Sunday, 9 July 2017

A 40th in Panama

It's interesting how a boat can change you. Never would I have imagined my birthday wish list would solely consist of:
1) a toilet base
2) a working outboard!!
As expected and forecasted, after a few hours of leaving Colombia under 4 sails, the wind died. Impatient sailors that we are, on went the engine.
Awesome shot by Eli.

I've noticed a pattern with our last two sails in our moods: first few hours all happy, anticipating new port, new country, new friends and maybe some old. Later that evening or the next day, tend to get a bit anxious, fear of the unknown, and the uncertainty.

Leaving Colombia.

For the next three days we were met with alot of thunderstorms, mainly at night, and a glassy sea with a comfortable swell. As Ula cut through the milky sea, pushing waves either side of her hull, the dark nights revealed sparkling phosphorus that was mesmerizing to watch.
 The downwind motion was very pleasant considering we had to motor for 3 days and three nights. This turned out to be another test of our trust in Ula's abilities. The first 12 hours or so, I felt a little concerned about the engine running for so long and whether it could handle the duration. Next day I came to the realisation this is what engines are designed for and came to trust, relax and fully appreciate our very reliable Perkins.
Our auto pilot was on form also, thankfully.
One night, while on watch, there was a buzzing sound next to my leg. At first I thought it was my phone on vibrate but realized it was on my lap. Foolishly putting my hand down to the noise, it was met with a slimy, wriggling feeling, soon after accompanied by a rather fishy smell..
Flying fish next to my seat! (Apologies for phone
camera quality and blur!).

When my watch had finished, went down to the saloon cabin floor to sleep. (While at sea we've found it's the most still, being the centre of the boat. A yoga mat we scavenged, topped with a couple of bean bags and pillows on top, wedged between the fridge and settee means we can't roll around too much!). Just starting to unwind when I hear that familiar noise again..and the smell, this time right next to the fridge and my pillow! With incredible acrobatic skill and possibly suicidal tendencies, this fish had managed to fly up over our boat and in through the opening of our butterfly hatch!
Eden's entertaining antics, using the top of a chip packet!
Strapped into galley, preparing a meal.

This was the first trip Salem hadn't been sick, was venturing about more and eating well. What a relief.
Had a rather low fly-over a couple of times. No radio contact this time asking for our details like the copter did when we were sailing into Curacao three years ago.

Eli's shot.
 The second to last day we had the awesome privilege of being visited by a large pod of dolphins.

Stoked to be on sunrise watch as we followed the coastline of Panama heading into Portobello.
The hilly, coastline covered densely with trees and the odd patch of grass resembling my hometown coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula. Except for the scattering of banana and coconut trees!
Entering Portobello. 

Entering the harbour with a massive ship anchored to our starboard side, the boys on the bowsprit suddenly yelled as they pointed, "Mum, mast!" Dave looked over and sure enough, about 2 metres below, stood a mast looking woefully, up at us!
Anchor didn't seem to be holding until a man dingied over and said, "if you are having some difficulty, there is a sunken boat about here, I recommend you move elsewhere!"

Second attempt proved to be much more successful, with a view of one of the forts, shortly before the torrential rain began.
Welcome to the rainy season of Panama!

Portobello was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 2nd 1502 on his fourth trip. Becoming the Caribbean transshipment center for transferring Central and South American riches, due to its convenient location and decent harbour.

From 1574-1702, forty-five fleets of galleons were sent forth, none carrying less than 30 million pesos of riches each. This was too good an opportunity for the likes of pirates like Henry Morgan who, with an assault troop of 460 men, he managed to take Portobello, raping and pillaging.

Apparently warehouses were so full at one stage, fine
silver and gold could be seen running down the streets
when it rained!

Counter attacks and negotiations were unsuccessful and Morgan demanded the payment of 100,000 pesos in order to not destroy the population. (According to the Panama cruisers guide).

Were awoken by a ghastly noise, almost like wind howling down through the trees, but the more it went on, we began to notice the animalistic nature of it, like a deep wolf or bear sound (not that we've actually heard them in real life!). Figured out it was the howler monkeys, calling out to each other across the bay, more often when rain is coming.
Image: wikimedia

Spent a few days exploring then headed 20 miles to Linton.

Meandering in and out of boats in the pass between the mainland and Isla Linton, got a bit confused with the wood pilings marking out the shallow areas. Thankfully the boys were on the bowsprit when they suddenly yelled out "Mum, reverse, reverse"!! Threw the lever into reverse and floored it..straight off the mud bank (whew!).

