Sunday, January 30, 2011

Panama to Costa Rica

The following blog entry is a bit of a long one. We haven’t had access to the internet in over two weeks and are now in Golfito, Costa Rica. We’ve made a lot of stops between Panama and here. Hopefully, the photos will keep your interest as you peruse the notes.

January 13 - Isla Taboga and Contadore, Las Perlas (Panama)

We left the Balboa Yacht Club at noon, after refueling, getting gasoline for the outboard and another case of beer - we figured, hey, at fifty cents a can, it’s cheaper than bottled water!

It was amazing to see all the freighters anchored outside the harbor area - all probably waiting for their turn to go through the canal. I counted over thirty freighters and tankers! We motored amongst them towards Isla Taboga.
It wasn’t long when we anchored at Taboga, a tranquil and rustic little harbor with a small community and an interesting beach spit. Isla Taboga has been inhabited since the early 1500’s when the Spaniard, Francisco Pizzaro kept his fleet of ships here so he could better plunder the riches of the Incas in South America. This reoccurring theme surfaces yet again and again. The Spaniards plunder the natives, after which the English and the Dutch pirates come around and attack the Spanish galleons and clean up!

We never even set foot on Taboga. In the morning, after coffee and breakfast, we headed off to the Archipelago de las Perlas, a group of islands, over thirty miles southeast. After getting under way, the breeze picked up and we had the pleasure of sailing the entire distance!!! Really unusual and definitely one of the most pleasant sails we had experienced. Along the way a few dolphins came to swim along side of us. We also had expected to see whales but spotted none.

Here I might add that today was Diane and my anniversary - 34 years! This has been an atypical year in which our small family unit has not been together for several annual events. By Thanksgiving, I had already left to go sailing. Then my birthday and Meredith’s came along after which Meredith and Elliot left for the Netherlands. In late December Diane came to Colombia, thus Diane and I celebrated Christmas and New Years together but apart from Meredith. And now our wedding anniversary and Diane’s upcoming birthday also will be spent apart. Well, it’s sure to make the reunions that much sweeter.  

Back to sailing - we pulled into the harbor of Isla Contador just after 4pm. We found an available mooring and decided to pick it up, figuring that it was mainly used on weekends.
View of villas on Isla Contador

Contador is the most developed of the Perlas archipelago. We anchored on the south side, near a small airport and in front of several very nice waterfront homes. But here again, we only spent the evening there and in the morning left for more remote islands.

We motored a few miles south, anchoring just off of Isla Chapera and north of Isla Mogo Mogo. We had a splendid small white sandy beach all to ourselves. It’s exactly the stuff they make movies of - bent palm tress hanging over the sparkling water. Beyond the beach was a dense jungle. Supposedly, it was on this island that one of the Survivors series had been filmed.

The windless on deck

Dave and Barry playing in the sand (with the windless)

We’d been experiencing infrequent but pesky problems with the windless (when pulling up anchor). So Dave came up with the (exciting) notion of tearing the windless apart, and seeing if we could improve its performance. It turned out to be an afternoon-long task, in which we took it off the boat to the island, after taking all the grease from its innards, saving it in plastic cups, then bathing the gears in gasoline. We then repacked the thick, gooey grease, mixing 30 weight motor oil with it in order to fill the entire box with grease.

After bolting the windless back on deck, we tested hauling in the anchor chain - it worked like a charm. Another successful project completed.  

Later that afternoon, we took the dinghy to a small rocky islet in between the two main islands. We snorkeled and spotted numerous varieties of small fish, including grouper, clown and parrot fish, skip jack, angel and trumpet fish, an eel and more. I saw one school of blue tang that numbered well into the hundreds. They’d swim off in one direction for a bit and suddenly, as if on cue, they’d all switch directions and swim (in unison) elsewhere. Beautiful!  

January 15 - Isla Chapera to Isla del Rey

In the morning, I woke up before sunrise to the sound of gentle slapping surf on the beach, chirping birds and the aromatic scent of blossoms and other vegetation ashore. When I got up on deck, the sea was as smooth as glass. I easily could see the anchor chain on the ocean floor. Fish were jumping out of the water and large clown fish were swimming near the surface along the boat.

After coffee and breakfast we sailied to Isla del Rey, the largest island of the archipelago, about thirteen miles away. Although the plan had been to anchor at Isla Espiritu Santo, one of the smaller islands off of Isla del Rey, once we got there we opted to continue to Isla Canas, just two miles further south. I think that our expectations were becoming a bit jaded - if the anchorage was not absolutely pristine and idyllic, we’d move onwards until we found one.

We anchored off a small, palm-lined sandy beach that had an abandoned-looking structure on it with a tent inside of it. Odd. Some papaya trees were visible near the property. Yummy!!!  Off in the distance we could see La Ensenada, a tiny fishing village on Isla del Rey.

