Costa Rica to Panama
31 January 2013
ADVENTURE # 8 COSTA RICA TO PANAMA
BAHIA DEL COCO - November 17, 2012
After sailing 6 days and nights we arrived at Bahia de Coco in Costa Rica. The feared Gulf of Tehauntapec is behind us and the Gulf of Papagayo did not beat Sea Whisper too badly…25-30 knot winds. The most amazing part of the Papagayo passage was the foamy phosphorescence bubbling everywhere as Sea Whisper sailed hard through the steep dark waves. For a moment we thought we were under ‘the 60’s black lights!’ The mighty waves, the unrelenting wake and the salty spray spewed white fire as far as the eye could see. The night passed and we anchored at first light… almost 1000 miles non stop. We planned to check in but, being a Saturday, the officials were having a day off. We strolled through the streets, ate pizza and gelato. The place felt like an American seaside town with lots of souvenirs, motorized carts, bicycles and English speaking people in the stores. We bought food from the Mercado and buns from a lady on the street. It was time for Sea Whisper to press on.
BAHIA GOLFITO - November 20, 2012
This is a place where it rained cats and dogs! Built by the United Fruit Company, this company town and banana plantation covering thousands of acres was thriving from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Cartons of bananas could be picked up floating in the bay when ships were being loaded. The town is set at the bottom of a mountainous jungle. The rain came down the mountain in torrents. Golfito has more rain than anywhere on the Pacific Coast. During torrential downpours we completed official entry and clearance.
BEAT UP BY A FISH
We were lucky to catch an 18 lb. shiny yellow Dorado(Mahi-Mahi) in Panamanian waters. Of course it is when we are sailing. So, with the boat heeling, we landed this guy onto the back deck! He was a golden and shining beauty. Of course I was screaming with excitement as this handsome fish flopped around. Lionel quickly told me I had to put a towel over its eyes and then it would calm down. While I held my grip Lionel was collecting the necessary implements to dissect him. Mr. Dorado kept quivering….and then his long endless tail suddenly stood up and whacked me on the bridge of my nose, my thigh and my back!! I thought my nose was broken. I let out a mega scream in pain, and fearing that this powerful fish would leap back into the water. I hung on for dear life! Lionel came running. We got the towel back over his eyes and I held him down…no way our dinner was going to escape! He finally expired as he turned bluish green. That evening we ate the best fish tacos ever!!!! My nose was still tender…mugged by a fish.
OUR FRIEND DOMINGO
On November 25, 2012 we anchored in Bahia Honda. This large bay was so peaceful and scenic with the kindest wide-smiling Panamanian living in a little grass hut in the jungle with 3 generations of his family. Domingo greeted us in his dugout with a big ‘Buenos Dias’ and his toothless smile along with one of his granddaughters shortly after we anchored. His gestures were so kind and his words were softly and slowly spoken. We exchanged Spanish, some English, hand gestures and big smiles and had lots of laughs. ‘Manana’…he returned with his granddaughter in his Ulu. A beautiful large wooden tray covered with a huge banana leaf presented the fruits and vegetables from his garden. With ‘dollars’ we purchased avocados, yucca, bananas and peppers. My eyes were glued to the gorgeous wooden tray. Disa could see I was excited about the wooden tray her grandfather had carved. He handed it to me. I loved it instantly. I was brave enough to ask if it could be for sale. Cuanto cuesta esto? Domingo paused for a moment. I wasn’t sure if he really wanted to part with it. “Veinte cinco” “Si, si,” I enunciated. My new wooden tray is a treasure from Domingo and Bahia Honda.
PANAMA, PANAMA….much more than a canal
About 3 million years ago the land between South America and North America became a bridge. About 40,000 years ago migrants from Asia traveled across the Bering Strait to the Isthmus of Panama, the land that bridges the Americas. Descendants of these humans, over the years, left distinct traces of their cultures. They cultivated corn and beans, and today corn and beans remain the main stay of the Panamanian diet.
Columbus arrived in Panama waters in the early 1500’s followed by Balboa and Pedrarias who pillaged and murdered and beheaded Balboa.
