Bocas del Toro, Panama

We successfully arrived in Bocas Del Toro on June 25th. Since hurricane season officially starts on June 1st, we were relieved to have made it far enough south to be out of danger. The hurricane zone extends south to Costa Rica, but not as far south as Panama. We were still in the hurricane zone for the first few weeks of June, but kept a close eye on low pressure systems that sometimes form out in the Atlantic. We had good weather, and easy passages south. On our passage to Bocas, the current and wind were more in our favor than we anticipated and we approached the entrance to Bocas late at night. We stayed off the coastline tacking back and forth until we could clearly see the entrance at dawn. We found a nice place to anchor while we rested and debated the different marina or anchoring options. Knowing we had several repairs to make on the boat and planning to keep Winnie in Panama during most of hurricane season, we decided to check out the marina options. We decided on Marina Carenero. It is a small marina with almost 30 sailboats in slips lining either side of a single dock. The other marinas nearby were much larger, housing many very expensive boats with staff far too over zealous to investigate why young adults were on their property.

Winnie docked at Marina Carenero

Winnie docked at Marina Carenero

The marina feels like home. We are welcome to an outdoor kitchen to cook meals and store food in the refrigerator. We have laundry and showers on shore. And at the end of the day, we gather around a kitchen table for “Happy Hour” with the same 6 to 12 sailors. We celebrate our day of boat projects or land adventures with a cold drink. We rehash our days and make plans for tomorrow with advice from our friends. Our odd group of neighbors creates a community of support we are lucky to be a part of.


The cozy dock kitchen we use while at Marina Carenero

Dylan already had a plane ticket purchased to make a trip back to the states, and Kyle and I were ready to do the same. We had a long list of repairs to complete before we could sail on comfortably and confidently. The projects to take priority before we left Winnie at the marina included, replacing our automatic bilge switches, deciding our plan of action for the 6 foot tear across our mainsail, patching up our leaking dinghy, fixing our navigation lights, resealing a leaky window, and packing broken parts to replace while home.


Our mainsail ripped on the gusty passage to Vivarillo, and we were only able to sail with the top half of our sail, with the bottom half fully reefed. After researching new and used mainsails for hours, we decided to use a sailmaker, Lobo, in Bocas to patch the 6 foot tear and replace the entire leech of the sail. We think our mainsail may be 20 years old and most sailors would quickly decide to find a new one. But when Lobo told us it still has life left it in it, we easily made up our minds to pay him for the repairs. Not only are we attempting to sail on a shoestring, we also think it is important to reuse every resource possible.

Kyle spent many hours upside down, deep in the bilge, troubleshooting our automatic bilge pump switches, while I stood comfortably above him occasionally passing him a tool. Teamwork! For redundancy, we have 2 bilge pumps, with 2 automatic switches. One switch broke somewhere in Belize, and the second in Honduras. It isn’t an issue when we are always on the boat, because once a day we could manually turn the pump on and pump out a little water. Without the automatic switches functioning, we couldn’t leave Winnie by herself and expect her to automatically pump out the slowly leaking water. We had one spare, and were able to buy another one in town; problem solved. All of our projects came together and we found time to explore the area.

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Bocas del Toro lies on the northwest end of Panama. We approached almost directly from the north.

Bocas del Toro is a popular backpacking destination on Isla Colon. The town is lined with hostels, surf shops, dive shops, and funky restaurants and bars. Bocas continues to grow with plans to expand the runway of the small airport and build a new hospital. Some people describe it as Key West 50 years ago. Winnie is at the marina on Isla Carenero, the small island just a few hundred yards east of Bocas del Toro. Bocas has most of the conveniences, so we take our dinghy when we need to buy groceries, visit a hardware store our treat ourselves to dinner.

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Isla Carenero is a pretty island with a few hotels and a couple restaurants. Carenero is home to maybe a couple hundred people. Kyle and I took a couple hours one morning to walk the circumference of the island.




IMG_0410 A man hand planing the wood for his dugout panga. This boat will likely be a family’s main source of transportation, and possibly a fishing vessel.  Boats wider than this one, with an outboard engine, transport tourists to different islands and beaches.

Dylan learned to surf using the surfboard strapped to our lifeline that caused laughs down the river system in February. He became scuba certified and made friends with local surfers and divers. One day he spearfished and caught several lion fish for dinner.

Kyle and I spent an afternoon walking to a Smithsonian research facility for a free tour.  They partner with multiple universities, and study anything and everything related to the ocean.  We also visited Finca Los Monos, a botanical garden developed by one of the most interesting woman we have met. A world traveler and a free spirit, she and her husband landed in Bocas 20 years ago when the locals didn’t understand what they met by needing a room to rent. She decided to stay and grow a garden. They bushwhacked the jungle with machetes and cultivated native plants and transplanted beautiful trees and flowers. She is a self-taught botanist and gives tours along a trail covering acres of beauty. Our favorite part may have been the end where she takes us through her vegetable garden and lets us eat the leaves and fruit. Lemongrass, curry leaves, ginger plants, peppers, lavender, etc. Kyle and I lagged behind the tour mixing and matching foliage to build bite size salads.


Marlon, our tour guide, teaching us about sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

A small pool to learn about sea urchins and sea cucumbers.


On our tour through Finca Los Monos, the botanical garden


All too soon our departure flight date was upon us, and it was time to make our way to Panama City. We took an hour fast boat ride to Almirante on the mainland, a short cab ride and then an overnight 10 hour bus ride into Panama City with the loudest snorer I have ever witnessed. The man kept up the back half of the bus. Tempted to keep accidently waking him, I thought better of continuously poking a man the size of a bear and settled on having a restless night. Once in Panama City, we met a friend, Jonathan Keating, to stay the night with before our flight the next day. He gave us a speedy tour of his new home, showing us some of the highlights of the city. We went to a bar for the evening and watched the US play Panama in the Gold Cup, the game hosted by Kansas City. Then just like that, two flights later we were landing in Saint Louis where we started in February. We spent two and a half months in the States and returned to Panama October 6th.

Posted by Kassie Henning



  1. We are friends of Annie Dwyer, and of Bill, we miss him.
    We sailed from the Great Lakes to the Bahamas with our 2 children on a 30 foot, open cockpit-tiller steered sailboat in 1979-1980.
    We are all so excited for you!!
    Stay smart and safe!!
    Joanie and Art



    1. Sorry for the late response to your comment. We have been away from the blog for some time. Your adventure sounds amazing and way more daring on the smaller boat with your children. Thanks for the well wishes!



  2. Thanks to all of you for continuing to write these blog posts. I know it takes time and thought, but they’re so amazing to read, and I’m sure that years from now as you each reread them, you’ll be grateful for writing them. Safe travels! (I’m a friend of Roz.)



  3. Love reading all the details of the bits and pieces I heard in person. Take Care of each other and enjoy this next chapter of the Winnie Journey. 🙂



  4. So happy to see another post about your adventure! I’m so excited for you to be able to embark again on your journey! Safe travels to you and Kyle and I look forward to hearing (or reading) more. Love you girl!



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