Panama Canal via Powered Paraglider

Updated May 07, 2008 Vuelo Por La Vida (Flight for Life) to benefit FANLYC | Jeff Hamann's Boat Log

2008 May 8, 10:08 Boat Log by Jeff Hamann can be found here.

2008 May 7, 16:10 Back over Cuba again, or at least getting closer. I'm on my way home and managed to luck into getting a first class seat. This is a sweet way to travel, I must admit. But please, no more food!

It's surprising how much less traumatic the airport experience was this time. That is, until I got to security. Tools and radios are verboten in carry-on luggage. I figured my small paramotor travel tools (no knives) would be ok and didn't realize radios were prohibited, I just thought you weren't allowed to use them. Lesson learned; they're prohibited and must go as checked luggage.

Everybody was remarkably friendly. Not that my experience in the U.S. has been bad but it's rare that people go so far out of their way to help. Panamanian friendliness rises again.

Homebound is always good but it's bittersweet, too. My fellow travelers will be pressing on with the adventure and my new friends will carry on with their lives. I'll have to just hope we cross paths again. They are some wonderful people. Thanks to Remy, Gustavo, and Rodrigo for making it such a great ride.

Selling History

My Snap 100 is now the Panama Machine. It's also Magdalena Bay, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Baja and many other slices of paramotoring nirvana. It's the book's chapter 27 header picture. It looks terrible now, what with all that safety wire, grime, tape, and missing paint. But it just transported me nicely through a new Panamanian adventure and finished up running as good as the day I bought it. Now its sold.

I'd been thinking of buying a new frame and motor anyway but wasn't ready just yet. Then Remy mentioned an acquaintance, an experienced paraglider pilot, who saw us during the flight and wanted in. I've sold three paramotors this way—someone asking me to sell to someone else or selling to a friend.

I made sure he knew of its issues, and that he was willing to be a two-stroke mechanic. Although it may run for another 200 hours without problems, it may break in the next hour. My plan was to send the motor off for refurbishment. I may replace it with another snap or maybe another Top 80. We'll see. I have some snap spare parts (clutch and redrive). One thing I want this time around is an aluminum frame and non-geared weight shift. The gearing has proven too fragile.

I may not replace it at all but rather use an existing Top-80 machine for my travels. We'll see. The Snap is easier to work on but I've got experience with the Top 80, too.

2008 May 7, 07:44 It wasn't to be. While walking out to the beach at Playa Blanca, a strong wind pushed at my back—it was offshore. Obviously a major change in wind pattern had settled on the area which may be part of yesterday's severe tumult. There would be no flying today. That worked out since the day was incredibly packed.

The AAC, Panama's FAA equivalent, had us in a meeting to discuss the flight and some concerns about paramotoring. These folks were great. Remy has forged a valuable relationship that has earned some mutual respect. After the meeting, they showed us around the facility which houses their air traffic controllers for Panamanian overflights as well as for Panama City. There were most gracious. It was refreshing to see how government can work with its citizens to simply make life more fun. Kudos to ya.

The boat boys packed up for their journey through the Perles Islands and, if it works out, Jeff Hamann will have updates that will get added here.

Remy and I joined the seafarers for a while aboard Gloriamaris, a visit that brought back fond memories from Magdalena Bay's trip. They were to head off last night after 1am for a 6 hour cruise to their first paramotor launch site. I'll miss not going.

The trip has been incredible and Remy has been an awesome host and masterful organizer. Flying, people, history, spectacular scenery have combined into a lifetime memorable experience.

Remy was kind enough to house me for an extra night. I'm hoping to join him for a meeting with the Canal Authority (ACP), who was one of several agencies involved in the flight. If you saw my earlier report on Phil's out landing, it was these guys who showed up so quickly. We watched the video (he had his camera rolling) and it was also these guys who helped him relaunch. That's what I'm talking assistance!

I'm headed home today, if the U.S. will have me back. Here's hoping the jumpseat god's are smiling.

2008 May 6, 06:06 Easy, relaxing flying. We're all done with off-shore winds. Off shore wind means poolside. There is no cross country planned so it's just cruising around locally here. There are a flew places that are critical to avoid circling around but, beyond that, there's no stress. Cross country flying is great but does introduce some unavoidable stress. Tomorrow we pack up—me for home and my buddies for the boat.

