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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
East Las Perlas
05/09/2008, Isla Espiritu Santo

We had a relaxing morning in Contadora as we prepped the boat for a trip farther south into the islands. Low tide was around noon so we left the anchorage around 13:00 as things flooded in. As things have been going for the last few days the wind was light and variable. So we motor sailed southeast toward the eat side of Isla del Rey, the largest island in the Las Perlas group.

The sky was pretty heavily overcast but the scenery was still beautiful. We had to keep a sharp eye on the water as there were lots of large pieces of wood and even trees floating around near the islands.

We motor sailed in the flat waters for a few hours and came to Isla Espiritu Santo. We were going to go down a little farther to Isla Canas but Espiritu Santo looked so nice we decided to pitch it in there. The water outside was pretty flat but back up behind Espiritu Santo it was dead calm. We dropped the anchor but didn't know exactly which direction to set it in. The strongest winds come north and south and we had a breeze from the west so we set up west.

A classic mono hull and a catamaran shared the large anchorage with us. We enjoyed a nice pasta dinner (the fishermen had been shut out on the way over for the first time in the Pacific) and a beautiful view nestled in amongst the islands.

05/08/2008, Contadora, Las Perlas

We took a down day today. I was feeling a lot better after a good nights sleep, an obnoxious grinding in my right side from time to time as the bones move around but otherwise sound and hail. The Offshore Doctor says breath deeply and take it easy for a week or 6. Every time I tried to clean up a line or straighten up a locker, Ed or Nobu would push me out of the way and do it for me. I could get used to this.

It was a nice calm, but hot, day in the Contadora anchorage. The wind normally blows gently from the north but it can come from any direction as the ITCZ moves around. You also have tidal currents that over power the wind running along the island.

It is tricky finding a spot to anchor in close because there are moorings everywhere. There are a few spots in the field you can hook up but you have to watch how you swing so that you don't wrap a mooring line around your rudder. The moorings range from a big ship float to tires. I wouldn't tie up to one without diving on it. The air strip approach is also right over the area so you have to keep big sticks out of the flight path.

We have been tracking weather with an eye toward shooting across to the Galapagos. The ITCZ is at about 5 degrees north which is 3 degrees south of our current position. The ITCZ represents no weather or disturbed weather depending on your luck. We have been hearing distant thunder for the past couple days but nothing too close. As we move south we'll get closer to the disturbance.

The next couple of days have a little too much wind on the nose in the Bay of Panama for a fun trip out to the Galapagos. The GFS GRIBs (Gridded Binary files used to visualize weather over an area) show 20 right at us on Saturday and the GFS is always 5 knots shy of the real wind. Sunday things look like they will settle down to 10 knots or less on the nose, which is often about as good as it gets for the early part of that trip. Tomorrow we will start moving into position so that we can jump on Sunday if the weather follows through.

Contadora Ups and Downs
05/07/2008, Contadora, Las Perlas

Ed and Nobu have decided to give me some work upgrading their SCUBA certs. Ed did a lot stamina skills today for his Dive Master rating. I had to tie a rope to him for the float test so that the current didn't carry him to the next island. We even got some underwater work done at a little sandy patch we found in the murky water.

After a hard day of dive training we went ashore for lunch. We didn't really want to eat lunch at the restaurant, the people are nice and the place is beautiful but the food They do have pretty good WIFI though so we felt obliged to eat there in conjunction with our four way laptop invasion. After a relaxing afternoon online we rented a golf cart and toured around Contadora. We saw lots of nice vacation homes (they say the Shaw of Iran lived here after he split the middle east), a little store with a respectable stock, a dive shop (surprising given the 0 viz), the airport (props only please) and even a medical clinic. Ed got his SCUBA medical signed off for free at the clinic, I suppose due to the Panama social medicine bit. It was a fun day of exploration.

With the big tides there are no usable docks on Contadora. We left Shooting Star anchored outside of the low tide break so I had to swim for it when we got back to the beach. It turned out that I had the easy part. The waves were breaking pretty big as I approached the beach. Ed and Nobu had to ferry the laptops out to the dink with the waves often going over their heads as they held the backpacks and briefcases aloft. Everyone ultimately made it into the dingy and the laptops were all nice and dry if the people weren't.

Back at the boat everyone was shutting down for the night and I went up on deck to secure some things. I left the bright cabin stepped up onto the side deck in the pitch black overcast moonless night, found the aft cabin hatch with my foot, stepped over it and right into the open hatch. The hatch was not closed it was open and laying flat on the deck. Taken totally by surprise the first thing to make contact with the rim of the opening as my leg plunged down into the cabin was my ribs.

The hatch hinge was not holding up so laying the hatch flat was the only way to get air into the cabin on a hot night. I guess I am used to finding things where I leave them, with guest aboard this is a bad assumption. Certainly all my fault and quite avoidable. A few broken ribs later I decided to hit the hay and rest up. Nothing you can do about broken ribs but suck it up.

Boat Yoga
05/06/2008, Isla Contadora

Ed has been conducting Yoga lessons on the fore deck. It is a lot of fun but sometimes he gets a little exotic for his newb students. Our favorite so far is the Ten Tibetans, ten exercises that include whirling like a Dervish.

We headed north today in the afternoon on the rising tide. Our goal was Contadora the one fully inhabited island in the Las Perlas. We have since discovered a large settlement on Isla del Rey, the largest island. That seems to be the extent of civilization here. Contadora is pretty fully built out but it is still very quaint. There are some lovely restaurants that are very romantic but unfortunately the food could get an upgrade by having Denny's cater. There is an airstrip with a couple of commercial flights a day and some beautiful beaches and little hotels as well.

