Tag Archives: bocas del toro

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

Passage: Bocas to Colon

Sugar Shack is on the move again.  It’s time to make the passage from Bocas del Toro to Colon.  After Monday Market at the Drunken Monkey, we headed to the Zapatilla Cays.  The fastest way to Zapatilla is 10 miles southeast through the Crawl Cay channel which runs between Isla Batimentos and Isla Popa.  The only problem is that it is not the easiest route to take.  There is a high proliferation of coral shoals that require good light and polarized glasses.  Thank goodness the sun was high in the sky and no rain was in sight.  We made a few “about faces” and decided to “abort” a few routes, but we made it out safe and sound.

A few hours later, we arrived to the twin islands.  We decided to anchor at Zapatilla Cay Numero 1.  The other island is aptly named Zapatilla Cay Numero 2.  Both islands are a part of the Bastimentos National Park.

Zapatilla Cays in Bocas del Toro

Zapatilla Cays in Bocas del Toro

We were all up early, so we readied the boat for departure and made our way toward our next destination, Escudo de Veraguas.  This is a 32-mile journey that should take us about 5-6 hours.  The wind was acting wonky so we only rolled out the jib.  With no wind instruments we didn’t know the wind speed and we only knew the direction by sticking our face in the wind.

The waves were rolly and at about 2 meters, but they were several seconds apart so it was not terribly uncomfortable.  We did have a 1-2 knot current which helped push us along our path and gave us better speed.  Overall our trip took 5 hours with an average speed of 6.1 and a max speed of 8.8 (down a wave).  Not much to do on this passage, but watch the depth, adjust the sail, and enjoy the ride.

Wayne enjoying the passage.

Wayne enjoying the passage.

On the way, we passed by Cayos Tigre and Tiger Rock which make a big impression as you pass by – thank goodness we are passing by as one would not want to get too close.  Its hard to tell from the photo, but there are three protruding rocks in this set of Cays.  For some reason it made me think of Eagle Rock where my mom grew up.

Cayos Tigre, Bocase del Toro

Cayos Tigre, Bocase del Toro

Escudo de Veraguas has rich waters all around the island.  Many fishermen come from the mainland to fish and skin dive.  There are two anchorages on this island, but some friends recommended the southern anchorage so that is where we dropped our hook.

Image: Left a set of sea caves, top right is a large sea cave with a sandy beach, middle, sandy beach but too hard to approach with the surf, bottom more sea caves.

Escudo de Veraguas, Bocas del Toro

Escudo de Veraguas, Bocas del Toro

We had hoped to go snorkeling and or exploring on shore, but the dreary rain kept us on the boat.  It finally cleared around 1700 so we hopped in Sweetie to go check out the massive sea caves.  This island is pretty remarkable with drastically different landscape.  At one side of the island there is a beach and the other side has huge cliffs with little inlets.  Keep in mind that these two landscapes are on the same side of the island, just different ends.

It was a very rolly anchorage making it uncomfortable to stay more than one night.  We had hoped to remain here for a few nights to clean the hulls and waterline and install the new wind index but the weather conditions made it too unpleasant.  So, we left the next day and headed to a very small anchorage called Euero.

Euero is a 46 mile passage from Escudo de Veragas. The good thing about this weird weather pattern is that the waves were actually going with us rather than against us.  We ended up motor sailing most of the way and arrived around 1600.  The anchorage is supposed to be one of the calmest anchorages along the coast.  However, with the northerly winds it was like being inside a washing machine.  We tooled around trying to see if we could make it work, but decided it was not worth it.  Even though we just spent 7.5 hours on the water, we decided to continue on to Rio Chagres, another 90 miles (or 15 hours).  Will be a long passage and longer day.

No matter how we did the math, we were going to arrive in the middle of the night and that is not good. The entrance to Rio Chagres is challenging enough during the day so we were going to have to figure something out along the way.  Matt took the first shift from 1900-2100, then Wayne took the next shift 2100-0100 and I came up at 0100.

