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Panama, Bocas del Toro: Latest updates

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 26, 2015 11:01 AM

Published: 2015-01-09 00:00:00
Countries: Panama

Update from Bocas: January 2015

The recently opened Bocas del Toro Boatyard, which has been receiving rave reviews, is offering a special for do-it-yourselfers, which entitles them to 5 FREE lay days for their boats if they make a reservation in the next 6 weeks.  The scenic Bocas Boatyard, which is American owned and operated, has now handled over 70 boats.  The customers ranged from speedy 3-day do-it-yourself jobs all the way up to blister peel and repair jobs handled by the yard staff - www.bocasboatyard.com.

Now allow me to describe some of the enticements of this superb cruising ground.  There are nine major islands and dozens of small ones.  At this very instant there are over 50 unspoiled anchorages without a 
single boat in them.  The reefs here are young and vibrant and the islands are a blend of both low mangroves and higher islas with 100s of feet of elevation.  The wildlife is exotic and playful with toucans, howler monkeys and dolphins and sea turtles.

Shore-side, in the main town of Bocas del Toro, a cruiser can find just about anything they need.  Good grocery and hardware stores and repair shops provide the humdrum essentials, and there is also a wealth 
of surprisingly good restaurants and colorful, eccentric bars.  The population is a mix in the truest sense. The locals are a blend of Spanish and Afro-Antillian and Indio.  The visitors are surfers, backpackers and sailors.  There is not a trace of “suburbia” to be found in Bocas.

So as the heavy trade winds decrease and the New Year settles in, you should make plans to sail on over to Bocas del Toro.  From the West Indies it is a downwind sleigh ride and from the rest of the Caribbean it is pretty nice sailing as well.  Once you arrive there is tremendous cruising to be savored and a first-rate boatyard as well.

Ray Jason

Ray's previous update: January 2014

Here’s the latest cruiser news from Bocas del Toro.

I first sailed into BDT in April 2006, and with the exception of a few captain’s jobs back in the U.S. when the cruising kitty ran low, I have been here ever since.  So I have a pretty good sense of the ebb and flow of life here in Bocas.  And I can happily report that it is better than ever!

NEW BOATYARD

As 2014 kicks in, the new boatyard is up and running.  The travel-lift can handle 60-ton boats with a maximum beam of 20 ft.  It is an American owned and operated yard with a U.S. manager and a bi-lingual staff.  It is clean and spacious and has great showers.  It is both a full-service and a do-it-yourself facility.  It has a good chandlery that features all basic haul-out supplies as well as Trinidad, Sea Hawk and Sigma bottom paints.  The first customers have reported great satisfaction with how they were treated at the new yard.  For rates/reservations contact: www.bocasyachtservices.com.

THREE MARINA CHOICES

Bocas Marina has been the mainstay for about the last decade.  It has concrete floating docks, FREE wi-fi that is very reliable, a terrific cruisers’ hangout bar/restaurant, an easy approach diesel fuel dock, gorgeous grounds, a friendly staff, on-site laundry service, and spotless bathrooms and showers.  As much as 13 feet of draft can be carried to some of the docks.  Their absentee boat-care service is superb.  Other skills available at Bocas Marina include a diesel mechanic, canvas work and dinghy repairs.  Plus, it is only a few minute dinghy ride to town.  For a reasonable fee they can assist with all of your clearing-in procedures.  And finally, they are representatives for Marine Warehouse which is an excellent and reliable way to get parts shipped to Bocas.  www.bocasmarina.com

Marina Carenero sits on an island that looks across to Bocas Town.  It is the least expensive of the local marinas, but still offers good service and value.  Mary, who owns and operates it, has been amazing tenants with her charm and boat knowledge for years. www.careeningcaymarina.com

Red Frog Marina is quite a distance from town, but it makes up for this by being only a short walk from an excellent body surfing beach.  It is only a few years old and nicely maintained.  Aside from cruising boats, they are also trying to attract mega-yachts.  www.redfrogbeach.com     

CRIME UPDATE

Since I have been here so long and have been quite active in our boating community, it absolutely astounds me when I hear people say that Bocas is dangerous.  There has been only ONE serious incident in the past 7 years.  Yes, there have been a few dinghy thefts in order to get the outboards, but if one takes the normal, sensible precautions of lifting the dink at night, it is never an issue.  I anchor off by myself all the time aboard AVENTURA and have never had to scare away an intruder.  I do keep one hatch-board in the companionway locked from the inside, but the bottom board is out which gives me plenty of ventilation.  In all these years here I have never had a single fearful moment.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Bocas del Toro remains one of the few great un-crowded cruising grounds left on the planet.  At this very moment there are at least 100 nice anchorages within 10 miles of me without a single boat anchored in them.  Great scenery, nice diving, easy sailing because it is essentially an inland sea, exotic animals and friendly people – all at a very reasonable price.  Not to mention that it is far below the hurricane zone.  And a really unusual aspect that I have never experienced elsewhere is the camaraderie between the sailors and the expats that live here onshore.  Every morning at 0745 there is a Cruisers and Expats Net on VHF channel 68.  There is also a 24/7 emergency radio network if anyone is in difficulty or injured.

