A few months ago, I had posted a few inquiries on the Panama Cruisers Facebook Page and received a lot of feedback. One of the responses was from Juan Jo, the manager at Shelter Bay Marina. We had several correspondences over the next few weeks and he proved to be very helpful, professional, and super friendly.
There is a marvelous sailing community here at Shelter Bay Marina (SBM) with several boats staying on as permanent residents on the hard or in the slip. I can see why as the marina offers several wonderful amenities.
The main building houses the marina office, restaurant, bar, and upstairs captain’s lounge.
Shelter Bay Marina main restaurant.
A few steps to the left of the main building is a strip where you can find a fairly well stocked mini-market, chandlery, and gym.
Mini market, chandlery, gym at Shelter Bay Marina.
They have a beautiful pool and hot tub where they offer water aerobics daily at 1600.
Pool and hot tub at SBM
Each night they have happy hour from 1700-2000 with $1.50 beer and $2 rum drinks. The cruisers come together to share war stories, information on the crossing and general fun.
This is Matt’s and our friend Mark from “Una Mas” motto:
Because it is always time for a beer.
They also have a really cool sail loft that used to be a movie theater. The sail loft has a sweet little herb garden for the cruisers and a wall where you can write your boat name for posterity.
Sail loft in abandoned theater.
A cruisers palapa for gatherings, happy hour, and Sunday funday.
The marina also has many activities throughout the week including:
Parting is such sweet sorrow, especially when you are leaving the San Blas islands. We have thoroughly enjoyed spending the last few months exploring this amazing and beautiful island chain but it is time to head to Colon. The overall sail to Colon is about 80 miles and we decided to break it up into two days.
The first day we sailed to Portobello which was 58 miles. It was a lovely day, bright, blue sky, 2-3 meter waves, 20-25 knots of wind, beam reach. We hoisted our main to one reef, rolled out the jib to 1 reef and were on our way. It was lovely and so peaceful. After about four hours, the wind dropped to 15-20 knots so we unfurled the jib. We averaged 7.1 knots in speed, but with a few good waves we had a max speed of 11.3 which was fabulously fun.
Portobello has many derelict boats afloat and over 6 semi-sunk yachts so it is a bit unnerving trying to find a place to drop the hook. Especially because there are not that many shallow spots, most of the anchorage is 10+ meters deep. We drove around a bit, attempted to stick the hook several times before finally dropping next to our friends on “Heritage” in 11 meters of water. After we dropped 90 meters of chain, we headed in to shore.
On the way into town, we passed our friends on “KDans“. We had seen this boat in Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba but we had never officially met them in person. We swung by, they invited us up for a chat and they mentioned they had seen us in St. Maarten and the BVI. Small world. Super nice people. Unfortunately, they had been struck by lightening the week prior and had to be hauled out in Linton Bay to do repairs. They told us that 5 boats had been struck by lightening which is frightening. We heard of a boat being hit in the San Blas as well. Always a fear as you lose all of your electronics, fridge, freezer, depth, autopilot, GPS, everything.
The last time we were in Portobello, I stopped by Iglesia de San Felipe where the Negro Christo is located. The church was closed, but it still demanded your awe as you passed by.
Iglesia de San Felipe
However, the first time I visited I was not able to buy rosary beads so I wanted to go back to purchase one. The rosary beads are special here because they are purple (see post on Portobello).
Purple rosary beads from Iglesia de San Felipe
We grabbed some dinner and on our way back to the dinghy dock, ran into an English speaking family from a boat called “Gallivant.” We chatted briefly with them and determined we would see them in Shelter Bay as we were both heading that way.
The next day we headed to Shelter Bay in Colon. We enjoyed a leisurely morning as the sail was only 20 miles away. Now, which sails to put up? With winds blowing 15-18 knots, 2 meter seas and a wind direction of 140-160. The jib was unfurled completely for the first 30 minutes and determined that we could throw the spinnaker up. Sweet!
Transition with the spin up and just before we took the jib down.
Flying the jib as we hoisted the small spinnaker.
We made excellent time, making 20 miles in a few hours, average speed 7.1, max speed 10.7. Our friends on “Una Mas” left from another bay when passed them. We hailed them on the radio and told them we’d meet them at the marina.
Matt got lucky and caught a large yellow fin tuna which made for several yummy meals.
As you enter Colon you immediately start to see many huge container ships, cargo boats, and large vessels that have just transited the canal or are staging to go through.
Cargo Ships, Shipping Containers and large Vessels outside of breakwater.
The shore is peppered with huge cranes to offload cargo.
Cranes off the coast of Colon, Panama
Continuing on through Colon, you come upon the breakwater where you enter for the Panama Canal and Shelter Bay Marina. We were given strict instructions on how to proceed through the breakwater to avoid the big ships and keep Sugar Shack safe. We hailed the Canal authorities 8 miles out that we were in transit to Shelter Bay and then again at 2 miles out. Upon entering the breakwater, we hailed Shelter Bay to notify them of our pending arrival.
