The Last Sail of the Stahlratte

According to Wikipedia, Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.

So what happens when overlanders reach the end of land? Or the end of traversable land, like the region between Panama and Colombia, called the Darien Gap? As the cross flies, the Gap is 100ish miles of swamp, tributaries, or according to local lore, illegal logging and drug-running routes that foreigners are advised not to be found on. 


Overlanders traveling by four wheels must transfer their vehicles from Central to South America via container. But for the past 37 years, overlanders traveling by motorcycle have had a MUCH more picturesque and adventurous option: loading their bikes onto the deck of the Stahlratte, and spending 5 days island hopping between Panama and Colombia. Captain Ludwig, the German operator of the Stahlratte, is as much of a legend in the overland community as the 117-year-old fishing vessel he sails. Many overland motorcyclists retrospectively consider their time aboard the Stahlratte with Captian Ludwig a highlight of their entire journey. Additionally, the Stahlratte enabled many riders to explore Cuba with their own two wheels, with excursions running between Mexico and the island nation. 

The Stahlratte website refers to the tours between Panama, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Jamaica as a “project.” The history page of the Stahlratte was recently updated with the following, seemingly final statement: “In 2021 we had to end the project after 37 years because of the pandemic-related decline in travelers and general travel restrictions.”

The Stahlratte has had to cancel several of its anticipated “final” tours and recently canceled the transatlantic crossing tour via the Azores as the new owners will take ownership of the boat in Mexico rather than Spain. 


So what happens now for Overland Motorcyclists? Most will have to go the way of their four-wheeled travel partners and load their motorcycles into containers for transport between Panama and Colombia. A few others may choose the more adventurous option: to make like Helge Pedersen and navigate their own “tour” from Panama to Colombia.

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