I'm hoping for a relaxing last day with no drama. Drama belongs on broadway!

2008 May 5, 21:37 Today was eventful. Very eventful. Leon is doing well and we are happy to be on the ground, but first things first.

The launch from Playa Bonita was interesting. Going uphill and into a tree-swirled wind didn't help things. And of course there were the trees themselves. On my launch I had to avoid the Mangos and barely did so. There were only four of us who went on this journey, the last cross country before returning home for me.

There was another motor-out with another well-executed landing by Michael. Obviously the fix didn't fix.

We had a great time playing around the clouds. In spite of what the photos look like, we weren't actually that close. They looked too scary, for one thing. The GPS showed the wind aloft to be 22 mph right up our tail. It was strong at the destination beach, too, probably 15 mph. That's so much fun to play, in though, and we did lots of playing. Standing on logs, walking fences, doing Karate Kid stands—it was a hoot. After enough of that, we collected the group for lunch right there by our gear. The food was good even if it wasn't what I ordered, and the service was friendly, as usual.

Cheating Disaster

The next segment was interesting. I had decided not to go but, after talking with a local pilot, figured it would be doable in spite of the strong offshore breeze. Three of us launched and soon wished we hadn't. The story of that flight is worth its own page but I will say that I've only been so happy to be on the ground one other time in my life. That was in a 737. We all landed safely on our feet but it could have been bad. Interestingly, I landed in Lily Swaab's (Remy's Mom) back yard. She was a gracious host and helped organize retrieval for Phil who squeezed into a little field near two big hotels.

There was a lot going on in the air. Convergence, thermal, and mountain rotor were mixing into a mean cauldron of nasty air that was snapping and lashing out at our arrogance for taking it on. Twice I tried to descend into an area that promised some smoother on-shore wind but both times the lift was too strong. I'd spiral down a few hundred feet then level out and go up at 500 fpm with occasional level 7 turbulence. I gave up, went high into smoother air and decided this was not the place. Jeff Hamann had landed there but had to go over the water, beyond dry gliding distance, to do it. Given the conditions that was a good option—the lesser of many evils—but I really don't like water.

I picked an area with some big open fields including the yard of Lily Swaab's condo. Getting down took lots of spiraling but there was much, much less lift here. Turbulence, however, went all the way down. Surprisingly I only had a couple 30% collapses but was having to work it constantly. I've never been rocked that hard and in so many directions. At one point the swirling air pulled the wing hard left. You have to go with it briefly and avoid excessive brakes. The landing was with another 30% collapse (my right hand was limp) but I steered and used power to flare. It wasn't a slider landing, let me tell you, but it was on my feet. What a relief it was to be down.

Then to my surprise, up on the 23rd floor window, was Lily hanging out her window, waving wildly and calling "Phil!" I've been called much worse. Soon she emerged from the building and whisked me up there. Oh that was nice. She is a sweet bundle of incredible energy. Remy comes by it honestly.

Phil was still in the air, way up in the air. He had a bigger wing at about the same weight as me and figures got within 500 feet of the roughly 5000 foot clouds. Cloudsuck was a big worry. Eventually he found some less-rising air, spiraled down then squeezed himself into a yard between buildings. We could see him out Lily's window.

Afterwards, he was picked up and we all converged at the "Lily Pad" while our nerves returned. We had a great time retelling the war story and then watching Phil's video. He didn't have the camera on for the last part, unfortunately, but I can certainly understand why.

Anything you survive is a learning experience. It's so important to learn. When that little voice says "no," listen up.  When you want to turn around, do it. Explain why you don't think it's a good idea, go land, and live to fly another day. Of course 99% of the time your buddies will fly on to a fantastic flight, but you don't get to pick the 1%.

Yes, today was a bit more excitement than I'm inclined to take on. Life is good, let's keep living it!

2008 May 5 05:30 After checking into our rooms here at Playa Bonita, several pilots went for another local flight just to enjoy. Leon took off to join them. Apparently, shortly after liftoff, he turned too early and hit the sand going downwind. The motor came over the top of him, folding his back over. He had just told me of some existing back problems he's had (due to a non-flying injury) and that it doesn't tolerate much. He went to the hospital and gets to enjoy Panamanian health care for a couple days while they fix him up. Oh joy. Fortunately, the health care here is excellent.