Panama Canal Entrance – breakwater.
I took this image from the internet (owner unknown) but it showed the entrance to the breakwater (see green and red circles at top center). Then we followed the green diagonal line (toward left lower corner) and to the brown circle with the red arrow which is Shelter Bay Marina.
Entrance to Panama Canal breakwater.
The dock master asked us to head to the T-head on C-Dock. Luckily for us, the marina had provided a map of the breakwater channel and a map of the marina so we knew exactly where we were going. You enter passing the large ship dock (slanted dock lower right) and we are at the end of the next dock. Not in the image as this was take before we got there.
Shelter Bay Marina. Photo courtesy of charterworld.com
As you enter the marina channel it appears really narrow as it is shallow mangrove area to the left and boats/docks to the right. Matt had to turn Sugar Shack around and head in stern first so that the port side of the boat would be on the dock.
With a little help from the marina and another cruiser, we arrived with no issues.
Every boat has fenders, so what makes them special? Sugar Shack came with lots of fenders – really big ones! It’s always good to have solid fenders and the bigger the better. Fenders are used when entering a marina, pulling up to a dock, and any time you need protection for your boat. We’ve pulled them out when a boat was dragging and coming down on us, we’ve used them for fun and games (think “wrecking ball” when you see image below).
Wrecking Ball on the Seas.
In San Blas, we have 3 fenders out on the side of the boat so the pangas, ulus and dugouts don’t damage our boat when they come to sell us fruits, veggies, lobster, and molas.
The fenders have been working great and have protected our hulls from many potential impacts. However, as the fenders get used, they get dirty. When they are dirty, they transfer that dirt and other marks onto the hulls. Which sucks. So, we have been meaning to do fender covers for a very long time. Matt purchased and brought 50’ of blue fleece over 6 years ago along with two more large fenders. The felt has sat under our master bed ever since.
Until, I got a bug up my butt and decided to do something about it! Matt and I worked on several patterns for the A4 fender which are giant balls (well, funny shaped balls). We have 4-A4’s and 1-A5. Many months ago, we tried our hand at making a fender cover using old sunbrella for the A5. And, although it works, it is hideous.
A5 ugly fender cover attempt #1
We learned several things, sunbrella sucks as a fender cover, and our measurements were way off. So, the key was in the pattern. We made several patterns using shower curtains. They are cheap, easy to draw on, cut quickly, can be stapled, and gently manhandled into a form. Unfortunately, it took us a few tries to get what we thought was a decent pattern. We wrapped it around our A4 and then went to work with the fabric.
First, tracing the pattern on the fabric. Traced the larger pattern which has the ½” hem and then traced the actual panel inside.
After cutting the fabric, we sowed the panels side to side forming a giant circle. Then the top and bottom hems were sewed. We placed the cover, inside out over the ball. It was close, worked, but not tight enough. So, we pinned each seam making the cover form fitting, took it off, sewed it up and voila.
A4 Pattern and final product.
Since the first one was so big, we decided to make a new, smaller pattern. Each ball has 6 panels and there are 4 balls. With each fender, the covers got better and better. The 4th ball is on the side of the boat for the pangas.
Once the hard covers are done, we moved on to the “easy” F4s which are tubes for lack of a better description. Super easy.
We cut 28”x27” piece of fabric (almost a square), hemmed the top and bottom. Then we wrapped it on the fender, inside out so we could pin the final edge.
Gently scoot the fabric off without popping the pins, then sew her up. You want them to fit like a glove so that they don’t slip off during use. Once the cover was completed, we had to squeeze it over the fender – it was very much like putting something on over something unmentionable….
F4 Covers Complete
The four A4s and eight F4s look great and are now well protected. The only unfortunate thing is that we ran out of fabric before I could cover the last remaining A5 which happens to be the largest fender and the one we use the most ☹
Instead of enduring the ugly A5 with dirty sunbrella, I decided to use blue sunbrella scraps to make a new A5 cover. It would not be the same as the others, but it will be closer in color and look a lot better – or so I had hoped.
The sunbrella fabric is not as forgiving as the fleece and does not “mold” to the round shape of the fender well. However, I was determined. I did my measurements, added 2” and went to work. Cut out 6 panels, pinned then sewed the sides and tried her on. Hmph….too short, it did not reach all the way around. No problem, I added another panel. Tried again and it fit all the way around. Good news. I sewed the top and bottom hem, turned it inside out to try on again, and YUCK.
Matt jumped in as I was on the verge of panic and adjusted it a little. Several side seams needed to be taken in and then it looked rather good. But, in order to take in the side seams I had to take out the top and bottom seams (for Pete’s sake!). So, I removed the top and bottom seams, sewed my new side seams, resewed the top and bottom seams and it is what it is.