So come join us and hang out in our great archipelago that has no charter fleets and still plenty of room for you and your friends!

Capt. Ray Jason   
S/V AVENTURA  
Bocas del Toro, Panama, 5 Jan 2014

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Graeme Hurd
Graeme Hurd says:
Jan 25, 2015 07:52 PM

For those wishing to use the Boatyard facilities provided by Bocas Marina, first note that the boatyard is actually just next to Almirante on the mainland. The Bauhaus charts do not show the town or the boatyard. Carl the manager is an excellent help who went out of his way to put us in touch with people. He put us in touch with Dicky on 6654 1988 who runs his own taxi service and knows everyone and everywhere to go to get machining, parts etc

Below is a list of the waypoints we used from Red Frog to the boatyard,along with some useful phone numbers.

Red Frog Marina
TC2RF15 09 19.9034N, 082 10.8797W Out past Red Ball
TC2RF14 09 19.7000N, 082 10.8600W
TC2RF13 09 19.4755N, 082 11.0223W
TC2RF12 09 19.5400N, 082 11.6400W
TC2RF11 09 20.0900N, 082 12.6400W
TC2RF10 09 20.5800N, 082 13.0000W
TC2RF9 09 20.6800N, 082 13.0800W
RF2AL0 09 20.7584N, 082 13.2964W
RF2AL1 09 19.8723N, 082 13.4153W
RF2AL2 09 19.2427N, 082 13.5343W
RF2AL2.1 09 18.8170N, 082 16.0688W
RF2AL2.2 09 18.6170N, 082 17.5566W
RF2AL3 09 18.2913N, 082 18.0792W
RF2AL3.1 09 16.9479N, 082 18.8284W
RF2AL4 09 16.0940N, 082 20.0073W
RF2AL5 09 15.8036N, 082 20.9580W
RF2AL6 09 16.1608N, 082 22.1974W
RF2AL7 09 16.9252N, 082 23.0087W
Almirante Boatyard Buoy 09 18.2913N, 082 18.0792W

Phone number for Carl, manager at Boatyard 6619 5601
Phone number for Taxi Driver Rodriques 6413 6352
Red Frog Marina (507) 67264500
Hotel 888 in Almirante 758-3318 Around $25-30 a night for double / triple. Clean, reasonably quiet and in centre of town. The best nearby restaurant is Tsunami (ask hotel). There are several Good hardware shops in the area as well. Food and veg at the local supermarkets is 10-20% cheaper than Bocas.

gregory vanwinkle
gregory vanwinkle says:
Jan 24, 2015 02:09 PM

We spent four days here and had a wonderful time.

A few updates

All of the channel markers shown on the chart for the Bocas del Toro channel are gone! There is not one channel marker to be found. I entered the positions of the buoys on my chart plotter and followed a virtual channel. Vessel draws 9ft and always had at least 10ft under the keel.

Bocas Yacht Club Marina is a swell place. great service and good facilities. Be sure to hug Bocas town when going around the unmarked reef ( 70ft). we got down to 0.3ft of clearance at low tide. Soft bottom. the marina will make an audible play by play if you need help.

Many of the water taxis do not display running lights in the evening but yet rocket along at full throttle. I wait for one with proper illumination.

We came from Shelter Bay Marina in Colon. We had a cruising permit, so there was no charge or necessary clearance. Upon departure, went to the blue container office and filled out some paper work for clearance permission and then a clearance. (4.45$) then went to the govenrment building to clear immigration and customs. ($40) each. Both officials were nice, professional and spoke english. Big thumbs up to Bocas del Toro officials for having an affordable and efficient means of clearance.

hmfruergaard
hmfruergaard says:
May 24, 2014 08:35 PM

I agree with Ray's comments, but also like to add the present charges when make a first check in at Bocas Del Toro. For me as a single hand sailor I guess the charges in Panama now are the highest in the American Continent.
At Monday 19 May 2014 in Red Frog Marina at Bocas Del Toro I was charged the following fees by the 6 person’s delegation of Panama authorities whom entered S/V Sea Sprite at 1000:

Boarding Services $170.00
Cruising Permit (Valid one year/12 Months) $193.00
Panama VISA per person (Valid one year/12 Months) $105.00
Totals $468.00

Note:
The fees for regular boarding services are during office hours only. There will be an extra fee if check in has to be performed outside the regular office hours.
The cruising permit can be renewed 2 times with additional 12 Months each time.
The 12 Months VISA can only be issued to persons arriving with the vessel and will be canceled when the person leave Panama. If arriving/returning by other means of transport a regular 6 Months entry VISA will be issued.

Capt. Hans-Martin Fruergaard
S/V Sea Sprite
Sweden

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