Somebody said once that every sailor grounds once, so I'm claiming that as hopefully the one and only. Glad it wasn't coral or rocks. We got our cruising permit then motored a couple of miles over to Isla Grande where we were hoping to find surf.

Isla Grande.
Just got anchor laid out, went to reverse hard to make sure anchor was well set.. but had no power: reverse or forward, nothing. Only an hour or so before we had read a message from a friend back in Bonaire that they were expecting an unusually low tropical storm heading their way. This was a little unnerving cos while we were in Portobello a sailor had mentioned an unusual storm last year hitting and grounding 18 boats. This whole area is out of the "hurricane belt" but obviously abnormalities occur.
So here we were, no power, wondering if we were going to get hit with strong winds and if so was our anchor set well enough?!
Water taxis bringing ladies with their umbrellas to the mainland town of La Guaira.  Isla Grande to the right.

We were in a fairly isolated part so couldn't row ashore to the mainland to find parts.
We spent the next few days trouble shooting: managed to catch water taxi ashore, found helpful diesel mechanic selling boat parts and most importantly, transmission oil. Checked fuel, changed filter, checked morse cable for gearing: snap! Thats exactly what had happened.
Weather was the usual Panama: intermittent sunshine and thunderstorms, but thankfully nothing more than that.
Explored the very touristy Isla Grande..

Statue of Black Christ. 


Swings at the bar, but you have to pay to enter premises.

It appeared to us that only a handful were living there.  A number of local mainland erst would get ferried across to clean the holiday houses or restaurants then get ferried home at lunchtime.

Dave and Eli managed a few surfs, the reef wasn't ideal for the rest of us and Eli came away nursing burnt feet from the fire coral!

Paddle ashore then run down to the point, around the corner.

Managed to crawl our way at 2knots back through Isla Linton to Puerto Lindo so we could row ashore to get necessary resources.  Managed to catch a ride with some other cruisers to a nearby outboard mechanic at panamarina.  Which consisted of a dinghy ride through the mangrove passage..

The green gourds make a 1litre bottle look small!

Eden trying out the boom swing.
While waiting for cables and outboard -which couldn't be fixed- Dave installed some more solar panels to help out our batteries (one of the reasons for autopilot failing and causing Colombian transit).
Met some nice Brazilians who kindly took Dave and Eli to outer reef for some surf sessions, again not so suitable for the younger ones.
Isla Mamei.

Sourced and installed the cable, and then...
I turned 40!! Had a delicious lunch with fresh juices. Were going to hike to a waterfall but it poured down over lunch and wasn't much keen for a mud slide!

Had a really nice evening with our cruising friends.

Spot Dave paddling ashore to pick me up..went for an
enjoyable ride on nicely paved road through jungle to nearby mini-market.

The day we were to leave, discovered a mouse had eaten into five milk bottles and it was draining into our bilges! We think the stowaway came on either at the marina in Colombia or swam out?!
Got it all cleaned up then were invited out for a bbq, on a large wooden, Polynesian style catamaran/outrigger. We all huddled under the tarp from the rain but had a nice fire, yum food and great company.
Inside the amazing catamaran.

Summarising our days, glossing over the details, it all sounds very idyllic, I admit, but we have definitely had a lot of frustrating, overwhelming, stressful moments trying to figure out the various, constant issues, how to source parts, where things are just done differently and with the added language barrier. Mixed with the ever present background doubts of enough money/mental capacity to take on the big step of the pacific crossing.
We were edging closer, heels semi digging in like a kid in a supermarket screaming and tantruming, "I dont want to!" but at the same time having a deep down knowing that is what we need to keep pushing towards.
Puerto Lindo and the creepy vulture looking birds.

Massive pig wallowing as we trip-trapped over bridge.
Check out normal sized pig in background for comparison! 

The large, super friendly, mango
munching dog: mango pips spread all
through the workshop from his
over-indulging habits! 

 Next day discovered more leaky, milky bilges, cleaned up, started engine, hoisted anchor, then, no power. Re-anchored. This was tough, the third setback trying to leave, having just made good friends, knowing more surf was forecast for the upcoming week, should we really be going?
Hours later, Dave managed to figure out the problem and we hopped back down to Portobello, just in time to dinghy ashore and check out Fort San Lorenzo Battery before dark.

Workers playing football.

Crossing onto fort.

While anchorage looks idyllic now, decent winds tend to howl through and there's alot of rain here.  Best night we'd had in a while after last rocky anchorage.

I suspect bird in tree is the
Panamanian Eagle.

With only 20 miles, to go, maybe tomorrow we will finally get to Colon to get measured for the Canal.

Sunset, Isla Grande. 

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