American Couple Assaulted And Robbed On Their Sailboat Near Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

This is sad information to pass on … Bocas Del Toro, Panama was one of our favorite marinas when we spent six years commuter cruising the Western Caribbean.  We anchored in the anchorage described in the article and left Winterlude in Bocas Marina and felt safe — a welcome change after being robbed in Utila, Bay Islands Honduras a year earlier.

As you read the information below, be aware local situations change frequently and it’s imperative to keep abreast of local developments while cruising.  After all, there are streets in NYC that are far more dangerous than most cruising locales, and most people have enough common sense not to walk down them after dark!  In this situation, there may be other circumstances involved — often what is described in the media is only part of the story — but it certainly raises safety issues.

I remember a few years ago, we anchored in San Andres, a Columbian island off the Nicaraguan coast soon after another American couple had been brutally assaulted there.  But we found out they anchored in an area that they were advised was not safe. And according to others, they might have flaunted their jewelry more than advisable.  This does not appear to be the situation in Bocas Del Toro, at least from this early information.

The view from Winterlude's cockpit anchored in the south anchorage a few years ago

The view from Winterlude's cockpit anchored in the Bocas south anchorage a few years ago

While this incident in Bocas Del Toro is a major surprise, it might be an isolated instance, or it might not.  Whatever the case, it’s wise to be knowledgeable before you naively sail in and drop the hook.  Here’s an update from Don Winner at the

“From the … A pair of armed and dangerous assailants brutally attacked an American couple last night aboard their sailboat anchored in the “South Anchorage” of the Bocas Marina, next to Isla Colon in the province of Bocas del Toro in the Republic of Panama. The attack started after midnight last night, during early morning hours today, Sunday, 8 July 2012. The assailants pulled up next to the couple’s sailboat at 1:00 am early this morning in a typical Panamanian wooden cayuco. The two assailants boarded the sailboat, held the couple at gunpoint, and tied them up. They ransacked the boat and stole everything of value, including cameras, electronics, a computer, cash, and jewelry. The attack lasted at least two hours, during which time the victims were assaulted and brutalized. The victims were finally able to put out a call for help on the radio at 3:30 am in the morning, after the assailants had left.”

For more information on the assault and robbery, click here — be sure to read the comments at the bottom of the post for an update on this unfortunate situation.

The Americans Ex-Patriot community in Bocas Del Toro and surrounding areas is organizing a reward fund to help apprehend the two assailants.  Again, from the

“The community of English speaking expatriates in Bocas del Toro has rallied to support the American Couple Brutally Assaulted And Robbed On Their Sailboat Near Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama. They are just now getting organized and are in the process of printing reward posters to be distributed throughout the islands. A sketch artist will be used who will interview the victims in order to create a likeness of the assailants for the reward posters. Thus far they have about $1,600 dollars pledged for this fund, which will be paid to anyone providing a tip or information directly leading to the arrest and conviction of the assailants. Organizers have established an account in the Banco Nacional (I don’t have the account number yet) which anyone can use to make a deposit from anywhere in Panama.”

If anyone would like to make a contribution or pledge to this project, Don Winner of, has offered to coordinate between online and on the ground in Bocas Del Toro.  E-mail Don here.



  1. It’s getting worse all over, now. Last week in Port Royal, Roatan, near the Mango Creek Lodge a boat was boarded as well.

  2. I too live on a sailboat and am aware and increasingly concerned of how vulnerable we are cruisers are as we seek isolation and explore. We must also be aware of how our presence impacts the community around us.. I spent many months in Bocas Del Toro and I have seen the influx of many Americans and others foreigners (building marinas and houses) and other places of enjoyment to encourage and support the influx of yet more expatriates and I have seen the local families who are forced off the land by these new developments.. We, as cruisers should also be aware of our impact and not just be grateful for the ‘improvement’ of services in the regions that were before less accessible.
    Be careful and be aware and take some time to integrate with the local community instead of forming cliques ( I do not wish to accuse anyone of this and I am sure there are some who are able to integrate) and there is no guarantee that you will be safe in any instance..
    But.. from experience ..I have seen how ill-used local populations are by those who seek to provide us with the services we need and want in these areas..Keep an open eye and safe cruising ..

    • Maria — we too have frequently observed the negative impact ex-pats and cruisers unintentionally inflict on locals in our cruising locales. I have my soapbox on the subject, but I think it’s better kept off the blog. The only thing I’ll say is that cruisers should NEVER assume that their ways are better for local populations than the ways they’ve lived for centuries, no matter what the subject. Very sad. 🙁 Thx for your comment!

  3. Don Shaw says:

    I live on a beach in Costa Rica and have been off and on in the Central, South American and Caribbean regions since my first trip via motorcycle in 1963. I am in the market for an “afforadable” cruiser with the thought in mind of keeping the boat near Bocas del Toro as it is a short hop from home. I have more Tico friends than Gringo friends and unfortunately the thieves don’t discriminate. They were here before the gringo and will be long after we may be gone. The locals tell me, have a couple good dogs, a big stick and hope for the best.. Be vigelant yet without fear… An old gringo looking for a boat….

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