Archives for 2020 | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Return to Panama - Traveling During COVID19

Greetings from Panama!

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We are back on board Distant Shores III after being away from our boat for 7 months, 2 weeks and 2 days (but who’s counting ) due to the COVID19 pandemic.

You may recall, that in mid-March, Paul and I had flown from Panama to the UK after an Atlantic to Pacific transit of the Panama Canal. We needed to update our STCW training which is certification for on-board safety and security required to operate our sail training weeks. The UK was the only place offering the training during the break we had between Sail Away Weeks bookings.

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While we were in the UK, we left the boat stored at a dock at La Playita Marina on the Amador Causeway just outside of Panama City, an expensive but secure marina. For the 2 weeks we were to be away, Distant Shores III would stay under the watchful eye of cruising friends staying at the marina as well as the marina staff.
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During our time in the UK, worldwide concern was developing for COVID19 and on the last couple of days of our training, Panama and many other countries locked down, so we couldn’t return to the boat.

Our only option was to repatriate and fly home to Canada. This was fine since we had lots of work that we could do at our home studio where we prefer to do the post-production on episodes of the Distant Shores TV series, which is broadcast to 47 million homes in 24 languages worldwide on AWE TV, Nautical Channel and Shine TV.

Note: If you don’t get the above TV channels, the 27 new half-hour episodes of Season 11 and 12 are now available as HD downloads and also on DVD for gift giving. Check out the deal on ALL seasons from 1 to 12 of the Distant Shores TV series - 157 half-hour episodes of sailing adventure in the world’s most beautiful cruising destinations to get you through the “second wave”. Watch with your mate and show them how great the sailing life can be. )

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We were so worried about the boat while we were home in Canada these past few months. We hadn’t planned to leave it unattended for so long but of course, at the time, we never imagined that the world would shut down and for such a long time.

To put our mind at ease for what turned out to be a 7-month lockdown in Panama, the staff at La Playita Marina checked Distant Shores III’s lines and fenders regularly even replacing a couple of dock lines that had started to look worn, gave the boat a good wash down and sent us photos of the boat every month. Our cruising friends had to head home due to the pandemic soon after we left the boat and those who chose to stay were restricted at anchor in Panama and had a very difficult time. Life aboard for them during the months of the strict curfews in Panama is a whole other story.

A shout-out to the marina, our families and also to our neighbours at our home base in Canada, who are all great travellers too, including Dawn Cox, our longtime office manager. We all met regularly respecting COVID19 regulations to keep each other sane during the time we were all restricted at home.

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Return to the Boat in Panama

Panama finally opened its borders to international visitors on Monday, October 12th, 2020 (our 35th wedding anniversary) and, after monitoring the situation and finishing up post-production on the last episodes of the two new seasons of the Distant Shores TV series, we were on one of the first direct non-stop flights available from Toronto to Panama via Copa Airlines on Friday October 30th.

COVID19 Precautions While Traveling

Needless to say, Toronto Pearson International Airport was the quietest we’d ever seen it. We were impressed by the new measures taken at the airport to protect travellers and airport employees from COVID19. Along with required wearing of masks and respect for social distancing, new ultra violet sanitation systems had been placed on the handrails of all conveyor belts, there were new air quality monitoring stations around the terminals and there was even an optional Sanitation Corridor where you could walk through with your baggage and be misted with hypochlorous, a saltwater solution “safe for humans, extremely effective, non-toxic, eco-friendly, all-natural and non-irritating”. If nothing else, it was fun to video.

Very few airport stores were open except for the big duty free shops and even fewer restaurants were open, just take-out options. We have membership in Premier Airport Lounges (plus booking Business Class on Copa Airlines gives you access to Maple Leaf Lounges) so we had a good hot sit-down breakfast in an almost empty lounge while we waited to go to the departure gate allowing us to avoid crowded situations.

Masks were required throughout the whole flight except when eating or drinking but no efforts were made to space out seating on the plane. The plane was full with people waiting on standby for cancellations. We opted to fly Business Class so we were more distanced from other passengers and were super comfortable for the 5.5 hour flight from Toronto Canada to Panama.

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On the plane, line-ups for washrooms couldn’t be longer than 4 people in Economy. In Business Class there was just one washroom for 16 people so there was never a line-up and it stayed very clean. Another reason we opted to pay more for Business Class.

There was no meal service on the plane to reduce food handling but we did receive bottled water and a packaged lunch which was quite okay.

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When we approached Panama, we flew over the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and La Playita Marina at the end of the Amador Causeway. We could see Distant Shores III floating happily at the dock from the air!

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COVID19 Testing in the Airport

In order to be admitted into Panama, we needed to produce a negative COVID19 test taken within 48 hours of our arrival at Tocumen Airport (PTY) in Panama City. This was impossible to arrange. All the test centres in our region of Canada couldn’t guarantee test results before 4-7 days of the test being taken. I asked if, since we were traveling, could our test could be expedited since there was a specific deadline. The answer was that travellers were the furthest down the list in priority. Even nurses and other frontline workers were having to wait at least 4 days; next in line were those working in or making regular visits to longterm care facilities where residents were high risk. Point taken.

