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Panama, Balboa: Comments and Tips from Cruisers

By Val Ellis last modified Feb 14, 2015 06:50 PM
Contributors: Anthony Swanston of SV Wild Fox
Reports from cruisers passing through Balboa.

Published: 2013-03-12 00:00:00
Countries: Panama

Posted 12 March, 2013
From Suzie and Robin Roots, S/Y True Blue 1

At present it is extremely difficult to obtain a buoy at Balboa Yacht Club, buoys cannot be reserved in advance and due to recent dredging operations the numbers of  buoys is currently reduced. Flamenco Marina does not take bookings; it is almost always full of local yachts. Yachts should therefore plan to wait off Balboa Yacht Club until their advisers, fenders (covered black tyres) and lines have been collected; a $10 tip is due for this service. This occurs very quickly and yachts are then free to depart. Dinghy-to-shore access at the northern side of the causeway is challenging and several people have had accidents trying to get ashore. The preferred anchorage is therefore south of the causeway at La Playita; usually plenty of room and good dinghy access to the shore.

Finally, yachts should also be prepared for glitches in supplies and allow time for the odd delay; Balboa Yacht Club does not always have diesel,. for example.

Posted 26 November, 2012
From Anthony Swanston of SV Wild Fox

Please note that if you are anywhere within the canal control zone – that stretches from the breakwater at Cristobal in the west to the safe water mark in the east – you may not use sail at ANY time. I did, once, and a police launch arrived in minutes!

(Editor's note: Sailing in the Canal Zone is restricted, but not banned throughout the Zone. See here for the details.)

No matter in which direction you are transiting the canal you will have to pause at Balboa. Most people anchor at Las Brisas which definitely has a good cruiser community (see separate Noonsite reports). If you instead go to Balboa Yacht Club you will take one of their moorings at a cost of about $25 per night for an 12 metre boat – this side of the canal is expensive. But for this price you get the security of not dragging or having another boat drag onto you. This does happen at Las Brisas. Also getting bulky or heavy supplies aboard will be much easier.

You may not bring your dinghy to BYC. A launch service runs 24 hours a day and is normally very prompt when called on CH6. But sometimes it is not prompt. One day a senior officer of BYC was aboard my boat. He lives aboard on a BYC mooring and despite his position it took 30 minutes for a launch to arrive. One day I had to wait for 45 minutes. So if you have an appointment ashore leave plenty of time.

Fuel and water are available at a rolly pontoon. The entire anchorage is rolly due to the constant number of pilot and supply boats ploughing through the anchorage. I got my fuel by jerry can over a number of days.

Immigration have an office ashore at the head of the jetty. There is a laundromat with old but serviceable machines (they take quarters). There is a primitive shower unit next door. The club bar / restaurant is open to the public and it is lively especially at weekends. Service is slow and the food mediocre. Try upstairs next door where a recently opened bar has good and friendly service. Millenium Mall has everything you will want to buy. You can get there by bus or a taxi is $3 or 4. Agree the price in advance and have the address of the yacht club written down for your return journey.

You can buy almost anything in Panama but finding it can be a problem. Roger is a brilliant taxi driver who knows everywhere and where to buy everything. His English is perfect and when I was checking out I discovered that my visa had not been properly issued. He brought me to a remote office (I would never have found it on my own) and everything was sorted in minutes for just $10. Roger only charges $10 per hour including fuel but because he is so good is often booked up so book well ahead (Tel: 671 76745).

I checked in at Obaldia close to the border with Colombia and was charged a total of $235 for a boat of 11 metres. They issued no visa and that was my problem when checking out. The visa charge was $110 and is now only $10. The fee was reduced a few days before I left. There are no charges to clear out.

You must remember that charges and practices can vary from office to office. Also you must clear in and out with immigration every time you move to a different province within Panama.

If you are heading to the Pacific do not underestimate how long it will take you to reach clear water. By definition there is a vast amount of shipping. It will be very busy until you clear Punta Mala more than 90 nm from Balboa.

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Oliver Yacht Services
Oliver Yacht Services says:
Feb 14, 2015 04:42 PM

If you want anchor free then La Playita is the place. There is a dingy dock, you pay 35$ / week. Bear in mind that if you arrive on Sunday you will pay 35$ for that week but on Monday you will have to pay again 35$ for the "new" week.

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