PIRATES: Gold and Silver from Peru became a thriving business in the 1500 and 1600’s. Sir Francis Drake and Sir Henry Morgan made their fortunes. ARRRRR! In Portobello, where the riches of South and Central America were transported we viewed the forts and the enormous canons and artillery in the harbour where these feared pirates launched their attacks. Today the bold ruins of warfare dominate the entrance to Portobello. We walked about the remains of the 4 forts, their gun wells and canons in bewilderment. We found it hard to imagine this once pillaging, murderous and looting land with tons of gold and silver that was worth millions of pesos. Portobello today is a sleepy little town with a mini market that does laundry and sells gasoline.
ARRIVING IN PANAMA , December 1, 2013
After sailing 2400 nm. from la Paz, Mexico Sea Whisper with her Panamanian flag flying dropped the hook in Bahia del Balboa at the Balboa Yacht club. We soon became familiar with our new landfall as we, firstly, rested up and then de-salted the boat, did the laundry and launched into the clearing-in and cruising permit requirement, with the Immigration officials in this new country. And we were expecting the arrival of our friends from Canada Wil and Barb on December 5th. Making arrangements for our Canal transit was a big item on our list also.
THE PANAMA PEOPLE
Panama was named by Pedrarias Davila. It means Plenty of Fish. There are over 3 million people living in Panama originating from many lands. There are Spanish settlers, Indians from the mountains, West Indians who came to help dig the canal, Europeans, Chinese and East Indians.
CASCO ANTIQUE – The Old Quarter
The first night we arrived we flagged down a taxi to take us to this walled city. It was founded in 1673 on a promontory across from the original city. Now it is a World Heritage site. What an attraction! The balconied narrow streets, old stone 3 and 4 story buildings, red tile roofs, wrought-ironed railings with hot pink and tangerine bougainvillea spilling onto the walk ways, historic squares, churches, ruins and the Presidential Palace captured us with feelings of ‘awe’. It is being restored to its Colonial beauty. The view to the city across the bay from ‘CASCO ANTIQUE’ to the high-rise district of Punta Pacifica was a sight to behold….the old and the new and the beautiful blue Pacific. Breathtaking! When Barb and Wil arrived we visited CASCO ANTIQUE again. They too loved it. The trendy cafes, galleries and specialty shops got to recognize the ‘4 Canadians’ as we touted around our backpacks and cameras in search of a fine café con lache.or a tasty burrito. “Seniorita, usted gustar sombrero?” a young male shop keeper asked us. The ‘Dos Barbara’s” as we became known, ended up buying dos beautiful straw sombreros! Later we dined on pasta and risotto at a lovely restaurant ‘Veggie Moon’ a delightful new trendy bistro. After dinner we discovered the Theatro Nacional and viewed an amazing dance festival. CASCO ANTIGUO…is a lovely little place sharing a mixture of Spanish and French Heritage. When we return to Panama we’ll go to visit the Golden Altar in Iglesia San Jose where a huge altar was painted black to be concealed from the pirate Sir Henry Morgan.
It wasn’t long before we found a taxi driver we liked…Eric, a young guy who had a great smile, nice clean taxi, knew the city well, didn’t drive like a mad man and who could cope with our ‘bad’ Spanish. Eric drove us to the OLD TOWN to do some shopping in Avenida Central. Here we found Panama’s merchants selling their products; everything from fabric to boa constrictors. There is a rhythm and vitality on this old-established pedestrian ‘strada’. We walk with the crowds of Mestizo, the blended origins of peoples in most of Latin America. At ‘Pico, Pico’ we meet Ezra, the owner of a huge fabric shop. Ezra takes the order to repair our mizzen sail and the elastic in my bathing suits! We walk through the crowds passing by the vendors, the food stalls, the music, all the colour, the smells, the fever of a big city, the frenzy everywhere you look. It was all there in the blazing Panamanian sun. In a nearby alley, Lionel finds a salon and a guy to cut his hair. 45 minutes later and a lot of fussing from me to make sure he doesn’t get scalped, the hairdresser charges $4.00. The best hair cut Lionel has ever had! And then to the Mercado to provision Sea Whisper. We managed to fill our shopping bags with good food despite our challenge reading Spanish labels. So challenging when I got back to the boat I found out that I had bought bird seed instead of quinoa! It makes for a good story. Back to my Spanish lessons.