We were blessed with a gorgeous sunset and moon rise.  I tweaked the moon photo too much, but I think it is still pretty.

Sunset and Moonrise underway

Sunset and Moonrise underway

By the time my shift came around, we had a new plan.  We were only 10 miles from the entrance and needed to dilly dally for the next 6 hours until the sun came up.  We had no sails up and shut down the port engine to slow us down.  So, for 3 hours, with one engine, I hand steered trying to maintain a heading of 45-50 degrees.  The general idea was to keep the boat heading in the right direction without too much propulsion.  Not a difficult task, but one that you had to remain vigilant at because Auto could not hold course with one engine, crazy winds, and rogue waves.  The wind and waves constantly wanted to make the boat head up. And you could not cross the wind line without doing a full 360.  It also meant you could not walk around, get food or water as you had to man the helm. Lucky for me, Matt was up periodically and fetched me stuff to keep me awake.

After my shift, Matt continued on the same path for another 3 hours until the beautiful sunrise and a small rainbow.

Sunrise and Rainbow under passage.

Sunrise and Rainbow under passage.

We finally arrived to the entrance around 0700 after killing over 5 hours doing 1 knot. Sounds thrilling right?  As you approach the river mouth, the old Fort San Lorenzo beckons you to look up as it sits majestically a top of the hill.  The entrance is really shallow at 3 meters and tends to have a lot of sediment and a wee bit of current as well.  You can see the fort behind the boys as we passed through the Rio Chagres entrance.

Fort San Lorenzo at Rio Chagres

Fort San Lorenzo at Rio Chagres

Motoring up the river, Sugar Shack splits the water quietly.  It is stunning here. Top image is river before us, bottom is river after we passed by.

Sugar Shack cruising up the Rio Chagres River

Sugar Shack cruising up the Rio Chagres River

The Rio Chagres is a stunning tropical, fresh water river that is surrounded by rain forest. Many believe this is a magical and mystical place that begs for silence which is only broken by the cries of the wild.  After staying here for 2 nights, I have to agree completely.

The Rio Chagres is protected and heavily researched.  The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains an active research presence and all of the wildlife in this area are protected.  The trees form a majestic 50-meter high canopy that starts right at the rivers banks.

Matt at the helm with 50' trees on Rio Chagres

Matt at the helm with 50′ trees on Rio Chagres

Further up the river, we found our own piece of paradise on the Rio Chagres.  We anchored, ate breakfast, and hopped in Sweetie for an adventure.  You can actually take your big boat all the way to Lake Gatun Dam, but we decided to go by dinghy.

There is absolute solitude on the river.  The silence is only broken by the sound of our 25hp outboard and the howler monkeys and birds.  We made the short passage to the dam which was certainly a wonderful sight to behold – especially knowing we will be on the other side in a week.

This river was dammed in 1910 to create the Gatun Lake and supplies the water for the Panama Canal.  A boat can actually navigate 6 miles up the river all the way to Gatun Lake damn.  Many of the earlier pioneers used this passage before the Panama railway was built.

Gatun Dam from Rio Chagres

Gatun Dam from Rio Chagres

There is a lot of wildlife in the area, so we stopped, shut the outboard down and enjoyed the music of the animals.  We did manage to see a sloth and several pretty birds.

Sloth enjoying the cool water before a climb up a tree.

Sloth enjoying the cool water before a climb up a tree.

The cries of the wild. Even though I move the camera, close your eyes and listen to the animals.

Cries of the Wild

Sugar Shack enjoying the Rio Chagres all by herself.

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

Sugar Shack in the middle of the Rio Chagres

We all slept well and hard after our broken sleep from the earlier passage.  It was still and so quiet at night and as the sun rose, the forest came to life.  Matt spotted monkeys in the trees next to us, so we hopped on the SUPs to introduce ourselves. They were shy, but we got a few good photos.

Capuchin Monkey in Rio Chagres

Capuchin Monkey in Rio Chagres

Wayne and I checking out the monkeys on SUPs

Wayne and I checking out the monkeys on SUPs

We spent the next day being lazy, reading, and doing boat projects.

