By Yacht and Cargo Boat
It may come as a surprise, then, that facilities for yachts are still quite limited. Slips are scarce and haul-out facilities can be quite crude. However, this is beginning to change. Marinas near the canal include the Panama Canal Yacht Club (tel. 441-5882, http://public.cwpanama.net/~yacht/bottom.htm), at Cristóbal near the Caribbean entrance to the canal, and the Balboa Yacht Club (tel. 228-5794) and Flamenco Yacht Club (Isla Flamenco, tel. 314-0665, www.fuerteamador.com), at Amador near the Pacific entrance to the canal.
The famous and funky wooden clubhouse at the Balboa Yacht Club, alas, burned down a while back. Today it consists of little more than moorings, a dock, and a burger stand. The newish Isla Flamenco Yacht Club has extensive, modern facilities, but they’re expensive. A new marina, Shelter Bay, recently opened on the site of the old Fort Sherman, near the Caribbean entrance to the canal.
Long-established ports and anchorages include Pedregal (David’s port), Boca Brava, Puerto Mutis, and Isla Taboga on the Pacific side of the isthmus and Bocas del Toro, Portobelo, Isla Linton, and José del Mar (a.k.a. José Pobre) on the Caribbean side.
Yachts also frequent the Islas Perlas and several islands in the Golfo de Chiriquí, but with the exception of Contadora and a few other islands, most of these spots are uninhabited and lack even rudimentary marinas.
Facilities vary dramatically outside the canal area. The two marinas in Bocas del Toro can accommodate large yachts and perform limited maintenance work, and both are right in the middle of all the Bocas action. José del Mar and Boca Brava, on the other hand, are remote though lovely spots offering little more than a place to anchor and get a bite and a beer.
A new marina has been proposed for Boca Brava, however, as have others around the country. How many of these actually materialize remains to be seen, but there may be more options by the time you read this.
The San Blas Islands (Kuna Yala) are a popular yachting destination, but yachties should be prepared to pay a small fee when anchoring off islands in the archipelago. The waters out there can be treacherous; this is a place for skilled, experienced sailors.
Transiting the canal by yacht is a complex and time-consuming process. An increase in tolls has made transiting a quite expensive proposition. The minimum cost is US$600 for yachts up to 50 feet. Many yachts need to take on additional crew at the canal to help handle lines.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition