.

And we giggled and guffawed when the twins entertained us with their nighttime dance shows, bouncing up and down on the foredeck trampolines. One afternoon I even managed to squeeze in a visit with the researchers at the Bocas Tropical Research Station, one of 13 locations the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute operates in Panama, among its other worldwide locales.


Through it all, we dined on beautifully prepared meals morning, noon, and night. Unbelievably, we had the cruising ground entirely to ourselves, save for the rare sighting of a local in a dugout canoe or a passing sailboat off in the distance.

Fortune was still smiling on us the final night. We’d tucked back into the marina where the charter started, near Bocas Town on Islas Colon; it just so happened that Carnival was revving into high gear. As we wound our way through the streets on a hunt for dinner, the devils parade was coming through the main drag. The spectacle of masked, feathered black and red devils prancing about, shaking tiny bells on their arms and legs, and “whipping” spectators is a carnival time memory I’ll keep forever.

Fortune is still the operative word here, because the end of this charter was starting to feel more like the end of a chapter, not the end of a story. As the snow piled high and the wind blew hard and flights to the U.S. were cancelled, we regrouped and cashed in our good karma chips. We’d made it from the airport at Bocas to the international airport at Panama City, and that was as far as we’d go for the weekend.


Instead of worrying like crazy or guilt-tripping ourselves, we let nature takes its course while we took in the sights. How many times in life do you find yourself stuck in paradise? If it happens to you, my advice is simple: Stay put!

So, on Saturday, instead of taking a flight to Providence, Rhode Island, we landed a room at a hotel on the scenic Amador Causeway, near the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, the Bridge of the Americas, and last but not least, the Balboa Yacht Club. Sunday morning, Rick and I hopped a taxi from the Causeway, which was constructed to prevent the Pacific entrance to the canal from silting up, and hung out at the yacht club.

There we met Bill Nokes and Barbara Wade, crew of the Gulfstar 41 Someday. Over beers, they told us about the nearby cruising grounds on the Pacific side. Hailing from Brookings, Oregon, Bill and Barbara prefer the Pacific side to the Caribbean side of Panama, and their argument was a compelling one, though I can’t complain about the experiences we’d just had in the protected Bocas archipelago. After all, the mantra of this trip remains: Blizzards and chartering in new places do have their upsides.


Click here to see pictures from the trip!


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