COMPLETED BOAT PROJECTS:

  • Wind index and instrument installed AND working
  • Bow speaker wires installed through hatches
  • VHF speaker replaced (cock pit)
  • Scrape the bottom and props (remove barnacles)
  • Waterline cleaned

Our last passage is the shortest, Rio Chagres to Shelter Bay Marina (SBM).  Weave in and out of the huge cargo ships, into the Chrisobal Panama Canal entry, across the “explosive anchorage” and into a slip for a few days.  In SBM we will do a massive scrubbing of the exterior of the boat, prepare the port office cabin for Heather and Michael, prep several types of dough (pizza, bread, English muffins), provision, baking (cookies, brownies, muffins), and ready the boat for its passage through the Panama Canal.  So excited!!!

Floating House in Bocas del Toro

Exploring Bocas with Wayne

Wayne arrived in Bocas Town after four airports and a crazy taxi ride, just in time for happy hour.  We whisked him to Buena Vista for drinks with “Wandering Rose” whom he had met in Bonaire.  After a tasty dinner, we headed over to “Wandering Rose” for one last roadie and to say goodbye as this is where our sailing paths change course.  Dave and Mary are heading to Cayman Islands, Cuba, then back to the States.  Hopefully, our paths will cross again soon.

After we unpacked Wayne’s bags which were full of Sugar Shack parts and accessories, we headed to Bocas Marina to get fuel.  We want to have full tanks before we transit the canal and this was a fairly easy fuel dock to tie up to.  Sugar Shack took on 345 gallons which cost about $275, not bad.  Then we added another $62 in gasoline for the dinghy and new generator.

With the boat full of fuel, we made our way to Red Frog Marina’s anchorage off of Bastimentos. We wanted to show Wayne around the island, introduce him to the famous red frog.  There is one place we know where they can be found and that is in the jungle by the Red Frog’s spa.  One little guy came out to be famous.

Red Frogs located at Red Frog Marina

Red Frogs located at Red Frog Marina

Last time we were here, we hung out at Palomar, but this time we dropped in on Nachyo Momma for a cold beverage. They are right next door to each other and share the same beach.

Nachyo Mama at Red Frog Marina

Nachyo Mama at Red Frog Marina

We did not stay long as we wanted to travel down “the gap” to Dolphin Bay and over to the Dark Lands.  It was much easier the second time around as we had our old track to navigate from.  A beautiful journey through shallow water while surrounded by mangroves and reefs.

Arriving just in time for sunset, we dropped the anchor and enjoyed a cool evening on board Sugar Shack.  The boys went exploring in Sweetie while I showered and enjoyed some quiet time.

Sunset in the Dark Lands, Bocas Del Toro

Sunset in the Dark Lands, Bocas Del Toro

Los Amigos (or Ernie’s) is famous in the archipelago for its eggs benedict.  We missed it last time we were in the area, so we made a point of attending with Wayne.  When we arrived at 0900, the tables were full and he was in full swing.  We sat near our friends, Rick and Judy from “Chasing Sunsets” (who live at Tranquillo Place) and enjoyed an absolutely mouthwatering meal!

Los Amigos in Bocas del Toro

Los Amigos in Bocas del Toro

After breakfast, we explored the bay in Sweetie and found this cute floating house.  We later learned that the current owners bought it for $60k and then spent additional funds on the floating sun deck. Locals were appalled that it cost so much (said it should have cost around $20k).

Floating House in Bocas del Toro

Floating House in Bocas del Toro

It wasn’t long after we got back that the boys took a morning siesta. After all it had been a stressful day so far, eating breakfast with a few beers.

Morning Siesta after Breakfast

Morning Siesta after Breakfast

After we let our meal settle in our bellies, we took the big boat back over through Porras Lagoon to Crawl Cay.  This is another really pretty and quiet anchorage.  We are across from our friend’s Rick and Judy’s island “Tranquillo Place.”

