The Stahlratte (Steel Rat) Experience - Or how to enjoy crossing the Darien Gap
I'm devoting a thread to the Stahlratte since crossing the Darien is one of the more common queries for folks traveling to and from CA and SA. And in my experience it's simply one of the better options out there for transporting across the Darien Gap.
A link to the ship's website and info is contained in the post below. If you have any info to add or want to share your experience on the ship, feel free.
Cross post from my ride report
The Pan-American Highway ends in Panama and if you want to ride to South America you need to contend with the logistics of the Darien Gap. The ~100 mile strip of undeveloped mountain rainforest and swamplands make it virtually impassible by motor vehicle. That leaves flying and sailing as available transport options for moto riders who arenít compelled to underwrite an expedition through the Darien to get to Colombia. Both methods come with their logistical challenges and depending on the carrier can be a source of frustration for some travelers. After combing through the stories of other riders and talking with friends I made my decision.
The Stahlratte (German for Steel Rat) was built in 1903 and spent most of its service life as a fishing vessel based out of The Netherlands and Norway. A German nonprofit organization purchased the ship in the 80s and it underwent extensive renovation to become the schooner we know it as today. In 2004 the Stahlratte and crew embarked on a voyage from their home port in Germany to circumnavigate the globe. Theyíve been in San Blas, Panama since 2006 spending much of their time ferrying tourists between Panama and Colombia and exploring the beautiful islands of San Blas. When you sail with the Stahlratte you become part of a collective experience that began in the 80s when the concept of the project was born. There are no activities directors on this ship and youíre expected to pitch in and help out with the day-to-day tasks of the shipís operations. The Stahlratte ainít no cruise ship and thatís a good thing.
Transporting a motorbike requires some coordination with the captain to ensure you arrive at the dock at the appropriate time (a day prior to sailing). Once there his crew takes over and expertly handle the loading and storage of the bike(s). When in Panama the ship is anchored at Carti (San Blas) and as of August 3, 2010 the road to the dock from the PanAm (turn off is at El Llano) is newly paved and in good condition. I like river crossings so I wasnít too disappointed the bridge was not yet complete though it appears to be near finished. Our particular trip suffered a setback when the rider (John) I accompanied from Panama City took water in his 12GS while crossing the river and the bike was left incapacitated. We were unable to revive the bike so I made for the dock. I was collected by the ship and the captain made arrangements for a few of the local Kunas to retrieve John and bike by canoe. Once on board the captain made the shipís tools available to us to work on Johnís bike. The captain and crew of the Stahlratte are just the folks you want on the job when plans donít work out the way you intend.
I thank my friends at advrider for sharing their experiences and recommending the Stahlratte to me. Captain Ludwig and his crew made crossing the gap a highlight of my trip and you can definitely consider them moto friendly.
(The road actually goes all the way to the coast but bing maps isn't getting it done)
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Very nice, actually. :D
That almost looks too easy:lol3 Thanks for posted up some of the details.
I'll add a cross-post to the List of Captian's thread.
by Dean Koontz
Due out sometime in the near future...
"It was 6:00 pm, one hour before closing time on another Friday. Beneath the coiffed hair, moisturized skin, and simple clothing, a war was raging inside his skull, again."
Here we are, on the edge of the Darien, near Torti, on the Pan American. That's his landrover. It's parked for him, waiting for him, in Camino de Cruces. As soon as he finished his chemo and radiation, we're going to try out that new road to Carti.
Photo by Barb.
The Stahlratte is a blast, I feel for the people who take smaller boats....
Looks like only two more sailing from North to South this year from what I've found:cry
This is major motivation to get going:wink:
I floated over with them too
way better than a small sailboat which I also have done :1drink
+1 My Long Experience...
This boat is one badass mofo for the over 100 years old Scooner Class Sailing Vessel. It is tough and highside and you get your own bunk. I wanted to get on the last sailing this season for the SteelRat and just barely made it.
