Bocas Del Toro to Shelter Bay September 2023

The thing about being on a Nordhavn is that for the most part, Nordhavn owners seem to gravitate towards each other, so we end up meeting a lot of like minded cruisers. The latest people we have met are Tony and Laura who have recently bought a Nordhavn 57, and, quite coincidentally they are from our neighboring town in Florida. We met them in Bocas Del Toro, Panama and we spent a few days touring around Dolphin Bay together. While in Dolphin Bay, we went snorkeling. The coral as outstanding so we really wished we did not have to leave the following morning, but we had planned to  head East to Shelter Bay with our new cruising friends. They were happy to have us for company on the overnight trip, it was their first solo trip on the boat.

We spent Tuesday morning preparing for the passage. I made food which we could heat when necessary, we checked up on fuel supply, lifted the dinghy on board, stowed all unnecessary items, made sure all doors and drawers were latched. We lifted our anchors at 1pm and headed around Isla San Cristobal, then out through the gap between Isla Coronera and Isla Bastimentos. The seas were quite rough because the water gets squashed between the two islands and of course I was unprepared for this so the seasickness set in. Once we were outside the swell was quite big but coming on the beam (side of the boat) so it was quite comfortable. Too late for me, I was already feeling desperate to lie down and sleep which is exactly what I did. Until Frank shouted “fish ooooooon”. Suddenly it was all systems go, reduce speed, advise our buddy boat who was directly behind us that we are slowing down, get the gaff, run downstairs ready to bring the fish on board and of course, we were eager to see what we had caught and just hoped its not a barracuda. The fish did not put up much of a fight either which was a bit of a disappointment.  It was a tuna! We had never caught a tuna before. So much excitement on board. To be more precise, it was a Black Fin Tuna, and yielded 6 decent fillets. We had sashimi as a snack. I was a bit freaked about eating fish that raw and so fresh it was still warm. Similar to drinking milk even before it has been refrigerated. It did taste great tho. 

The night passage was uneventful, seas were beautifully calm with hardly any wind. Engine checks held no unexpected surprises. I Love this boat. There was no marine traffic out there, only Kariwa and the running lights of our buddy boat Laura Jayne about a half mile behind us. We had a great push from the current and were doing over 9kts practically the whole way. This resulted in us having to pull back and slow down to avoid arriving at the marina  before 7:30 am. As it got light we could see many many ships at anchor, awaiting a turn to transit the Panama Canal. Frank counted at least 50 ships on the radar screen.  We navigated our way between some of the ships and entered through the break water.

We contacted the marina once inside the breakwater and by the time we arrived at our slip, they had changed our designated slip at least 3 times. It was getting confusing. After all the confusion, we docked on a t-head, starboard side to, the best type of docking for us. Not long after we had tied up, the heavens opened and it poured with rain for about half an hour.

The reason for the backlog of ships outside the Panama Canal is because of a shortage of fresh water in Gatun Lake due to a few consecutive drought seasons. This has necessitated them to limit the number of daily transits as well as restrict the draught of ships able to transit. My take on all this… if somebody doesn’t figure out a way to pump water from the “down” lock to the “up” lock, or to pump sea water into the locks,  this while operation will eventually grind to a halt. I am sure somebody has thought if this already 🙂