11/25/2011, Isla Linton
As we approached the coast in mid-morning we heard friends on the VHF chatting, so we called and got the news in Portobello. Based on their description of conditions in the anchorage we decided to push on here.
The guide book says come in to Isla Linton and anchor behind the island. A few years ago we would have had it to ourselves, but the book warned that there would probably be a few others here now. The author obviously hasn't been here for a few years. We were met by a fleet of over 75 boats at anchor, many obviously here long term. So the anchorage behind the island was jammed. But we found space and got safely anchored in time for lunch.
In the afternoon we took the dinghy and checked out the anchorage and the town. The town is a pitiful sight, the poorest we have seen. Garbage is strewn everywhere, even on the corrugated steel roof-tops. The one "tienda" we found sold nothing but soda, water and some candy.
Back in the dinghy we explored some more and ran over to Isla Linton. It is uninhabited except for a clan of howler monkeys who come down to greet visitors. Apparently they are friendly and will let you feed them but can become angry when you show signs of leaving. So we just watched them from the dinghy while they watched us from the palm trees along the shore.
The highlight was an evening visit to Cafe X (I think the X is actually the Greek letter Chi). We went in for dinner and "Free Internet" (a cruisers dream) and had a delicious dinner of shrimp with salad, rice and fries (yes, and the fries were home-made and delicious) with 5 beers for a total of $21. Beer is incredibly cheap in Panama. It was a beautiful warm evening, sitting listening to the huge roars of the tiny howler monkeys and watching the quiet harbor.
Today we'll do a bit more exploring then check out a nearby marina for possibly leaving the boat for a month at Christmas.
11/25/2011, Coastal Panama
Radar pic of ships approaching the canal
At about 3 am our perfect sail sort of died. Well, the winds did, so we flopped around for an hour before furling the jib and turning on the engine. We motored through the shipping lane where we arrived at dawn, having slowed considerably. But that was fine with us, making it a bit easier to deal with the ships. I only hailed one of the six or seven we met and all was fine. We are now just 4 miles from our destination, Isla Linton, where we'll spend a night or two before pushing further east. Then in exactly two weeks from today, we're off home for a month with family and friends for Christmas and skiing!
11/25/2011, Coastal Panama
Breakfast at sea... French Toast & Fresh Fruit
I have just come on watch after a 4 hour snooze. Except for having to run the generator to charge the batteries (our nav system seems to be an energy hog), all has been quiet. Winds have dropped to 8 to12 knots and we are slowly losing the boost from the counter current that runs along the coast here, but it is a beautiful night. Stars cover the sky, more than I think I have ever seen and the warm winds are just enough to keep us cool.
As far as shipping, things have been light. We were passed by one merchant ship about 8:00 pm last night, then contacted another ship that we were converging on. No reply at first, then back came a crisp female voice "This is Warship 462". After a brief exchange she asked that we keep at least a mile away, which we said we would, and that was it. Later in her watch Jeannie passed cruise ship (you can tell them as they are lit up and clearly visible for miles. And so far that's it. But as we approach Colon, the Caribbean entrance to the canal, I expect things to pick up. We'll see.
Plans are now to head past Portobello after reports from cruising friends anchored there that it is pretty bumpy. It is wide open to the west and we have had a lot of west winds lately. Another time. For today its Isla Linton, reported to be a snug quiet anchorage. We expect to be there about 0900 hrs.
11/24/2011, Coastal Panama
The sun is setting behind some rain clouds that have been chasing us all day, but to no avail. From Bocas, we set out in a light downwind sail that nicely changed to a beam to broad reach in 12-15 knots with the odd gust to 20 or so. For the night we tucked 2 reefs in the main just in case a squall catches us by surprise, but with nice following current we are still doing 7.5-8.0. Our main problem is we're going too fast. At this rate we'll cross the Canal approaches in the wee hours of the morning... pitch dark. The plan was to pass at dawn, but we didn't expect such beautiful conditions. Great to be sailing again!
11/23/2011, Bocas del Toro
The Oil Cooler
This morning we headed in for our last minute shopping, which requires going to at least 6 different grocery stores before you can complete your list. And at each we said good-by as we have been here so long that we are now regulars. And up to the Golden Grill for a last internet fix and more good-bys, then back to the boat in time for lunch.
After lunch we removed the awnings and were ready to head in to Bocas Marina to top off our fuel... whoops, closed between 12:00 and 2:00!
Finally we're full and heading out. Then I noticed the engine wasn't charging the batterys and the oil pressure was falling to dangerously low levels. WHAT NEXT????? At least we made our way into a beautiful anchorage where we sat in the quiet while the unusually fresh breeze blew above us.
Two hours later, after changing out the voltage regulator to no avail, I discovered a blown fuse. Replacing the fuse all was well, generator charging properly and oil pressure great! So tomorrow we're off to Eastern Panama, not sure where.
One option is Portobello, made famous as the port from which the spanish treasure ships left and where Captain Hawking and Sir Frances Drake attacked and plundered. In face just last month, divers discovered what they believe to be Drake's ship, and also think his lead casket may be aboard. But it is wide open to westerly winds and they may blow up. If so, we'll give it a pass and head further east to Isla Linton or Isla Grande, closing in on the San Blas at last!!!