As soon as we were settled in, we took the dinghy to the village. It consisted of a cluster of small houses along the beach with a boardwalk. Overall, it looked pretty tidy. Laundry hung everywhere. We encountered a tiny tienda (store) on our walk and a bare-looking bar. A couple of the older gents invited us in, so we stopped and had a beer with the locals. But the music was unbearably loud, so much so that we could talk. We soon said our good-byes and continued our walk along the boardwalk. Lots of kids riding their bicycles and a number of bored-looking adults watching the world go by.
The village

In the evening, the anchorage was perfectly peaceful except for the wild cries of parrots and the chirping of other birds and critters. The temperature was perfect - not too hot nor too cold, with a gentle breeze off the northeast. A few papayas found their way into our boat. Imagine that! Really, could it get any better?

January 16 - Isla Del Rey, Perlas

Today was a day of celebration on Lahaina Roads. After leaving our anchorage and skirting around a shoal, we headed out to open waters. As we’ve done so many times before, we put two fishing lines out. After just a few minutes we heard the shrill whirl of the fishing line and we knew that we had a solid strike. No sooner had Dave gone to reel it in, when the other pole got a strike. Barry began to reel that line in.

After a bit of work, both fish were on deck - two large mahi-mahis. Unfortunately, the larger of the two suddenly thrashed and flipped itself back into the sea, breaking the line and taking with it, the jig. Immediately, we tied a line to the remaining mahi-mahi, ensuring that that wouldn’t happen again.

Later, Dave put out another line and got another strike. This time it was a yellowtail tuna. Needless to say, our evening menu was starting look better and better!!! We had sushi a couple of hours later and for dinner we had a tasty combination platter of barbecued tuna steaks and mahi-mahi.

That afternoon we anchored in Cacique Bay, an open bay that offered good protection except from the south. A little weather was indeed coming from the south but we decided it wasn’t strong enough to worry about.

Rio Cacique flowed into the bay. We took the dinghy there hoping to make into the river, but the surf was breaking too high near the river’s entrance. We returned in the morning, hoping to get in then, but this time we were stymied by the low tide that had set in, and now there wasn’t enough water to make it in.

Instead, we picked up anchor and motored to Isla San Carlos, about 25 miles away. San Carlos is privately owned, the second largest of the Perlas and no one lives on the island. We arrived there just before two in the afternoon. After anchoring, we had more sushi and made a plans for the following day, when we would be heading back to the Panamanian mainland.

January 18 - Sailing to the Mainland

We got up at three in the morning and a half hour later were underway with a moonlit sky aglow. Coffee cups in hand, we rounded San Carlos and set a course for Punta Mala. Thirteen hours later, after a casual crossing, we pulled into Punta Benao or as the beach is referred to - Playa Venado. On the way over, we encountered a half a dozen ships, but we had expected to see many more, since this area was known as a major crossroad for freighters transiting the canal.  

Playa Venado is a well known surf spot, and indeed, there were a number of surfers out riding waves. The anchorage was not protected from the south. So with a slight swell coming into the anchorage, we bobbed and rolled a bit, but not all that much. It was time for cocktails, dinner and an early bedtime.  

The following day we took the dinghy to the beach and went for a walk to the surf spot. A couple of hotels and restaurants were there with mostly surfer clientele. We had lunch at one of the restaurants and watched the surfing action. Dave considered renting a board but later decided against it. We walked back towards the dinghy and stopped by a resort that catered to a higher end market than the surfer dudes. Although we weren’t welcomed much either, we were fortunate to see three brightly colored parrots flying freely in the trees on the property. Loudly squawking, as they flew from one tree to another, they were really an impressive sight.

Back on the boat, as we were having our evening spirits, we spotted a peculiar movement on the beach - four young women walking with a hoola-hoop wearing colorful, flowing material that they draped around themselves (and then proceeded to take off). Yep, they were stark naked. There was a photographer and an assistant with them. We surmised that it was a photo shoot for a magazine. A beautiful beach at sunset, an elegant sailing ketch at anchor and four young naked women. What a perfect combination for a photo shoot.

January 20 - Fishing 101

Since being on the Pacific, our luck with fishing has improved tremendously. We left Benao Cove heading for Naranja Bay at 6:30am. This is an area known for sport fishing so we immediately put out the lines. No sooner were they in when we got a strike. It must have been a large fish because in a matter of seconds the jig and line were gone.

A plate of sashimi for lunch

A few minutes later, however, the other reel wined. This time we had a more manageable strike. The sound of the reel when a fish strikes is at once intoxicating and tantalizing. Then comes the excitement and anticipation of the first glance at the fish as it breaks the surface and makes its initial appearance. The meeting takes place. Now it’s a matter of reeling it in and bringing it in on deck - not a trivial task.