Matt brought out a few water toys and we enjoyed the afternoon in the water.  There are many “moon” jellies in the water, so I stayed on the SUP.  Supposedly the moon jellies don’t sting, but they scared the crap out of me when they rubbed up against my leg.

Moon Jelly courtesy of JellyTank

Moon Jelly courtesy of JellyTank

Since we had an early night, I was up early and was blessed with this gorgeous sunrise over Tranquillo Place.

Sunrise at Tranquillo Place

Sunrise at Tranquillo Place

What kind of friends would we be if we did not take Wayne to Monday Market at the Drunken Monkey? Pretty crappy friends for sure.  So, we planned our escapades around this event.  We picked up Judy and headed over right when they open at 10am so we could get the best pick of the market.

By noon, the Drunken Monkey was packed with lots of pangas.  People park on either side and in front of it – where ever there is room.

Lots of pangas parked at the Drunken Monkey

Lots of pangas parked at the Drunken Monkey

Image:  Top left exterior of Drunken Monkey from the water; Top Right Drunken Monkey from shore; Bottom Left market area; Bottom Right Jessica and CJ’s home.

Drunken Monkey compound

Drunken Monkey compound

Wayne, Matt and I enjoying good times at the Drunken Monkey and Jessica trying to juggle many beer bottles.

Playing at the Drunken Monkey

Playing at the Drunken Monkey

The Gap, No Name Bar, a Drunken Monkey, and a Man Named Ernie in the Bocas

Red Frog Marina Anchorage at Bastimento was a nice “pit stop” but it was time to move on.  We have “the gap” to go through, a bar with “No Name” to find, a monkey to see, and a man named “Ernie to meet.  The Bocas are full of hidden treasures and all of these needed to be discovered.  Matt woke up early and captured this beautiful sunrise just before we left.

Sunrise on Sugar Shack

Sunrise on Sugar Shack

We met a fellow Texan named Bob who is a single-handler on “Sea Otter.”  He offered to guide us through “the gap” which is a narrow and sometimes very shallow passage from Bastimentos to Laguna Parras (or Dolphin Bay).  This area is not charted very well and you encounter many reefs and shallow spots, so must navigate carefully here.  This photo is courtesy of Eric Bauhaus’s book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  The Bocas have a lot of mangroves and shallow waters so care has to be taken when moving the boat.

The Gap in the Bocas

The Gap in the Bocas

Sea Otter” has a similar draft to Sugar Shack (1 meter) and Bob had a track from a previous trip through “the gap” so it made perfect sense to follow him.  We both pulled up anchor and began our slow journey, about 3-4 knots under motor.  Twenty minutes into our journey we came across a catamaran from California named “Halcyon” whom we had met in Bocas Town.  Sandy and Brit on “Halcyon” knew Bob on “Sea Otter” as well and asked to join our caravan.  Sweet, a floating train.

As I took the helm, Matt was checking our 3 charts and monitoring the VHF as we chatted with our travel companions.  It was beautiful and peaceful squeezing between the mangroves along this path.  However, it was very uneasy and a little frightening at times, but exciting none the less.  All went well, and we arrived safely.  Total distance was 10.2 miles at an average speed of 4.2.

Image below: upper left shows “Sea Otter” in front of us.  Upper right shows “Halycon” behind us, and lower shows me in deep concentration.

Motoring through the Gap with a caravan.

Motoring through the Gap with a caravan.

Not long after we anchored, our friends on “Wandering Rose” joined us at our peaceful little mangrove inlet.  Although they came in at a different entrance, they were still able to find us.

Porras Lagoon, aka Dolphin Bay

Porras Lagoon, aka Dolphin Bay

Matt and I decided to go exploring in “Sweetie.”  We headed for the small village of Boca Torritos which is located on Isla Christobal.  This town is nestled at the water’s edge in between beautiful trees. Even though there is not much to the town the residents are really friendly!  Closer in we spied what appeared to be a bar, but it was closed.  A really nice woman named “Erica” came out and told us that the owners were fishing but she could serve us beer.