The Republic of Panama is aware of this testing problem and, as of our time of travel, are offering an alternative solution. All visitors arriving at the airport in Panama can take a COVID19 rapid test upon arrival. Results are available within 20 minutes. Cost is $50 US per person. If you pass by showing a negative test result, no quarantine is required. You can proceed through Customs and Immigration and clear-in to the country. If your test is positive, you are directed to a government quarantine hotel and are retested in 7 days. If you show negative on the second test you are free to go. If you test negative on the second test, you have to quarantine for another 7 days or until you test negative. More info here.

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Our temperatures were taken when we got off the plane and, since we didn’t show a temperature of higher than 38 C (100 F), we were able to proceed to the COVID19 Test Centre en route to Customs and Immigration. There was a 15 minute wait in a socially distanced line (pretty much everyone on the flight from Toronto couldn’t get a test at home in time so were gratefully using the Tocumen Airport test facilities); we registered and paid our $50 US per person, had our noses swabbed, were each given one of those buzzers you get at restaurants that buzz when your table is ready and were directed to a special lounge to await our results. In 20 minutes our buzzers buzzed and we went to the reception desk to receive the happy news that we were both COVID19-free!

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We handed in our certificates at Immigration and Customs then proceeded to the baggage claim. We were wondering how our luggage was doing since more than an hour had passed since our plane had landed. Both our bags were there and we directly caught a taxi - $38 US for the hour drive with Friday night traffic - to La Playita Marina on the Amador Causeway on the opposite side of Panama City from the airport. Everyone was out on the town, all wearing masks. It is required in Panama that as soon as you leave your residence a mask must be worn at all times, even during outdoor exercise, or you risk a $250 US fine.

It was dark when we arrived at the marina and we received a warm welcome from the Security Guard who remembered us. He assured us the boat was fine, that everyone working at the marina had been keeping a good watch over her during the 7 months that we’d been locked out.

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And the boat did look great! But our real fear of was of what we’d find down below since no one had been aboard since we’d flown to the UK on a supposed 2-week business trip in the middle of March. It was October 30th now. We’d cleared out the fridge and left no perishables but there were lots of dry goods in storage that could be infested and canned goods that might have burst in the heat and gone bad. We have leather upholstery throughout Distant Shores III. How had that faired?

We opened the companionway hatch with trepidation and were met with the delightful sight of a clean dry boat! We opened a few lockers and found a couple of packages of pasta that had gone “weevily” but I’d sealed each package in Ziploc Bags before storing them so the mess and the tiny cone-head weevils were contained. They had feasted and perished. Everything else was fine. We threw out the 4 packages and got them off the boat.

While I was doing a quick survey of lockers, Paul vacuumed, dusted and wiped down the few mildewy corners in the showers and around a few hatches. The leather upholstery was perfect. The only leather that suffered problems was our somewhat salty sandals and leather boat shoes which just needed a wipe down.

For now, we were home and all was well. The next day we would go through each locker thoroughly and test all systems. Now we needed to relax.

We heated up some canned soup for dinner, dined in the cockpit under a big bright moon, then went to bed.


Stuck in Paradise! Bahamas sailing and Junkanoo

Feeling stuck these days? Well this video is guaranteed to lift your spirits! We got stuck in the Bahamas earlier this year (before the pandemic) and experienced Junkanoo celebrations! You can’t help but smile when you watch this one😊 since everyone, young and old, sailor and landlubber, is having such a good time! We also take the boat out to some very remote islands in the Exumas where pirates of old used to hide out amongst the shoals and give you an overview of the beautiful anchorages around the area of George Town, Great Exuma, a base for the cruising community where, at a beach bonfire we celebrate New Years.



OMG! A waterspout appears near us in the anchorage at Redshanks Cay, Exumas, Bahamas. Then it hits a boat near us in the harbour!

We were anchored in George Town Harbour Bahamas in the protected corner known as Red Shanks waiting out a few days of strong weather. We heard someone on the radio announce there was a waterspout in the harbour so I jumped up on deck and watched the spout hit a 40 foot powerboat. The waterspout appeared to be heading toward us and the catamaran in the front.

Then I got the camera rolling and you can see the waterspout … then you can see the powerboat in the middle so you can see how big the spout is since the 40 foot boat - Angela D gives it scale. The spout seems to be well over 100 feet in diameter. The Angela D leans over approximately 45 degrees and their dinghy is picked up.

The waterspout is still heading towards us for a few seconds and we see items from the dinghy flying everywhere then the waterspout finally veers away towards the small island.

Everything was over in just a minute from coming up on deck. No one was injured and the boat had only very small damages - missing parts from the dinghy and small deck gear.