I was in the process of pulling up fifteen pound tuna, when the fish darted under the stern of the boat. I made the mistake of following it with the pole and not keeping the tip of the pole up. The line suddenly went limp - the fish had managed to cut the line against the boat’s under belly. Alas! (Well, those aren’t the exact words that I muttered.)

Luckily Barry brought in another tuna, and sushi prevailed on the lunch menu, again. About  twenty minutes after lunch, both reels screamed loudly, again announcing two more catches. Both were fifteen pound tunas. This time we didn’t put the lines back out. We had plenty of fish.      

At 3:30pm we pulled into our anchorage - Ensenada Naranjo, a very pretty bay lined with palm trees, a small cove to the south and some huts. A very remote spot indeed.

In the morning we heard lots of birds and even a howler monkey. But we were too far to see them. We had a leisurely breakfast and pulled up anchor. Santa Catalina, our next anchorage, was about 32 miles away.

The currents can be quite strong in this area. A couple of days ago, the currents were assisting our progress and moving us through the water at nearly 8.5 knots (our overall boat speed). Today the currents are a hindrance to our progress, keeping us at an unimpressive 5 knots. We pulled into the Catalina channel at 3pm and anchored off of a white sandy beach at Isla Santa Catalina.

From Santa Catalina looking to the island

Diane and I had been to Santa Catalina two years ago. I noticed more shops, restaurants and hostels and found out that they were a result of a world surfing event that was held here in 2010. But otherwise, not much seems to have changed. We stayed another day to provision and took a bus to the nearest town (Sona) with a supermarket. It was a long ordeal but quite an adventure. We hitch-hiked and got a ride into town (two hours of driving and skirting huge pot holes). To get back we took the bus. I sat next to a plump lady who only afforded me a half cheek on the seat - the rest of my butt was in the isle. Thankfully, she got off midway.

January 23 - Santa Catalina to Ensenada Cativon

It was an easy thirteen miles to our next anchorage, a small and well protected bay - Ensenada Cativon. We went ashore, thinking that there was  a village at the head of the bay, but all we found was an individual who wanted to know if we were interested in buying land - waterfront lot for $50 per square meter. We said no thanks and walked further around the bay and found a small waterfall where we took a dip - well, all we could really do was to sit in place and let the water fall on our backs. Refreshing.

We left for Isla Rancheria the next morning. Again only a brief distance, we were anchored just before noon. Isla Rancheria is right adjacent to Isla Coiba Both islands are part of the national park system. After a beer and a bite to eat, we snorkeled, finding lots of fish varieties including a large ray and an curious white-tipped shark about four feet long.

Isla Coiba has a long history. But the most interesting part is when it was a prison (late 1980’s). Apparently, the guards are the ones that at night locked themselves up, while the prisoners were free to roam the wild island. Some prisoners would try to escape by swimming or capturing a boat to the adjacent islands or to the mainland. At one time, a yacht had anchored offshore when some prisoners swam to it, murdered the crew on board and used the boat to escape the island. As far as we know, no remnants of prisoners are on the island.

From Rancheria looking to Isla Coiba

We left Isla Ranchera in the morning and set a course for Isla Secas. After about three hours of motoring we anchored in a small bay of Isla Cavada (the largest of the Secas) that had a rustic resort built of permanent round tents. One of the structures was on an islet that had a walk way during low tide but you’d need a boat to get to it during high tide. We wondered what kind of room service they provided.

Probably our biggest catch

In the late afternoon I watched one of these terrific nature scenes one gets to enjoy in places such as these. Dolphins were having a meal on a school of fish. That process was pushing the fish towards the surface, which in turn, was making a meal available to frigate birds, who would swoop down, and while not touching the water, would pick up a fish. Another type of bird, more like a small seagull, (one that could land on the water) also was working the same area. They’d dive right into the water and have their meal. It was like my own nature show - live!

We left Isla Cavada for our last stop in Panama, Isla Parida. Actually a cluster of small islands, Isla Parida’s northerly cove was very peaceful and protected. We spent the afternoon and evening there and pulled up anchor at daybreak - we had a long haul ahead of us to reach Golfito, Costa Rica.

After a windless day, we closed up on Golfito. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it by nightfall. We were lucky in that the channel proved to be pretty straightforward. We anchored and went to bed. Next morning we motored a mile or so down the bay and found the Fishhook Marina and were fortunate to get a slip. We were at our final destination - just like that. Our little sailing adventure suddenly was over. It had started on a whim and ended in a…well, it just sort of ended. But it had ended with all of us being good friends.

January 28 -  Fishhook Marina, Golfito, Costa Rica

Lahaina Roads will be shipped from Golfito in February via a ship whose only cargo is yachts. The ship will take the boat to Ensenada where we plan to pick it up and sail it to a San Diego marina.  

Looking down on Lahaina Roads