Taking the Plunge into the Pacific

After the tiring but excellent canal transit we spent a very rolly night on a mooring ball (actually it was an old car tyre) at the Balboa yacht club for the handsome price of US$41 with a free launch which came out to collect us and take us ashore to pay the bill. Nice touch. With yet more black clouds billowing over Panama City we set sail with Jez’s parents and headed out of the channel to a small island in sight called Taboga just 7 miles away. Leaving the black clouds behind us we sailed through the big ship anchorage zone marvelling at the size of some of the vessels waiting their turn to transit. Large flocks of birds flew across the sky like trailing ribbons, hundreds in fact all in unison mimicking the bird in front, a constant stream flying high in one direction and low to the sea in the other. Like a two-way bird highway. As they got closer we could see they were made up of Pelicans and cormorants. Where were they heading and where had they come from? Who knows, but it seemed to be rush hour. Taboga is a little piece of paradise on the other side of the big ship anchorage, a small spit off the NE corner of the island provides a little bit of protection at anchor from a north wind although the many empty moorings there limit anchoring space so we put out both bow anchors to reduce the radius of our swing. The island is nicknamed the island of flowers for a very good reason. The quirky streets, only just wide enough for the odd golf cart and possibly the only truck on the island, are lined with beautiful flowering shrubs which attract butterfly’s and hummingbirds. The heady scent of jasmine filled the air as we walked up to the church. Jane and I were in our element wandering the rabbit warren of paths pointing out our discoveries and photographing anything that moved, and of course that didn’t. Part of the pretty beach had a large congregation of turkey vultures all irritating each other like a gathering of grumpy old men. The place was very quiet mid week, a choice of good restaurants provided some very tasty lunches after a bit of excercise in the hot sun. It didn’t rain at all while we were there, the island just managed to escape the systems that built up in the afternoon and rolled over Panama City, the only problem was that it changed our wind direction for an hour or two and Joy had great fun twisting our two anchor chains up. When the wind died Jez and his mum jumped in the dinghy and pushed Joy back around 360° to untangle her. It was a good choice to come here for Geoff and Janes last few days in Panama for some sunshine at last and some swimming. Relaxation time over we sailed back to the hustle and bustle of Panama in time to catch the afternoon rain. We anchored off the causeway which is a long stretch of land connecting La Flamenco island with the main land, and home to many anchored boats including work boats and old barges. The stench of diesel fumes filled the air and the chop created on the water by the wind racing across the bay made it a very unattractive anchorage. This however was the best place to get ashore as there is a public dock also used by the ferries, but dinghys can be left safely here tucked around the back of the floating dock. We had used the services of a great local guy called Rogelio the week before, he brought Jez’s parents from the airport and had also provided our lines and tyres for the canal. Early Friday morning he collected Geoff and Jane once again and we tagged along to the airport so that we could top up provisions afterwards for the next leg of our journey. Rogelio took us to the city’s fruit and veg market, a huge daily market with a choice that blew us away. We stocked up with loads of fresh produce, lush green salad leaves made a welcome change from boring iceberg and the pineapples here are deliciously sweet and juicy. Rogelio has a membership card for the bulk buy Price Smart supermarket so a stop there for just a few bits ended up filling up his large car, it’s difficult to know when to stop when stocking up for a few months at sea. He also took us to the port authority and immigration offices to clear out of Panama and get our zarpe for the next port. Rogelio had been recommended to us by some cruisers we met in Shelter Bay, he was a great contact to have and saved us a lot of time and money.

After a few last minute internet jobs to get our affairs in order ready for a few weeks without surfing – well, not of the web kind anyway – we topped up with diesel at Flamenco marina, deflated the dinghy and packed it away in an aft lazarette along with the outboard motor. Then set sail out of Panama accompanied by a pretty intense lightening display. As night fell we were literally surrounded by it, streaks hitting the water and lighting up the dark rain clouds in front of it. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ soon turned to ‘aagghhs’ as we dodged the hits, then during the night we actually tacked and turned back to avoid the continuous strikes directly in our path and way too close for comfort. We sailed back towards Taboga for three hours before we felt happy it was clear to tack back, but only for a couple hours when it started again. We then took our chances, fed up the torrential rain and seemingly lack of clear patches without lightening. As it cracked overhead on my shift it felt as though it was frying my brain (OK, I know it’s probably already fried, well perhaps more ‘sauted’). I still wonder how we ever got through it unscathed. The chain of Las Perlas islands came into view in the early morning light, visibility was poor due to continuing rain, and I discovered my poor Aloe Vera plant was up to its neck in the wet stuff…again. We chose an anchorage at Isla Pedro Gonzalez to get a few jobs done and dry off, luckily it was very well protected from the southerly swell but as evening fell we had a plague of flying weevil type bugs swarm around the boat, coming in to land on the deck then shedding their wings and mating. After swatting a few of the early arrivals I realised we were overwhelmed with them and we shut ourselves in. Then we discovered that a few hundred of now wingless randy weevils had squeezed through the mosquito nets in the dorade vents of the aft cabin and were now all over the bed, in cupboards, lights, clothing, hats, boxes etc. We were on a killing spree for the next two hours with spray and swats, just when we thought we were clear I would lift a pillow or piece of clothing and another would scurry out. The ‘lesser of two weevils’ joke was well and truly worn out and we went to bed exhausted. Awaking in the morning the out going tide had brought out a fair amount of rubbish and debris from the shore, not tempting enough for a swim to knock some pesky barnacles off the prop so we headed to the next island south in search of clearer water, avoiding a floating chest freezer on our way out of the anchorage. We found clearer water and dropped the hook so Jez could clean the prop whilst I did some laundry, repotted my poor Aloe and got ourselves straight for the long journey ahead.

Sailing away from the islands late afternoon we were joined by a large group of dolphins, the larger ones rode the bow wave as the younger ones jumped out all around us. With a beautiful sunset followed by a little more lightening we contemplated the few thousand miles ahead of us as we toasted the last sight of land for a few weeks with a beer and popcorn.

We will add photos to the blog as soon as we arrive back in civilisation in a few weeks!

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