EL CANAL DE PANAMA
Imagine ships being lifted up 85 ft. gliding through massive locks passing by a rain forest. Before our transit we visited the ‘Visitors Centre’ at Miraflores locks. Here we learned more about this engineering wonder of the world and how 767 miles of Pacific coastline and 477 miles of Caribbean (Atlantic) coastline have been linked together by what National Geographic claims to be the 5th out of the top 100 places to visit in the world…..The Panama canal.
1850 Panama railway construction began. In 1855 the Panama Railway opened after 10,000 casualties and a cost of 8 million dollars.
1879 A French company started the construction of the Panama Canal. Due to diseases, harsh climate and terrain the project collapsed in 1889 with the loss of 20,000 lives and $205,000,000 US.
1894 Another French company started the canal project but had trouble with funding and went bankrupt.
1903 President Roosevelt of U.S.A. wanted the canal route and signed a treaty involving Panama and Columbia. The canal took 10 years to build with a team of 75,000 men and women at a cost of $400 million dollars.
1914 The Panama Canal opened
Transits to date…850,000 with flags of about70 nations.
Major expansion for a 3rd set of locks currently underway.
The canal is 50 miles long.
Ships are in the canal about 15 hours.
There are 3 sets of lockages: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun
Lock chambers are 1000 ft. long and 110 feet wide.
There are 3 types of lockages for vessels under 125 ft. Center, sidewall and alongside an ACP tug.
Small vessels are positioned behind large ships going up and ahead locking down.
Each vessel requires 4 line-handlers, a master and the pilot who is provided by the Panama Canal Authority
SEA WHISPER’S TRANSIT, December 8, 2012
There were procedures and fees to complete prior to the transit. Our Agent, Stanley, handled all the paperwork and ran back and forth to the boat giving us instructions and collecting fees for tolls, pilotage and wharfage. 4 – 125 ft. lines and sufficient fenders were delivered to the boat. Sea Whisper was measured by another official, with a final request “It is your responsibility to provide a very special meal for the Pilot and the line-handlers during the tansit.” Lionel responded affirmatively, “Yes, it won’t be a problem. My wife likes to cook.”
In the morning of December 8th, with everything in order, we were up at the crack of dawn with our friends Barb, Wil, myself and another cruiser, as line-handlers and our competent skipper and master, Lionel. With our fearless pilot Fernando onboard, our capable crew and our lavish lunch we were ready. Let the show begin! Under the Bridge of the Americas to Miraflora Locks Sea Whisper motored. We soon learned that Sea Whisper would be positioned along side an ACP tug. Motoring to the port side of the tug, taking our instructions from Fernando we all took our positions and tied bow, stern and spring lines in place. There was action and excitement from everywhere: the throwing of lines with monkey fists by the men on the canal wall, the cheering and waving from the spectators at the Observation Tower at Miraflora Lock, Sea Whispers bold and big Canadian flag flying so proudly, donkey engines whizzing up and down the tracks, and ships in the canal jockeying into their position. Act 1 was well under way.
SEA WHISPER COMPLETES HER 3rd PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT
After 10 ½ hours locking up a total of 85 feet, sailing 38 nm through Gatun Lake(one of the largest man made lakes in the world) and locking down Sea Whisper powered into the Caribbean. And as a finale to our terrific transit I, and my friend Barb, poured bottles of water from the Pacific into the Atlantic.
We are looking forward, with excitement, to explore the remote archipelago of the San Blas Islands(Kuna Yale) and the Kunas and their villages. Sailing to Cartagena, Columbia will be another cruising destination.
Thank you for your emails and news from home.
Lionel and Barbara,
SV Sea Whisper