As the tide began to fall the swell on the calm little beach began to get a little interesting. We decided to try our first beach landing with Shooting Star and have dinner at the Restaurant Romantico. I can say several complementary things about the Walker Bay at this point. First it is very light, second it has a little keel that keeps is tracking and third you could drive it right onto the beach before having to pull up the little 8hp.

Shooting Star is a much more tricky affair. First if you stop the motor you lose all directional control. Second if you head for the beach you need to pop up the motor sooner because it is a big 25hp and you are facing away from it to start with when steering. Third there are a lot of expensive bit, like a battery and a console, that don't fair well under water (Little Star had no such issues). Fourth the first wave that comes along once you have the motor up is going to turn you side ways. At this point you are happy that you have 18 inch tubes and only got really wet instead of turtled.

So as we turned sideways Nobu went over, I held onto the outboard, Ed jumped out and Hideko laughed at us. The plan was for Ed and Nobu to jump out and drag us up while I stowed the outboard. Then we would all jump out and haul the boat up on the beach. We got the last part right.

The restaurant has a giant chess set on the front porch, the kind with pieces that come up to you waist. Ed and I had a match while we dried off. It reminded me of my old chess opponent Richard, who is the last person I had played with prior.

When 7PM rolled around we announced ourselves at the restaurant in our wet attire but still tried to look respectable. We were seated and enjoyed a wonderful view of the anchorage and the growing beach as the tide went out. Little Star was a bear to drag on a beach because of the wheel in the keel, nice on the dock, like a Danforth in the sand. Shooting Star was, happily, much easier to drag on the beach with its fairly flat bottom. Good thing because the beach turned out to be quite large at low tide.

Isla Bayoneta
05/05/2008, More Sushi

We got underway from Taboga at around 09:30. The sky was pretty overcast and there wasn't a lot of wind. The ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone where the northern hemisphere winds and the southern hemisphere winds meet) is right on top of us and moving south, which means no wind and possible thunder storms. Always nice to avoid the ITCZ unless you're trying to sail against the prevailing winds

We motor sailed southeast to Isla Bayoneta in the Las Perlas and arrived at around 16:00. On the way Hideko caught a nice Mackerel and Ed caught a nice Tuna. It was Sushi for dinner, again, and no one was complaining.

Coming into the Bayoneta anchorage required either really slow driving by the sounder or slow driving by the sound with frequent reference to the Bauhaus Panama Guide. The Navionics charts here are not too bad but still not detailed enough for close quarters work. The visibility in the Las Perlas at present is nil. Ed and I worked on the bottom a bit and you could make things out maybe 5 feet away with a mask. There are also lots of reefs here and they are hard rock, not good for the bottom paint. The tide is critical as well. We snuck into our watery anchorage at high tide and six hours later there were islands around us that didn't exist when we came in. It was a new moon and the tide swing was 17 feet. There was a big rocky island with a nice sandy beach maybe 8 feet out of the water that we could have sailed over at high tide.

Taboga Tour
05/04/2008, Taboga

We motored in a flat calm from La Playita to Taboga yesterday. Taboga is a little resort island about 7 miles from Flamenco Island at the end of the Amador Causeway. There's a lot of junk in the water not to mention ships anchored as far as ten miles off of the point. It is quite a sight.

On the way in we caught a small black fin tuna. It made perfect sushi for four.

After a nice night in the main Taboga anchorage we took a dinghy ride ashore. Taboga is a weekend spot for wealthy Panamanians and has a vacationy feel to it. There are a few vacation villa rentals, a few hotels and several eateries.

We took the opportunity to hike up to the top of the highest spot on Taboga. It was a 2 hour round trip on a hot day, but it was well worth it. The views of the vast Bay of Panama were spectacular. We could see Panama City in the hazy distance and big ships anchored everywhere.

We walked back into town along the main road, which is large enough for a golf cart or a Kawasaki Mule. We had lunch at a little place along the way which served mediocre food very very slowly. Hideko ordered a Pipas, which is a young coconut. They drill a hole in the top and pop a straw in for you. It was wonderful. We had only had the milk of mature brown coconuts previously. There is a surprising amount of sweet juice in the young coconut and it was nice and cold because they pile the coconuts up in the fridge (not very efficient space wise but great for the Pipas buyers).

After lunch we took a dinghy ride around Taboga. It is a pretty island and very natural outside of the main village. It was fun to be able to blast on a plane with four adults aboard. Shooting Star is fast, if a little bumpy.

Back at the boat we took the afternoon off. Nobu took a nap in the hammock hung between the bows and Ed did some reading. Hideko and I just relaxed and did odds and ends.

It was a nice day and our last in sight of the mainland. Tomorrow we'll be off to the Las Perlas.

Welding on the Chocks
05/03/2008, La Playita

We left the marina this morning around 9AM and went around the point to La Playita, the main cruiser anchorage. We had some new chocks made by a Swiss/German guy named Ali. His is a real character. He did quite a nice job on our chocks. We rafted up to his boat so that he could finish the welding and polish things up. We are now anchored out again for the fist time in some days! Nice to be floating free. The rain looks to be closing in so I'm not sure if we'll be of to Taboga or the Las Perlas today but we are on our way all the same.


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