Hotel Olas with dinghy dock out front, $2 beer and decent wifi.

Passage: Colon to Bocas del Toro

This post  missed the insertion into the blog – it was supposed to go live 4/7 so it is reeally behind.  Bocas del Toro are in the Atlantic side, part of Panama…but still a good post.

We completed our work in Shelter Bay and decided to sail to Bocas del Toro.  Since we have three weeks before our transit date it does not make sense to spend that time in the marina (even though it is really nice) when we can spend it exploring new islands.

Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama comprising many islands off the Caribbean coast and just 30 miles from Costa Rican border.  Christopher Columbus discovered this area on his 4th and final voyage in 1502 and was anchored in the same bay that Sugar Shack dropped the hook.  In the 19th century, several people migrated here bringing their slaves to avoid taxes including the Scottish, English, Knapp’s from Jamaica, and the Shepherd family.  For more history on the Bocas, visit this site.

Our dock neighbors, “Ka Lani Kai” at 50′ Catana, were short one engine and had to be hauled out.  It would be much easier for them to maneuver with us gone so we decided to leave around noon.  We originally planned on stopping at the Rio Chagres, a fresh water river, before heading all the way to Bocas del Toro.  That was the “plan.”

With Matt at the helm, we left the marina as I started to stow our lines and fenders.  We had (4) lines holding us to the dock and 4 of our large A4 ball fenders and 8 of our F4 tube fenders.  I wanted to stow them before they got wet, not such a good idea.

Heading out of the marina into the breakwater, between the “explosive anchor markers” and the sea wall was like being in a washing machine.  The seas were coming from every direction, the wind was howling, the boat was banging on each wave causing huge splashes.  And where am I?  At the bow, on the tramp, holding on to the netting with one hand, and the fenders with the other.  Not my brightest moment. I returned to the cockpit soaked to the bone as Matt said “how was your bath?”  Not the way I anticipated starting this voyage, but the fenders are all stowed.

Our destination is 145 miles away from us and for some reason we got our timing mixed up. Matt had said it would take 18 hours to get there and that stuck in my head.  If we had done the math, we would have known we were way, way off.  We usually use 5 knots as our average speed which would get us to Bocas del Toro in 29 hours.  Even if we averaged 6 knots an hour it would take us 24 hours,

The forecast showed good winds for our passage, but they were going to die down over the next few days.  We set the main and jib with one reef, after the hour it took us to get out of the marina, motor 3 miles out of the channel, and clear the breakwater.

It was a great, fast sail in the beginning, we had 18-25 knots of wind, 2 meter waves and an average speed of 7.5 knots.  With our good wind and the prospect of no wind over the next few days we decided to skip Rio Chagres and do that on the way back to Colon.  At dusk, the wind started to slow down so we shook out the jib and carried on as night descended upon us.

Matt made dinner and as I cleaned up he took the first night shift 2000-2300.  The winds slowed down considerably and he brought the jib in.  On my shift Matt only slept for about 30-40 minutes before waking up again.  The winds had shifted and were now on our nose making our main sail useless so we brought that down as well.  Motoring along at 2,000 RPM, head into the wind we should be making 5 knots.

But wait, we weren’t!  Off the peak and down a wave we would average 3-5 knots, but in the trough and up the wave we would average 1-3 knots.  It was pitch black at night and we could not see what was causing us to slow down so much.  Sure, the waves were big, but 1-3 knots, come on?

Around 0400 Matt checked the pilot charts and realized that we were in a strong easterly current that was pushing us in the opposite direction we wanted to go (it was in cahoots with the wind).

We arrived to the Bocas del Toro channel around 1430 and what a welcome site it was.  Several islands surround the Bahia Almirante, including: Isla Colon, Bocas Town, Cayo Bastimentos, Cayo Nancy, and Isla Christobal.  Our friends on “Wandering Rose” were anchored on the southern tip of Bocas Town so we motored around the huge reef and anchored our ship.

Bocas del Toro Town, or just Bocas Town is at the southern tip of Isla Colón, in the Caribbean Sea.   Bars and restaurants fill the waterfront making for a colorful photo.

Bocas Town waterfront view.

Bocas Town waterfront view.

We were exhausted, but felt the need to go ashore and explore.  The dinghy dock at Hotel Olas was pretty easy to find as the hotel is a bright yellow.  Our friends Dave and Mary, “Wandering Rose” were there interneting away. They gave us a few tips about the island before we set out to explore.  It was close to 1800, the sun was setting, on a Sunday during carnival.  We did not expect to see many stores open, but we were surprised.  The town was starting to stir, locals were putting on costumes, and music was blaring, as we explored the small town.  We did not stay out long as we were hungry and tired.

Hotel Olas with dinghy dock out front, $2 beer and decent wifi.

Hotel Olas with dinghy dock out front, $2 beer and decent wifi.


  • Total miles traveled: 145 miles (+3 miles out of the breakwater)
  • Total travel time: 27:23  (less 1 hour to leave breakwater)
  • Overall trip: 5.3 avg
  • Max speed: 12.5

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