After a full day of both sailing and motoring, we crossed the invisible border into Panama and soon after anchored in a predetermined spot near a tiny village. As we were enjoying our evening meal on deck and watching the background lightning, we heard a swoosh, swoosh, spout! It was a whale and was very near! However, it was dark and we could not see a thing! Cool…..but kind of eerie too!
The next day, we left early to cross the bay to our first island, Parida. We chose to anchor at the bottom (SW) side of the island. This was a protected anchorage, but you had to pay the price first! We threaded our way around many, many pinnacle rocks and small islands to reach our destination. On the way, we saw whales and dolphins guarding the opening. We rounded the last island and were speechless as we looked into a bay that should have been in a movie. It resembled a South Pacific island! We dropped our anchor and spent the day enjoying our surroundings and swimming. The next day, we launched our kayak and explored the many beaches. We had planned to snorkel around a group of rocks, so we took the kayak to a beach near them. The tide was going out and we thought that would make it safe to snorkel. This beach seemed to have more swell than the other beaches that we had explored and we decided to bag the snorkeling and head back to Slow Dancer. But when we tried to launch the kayak, we discovered that the swell was getting bigger! As we tried to board the kayak, we were lifted by a huge wave and flipped. Over went our snorkel gear and we spent a few minutes righting the kayak and searching the chest deep water to recover the gear. Back at the beach, we watched waves and strategized. After about 30 minutes of watching wave patterns, we pushed out quickly between sets and made it back to the boat. Enough of that!
During the afternoon we were approached by a small fishing boat. The occupants were Nacho and his wife Ellie. They had freshly picked limes as a gift! Wow, how nice! We knew that it was etiquette to trade something. We passed them two cervezas and they seemed to be very happy. We have learned that knowing a few words and sharing lots of smiles went a long way toward speaking the same language.
After two nights we reluctantly pulled our anchor and headed another 20 miles toward Isla Secas. These islands were a bit more developed, but not much. We dropped our anchor in a bay away from the rustic resort. We watched a small boat with a driver come toward us. Over the side of the boat another guy hung on to a rope. He was dunking into the water for a minute or two at a time. As he came up he threw something into the boat….oysters! That would be a hard way to earn a living!
We then jumped in the water with our snorkel gear. The snorkeling was great and we got pictures of several fish that we had not seen before. After exploring the rocks we spent some time scrubbing the bottom of Slow Dancer to remove any growth and barnacles. As we ended our cleaning, we noticed the clouds coming and some lightning in the background. This is the rainy season and we have grown to expect rain and lightning each evening. However, this was quite a storm. We had lightning and booming thunder right overhead as well as several inches of rain. It stormed for most of the night, but our anchor held tight.
The next morning, we left early to head toward Bahia Honda. This was a very protected bay with a small fishing village. We had some wind, so pulled the sails. Pretty soon the wind increased and shifted to right on our nose and with it came the rain. Ken donned his raincoat and gallantly carried on toward our goal. The bay was beautiful and calm. Before we were even anchored a launch (small boat) came toward us and told us a better place to anchor. These were the locals that we had heard about through the grapevine. Domingo and his son were ready to help cruisers and along with the help came a barter system. They brought bananas, limes, papayas and grapefruits. They had handcrafts as well. We traded cooking oil, onions, fishing tackle, shoes, shirts and hats with some cookies, pencils and balls for the kids! This system seems to be the way that they get the things that they need as well as make friends. They also had a 55 gallon drum of diesel and would sell us some. Our next leg was to be long and the spare diesel would ease our minds. Even though they didn't speak much English and our Spanish is marginal, we communicated and enjoyed each other.
It would have been great to stay a few days in Bahia Honda, but we knew that the weather was going to be good that day, but had no internet to check farther out. So on we went. As we were motoring in the calm air, we spotted two Mama whales with their babies by their sides traveling along with us. Wow!! These things are huge! A little farther up as Dale was steering, she saw a whale. As the boat was on auto pilot, she took out her camera to film. The whale was headed straight for us. Surely it will turn…..won't it? It got closer and closer and was now becoming scary. Dale yelled for Ken, put down the camera and threw the gear shift into neutral to stop our momentum. The whale passed right in front of/under? our bow! That was close!
That evening was spent anchored in Ensenada Naranjo. We enjoyed the different surroundings. There was a ranch on shore with Brahma cattle. The evening was a bit bumpy but at least we were stopped and secure. We left at dawn the next morning to head toward Ensenada Benao. This was listed as a surfer town with a small anchorage behind an island. It was also the last stop before rounding the dreaded Punta Malo. Winds, seas and currents are reportedly double around this point. At around 4:30 we rounded the small island to drop our anchor. There was a fishing boat in that spot, so we dropped the anchor farther toward the shore, knowing that this would be a bit bumpier. But as he payed out the anchor chain, Ken noticed a problem. The windlass that controlled the upward and downward movement of the anchor and chain was jammed. He had the anchor on the ground and some chain out, but not enough to be safe. He could not get more out and could not get it to come up. Oh great….what now?! We had a momentary pow wow and decided to pull the chain up by hand and head straight to Marina Vista Mar near Panama City. This was to be two stops later, but with an overnight we should be there the next morning. We really don't like to do overnights, but sometimes they are necessary. PLUS this overnight included Punta Malo! But we had light winds, small seas and clear skies, so no problem, right?
We rounded Punta Malo just as it became dark. We noticed a bit more current making our speed a knot or so less. OK, all will be fine after we get around this point that seemed to be taking forever! Another thing against us was the fact that we had no radar. We trudged on and the current got stronger and stronger. Along with this came some larger waves and wind on our nose. Instead of the usual 5-6 knots of speed, we were making around 3 knots. It was dark and a little creepy as we noticed a string of lights ahead of us. What was this? An island? Boats? We were just passing the shipping lanes going toward the Panama Canal. Were these lights ships? Using binoculars and straining to see, we got closer and closer. We veered way to the right to avoid whatever this was and as we approached noticed that it was a string of 5 fishing boats in a line. Whew! On we went. Our speed slowed to 2 knots. We would never get there at this rate! The wind picked up and the seas increased to 4-5 feet at 5 seconds. This is not comfortable! We pulled the sails and turned away from the wind hoping to get a little speed. Nope! Same speed and we couldn't go straight to our destination. We spent the entire night going back and forth, motoring, sailing, turning away, turning toward and nothing seemed to work. The current would not let us go! As morning came, the seas and wind abated a bit and we primarily had to deal with the current. After a very long night and morning we finally arrived in Marina Vista Mar around 2 in the afternoon on Sept. 11. We were met on the dock by our friends, Jim and Laura, from Nilaya…..complete with rum punch! What a welcome stop.