Photo: Wolff... fresh cooked German bread and BBQ'd lobster...
Anchoring in the shelter of Isla Gamez was easy enough on the north side, the sea was pristine clear. We needed to make fresh water to fill our tanks and here was the idealic location. Although Boca Chica is almost a perfect anchorage, the fast moving currents there made going into the murky water dangerous and using our watermaker was questionable in terms of making safe drinking water. We knew for a fact that two of the three waterside restaurants emptied their grey-waste into the bay then relied upon the strong tidal flow through the nearby rapids to flush the anchorage twice each day. The nearby fishing village of Boca Chica no doubt did the same, so we decided it would be safer to head out into more open sea.
We had been anchored off Boca Chica for over a week now, waiting for our Panamanian cruising permit which had still not materialised from the harbourmaster in Pedregal. We had completed both customs and immigration without any problems, but legally Sänna
was not allowed to move an inch until we had all the marine paperwork completed. Talking to Carlos, the exceptionally friendly fixer who had fixed everything for us, the permit needed to come from Panama City many hours away by road. But being there in Boca Chica was no real hardship, most evenings we'd take our dinghy across to one of three eating places that provided their own landing docks, we could tie up without the infamous beach landings of Costa Rica - it was nice to eat good local food on the cheap and not dread the launch back through the breaking surf when we'd dined and wined.
The frustrating permit delay began to cause us some concern. The American ketch Singularity
anchored nearby had arrived a couple of days before us, they still had not received their permit either but had been promised by Carlos that everything was ok, it was all down to a new computer system that didn't yet work properly - and there was also worrying talk about a new virus found in bats that was killing people in China. 'Don't worry,' said Carlos, 'things will get sorted.' Then, we heard on the VHF radio from our good friend Wolff onboard his trimaran Del Sur
, he too was heading into Boca Chica. That would be nice, it would be extremely good to see Wolff again.
Our situation was fast becoming uncertain. Our immediate concern was fresh clean water, but in three weeks time I needed to be in Panama City to take a flight to England. We were still a long way north of Panama City and this delay could easily turn into a problem. Rather than sit around we decided to leave Boca Chica without our cruising permit, technically it had been approved but not yet issued. In the meantime we could head out to the secluded islands around ten miles or so to the south, stay a few days and then return when Carlos radioed to us the news that he now had our cruising permit. Of course, it never worked out like that.
The north side of Isla Gamez is paradise, we could see our anchor buried in the sandy bottom and we could land on the small island beach without the worry of breaking surf. We could swim whenever we chose, either from the beach or by simply leaping overboard. First we started up the watermaker to fill both our freshwater tanks, we were fully stocked with food enough for a month and Wolff radioed on the VHF that he would join us there off Gamez by mid-morning. This was the dreamlike existence that made this sometimes hard and dangerous lifestyle worthwhile. No threatening storms or sheltering from high winds, no lightening or hurricanes to worry about, just a daily peaceful existence in warm sunshine with almost idealic temperatures.
Wolff anchored around three boat lengths away. He called up to say that he'd baked fresh bread earlier in the morning, I invited him over saying that we still had ample supplies of excellent organic Guatemalan coffee and good English marmalade that would go nice with his bread - which we by now knew Wolff had perfected into a fine culinary art form. It would be a fine mid-morning breakfast the three of us. Half way through the bread and coffee, when we sat there all content and full, there was banging on the hull. Dave leaned outboard to find a single lone fishermen sitting in his small one-man panga. He had fresh caught lobsters in a bin container, he'd just hauled a dozen or so out of the sea and asked if we would like to take a couple off his hands. We took three, they were still alive, we could cook them fresh. He would only take five dollars from us - which for three good sized fresh lobsters convinced us these local fishermen were exceptionally nice people. Wolff suggested that we took them ashore in the evening with wine and beer, we could barbecue them on the beach using the ample supplies of driftwood. Fantastic! This was turning into an enjoyable adventure, we all three sat there talking, happy and content.
Everything then seemed to change like a fast gathering storm cloud. The Panamanian navy patrol boat came and dropped anchor right next to us. Too close, we thought, we nearly collided. 'Shit', said Wolff, 'we're anchored here in a protected marine park, where swimming, fishing and lobster hunting is banned... and you two don't have a cruising permit.'
'Sheeeet,' Carlos said on the radio, when I called him to ask if our cruising permit had arrived because the navy was here. There was still no sign of our permit, said Carlos. In fact, the navy never bothered us, Dave took our dinghy over to their patrol boat to offer them a chunk of Wolff's bread and marmalade with a couple of bottles of beer. They were fine, they didn't seem to be overly concerned though it was clear they would be staying there overnight alongside us. In the evening we still went ashore to barbecue the lobsters, the navy boys waved and we made fried potatoes with onions and beetroot - a German speciality apparently. We drank beer and wine while watching the sunset over the nearby Islas Paridas before making our way back late in the night well under the influence of alcohol.
In the morning we were woken by more banging on the hull. I stuck my head out to see the navy, who had brought over their own version of warm fresh bread.
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