Crossing through to the Pacific via the Panama Canal is one of the highlights in the World ARC itinerary.
After exploring the beautiful turquoise anchorages in the San Blas Islands, the fleet sailed to Shelter Bay Marina, which is based on mainland Panama. With good amenities in situ, skippers and their crew had the opportunity to attend to boat chores and also enjoy the private tours specifically organised for the Rally.
With dedicated guides, the main tour was a visit the Embera Village which is situated on the banks of the Charges River. The village is made up of 17 families from the indigenous people of Panama and Colombia.
The tour begins with a bus journey through the forests of Panama and the outskirts of Colon which in itself is a fascinating drive. The only way to reach the village is by boat and participants were met and transported to the village by long dugout canoes. Travelling upstream for about 45 minutes everyone had enormous fun especially when the waters became shallower and the boat handlers had to punt over the river beds to make passage to deeper pools.
Once at the village, they were met by the Chief who welcomed the participants and gave an explanation of how they live, their education system, how their brightly coloured arts and crafts are made and their ways of integrating with modern society.
Afterwards, a fine lunch of river fish and fried green bananas wrapped up in neat parcels made out of banana leaves was served by the local families along with a big platter of deliciously juicy fresh fruits.
Of course the main hub in this area is the Panama Canal which is an artificial 82 km waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The water and shipping is controlled by locks at either end of the Gatun Lake capable of holding cargo ships up to 320 meters in length. World ARC participants had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Gatun Locks where they were given an overview of the incredible construction which is known as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
With the Pacific Ocean calling it was time to head through to the ‘other side’ so the World ARC 2019-20 fleet said their goodbyes to the Caribbean Sea as they headed East through the locks (a reminder to all pub quiz teams, the canal bizarrely transits West to East from the Caribbean to the Pacific). And what a memorable journey this is for any sailor to pass through theses gigantic locks in their own boat.
With highly experienced Advisors on board, organised by the World ARC team, the fleet of yachts entered the locks together in groups of circa fifteen boats. With two sets of locks to pass and a passage across the beautiful tree lined Gatun Lake, the total journey takes around 24-hours. This includes as overnight stay (and a well-earned sleep) rafted together on the Lake.
Once through the Canal the following day the fleet arrived and moored in La Playita Marina, which is approximately a 10-minute drive from the metropolitan city of Panama. This stopover is ideal for everyone to experience more of the South American culture, purchases essentials for their onward travels, and enjoy a little bit of city life before heading off to discover what the magnificent Pacific Ocean has to offer.