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Took the Golden Eagle north bound, had a great trip. The reason I post is not which boat is best or where to stay but to let those planning to go by boat to know a little about what I found out after getting to Panama.
Only one of the boats is licensed to haul passengers or cargo. That is why you will be listed as "crew". Seems there is an effort to limit "crew" size to 10 as some captains were stuffing boats with more than they should.
I left Columbia on Nov. 2nd and the boat that had just came in had seven bikes locked up over night and the captain was fined because he did not unload at legal port of entry (none do). Sail boats have been running back packers and motos for a long time but the recession has cut in to some of there normal income and captains are pushing the limits and stepping on some toes. So there has been some enforcement.
On the Panama side we unloaded at Porta Lindo (as do most). I then had to take a Bus to Colon and get temp import papers for bike. If you get stopped riding before you get the papers they can impound your bike. The lady that did the papers has to write up a special statement that you sigh because you will not have a bill of lading (captain can not give you one because he is not licensed to haul cargo and did not enter a legal port of entry). Her name was Maria and she is not required to help you around the law so be sure and leave her a few $.
I would still recommend the boat, but do so knowing it is kind of an under the table operation.
are you sure you can't get to the Stahlratte on time?
Its definately the best boat...there are loads of others, Melody has quite good reviews, maybe ride up the north coast for a week and take the sthalratte on the next crossing?
I just came back from a sailing trip with the Zao and captain Leonardo.
First the good things: We arrived in Panama on time and San Blas is amazing!
But there are a few things that anybody should know before getting on the Zao. The Zao is not in a good condition. It's dirty and the security items have been checked last time 1998 (You could see that on the label at the EPIRB). We had no autopilot and the GPS wasn't working properly. So we had to make 2h-shifts and navigate with only a compass. We arrived in San Blas, but I don't want would have happened if we there would have been a storm or any other problems. The anchor is also to light for the boat and Leonardo knows that. But he doesn't want to buy a new heavier one. But that is really dangerous because one time we were anchoring but the current drove us into an other ship. We saw it and could prevent any damage, but if that would have happened at night...
Leonardo is also not a good captain. Without GPS he couldn't find the islands we wanted to go (San Blas consist of nearly 400 islands), so that we had to drive around for one hour and he really lost the orientation. And that in an area he says he traveled more than 150 times... He also mixed up the fuel with the water tank and filled water in it. Thanks god that we had good wind conditions and didn't need the engine.
One other thing is that he is a really strange character. If he likes you then you won't probably have any problems, but if not it will be an horror trip for you. I had no problems with him but I saw how he treated a old German couple. He even wanted to kick them out of there room, so that there would have to sleep outside on the deck (both being over 60 years old!). He finally didn't do it, but only because it was starting to rain... He also pointed out that he hates to work with backpackers, but he has to because of the money. Sometimes you feel that this is the only thing he interested in!
We also weren't allowed to take any showers during the five days because we had to safe water. No problem with that, but his "girlfriend" took a shower every day and even he took one. The food was OK, but we had to cook be ourselves. We all paid 350$ for the trip and between 250 and 350 for a motorbike. That's a lot if you think of that one guy even had to sleep on the floor because there was no bed for him. All in all if you compare that to the service of other boats that are sailing between Cartagena and San Blas than its really a bad deal.
So if you have a choice then don't go with Leonardo! If you don't have a choice then try to talk with him about the price...
One ting that also really annoyed me, but that is now my personal opinion and has nothing to do with the trip itself, is his poor "girlfriend". She only 17 and pregnant and Leonardo is 62!!! He was kissing and touching her all the time and everybody could see that she didn't enjoy that at all. She is really a child and Leonardo in my view a sick pervert!...
¨Living on this floating wreck for a week cannot be truly understood by merely reading about the numerous disgusting and unsafe elements. The sum of this experience is far worse than I can relate.
Charles concludes by saying;
¨Check every detail of the boat before you depart, run a criminal background and maritime license check on the captain, and make sure you see the boat before you pay anything.
Great story! Ive been staying at the Mamallena Hostel in Panama City and they book many sail boats for backpackers and bikers. Stewart the owner is Australian and is friends with the Golden Eagle and others.
I would certainly recommend allowing the time to pass through the San Blass, just dont get stuck there.
Not sure where Carti Suitupo (no map here) is but I would suspect that it is not a legal port of entry, most sail boats do not go to legal ports of entry because they are not licensed to carry cargo. When you get to Panama you will need to get a bus to Colon to get paperwork done (see my post above).
The main port of entry for sail boats in that region is El Porvenier. This is actually an Island just off the coast south of Colon about 100km, give or take, more south than Peurto Linden anyway. This is where the Golden Eagle does the paperwork and I am sure a lot of other boats. Note, it is the Captains responsibility to get this paperwork done, as between Cartegena and Panama, it is in international waters and he has total control of the boat and all its passengers and cargo.
It is illegal to ride in Panama without paperwork, so unless you can keep the bike on board the boat while you go ashore and get this sorted, I would suggest another look around for a different boat.
Unlike Roadhog I do NOT need this type of adventure when it is not needed. It is part of the overall experience, but as this can turn into a nightmare, I prefer to get the process sorted before I start if at all possible.
In the end, it is your choice and there may be no choice due to availability of transport or lack there of.
I came north on the Golden Eagle with Peter and it was a great trip and would do it again. We did stop a t El Porvenier and got passports cleared but they can not do the motos. Many sail boats run this route and have for years hauling motos but it is technically not legal. If you want to do it by the book you will need to get a container $2000+ in Colon (or other legal port of entry) and ship to a legal port of entry in Colombia. This is only cost effective if you can put together a group of bikes. The other "legal" way is to air freight it across the gap. As I noted above there is a nice lady in Colon customs office that will help you get the paperwork sorted if you enter by sail boat. The process going south I thing is somewhat easier as customs is real close to where they set off the motos.
When in a country not your own it is most always best to follow the rules but this is one of those time when you just need to go for it. It has been done for years and is generally accepted but not technically legal.
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