I'd been having a fair amount of tire trouble starting @ the Honduran exit into Nicagura (go figure, was like a small sign). Sadly I left my favorite camera behind in the Costa Rican jungle while changing another flat so no pictures until I got to the boat. I got delayed by other things as well but ended up hanging out in the jungle outside of Coronado Panama, ditching my bike under a powerline and covering it with leaves while I rode the bus for over 5 hours making laps around Panama waiting for a shop with inner tubes to open when I was supposed to be in Carti getting my bike loaded on the SteelRat:cry
I'd been in contact with Captain Ludwig and told him how I'd wanted to get on the boat for this go around and he gave me a solution:
Go on the Carti Rd and right after the military checkpoint/medical clinic take the Rt turn to the little trail to "Barsukun" that dead ends at a river instead of following the main road to Carti and the airport. I then need to hop a launcha and get taken out to the SteelRat anchored in some idylic setting in the San Blas island chain:clap:clap:clap
No problem, sounds easy enough!
After getting my bike going again on the Nov 26th I went into Panama because at the time I thought that I'd missed the boat for sure. Then that night as Casa de Carmen I got word from Ludwig that I had one last chance to make it but I would have to leave Panama City before six in the morning to allow enough time. So it was decided, I would stop drinking sooner than later and head out first thing in the morning and catch the boat. I sent Ludwig anothe email saying I'd head out first thing in the morning.
I got up about 4:45am thanks to Rimfry's (the hostel's host) alarm clock and snuck around getting everything loaded on the bike and took off a little before 6am to a nice start. You just get on the PanAm and follow it through Chepo and onto Margarita and then at small town of El Llano where he road out to Carti takes off. This is a mostly paved road and is totally rideable in the rain, although a little steep in places its not so bad. You will come to a toll spot where you must pay $9 dollars to enter for you and your bike. As you get closer to the coast you will come to a river that IIRC is before the military checkpoint where you show your papers. The river has a nice new bridge built across it now and the day I was threre you would have had to take a boat across because the river was moving on. At or near the military checkpoint there was supposed to be a medical clinic too and then almost within site of this place was the turnoff for the road to Barsukun. Now this road is totally different little dirt track that had turned into a river when I got there. There was a swollen creek flowing across and then down the small track that was well over the boots as you ride deep for 50yds or better and then better until you come to a little encampment with a building and carport like structure near a dirty river leading to the sea with a little loading dock are built into the muddy river bank. I was glad to show up making it through the little river on the way to the landing.
I took off my panniers and dry bags and got them loaded into a launcha and then with the help of 3 other guys we brought the bike down near the rivers edge and used some 2x10s to get the bike into the boat. The two Kuna's Indians Jose and the driver Alvie and myself worked our way out of the river to the one of the main kuna island towns and tied up to the loading dock to find out what the plan was now. Jose went to get Aaron, good guy who speaks great English and it kinda like ludwig's ship agent in the San Blas islands. Aaron comes out to say they had been expecting me yesterday but he would see what he could do. Ludwig was out of cellular service but should still be at anchor until tomorrow morning at 5am when the boat would pull anchor and motor for Colombia. Aaron discussed the situation with the islands El heffe (kinda like a harbour master) and it was decided I would pay $50US to go and catch the SteelRat while she was still at anchor. At this time the idea was tossed about changing to a bigger launcha with a 70hp motor instead of the 25hp Alvie had on his boat but the idea of changing the bike over to another laucha at sea did not look attractive so after paying the fee and loading up on fuel for the little motor we took off along the coast in a light rain for what was thought would only be a 1 1/2 hour trip:roflLittle did we know at the time. Other than the light rain which was actually good to keep the salt water off the bike, it was a great time with the four of us onboard as we motored toward the SteelRat's really unknown position amoung the San Blas island chain. I was dying not having a camera to capture the experience as we passed so many of the perfect looking deserted islands. At two hours into our little voyage and maybe 16miles traveled, Aaron and the rest of the crew was beginning to wonder. I just happend to have my little monoculer in my riding jacket and we started scanning the horizon for a double masted ship and spotted one way up ahead that we thought surely was the one and a little relief set in for a moment. As we neared what we thought was the mast of the SteelRat it became evident that it was a mobile phone tower on the shore, damn we all sunk a little lower in the boat. Kinda wondering what to do next and nearing the village of Azucar our good Captain Alvie spotted something on the distant horizon that I struggled to see in the poor weather conditions. We made bearing for that postion not totally knowing if it where right, only hoping because we where now much farther than anyone had thought we'd be going by launcha. We navigated around shallow reefs and as we got nearer we all celebrated when we could finally distinguish the twin masted SteelRat's lines. Aaron yelled "Fuck Yeah" over and over again and handshakes went around as our little celebration continued. As we neared the SteelRat's anchorage we all let out with yelling and hollering to let them know we'd arrived. All the passengers and crew came out on deck to see what the all the commotion was about and saw us coming up along side.