We are continuing but, unfortunately, Leon won't be able to. He was also doing the boat portion where they spend 4 days aboard Jeff Hamann's Gloriamaris, the boat that Why We Fly was done on. I'm not able to join them due to prior obligations. I'll have more on those July 1.

Leon was gracious to a fault, insisting he'd feel bad (and he felt pretty bad already!) if we didn't continue and so on. Rodriquez went with him to the hospital to translate and stayed there the whole time. I gotta tell you, this is a great crew Remy's got down here. Gustavo and Rodriguez, who are helping with driving and other tasks, are gems. I've appreciated them immensely. And Remy has an incredible host. If Leon has to stay a few days, Remy has offered his house.

So this morning we're planning on heading east towards Punta Chame. We'll all probably be a bit mellower in our manuevering.

On a brighter note, we made the front page of Panama's main newspaper, La Prensa. There was a photo of yours truly foot-dragging the shoreline shallows right next to our destination landing site. The Bridge of the Americas was behind me. Carl has some of the pictures so hopefully I'll get to add them.

2008 May 4 13:18 The morning launch was downhill and into a couple mph wind. That's the good part. It was also lined with trees and had a pond awaiting the errant or suddenly powerless pilot. All who tried made it although motor problems waylaid Michael. I had problems with my spark plug which, thanks to Leon Massa, I got fixed. Learned a new trick to bolters my my knowledge toolbox. Simple but effective.

We went in 3 groups and followed the same path of yesterday's final third, cruising the right side of the canal from Gamboa to Playa Bonita. Leon and I brought up the rear.

The hotel we landed at is just another spectacular resort. Touchdown was on their helipad—that should tell you something about the place—they have a helipad.

Some of the boys went up again and I'll be going up after relaxing in the coolness for an hour or so. Most can appreciate how that goes. Our gear sits at the ready just outside and a nice little breeze takes any pain out of launching. It's hot, of course, but altitude solves that problem. The picture below shows the view out our room window. Not bad. This is a day of relaxing and recreation. There's a huge pool, as you can see from the aerial, and other activities, too. It's a great position to enjoy: I've had enough. I'm satiated in airtime although, admittedly, that feeling is frequently fleeting.

1-6) Gamboa Rainforest Resort served up downhill launches, first for Tony then Andres follows. Remy goes next followed by Jeff Hamann and Phil. Lean and I take up the rear by the time we got my spark plug sorted out. We arrive at Playa Bonita about 45 minutes later and spend a bunch of time getting pictures. The last shot is Jeff and Phil flying by the room. What a sight.

2008 May 4 06:29 We're staying at what would be a great destination on its own, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. They're allowing us to fly from here and the plan is launch at 8am and fly to the next hotel which is near yesterday's crossing destination. The lake outside our rooms was shrouded in fog an hour ago and now, as I write this, a mile of the coolest scenery has appeared through the thinning fog. I took a picture but don't have time to include it.

There is flying to be done. A grassy, tree-lined launch awaits the early risers.

2008 May 3 18:07 We did it! Against what seemed like many odds and over some less-than-friendly options, we flew from ocean to ocean. The actual flying, as long as your motor runs, is merely launching and flying for 2 hours. It's not even a particularly long cross country by Hamann standards. The most remarkable part of this effort was the enormous planning and support that we got. Remy Swaab was able to bring together resources that most wouldn't ever dream of taking on. Government agencies, security people, helicopters, train cars, and a host of others. Having a worthy cause to benefit was icing on the cake. The government people were exceptional. We can only hope to have the same experience at home.

The Panamanian people have been exceptionally awesome. Welcoming, friendly, talented and pure joy to be around. Remy's mom, Lily, was also fantastic in energy alone. It's hard to say enough positive about these folks.

The weather has been rotten, with rain and wind souring both our practice days, it was looking bleak. Our briefing had some tension owing to the seriousness of what was at stake. But this morning dawned magically clear and brilliant with glassy smooth water leading to our launch at Fort Sherman. We were going flying.

