The Shelter Bay Marina experience!

Marina Buildings

We started hearing some negative reports about this marina when we arrived in Spanish Water, Curacao, during the summer 2010.  As we got closer to Panama, we heard more and more stories, so we thought we were well prepared for any skullduggery that might come our way…..

But the good things first….

The buildings and airfield used to be part of the Fort Sherman U.S. military reserve, and is surrounded by a National Park.  The marina is well appointed.  Its pontoons (docks) are all made of floating concrete, in good condition, but the softwood surrounds won’t last forever!  Water and electricity are available, and the dockmasters do a brilliant job in converting the supply to accept European style round connectors, at a constant 235 volts.  They also check the meter readings regularly, we guess as a result of a dreadful story published on Noonsite!  The pontoons are clean and rubbish is regularly collected from nearby bins.

A reasonably good sized swimming pool with sun loungers, tables, chairs and sun umbrellas overlooks the marina, which is a salvation in the hot climate!  It is also clean and well maintained.  An air conditioned Cruisers’ Room is available on the first floor of the marina building which as everywhere in the marina, offers a high speed wifi internet connection.  There’s a huge flat screen TV, sofas and easy chairs, a book swap library and great view over the marina.  A number of hotel rooms are also available for those whose yachts are having maintenance work done on the hard.

The pool

A free shuttle bus runs each weekday morning to the supermarkets in Colon, the hospital if required, and the bus station.  All are about a 30 minute drive away providing the Gatun Lock bridge is open to road traffic.  In the afternoons there is a $4 charge each way.

Behind the marina you can take fascinating walks into the jungle, and see the most amazing wild life – howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, capybara (largest rodent in the world and guinea-pig like) toucans, amazon parrots, and various other tropical birds, animals and plants.

Yellow breasted tropical bird

Blue tropical bird

Yellow tailed tropical bird

Amazon parrots

Bird of prey

Capuchin monkey

Howler monkey

But there have to be downsides, otherwise we wouldn’t have heard all these stories….

Like a Rey Supermarket bread or meat counter, to get into the marina office to talk to an employee, you have to take your place in a queue having taken a paper ticket, which will correspond in time with an electronic display.  A bit daunting if your number is 99!  So you could sit and wait or risk missing your turn and go off to complete other essential administration tasks like filling in the all important marina arrival form, or finding the “Port Captain”, who wanders around in a T shirt and jeans and could be anybody.

On the subject of the marina arrival form, it’s important to read it carefully and understand how the marina charges work and then calculate the most cost effective length of stay!  Choose up to 5 or 6 days, or 16.  Anything in between and you will pay nearly double.  Even more important, are you going to use a credit card?  If the answer is yes, expect it to be hit without your authorization.  And no, it is not a mistake.  We understand it happens regularly to almost everybody.  As a result, we had our card blocked to prevent more unauthorized helpings!   Oh, and on top of the Sales and National Park tax (a total of 9%) an additional 1.5% is automatically added as a staff tip, unless you opt out by signing the small print at the bottom of the invoice!

And the bus is charged for on a Saturday morning, but there is no indication in the arrival documentation.  The rules appear to be made up as they go along!

And yes, you do have to check in with the Port Captain on arrival – though that is not initially clear.  Furthermore, he also “makes mistakes”.  $24 was reduced to $13.70 after a trip with him to the marina office, simply to issue a Zarpe or authorisation.

The setting of the restaurant and shady terrace are lovely.  The menu is basic but adequate BUT stocks are totally inadequate!  On some days, supplies of soft drinks like ginger ale and lemonade are non-existent, and during the latter half of our stay all seafood dishes were ‘off’ ……

View from terrace along pontoon - Helen, Brian, Elaine, Bob, Valentina (photo taken by Edgar, Valentina's husband)

Mind the tiles and steps around the otherwise lovely swimming pool area!  We understand some poor gentleman broke a rib or two during our stay because there is no grip or warnings when they are wet.

There are large capacity washing machines and driers, but out of the four originals of each, now there are only two of each left, the rest having broken down and been removed. (Update: as of 11.02 all repaired and back in place!).  Yotties share these facilities with the hotel which does all its laundry there too at any time of day or night – peak times are difficult to judge.  However, despite the inconvenience of having to queue at times, and the cost of $2 per load, it is a great benefit to be able to do a hot wash after months of cold water only at laundry facilities elsewhere!

And the smell of diesel on our first morning permeated Pipistrelle.  Elaine thought it was our fuel tank.  Happily not, but the boat was surrounded by a thick layer of oil, and then another major spill at almost the same time the next morning.  We arranged to be moved to another berth as there was little interest or action from the marina office.  Eventually oil soak up “booms” were deployed to the worst affected areas.

This marina would be a great opportunity with a change of management as it has so much going for it, and anyone who understands what yotties want, and can provide a good customer service, would just clean up.

And on a final note, ensure your boat does not catch fire, as happened to a catamaran on the hard some 150 yards from the Fire Department Fire Tender.  This truck is driven out of its garage on a regular basis, but we understand that when the catamaran caught fire, there was no water available!!  In a word, unbelievable.

Fire fighting vehicles

Remains of burnt out catamaran

To the prospective visitor – be aware.  To the entrepreneur – what an opportunity!

This entry was posted in Panama. Bookmark the permalink.