Set sail on Saturday 1 December, pulling out of Bocas Marina and heading due east. I thought it would be a 28-30 hour trip, but I made it to the big-ship anchorage outside the Colon breakwater in about 22 hours, thanks to having 5-10 knots of north wind on the beam, flat seas, and a strong favorable current – sometimes as much as 3 knots, almost the entire way. Was secured in a slip in Shelter Bay Marina by 0930 or so Sunday morning. Gotta say, though, that staying up all night is not everything it’s cracked up to be.

Bocas Marina: A very pleasant little marina, well run, pretty, convenient to Bocas Town. Recommended, for a short or a long stay.

Shelter Bay Marina: Improved substantially since I was here last in January 2010. The physical facilities have grown a bit (new dock, additional showers and bathrooms), but the most noticeable change has been in the service level. Not coincidentally, John Halley, the very well regarded former dockmaster at Club Naútico Cartagena, became manager here at Shelter Bay perhaps a year and a half ago. The shockingly customer-hostile employees from 2010, most notably in the marina office, are gone; the people working here now are friendly and helpful and service oriented.

Cruising: fixing your boat in exotic locations, in this case on the hard at Shelter Bay Marina, near Colon, Panama (north end of the Panama Canal)

The restaurant has improved immensely. In 2010 on a given night the menu included perhaps five completely ordinary items, such as hamburgers or tuna melts, two or three of which were typically not available, and the wait staff was extremely slow – if they could be bothered to stop by your table at all. Now, the restaurant offers a full menu (the few items I’ve tried have been quite good), and the wait staff, while at times overwhelmed and a little disorganized, for the most part works hard and appears to care. Both the marina and the restaurant are overpriced, though, clearly a function of location and lack of competition.

Anyway, my canal transit date is set for Monday 10 December, and I have the tires, lines, and line handlers all set up. We’ll leave here Monday afternoon, go through the Gatun locks in late afternoon or early evening and then take a mooring ball in Gatun Lake for the night. Early the next morning, like at 0600 or 0630, the adviser (like a pilot but not as exalted) shows up again and we beat it on down the line. Quite a bit of Gatun Lake and canal to go through, then the Pedro Miguel and finally the Miraflores locks, which will take us to the level of the Pacific ocean. We should get into Balboa around mid afternoon on Tuesday.

I’m hopeful of finding a mooring ball at the Balboa Yacht Club, where I’ve spent quite a lot of time in past years, for two or three nights while I do a final provisioning, some laundry, and take care of absolutely final preparations before heading for Mexico.

Happily, my zarpe (port clearance) from Colon shows my destination as Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, via Balboa, so I won’t have to do any more paperwork.

Arrangements having come together surprisingly quickly and easily, I have time to do some boat cleaning and minor maintenance without being in a cold sweat.

And I’m walking around with more spring in my step these days, being quite a lot lighter in the wallet after setting up the Canal transit and covering the various related expenses.

But it’s worth it. I am really looking forward to being back in the Pacific and getting back to Mexico.

Runnin’ with the big dawgs in Shelter Bay. Oh yeah. For a sense of scale, compare the size of the guys working on the boom to the size of the boom itself. This is not a trick photo or an optical illusion. I paced this sled off at about 150 feet.

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