Erica is the owner’s sister-in-law and is building a beautiful house next door to the bar, aptly named “No Name Bar”.  She is from Romania, lived in Canada for 16 years, and is now married to a Panamanian.  Yep, she speaks multiple languages!   Over the course of a few beers she gave us the skinny of where to go on what days to get the most of our experience in this area.

Top image is “No Name Bar” and bottom two are the images of Bocas Torritos.

Bocas Torrito village.

Bocas Torrito village.

The next day was Monday Market Day at a place called “The Drunken Monkey.”  It is “the” place to be at 10:00 on Monday mornings in the Bocas.  We picked up Dave and Mary from “Wandering Rose” and drove “Sweetie” through the mangroves to Isla Cristobal.  Lindsey, the bartender greeted us with a Drunken Monkey sippie cup ($5) which gave you continual refills for $3 of any drink of your choice.

Before we got too far down the monkey path, we headed behind the bar to the market pavilion.  Here, 6 vendors were selling fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats (seasoned pork chops, ham, salami, bacon), breads, jams, chocolate, and shirts.  We loaded up, stored our goods in the freezer and made our way back to the bar.

Monday Market Days at Drunken Monkey

Monday Market Days at Drunken Monkey

It was a wonderful mix of locals, cruisers, and expats.  The booze were flowing, the conversations were lively, and fun was had by all!

Image: Dave and Matt at top, Jessie (owner), me and Mary.

Drunken Monkey with Jessie in lower left corner.

Drunken Monkey with Jessie in lower left corner.

Good times at the Drunken Monkey

Good times at the Drunken Monkey

The next day was a bit “hard” but we actually managed to be productive and finished up our new gas can cover for “Sweetie.”

This is a lovely anchorage and so very peaceful.  But, we decided to leave “dolphin bay” and head to the next bay called Laguna Palos or the “dark lands”.  A side note, we never saw any dolphins in dolphin bay even though there is a pod of 30 living here, so sad.

Laguna Palos is a short distance away so we motored through the cut between the mainland and Isla Cristoball.  As you motor through the cut, you pass an island with a set of trees that are all the same height.  Which is so unusual to see.  Evidently a large banana company (not Dole) planted all of these trees so that they could use them to make banana crates.  Then the banana market crashed so they had no more use for the trees.

Banana Tree canopy island.

Banana Tree canopy island.

We dropped anchor in the middle of the bay which was surrounded by mangroves on 3 sides and a pretty large mountain on the 4th side.  It is incredibly serene and yet delightful.

Our friends had told us that “Ernie” serves the most amazing fried chicken on Wednesday’s at 1500 so we hopped in Sweetie to find “Los Amigos.”  Ernie used to be a chef at the Hyatt in America and really knows his stuff!  The chicken was incredibly juicy and tender and literally made your mouth water.  So glad we stopped by!

Ernie giving me some lovin.

Ernie giving me some lovin.

The howler monkeys sing to you almost as if they are inviting you to shore.  They seem to be all over the Bocas, but we have yet to actually see one.  You only know they are there because you can hear them.  The next day we decided to anchor off of Tranquillo Place, which is a small island owned by our new friends Judy and Rick.  They had invited us over for happy hour along with Jessie and CJ from the “Drunken Monkey.”  Always fun making new friends!  Judy showed us around her beautiful tropical paradise, introduced us to her two birds, and hosted an awesome happy hour!

Tranquillo Place located near Crawl Cay

Tranquillo Place located near Crawl Cay

Rick and Judy own 2 boats called Chasing Sunsets (a trawler and a monohull).  They have a friend who they rent dock space to for this boat “Navigator.”

Tranquillo Place owned by Rick and Judy

Tranquillo Place owned by Rick and Judy

The next day we went to Bocas Town to meet Wayne.  We also had to provision, get fuel, and say “chow” to “Wandering Rose.

New Places in the Bocas:

  • The Gap
  • Palos Lagoon
  • Porras Lagoon
  • Los Amigos “Ernie’s
  • Drunken Monkey
  • Tranquillo Place