Ohio Paddlers Race the Panama Canal


The Ocean-to-Ocean Cayuco Race is a traditional community event that began in 1954 involving participants from the Republic of Panama, as well as participants from the United States. Frank Townsend of the Panama Canal Company had the great idea to take a group of explorers from the Boy Scouts of America to meet an indigenous group community on the Chagres River. The youths learned about the culture and traditions of these native Indians, along with learning how to use a cayuco, which is the main method of transportation in this region. In time, the competition among these young men grew and intensified and they choose to have a formal race amongst themselves. This was the beginning of a tradition that has lasted for 50 years. Traditionally, cayucos were built from rough dugout logs from national trees by the Indian natives of Panama. Nowadays they are crafted by experts of the sport. The making of a cayuco is an art that transcends generations. The race, organized by the volunteer race committee of the Balboa Paddle Club, offers the unique opportunity for these participants to paddle in cayucos from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal.

In 2011, 4 Ohio Paddlers decided that the ONLY way to transit the Panama Canal was via CAYUCO. We were able to attain the Temie (pronounced Te-mi-yeh). Temie means “Needle Fish” (known for being fast in the water) is translated from a semi-nomadic indigenous people native of Panama.  It is a newer boat built by Jay Gibson, a legend cayuco maker, paddle maker, racer, coach.



The First Stretch, Colon to Gatun

Rough day today. We had an awesome start, made a perfect turn around the pier. Saw that the Misconception (the coed favorite) was swamped and tried to take advantage of the opportunity. About 15 minutes into the race, things started to fall apart. We hit some rough patches but stayed afloat – didn’t swamp. The boat was leaning quite a bit over the waves and tired out one of our teammates, and slowed us down considerably. Everyone passed us until the last 15 minutes, where we all kicked it back into high gear and passed back at least 5 boats to finish strong. I think we are in 3rd or 4th now for the coed, still finished under 50 minutes. It was painful though, being in the perfect position to win and not being able to pull-thru. Oh well, win or lose, we are a tight team. Tomorrow is the big day, 23 miles across Gatun Lake. Let’s see if we can make up some time.


Joey Zornes, Mary Jo Monte, Jack Kangas, Dan Mecklenburg

The 2nd Stretch, Gatun to Gamboa

This has always been the hardest stretch, and even though today was a super calm lake, there were conditions that added some difficulty.

First, the escort boats. They were on a mission to ensure that this lake would be difficult. The wakes from the boats were awful. One boat actually cut right across our bow to take a video of us paddling. It made it very hard for us to find a rhythm today.

Second, the heat & humidity. The race started pretty nicely, with overcast. But an hour into it, the sun became angry at us, and just buried us. Well, some of us. We all had problems with our water bottles – the tubing curled up at the bottom and we couldn’t get to 1/2 of our water.

We paddled very strong the first hour, all the way through the banana channel. We were fast, passing our competition…in 3rd place, about 2 or 3 boat lengths behind the 2nd place team. That was when the waves from the escort boats began to really give everyone stress. Waves like that are hard to deal with, they don’t move you forward, they just make you tipsy. And after a couple of hours of that, combined with the heat and humidity, we slowed down a lot.

Our final time was 3hours, 6 minutes I think. Not horrible, but we really trained this year to break 3hrs. So it was a bummer.

The 3rd Stretch – Gamboa to the Pacific

Our 3rd day was our best. Here it goes:

Mini Sprint. This 10-minute sprint was created to take the place of the distance between Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks. Now that the ACP will not allow us to transit, it’s impossible to race the body of water. So the Race officials put the sprint before the Culebra Cut stretch by measuring out the distance and starting us up by the old Gamboa airstrip, racing down to buoy 93. We did well on this sprint, coming in 3rd place behind the Misconception and the Foremost.

The Cut. This stretch takes just over an hour for the fastest boats. We did well coming in 3rd place here too, again behind the Mis and Foremost. This stretch started off overcast and then turned into an oven for the majority. Overall, we kept a good pace and paddled really strong here.

Miraflores to Diablo. The tide was coming in which gave us a great current to take advantage of. We felt we were kicking on all cylinders, and the GPS said we were hauling ass, but the other boats were faster, unfortunately. We came in 4th on that stretch behind the Mis (who freakin rocked this stretch), the Foremost, and Aska.

Overall, I’ll say it was definitely our best day of paddling by far. Wish we would have found some of that magic on day 1 or 2, but it is what it is and we are very proud to have gotten the TEMIE its very first trophy for 4th place coed in the open category.