The Red Frog Marina at Bastimentos

The Bocas del Toro archipelago is a group of northwestern, Panamanian islands that separate Almirante Bay from the Caribbean Sea. This archipelago comprises the Bocas del Toro District; Bocas del Toro (or Bocas Town) the major city is located on Isla Colon. Numerous islands, much like a tropical version of Maine, are accessible by ferry, water taxi, and private boat. The archipelago is home to Indigenous people, Panamanians, ex-patriates, and ever wandering cruisers. At a glance, it seemed we would have months worth of cruising opportunities to explore islands.


First, however, more guests were due to arrive! To accommodate our guests we’d made reservations at a local marina, the Red Frog Marina on Isla Bastimentos. Roughly 5nm from Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon, the Red Frog Marina on Bastimentos boasted excellent water, clean facilities, and a water-shuttle service to/from town. These homey comforts were right in the middle of a tropical rain forest! We were anxious to get Rode Trip docked and explore Bastimentos in preparation for our guests. We were also anxious for a long, pressure-water shower and use of the laundry machines. And so, still with our good friend Paul, we hauled anchor and sailed a beautiful sail to Isla Bastimentos.





We found the entrance to the marina nestled behind a labyrinth of mangroves. One of our soon to be dock neighbors dinghied toward us in his skiff and met us upon our entry. Stephen (s/v Cinnimon Girl) directed us to our slip; he and another soon to be neighbor, Bob (s/v First Light) assisted with our dock lines. Within minutes Rode Trip was securely docked.IMG_9373IMG_9383

Brian, Paul, and I met with Dock Manager, Lee. Lee was fabulous! Not only did he welcome us to the marina and provide the usual run-down of information (pertaining to wifi access, bathroom door codes, water/electric hook-ups, etc.) but he took time from his busy day to take us on a tour of the area. Lee brought us to the local beaches and restaurants and shared with us what kinds of wildlife we might spot in the rain forest. We were anxious to start walking around the island in search of Sloths, Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs, Monkeys, Snakes…oh no, NOT Snakes!IMG_9376IMG_9378


These lovely facilities would be waiting for us later in the evening.IMG_9380And so, after getting acquainted with an unusual new neighbor…we were off into the jungle! This is a Rhinoceros Beetle and we hoped he wouldn’t visit us down at the docks!IMG_8958IMG_8959


First Look at Bocas del Toro

Walking down the main streets of Bocas del Toro Brian, Paul, and I felt as though we’d just entered a theme park (aside from the surplus of litter in the streets and alleys which reminded us that we had really landed in a third-world country). The streets were bustling with vendors, taxis, bicycles, backpackers, surfers, locals…everyone casually walking down the street, not along the sidewalks.


Brightly colored restaurants, hostels, and shops advertised their daily specials on sandwich boards flamboyantly decorated with dragons, waves, palms, and parrots. “Private Rooms $10-20/night-Air Conditioning-Wifi…” “Surf Lessons…”



A pirate themed restaurant lured us inside with their $5 lunch specials. They served coconut rice, plantains, and choice of chicken or fish with a soda included. Tasty! Cheap! And a fabulous waterfront view.



After lunch we stepped off the main drag.



We cut through a graveyard.



It may seem unusual to be walking through graveyard, and well, it is. But Brian and I tend to check them out as they are all different country to country. In this one we noticed that many of the graves were raised and many were ornately decorated with tile. The trail was also a bit sketchy, but I skipped along ahead of the guys to see what might be around the next corner.


And at the end of the trail…


…we found a beach. There were some young guys playing a soccer game, some backpackers cooling their toes in the ocean water, and some dogs frolicking in the sand.






The walk back through the opposite end of town did not disappoint. The local lumber yard was promoting synthetic thatch, something we didn’t even know existed! Keep that in mind when constructing your backyard tiki bars this summer.



A nice first look at Bocas del Toro…and oh, so much more to explore!



San Andres, Columbia to Bocas del Toro, Panama

We sailed off the hook after breakfast and buzzed past s/v Eva Marie as we departed San Andres. David and Victoria were on deck ready to wave farewell; they were anchored directly in our path and despite us shouting, “STARBOARD,” while coasting closer on a port tack they preferred to risk collision rather than hoist their anchor to get out of our way. It was all good fun as Brian sailed us around s/v Eva Marie and out the channel.