Morning preparations were extremely focused. One motor had given up the ghost and its pilot, Michael O'Daniel was without a ride. Tony to the rescue with a spare. But it was a lower powered machine so Phil offered to take it and let Michael fly his more-powerful motor. Michael made it all the way in one flight. Phil took two.

The first half of this trip offered few few dry options since a forest landing would be most unwelcome. So the emergency landing plan was to land in the water next to powerline-shrouded railroad tracks. Not that it was a great option, it was just the only option for much of the first half. There was a train car positioned for rescue and the Canal Authority new all about our flight, as did the rest of Panama, it would seem. Thankfully, Phil's motor didn't quit then. Fortunately, it waited until we were a third of the way across and with landable terrain below. He throttled back and it promptly died. Several attempted in-air pulls drew no life from the motor.

Landing options were bountiful but he thought he may be able to get it running again so he was thinking more about landing somewhere he could take off from. His chosen spot was a roadway on the space where blasting is helping carve a new canal. Thankfully there was to be no blasting today. After some spirals and s-turns, landing was on the mark. The ACP (Panama Canal Authority) had a truck there within a minute--a remarkable response that may have resulted come through a helicopter relay to the ACP. Of course, it could also be that they were driving around the area and saw him land. Nawwww, I'll go with the first one.

He did manage to get the motor running and, with the help of an ACP officers, was soon off and able to finish the flight. He climbed up and continued videotaping like nothing happened. The motor's problem turned out to be a mis-set idle.

His video camera was running the whole time. These things always seem to have some adventure. The captured video, all in high def, is possibly the prettiest I've seen. Can't wait to see a production.

The flight itself was amazing. Perched at my 2500 foot cruise, looking over Central America, I was frequently in awe of just being here. We had a 5 mph average tailwind so making a fuel stop wasn't necessary. Plus, I had the ugliest auxiliary fuel tank ever taped to a paramotor. That extra 2 liters added 40 minutes.

Then we got what seemed like royal treatment, from the charity folks to the canal tour. That was incredible in its own right. The tour included walking across the locks. Yes, walked across the locks.

More to come, of course, but the stressful part is over. It was a truly amazing experience and went better than my wildest expectations. Thanks to Remy Swaab put putting it together.

Oh and the video. Lets just hope Russman can bring his genius to bear on this experience because the footage was nothing short of spectacular. We watched it in high-def last night and drew a crowd.


1) Jeff Hamann approaches the Mira Flores locks. 2 & 3) Phil Russman with the channel behind. 4) The group gathers after completing the trip. 5) Some more icing: a special tour that let us walk across the Panama Canal


2008 May 2 21:52 We flew this morning from a moderately tight  beach, but at least it had lots wing grabby stuff strewn about. Challenging light winders eventually led to the entire cast of eight getting airborne for what turned out to be our last flight before the Canal attempt.

Rain cut our flying short but we sure made the best of it. I'm heading off to bed but, if I don't remember, be sure to ask me about the bird bug. One pilot had a motor out and set down nicely but it's uncertain whether the motor will be able to do the flight. Mostly because it's difficult to test the problem. It starts and runs fine but gets excessively hot.

There'll be two helicopters, a train car and many other goodies brought to bear on this effort tomorrow morning. We leave at 0530 to be completely ready for a 0730 launch. As anyone who flies these craft knows, it's hard to get 8 pilots airborne at exactly the same time so we'll probably go in groups. There's not enough leeway to dawdle.

More to come, hopefully all goes well tomorrow. To be sure there are extra risks and we've talked about them. Such is our choice in life. We'll do what we can, and Remy's done a lot, but it's never going to be as safe as watching the tele.

2008 May 2 07:02 Breakfast was serious. Omelets, cereal, fruit and more. Now if we can just get all this extra weight off the ground. More testing and flying today.

2008 May 2 All eight pilots flew yesterday. One landed out to correct a problem and relaunched for a nice, long cruise just west of the Panama Canal entrance. Wow is that cool. It feels so good to have everything working. It took Gustavo's strap to hold my fuel tank on, and some adjustment of the carb after a short flight, but then she worked flawlessly. I've jury rigged an extra 2-liters so hopefully I won't be the shortest duration pilot--right now I am.

