September 7, 2020
It was finally September 2, the day that we were to leave our long time home, Bocas Marina. It was November 7, 2019 when we first checked into this water paradise. We had checked out of the marina and were completing a few last details when we got a message from Shelter Bay Marina that the form that we had obtained from the hospital was not sufficient! What??!! We spent two hours getting that form and it required a trip to the hospital and two to the Port Captain’s Office. Now here we were only an hour from leaving and had to figure out how to get a different form. This is all due to COVID restrictions. We hustled to find someone driving a panga to town. Yaay! Our friend from the marina, Ignacio was just going in to town. We hopped a ride, then a taxi to the hospital. No, they had no idea what we were talking about in our limited Spanish. No form like this. The one that we had obtained was to travel from Bocas del Toro to Shelter Bay near Colon. Apparently this “SalvoConducto” was to travel by land. There was no particular form for sea travel. So we needed a letter from a doctor saying that we did not have signs of COVID. We had an example letter, but still no one understood what we needed. One phone call to the Shelter Bay Marina and the Marina Manager, JuanJo had us put him on with the hospital employee that we were dealing with. Still no go. He talked to us and said, stay put, I will call a supervisor. Within 30 minutes we had our letter and were grabbing a cab back to Bocas to get a water taxi back to the marina.
Once at the marina, we emailed the letter to JuanJo, disconnected our power and stowed everything below. Jim and Laura came to cast off our dock lines and say goodbye. And we were off. Good Bye Bocas del Toro, you were a good port in the proverbial storm.
Our first night was spent in Crawl Cay, an anchorage near the farthest eastern mouth from the archipelago into the Caribbean. We had a lovely evening under a full moon. Exiting was a bit more stressful. There were several shallows that were unmarked on our charts. We followed our way points and went extremely slow with Ken on the bow watching and Dale driving.
The second night was spent in Laguna de Bluefield. This is an isolated bay off the mainland of Panama with three small villages surrounding it. The villagers use cayucos (dug out canoes, usually leaky!) to travel between the settlements. We anchored in a small anchorage near the beach and a village. We soon had become a major attraction. We were visited by several cayucos and met many of the villagers. It seems that they are in great need of clothing and have small sugar bananas and coconuts to trade. We scraped together some clothing and snacks for the children and soon had more bananas than we needed! One boy “Fred” was in need of rope. He spoke only Spanish (as they all did) and Ken used his best Spanish speaking skills to communicate with him. It seems that he had a black trash bag that he wanted to use as a sail for his cayuco. So Fred and Ken spent some time together on our swim platform rigging the sail. Happy as can be, Fred sailed off into the sunset!
We traveled 26 miles the next day to Escudo de Veraguas. This is an island only inhabited part time by fishermen in a small group of huts. What a beautiful place! We spent a day exploring the coast in “Tiny Dancer” and snorkeling. The beaches were pristine and the sea life abundant. We bought lobsters and a pargo (Red Snapper) from the local fishermen. They were happy for the income (plus a beer!) and we were happy with our dinners!
We had a pretty intense storm the first night at anchor, but stayed safe and dry. After two nights we reluctantly left this paradise to head east. This would be an overnight into Shelter Bay. We were excited to be guided out from this magical place by a pod of 6 dolphins, who stayed with us for over 30 minutes! A couple of hours into our trip we also had an unexpected guest. A small bird appeared on our lines. It looked like a finch, not a sea bird and we were many miles off shore. As we were watching it, it flew into our cockpit and attempted to land on Dale’s shoulder. We were delighted and surprised when this new crew member sat on our legs, ate from our hands, flew in and out of our cabin and slept on a coil of rope. He stayed with us until we were almost to our destination, then jetted off toward the shore.
We had tried to time our entrance into the breakwater of the Panama Canal, through which is Shelter Bay, for the next day at day break. When we came the opposite direction last November, we found a strong current against us. We figured this into our equation, but did not get the extent of the swift current traveling with us correct. We throttled down (no wind) to very little RPM’s, but still sped along, arriving much earlier than expected. In an effort to not enter in the dark, we circled Slow Dancer around until daylight when we could venture into the middle of the tankers and freighters heading toward the canal. We listened to their communications with the Canal Authority and tried to enter during a short break between two large ships. We watched every one of the 40+ ships in the bay looking for smoke coming from their smokestacks so that we would know who was getting ready to move. As we were getting closer, we noticed smoke coming from a ship directly ahead of us. We listened…..anchor chain! OK, get out of there! We backtracked and waited. He was just repositioning. OK, go, go, go! We got through the breakwater between two giants! As we came in, we noticed that we could not head straight toward the marina as we remembered! They were dredging and it was blocked off. The Canal Authority hailed us on the radio to tell us where to go, just as several boats jockeying for position came toward us and behind us. After a very stressful couple of hours, we finally arrived close to the entrance of the marina. Ken called on the VHF radio to find out our slip assignment. “Wait”……huh? We can’t enter? So again we circled around for 20+ minutes. Finally, “Eddie” came on the radio and told us which dock to proceed to. We found out later that he had to get approval from the Navy to let us in. Tight security during the days of COVID. …..and we were at rest on a dock again.