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Paul was eager to take the helm and expertly steered us through the channel. Shortly thereafter Brian set the auto pilot and we were cruising along in light winds under full sail with the main, genoa, and staysail.


“So this is cruising!?” Paul observed as we all sat, hands free, in the cockpit admiring the coastline of San Andres. Paul’s previous sail on Rode Trip was her delivery from Halifax, NS to Portsmouth, NH when we’d just bought her in 2010. On that trip, Brian and three crew members took turns hand steering during a 4-day passage. They were less than comfortable (strong winds, high seas, cold temperatures, no lee cloths on the bunks) and were learning a completely new boat on the fly. That delivery was Paul’s first and only offshore experience; this passage would prove to be a luxury cruise in comparison. Paul had been more familiar with lake racing; watching the competition, constantly trimming sails, hand steering, adjusting course to keep up with constantly shifting wind. With Paul aboard, our sails were perfectly trimmed (not that Brian’s trimming skills have dwindled, but certainly getting up and going to the foredeck to actually look at sail shape is above and beyond cruising expectations.)


Approximately 5-hours into our passage, we came upon the Albuquerque Cays. These two, small cays were completely surrounded by coral reefs. An excellent stop for snorkeling and spearfishing! We anchored Rode Trip in about 20-feet of water, dropped the dinghy, and grabbed our gear. Brian gave Paul a short tutorial on how to use the Hawaiian sling. I was on dinghy duty while the guys explored below the water. Paul is certified to scuba dive. He’s visited many reefs, but this was the first time that he was not observing the beauty of the coral and fishes. Paul was now on the hunt! Our survival at sea depended on whatever fascinating fish or lobster he could kill! Brian managed to spear two Spanish lobsters. They were so small compared to the lobsters in New England or the Bahamas that we looked at them as though they would hardly provide appetizer. Spanish lobsters grow to only 8-inches long. Back at the boat, Brian prepped fried rice and lobster for dinner while Paul and I readied the boat to get back underway.DCIM101GOPRO


During the nights, we each took a 4-hour shift; Brian started 8pm-12am, then I took 12am-4am, and Paul took 4am-8am. It was smooth sailing and we all had plenty of sleep. Paul seemed to think that the bunk with a lee cloth was much more comfortable than being packed in-between sails in the v-berth as was his first experience aboard Rode Trip. During the days, we tried to stay cool and Paul tried to stay out of the sun. Both of these tasks would have been much easier if Rode Trip had a dodger and/or bimini. But we don’t, so we sweated it out. Paul and I kept our eyes on the sea whenever outside, but we saw more garbage than sea creatures. We also spotted one very bloated, dead sea turtle floating on the surface and one massive water spout amidst some passing squalls. The guys set the fishing line often; we caught one barracuda and threw it back. Although Paul likened the passage to a camping trip, he did enjoy the food. Eggs and plantains for breakfast, fresh bread each day, homemade carrot with coconut milk soup, and homemade cookies for late-night fixes.DCIM101GOPRODCIM101GOPRO

Paul enlightened us with all of the current events and new technology that we’d been missing back in the states. He brought several gadgets with him and thought of various forms of data collection that he could do aboard Rode Trip. On day two, we did speed trials. Paul set the GPS on his android phone within clear view of the cockpit. Then, he focused on sail trip and steered course. The GPS displayed speed in kilometers per hour; despite his best efforts we didn’t increase beyond 10kph which is roughly 5 knots. Not too shabby for the Wetsnail in 10-12 knots of wind. The guys were quite happy with their performance!




We sighted land on our third day and Paul very nautically shouted, “Land ho!” Panama lay straight ahead!


Schools of fish were jumping and gulls were swooping very nearby, so rather than head straight for the entrance to Bocas del Toro the guys took advantage of this opportunity for some more deep sea fishing. Brian caught a tasty lunch! While I broiled the fish, Brian and Paul navigated us toward Bocas where we’d soon set the hook – our third country this year!