It's a great group of fun-loving guys who are all looking forward to the flight on Saturday. It's received wide publicity down here and there are supposed to be two helicopters following along at various points in the flight to record it. Rescue arrangement have been made for portions of the flight where the only out is a water landing next to railroad tracks. Power lines on both sides preclude landing on dry ground. The rescue vehicle will come on the train tracks. There are other challenges with out-landing options. Mountainous areas will make a few stretches less than friendly if there is much wind. There is no escaping some level of increased risk on this flight.

This evening's flight at Fort Sherman followed an unexpected traipse through high grass, the Colon dump and a most unfortunate dead end. More on that later. For now, here are a few images.

Row One: 1) Breakfast at Remy's place. 2) The dam group. 3) Fort Sherman's infrequently used runway. 4) Hamster hams it up for the camera. 5) Crossing over the locks by car. 5) Remy explaining why you don't want to land on the tracks. Although this stretch didn't have wires, most do.
Row Two: 1) 4 Million dollars worth of tolls await their turn on the locks. 2) German pilot Andres suckles some internet time. 3) The view from "my" window. 4) Remy over the Pacific.

2008 May 1 01:42 We all made it. The group is assembled and, after a good night's sleep, so will the motors be. Now to find all the pieces parts and make them into a whole and viable aircraft. Plans are to head North from Panama City and check out the launch sites. Then of course we'll proceed to chow down on the flight de jour.

The pranks started early. First with the news that my motor box hadn't arrived. Great. Then with worry over our accommodations with comments about stifling heat and cockroaches "It's just for one night", they said. Walking into the foyer area didn't jibe with "marginal." Nor did the very nicely appointed elevator. Hmmm, I thought, where does "marginal" begin.

Stepping into Remy's 11th floor suite put to rest their little joke. It was, in fact, gorgeous. Huge, clean, high-end stylish and every window ushered in a spectacular vista of Panama City. Very funny guys. Oh, and the motor? Yup, it's here.

Quick note: all motors assembled, departure in minutes!

2008 Apr 30 17:46 Row 8H, over Cuba. This is livin', friends. Thirty something thousand feet over the communist regime that has been so maligned. It's beautiful. Lonestar's "Walking in Memphis" is playing on the MP3 player and sunlight glistens on my nectar of the god's (diet coke). It's amazing to be alive. Amazing.

A couple hours ago, my inauspicious start replayed anew when the agent didn't think that they honored international jumpseats. "Oh boy," I thought, "here we go again." He searched however and found the appropriate verbiage. Apparently it wasn't always so.

Everyone has been extremely friendly. It's funny how I hear about all the trauma that is airline travel but, out here in the trenches, the majority of time is relatively relaxing and uneventful. And that's coming from someone who tends to be at the bottom of the service rung (a "free loader").

Another thing—I've got power. Screen-glowing electricity, that is. My Dell computer (thankfully, not that Dell) has one innovation I'm thrilled with: its power supply sips either 110v or 12v through, the latter through a cigarette lighter type straw. And there's a 12v outlet below my seat. Yehaa! A particularly helpful flight attendant pointed it out since only a few seats are so equipped. Not that it would be critical but it sure is nice not to have to sweat battery power. Surprisingly, this flight is only 2.5 hours long. Sweet.

I hear about surly flight attendants and have yet to find one. And this isn't my airline. It's American Airlines. Everybody has been courteous and helpful, even when they weren't sure of the procedures they took the time and figured it out. Thank you, American!

I know it's not reality, nor do I think that disarmament is even a good idea. But can you imagine what the human race could accomplish if it could get along better? It's fun to imagine such an existence as I cruise high above a homogonous looking earth from a perch that doesn't recognize borders.

If all goes well, I'll not be making entries into this log for a while. A lot still has to go right, though. My wing, frame and prop are hopefully in the belly and then I have to put it all together. To be in Panama, with friends and a flyable paramotor will be the berries. Even If something doesn't go together I'll still enjoy. Just experiencing Panama will be interesting. After all, I'm one of the most easily amused humans out there. Just glad to be alive.