11/22/2011, Bocas del Toro
Today was the big day! Yesterday we got a call saying the part had finally arrived and was en route to the airport, but too late for Monday's last flight. So this morning we were up bright and early to be at the airport (5 min walk from the dinghy dock) for the plane's arrival at 8:30 am.
After all the confusion of passengers arriving and departing was done, we finally attracted the attention of a clerk. We explained our needs and off she went. Back within 30 seconds empty-handed! "No parcel for James Lea." We expected this last hurdle, so I quickly called Joanna at the dealers in Panama City. She said yes she had personally sent it, so I handed the phone over to the clerk. We could here some excited talk, and off she trotted again, returning this time with our precious parcel!
Back at the boat it was just a matter of a couple of hours in the sweating heat on my stomach in the cockpit locker and it was installed, in time for a late lunch. But we couldn't test it as I managed to drain all the coolant out of the engine in the process. So back ashore to Chou Kay's (the local hardware store where I am now known by name). But Chou Kai closes from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm.
So another wait and back aboard at three and the engine tested perfectly! No rising oil level. The pressure was not as high as I would like, but with Bruce Montgomery's help I learned that it was adequate. Ready to go! Tomorrow some last minute shopping, top off the fuel tanks and start out!
11/19/2011, Bocas del Toro
That was the reply I got yesterday at noon. Apparently traffic in Panama City grinds to a complete halt when it rains and the possibility of the part reaching the supplier let alone them getting it to the airport is nil. But they are open on Saturday, so Saturday for sure!
Based on that, we scurried into town, got our new Zarpe, this time for El Pourvenir, the check in port in the San Blas Islands, and some last supplies to replace those we have consumed in two weeks of waiting. Then at 5 pm I got another call saying that it wasn't out for delivery after all, but still in Customs. "Their system is down", whatever that means. "But Monday for sure!"
So here we sit. We have met lots of boaters all heading back to the San Blas for the winter season, but by now most have departed. We still chat with them in the morning on the SSB, but its getting frustrating to say the least. We are mostly concerned about weather. For now the winds are favorible for sailing to the San Blas, an easterly cource. But soon the winter trades will set in with strong easterlies, right on the nose. So we want to be at least to Colon before that starts.
If I thought the parts were available, I would fly to Panama City myself to get them, but right now all I know is that they are in Panama City (or at least I think they are). But for now Monday will be the next stage in this little drama.
I can now change the oil in the generator since we have run it so much keeping the batteries charged here at anchor, but even my maintenance list has shrunk pretty much to zero. I finished varnishing the toe rail and rub strip yesterday and will tackle a couple of small spots if we sit here much longer, but I'd rather be sailing.
In the mean time we'll see a bit more of the area, maybe rent bikes again for a long trip. We'll see, but its getting frustrating.
11/17/2011, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas Day Parade
Yesterday was Bocas Day, the town's biggest celebration of the year. We landed ashore at 10:00 am to find the main street closed to vehicles and covered with people. Up at the usually quiet Golden Grill (our internet cafe) we found it crowded with lots of locals and an unusual number of
Gringos (like us) all here for Bocas Day.
As a prelude to the day, across the street in the park drummers from rival bands were holding an informal drum-fest. The one style seems to be LOUD! The din was unbelievable. People milled the streets, checking out the many craft stalls set up wherever space allowed. The official
reviewing stand remained empty.
Then we heard the first of the parade about 11:00 am, an hour late. First marching down one street then back up the next were all of Bocas' town officials, all in official dress and with banners and flags waving high. At the reviewing stand they solemnly climbed up and began the process of
saluting the delegates following who represented the many other towns and communities in the Bocas district. Then the bands started. We estimated thirty bands, most consisting only of drums, but a few with some musical instruments. Each was preceded by a group of majorettes and
followed by a gymnastics group. We think they were all from different schools. Ages ranged from pre-schoolers to high teens, some in snazzy marching outfits, some in traditional garb, but all working hard in the hot sun. As each group reached the reviewing stand, the official end of the
parade, they would halt and put on their finest show, batons twirling and flying, drums drumming madly and gymnasts tumbling on the hot pavement. So the parade became a start/stop event. But the drummers never stopped. Some times the drum corps, each with their own beats were no
more than 100' apart, so thet the majorettes and gymnasts had no idea whose tempo to march to. We watched through lunch, then again after lunch until about 3:30 pm when we had had it in the hot sun. Back at the boat the drumming drifted clearly over the water while we swam in the
late afternoon to cool off. By dinner time it appeared that the parade had finally wound down, but by seven in the evening they were off again, with drums crashing and the few bugles blasting their hardest to be heard over the drums. By 10:00 pm things finally wrapped up with a brief display
of fireworks. Today is clean-up day, I hope. The litter is everywhere. Some shop owners are obviously trying to clean up, but it's not a high priority at the best of times, so there's a lot of trash to remember the day by.
All in all, a really fun and impressive show. We estimate at least 1500 drums in 30 bands and an equal number of majorette corps together with naval officials, native groups and lots of street hawkers. Another thing we noticed is how multi-racial the parade was with Afro-descent, Chinese,
Native and Spanish cultures all blending together. The few cruisers and tourist gringos (like us) were very much the exception.
And more exciting news about my part... the distributor in Panama City has it! So it should arrive by plane here some time today... or tomorrow. But in any case we should be away in a day or two... two weeks behind on our non-schedule. But just to see the parade may have been worth the
I have added a new gallery for pics of the parade.