Let the party begin:freaky
The big Austrian named Ronald who goes by Rollie boarded are super cruizer and got my bike strapped up and ready to load, I still think he should have used my front pannier mounting points because he nearly ripped off the wires for my tank box's power and solar panel connector hooking up to the top triple but they survived if not a little more stretched out:deal
Luckily I was able to download some photos from Josua, an Austrian riding a Blue KTM twin that my bike was strapped too. Thanks dude!
The following are some of the pictures he took while I was coming aboard:
Me coming up over the gear, Jose standing middle and the launcha captain Alvie in back, what a ride!
My ole bike did well, I added floatation device just incase, Alvie and Jose liked my use of the rubber:rofl
The big Rollie coming aboard to tie up my bike and that first beer never tasted so good:1drink
Alvie got his too, he was going to savor his a bit:lol3
Aaron helping Rollie get ready for the lift, I think I was the 19th bike to come on board for this trip:eek1
Coming up from below as I steadied it from below:
Flying high now:
They got it up and over pretty easy, never saw who was cranking on the winch line:
Rollie sorting it out with help from Valdim the Russian and the unknown Mexican national IIRC:
Me meeting the Captain Ludwig for the first time:
I'd reached a little piece of paradise and had a helluva time doing so, and it was good:
Aaron, Jose, Alvie, and myself where given a bottle of rum to "make party" which lasted mere minutes while the celebration of a successful trip to the boat continued on for awhile:freaky
These two came with me from the start and where great guys, of course lots of credit goes to Alvie for spotting the Rat off in the distance when we where near the end of the line:clap:clap:clap
Later in the trip while underway motoring to Colombia Rollie scurried up the front mast to the crownest for some deck shots showing the 19 bikes. me and the Russian made the trip up right to the last part where you have to cut the corner to get in the nest and its no small feat while the mast is swinging back and forth:eek1 Rolie has done it before needless to say:
A ship's file photo under nearly full canvas:
Ship's sleeping quarters, I was on the top bunk above the Japanese rider on the bunk facing port to starboard in the main saloon. Kinda of a bitch climbing up there barefoot but panniers make good steps thankfully:
The upper deck with good seating in front of the pilot house:
Damn good food was brought on board for fine dining and plenty of cheap beer and rum to go around:
All new to me but I liked it alot:clap
Good eating going on:
Damn fine experience I'm glad I got to have. I'd have to say I really enjoyed this sailboat, its where the big adventure is on the open seas:deal
Our group photo in Cartagena Harbour at the end:
Made some new good friends I hope I get to see more of:freaky
That crows nest is way harder than it looks.
And twice as scary to climb into:
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Really easy to ride and drink on the Rat:lol3
We got shook down by the Jamaican coast guard as soon as they found out we where coming from Colombia:lol3 Interesting boarding party coming on and looking around:
They missed these little bits somehow sitting on the table:eek1
This is one bad ass clock, they say its from the Kursk:lol3
Goodtimes are made on the SteelRat, I love this boat, she's a badass steel bitch and she's got real character:deal
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