2008 Apr 30 12:26 Row 39G is a particularly happy place. Mostly because it almost didn't come to pass. Traveling jumpseat is a wonderful privilege. Wonderful. But it's not without strife. Such was the case when I showed up, in uniform, at the ticket counter and presented my information. After some pecking at the computer, then more pecking and curious eyes, she explained that I would need a ticket for the international portion. I knew that wasn't required but, as a beggar, I have to be oh so diplomatic. Soon a higher-up showed up but he read the thing and thought the same thing.

I was getting worried. It was still early in the day but complications get complicated quickly when checking bags (I sure hope they're in the belly of this jet!) and going international on standby. Fortunately, they relented and called their flight ops who verified the correct interpretation. I could go. Ahhhhhhhh. Of course next up is Miami to Panama.

2008-Apr-30 Let the games begin.

This morning I'm packed and ready. My wing, paramotor frame, clothing, mosquito repellent (I can hope), and a extra 2-liter fuel capacity are squeezed into a paraglider rucksack and gun case.

A lot has to go right, not the least of which is my success with standby travel and checked luggage. There are a couple days before the actual flight but those are intended for dialing in the gear and acclimating to the weather, not waiting for luggage. We all are arriving today by 9pm in Panama which makes logistics a bit easier. Anticipation mixes with just a bit of trepidation as it always does. Thanks to Remy for putting this all together and also the hamster (Jeff Hamann) whose intricate attention to detail makes things easier on everyone. The eTrex GPS stuffed in my suitcase has all the sites we're going to fly, and even the routes, thanks to Jeff's painstaking work. I'll vouch for the handiness of that when planning endurance and fuel.

Off to the airport. ORD-MIA then MIA-PTY: here I come!

2008 Apr 22 It's getting closer! Our gear is now on a ship bound for Panama and the group is assembling communications and final plans. This is shaping up to be on cool paramotor event. Of course the weather could always play havoc but that goes with the territory. 

Thanks to Remy Swaab and several others, I will be joining seven pilots for a first-ever crossing of the Panamanian Isthmus, roughly along the Panama Canal. Interestingly, we'll follow a  northwesterly route from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. That's where the canal goes and that's where we'll fly. Pilots from Panama, Canada, and Germany are participating, along with the "Why We Fly" team who is being reunited for this mission.

It is also a world record attempt in that nobody has recorded a single flight from ocean to ocean. FAI representatives are to be on hand for the official attempt.

The crossing, dubbed "Flight For Life," is to benefit the Panamanian Charity Foundation of Friends of Children with Leukemia and Cancer. It's cool just doing the trip but even better being part of a mission for greater good.

There is some trepidation, naturally. The flight itself shouldn't be particularly difficult if all goes well, but we know how "all" so easily strays from "well". Panamanian mosquitoes get flying licenses. Then there are the snakes. But hey, only one in 10 poisonous bites is fatal. Young snakes aren't so bad (it's a myth about immature ones being the worst). The recently fed ones aren't bad, having blown their venomous wad into the now-digesting meal. But don't mess with a hungry mama. So we'll mind a few simple rules and try to keep that motor a-stroking.

Kudos to Remy who has done an enormous amount to put this thing together. And to the government folks who helped make it happen. This will be a special experience and I'm excited to be a part of it.

I'll be leaving on April 30 in hopes of making it to Panama City that evening or the following day. Such is the fore planning required of non-rev travel. It should be a blast and an experience to cherish. It will also be the farthest afield I've yet traveled from these U.S. borders. I'll try to be a good ambassador.

Wanna go to Panama?

Unfortunately, there's no way to add pilots to this trip. In fact, it would be a very bad time since they are particularly aware of Paramotoring at the moment and want to make sure there is no unauthorized flying in the area.

The trip has been tightly planned with government sources and name lists and documents and permissions and meetings, and so forth. While there is no way to have additional pilots on this particular trip, those interested in visiting Panama should contact Remy Swaab who may be able to help out at another time in less sensitive sites.


1. Vuelo Por La Vida website.

2. The event's main organizer, Remy Swaab, and FANLYC's director. FANLYC is the Friends of Children with Leukemia and Cancer. Money was raised for the organization which houses children needing a place to stay while receiving medical care.

3. The event's main organizer, Remy Swaab.

4. Rodrigo and Gustavo. Friends of Remy that we hired to drive and help out. They've been great and a joy to have around.

© 2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!