Following independence from Columbia in 1903, the country negotiated a treaty with the USA to allow the digging of a canal from coast to coast. The 48-mile-long canal was finished in 1914 and created an essential shipping route that saved ships negotiating the hazardous 8,000 nm trip around Cape Horn. While you’re in Panama, make sure you visit its rainforest – the largest in the Western Hemisphere, apart from the Amazon Basin. It boasts a diverse and abundant mix of tropical plants, animals and birds, some unique to Panama. Nearly half the country’s four million people live in the capital, Panama City. This is a vibrant modern city with skyscrapers and contrasting colonial buildings in the Casco Viejo district and is definitely worth a visit.
After exploring the paradise islands of Bonaire and the San Blas, and the vibrant cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta, the fleet arrived at Shelter Bay Marina in early February ready for their Panama Canal transit. Preparation for the canal transit started two years prior by the Rally team, with a week window reserved to ensure the fleet of 25 yachts could transit together in nests, rather than alongside container ships. The week prior to the transit was filled with many formalities and paperwork, to include measurement, inspections, fumigation, and discussions with the advisors and pilots.
Amidst the preparation, the fleet also managed to have a lot of fun with a variety of social events to choose from throughout the week, to include Rum and Cigar Sampling and Mimosa making at the Dock Restaurant and a fun filled day trip to the world heritage site of Fort San Lorenzo for a Panamanian Party with local dancers and a feast. The Superbowl fans were even treated to a special live screening of the Superbowl next to the marina!
For the Canal transit, the fleet were split into two groups (waves) and then into smaller groups of three according to yacht size, which are called nests. Each yacht had to have a canal pilot or advisor and four line handlers plus a helm onboard for the duration of the transit. After transiting the first lock, Gatun Lock, the fleet anchored overnight in Gatun Lake and the skippers and owners took stock of the day. The following morning the fleet continued south, travelling through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks before sailing under the Bridge of Americas and into the Pacific Ocean. The transit was a real adventure and a big tick on the bucket list for everyone. The fleet then enjoyed some down time in the amazing, eclectic Panama City before heading further southwest into the Pacific and onto the Galápagos Islands.