Adventures in Panama

Adventures in Panama

Norm and I had the adventure of a lifetime during the first couple weeks of January. We rendezvoused with friends in Panama City on their 43' Selene ocean trawler and cruised through the Panama Canal, then on to the Bocas del Torro Archipelago. After twelve days on their boat, we are still friends and look forward to more adventures together, on and off the water. 

Panama Canal
I was motivated to explore the Panama Canal because I have family history dating back to the canal construction.* As a sailor, Norm was excited with the opportunity to transit the canal in a relatively small boat. The actual crossing through the canal took about 12 hours. We started the day about 4AM as we left Flamenco Marina in Panama City to pick up our four Panamanian line handlers. Shortly before 6AM we picked up our advisor, who communicated with the Panama Canal Authority every step of the way and advised our captains how to navigate through the canal. We enjoyed watching the team at work as we passed through three locks on the Pacific side, the Gatun Lake and then three locks on the Caribbean side. 

 Above is a historical map of the Panama Canal from 1912. 

Norm went "native" through the canal when his luggage didn't arrive with us.

An original lock on the Caribbean side of the canal. 

This 656' container ship shared the last three locks with us. 

Our friends' 43' Selene luxury ocean trawler, Ho'okipa. The navigational electronics in the bridge is mind boggling, offering multiple sources of navigational tools. It's a full time job to manage and navigate this boat. Both of our friends have attained their captain's license. 


On the Caribbean side, we spent two nights at Shelter Bay Marina and enjoyed an introduction to the "cruiser" lifestyle. We also explored the flora and fauna of the abandoned U.S. Fort Sherman, viewing Howler monkeys, parrots and toucans in the tropical rainforest. Below is a view from the nearby Fort San Lorenzo overlooking the Chagres River. The Spanish fort dates back to 1598.


Our first anchorage was off the remote Isla Escudo de Veraguas. Our next anchorages were off Cayo Zapatilla and Salt Creek on Isla Bastimentos, where we snorkeled in the coral reefs and explored mangrove forests. We saw a wealth of healthy coral, tropical fish and even an eagle stingray.

Norm, aka "Indiana Jones," exploring a mangrove forest on the tender. 

An indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé canoe used for fishing and general transportation around the islets. 

Under the full moon our captain gave us a sound bath using Tibetan singing bowls for purification and rejuvenation. What a magical experience! 


We took a hike over Bastimentos Hill to Wizard Beach on a rainy day and experienced the slippery mud that made digging out the canal so onerous.

The colorful village of Crawl Cay, near an anchorage at the end of our trip.

One of our contributions on board was to prepare some meals and clean up. It was "tough duty" as galley resources included crockpot, microwave, coffee maker, blender, ice maker, potable water maker and deep freezer. All of our meals were delicious! We brought a couple of cases of wine to make the trip even more fun!


One of the highlights of the trip for me was surfing, after a ~30 year hiatus. On an overcast and drizzly day, our friends dropped us off the coast of Carenero Island, where I was able to ride a few waves on a long board. The warm water and gentle waves made it seem natural after all these years. We said goodby to our hosts and Ho'okipa in nearby Bocas Town. See top photo.

Norm and Kate surfing off Carenero Island, Bocas del Torro. 

Back in Panama City we met with trade specialists at the U.S. Embassy in Clayton, a former U.S. base that is an enormous compound in a lovely section of town. We walked the historic city neighborhoods of Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo. We also met relatives of a friend which gave us insiders' perspectives. Of course, we brought home Panamanian chocolate and coffee. We really enjoyed Panama and look forward to future exploration of the ecotourism site,, near the Parque Internacional La Amistad

Thumbs up for our first Delta One Suite experience on a return flight!

*Griffith Family Historical Connection
My great grandfather, W.F.R. Griffith, was among the first engineers to sail for the Panama Canal Zone, after the U.S. took control in 1904. For his service in the canal construction he received a presidential citation. He and my great grandmother, Aline McNair Griffith, lived there and survived malaria, yellow fever and bubonic plague, which decimated much of the population. They lived in Empire, which is near the Continental Divide and part of the infamous Culebra Cut (later known as Gaillard Cut). Below are photos from their life there.

Additionally, my great great grandparents, Walter Scott and Harriet Griffith, sailed on the United Fruit Company's "Bankers Fleet" in a journey that included Bocas del Torro and Colon, Panama, in 1911. W.S. retired as a director of the Columbia Bank in New York, NY. 

My great grandparents sitting on the stairs to their house in Empire, Panama Canal Zone circa 1905.

My great grandparents at their home in Empire, Panama Canal Zone circa 1905.

Inside my great grandparents' home in Empire, Panama Canal Zone circa 1905.

United Fruit Company's "Bankers Fleet" itinerari and guest list. 

Comments 2

Julie on

Wonderful glimpse of your amazing trip! So glad you were able to have such a rich experience!

Dale Kaegi on

I enjoyed your story and photos especially sharing some of your impressive family history. I worked for American Cyanamid when your father led the ag chemical business.

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