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Yachting - August 2007

Written by Patricia Borns

Yachts International

We take a beautiful new Westport 130 across Panama, a glittering destination in its own right.

Panama? As in marauding drug lords and a certain pock-faced dictator's Panama? Such, I'm ashamed to admit, were my preconceived notions when an invitation came to transit the Panama Canal on a 130-foot trideck fresh from the shipyards of Westport Yachts. So how wrong was I? Off the charts wrong. If Baby Boomer accolades like "Miami Beach without the attitude" and "the next Costa Rica" are any indication. Which they are. Yes, Panama has gentrified since Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed the isthmus with a brigantine, a dog pack and 10 dugout canoes. Gone are the gun-toting G.l.s of yesteryear: Amador, the staging area for yachts entering the canal from the Pacific side is now a trendy address of boutique eateries and a water view so hemispherical, it bends like a scene in a fisheye lens. "Buenos dias:  joggers waved on the palm-lined avenue manmade from 18 million yards of canal-excavated rock: while downtown, 99 recent condominiums of -40 to 100 stories, including Donald Trump's luxe Ocean Club, competed for airspace. Even the deck hands at Marina Flamenco exuded élan as they bulled multimillion-dollar gelcoats to a reggaeton beat. Did I know the canal is adding a third lane, one told me proudly, or that the minister of tourism. Ruben Blades is a Grammy-winning salsa singer with a Harvard law degree?

On board MIY Resolute, the élan bespeaks the casual elegance of its owners. My hosts David and Pam, one of the most agreeable cruising couples you will find. For this, their second Westport, David had opened up the yacht's important spaces and commissioned a fine cherry joinery. Ideas that proved so successful, the manufacturer incorporated them into the standard 130 specs. The mood on board was celebratory as we hoisted mugs of the signature Resolute milkshake (a quart of Hagen Daz per serving), which the yacht's agent drank thirstily while informing us that we had slipped in the canal's scheduling queue.

No matter. Panama City is well worth the day I spent touring with one of its excellent driver-guides. The UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood of Casco Viejo overflows like a Latino-styled French Quarter with wrought iron balconies and espresso bars full of colorful patrons, who could include Ruben Blades or Panama's president Martin Torrijos, both Casco residents. (I had the dubious distinction of being pecked by one of el presidente's giant herons, which he keeps in the entryway of his nearby mansion.) Stepping into San Jose Cathedral. I came face to face with the Altar d'Oro, made of solid gold, saved from the clutches of pirate Henry Morgan by a clever priest who concealed it with a coat of black paint. Reportedly when Morgan came looking for the altar, the priest complained that other pirates had already absconded with it, moving Morgan to donate money for a new one. "I don't know why: he told the priest in parting, "but I have the feeling you're more of a pirate than I am.”

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