Fishing Tourny in Las Perlas
20 August 2007 | Contadora Island, Las Perlas Islands, Panama
After finishing the canal transit, which was fortunately uneventful, yet still very exciting, we quickly secured the boat on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht club, and hopped in a taxi, anxious to celebrate our crossing and the milestone it represents. The hotel was newly constructed, had neon blue LED lights everywhere, and a modern, art-deco feel to it. The whole thing was decorated like a snooty bar in West Hollywood. We spent time in the rooftop pool and Jacuzzi, ordered room-service appetizers which were soooooo delightful, and had long hot showers with unlimited water.
We continue to have water-maker problems, which requires us to ration water aboard. I hate this, especially when feeling "foggy in the morning", hot, tired, or just plain crappy. Water is my best friend in the heat, especially when I'm working hard on deck, bumping my head on something new every hour or so, and on a constant, wobbly surface. The water-maker was accidentally flushed with chlorinated water while in Shelter Bay Marina in Colon. This caused the small membrane, which filters out the tiny salt particles, to fail and not filter adequately. Our water's salinity level reads approximately 1000 parts per million at the present moment. The system is supposed to function at 500 parts per million, so we are consuming about twice the amount of salt when drinking water. This really isn't a big deal as the U.S. Government considers anything under 950 ppm acceptable and safe. You cannot taste the difference and we have no fear of water-borne bacteria as the salt molecules are smaller than the bacteria we filter. Regardless, we ordered a new membrane from Spectra and plan to install it when we arrive back in Panama City.
The shower head in the hotel was one of those large dinner plate sized ones that almost scared me when I first got in. I'd been used to showering with a nozzle the size of the kitchen sink, conserving every possible drip of water, so this was a foreign and exciting new feeling. I threw on some jeans, closed toed shoes (my new deck loafers), and a light-weight colored shirt. I felt great and was going to bring sexy back.
We were treated to dinner at La Posta which was an old building constructed in the early 1900's. It had burnt down twice, been owned by the Columbia cartel, and was beautifully renovated and preserved. The original tiles were of spectacular color and design while the timber was painted a bright white which provided a crisp and clean interior feel. Part of the building had been built with wood from shipwrecks which I found fascinating. They cook all of their fresh fish on a wood-fired grill and had the wood stacked in piles just outside the kitchen and visible to the diners. Our friend Greg frequently dines at this restaurant and had met the owner a few times. We arrived for dinner around 9 pm and still had to wait for a table. While we enjoyed a drink at the bar, the owner came over to say hello. We got to talking and informed him of Chris and Julie's circumnavigation. He quickly took interest our journey and began talking of boats, restaurants, and living around the world. Apparently the owner was a big fan of old yachts and had spent years restoring a wooden sailboat in Maine. We were quickly seated at the best table in the restaurant and ordered appetizers, wine, and our entrees. I ordered seared Tuna with a brown rice and feta salad, and was really happy with it. We had red wine and enjoyed talking into the late evening.
We arose early and headed out for Las Perlas Islands. The ride out to there (about 50 miles offshore) was just plain awesome. Initially I didn't feel too hot, which was most likely because I was so full from the buffet breakfast back at the hotel, but quickly got comfortable once we set the sails, which caused the boat to heel, settle to one side, and stabilize. The winds blew quite nicely at about 10-15 knots and pushed us in the right direction which was an added bonus. We quickly approached a squall in front of us and the winds picked up significantly. Fortunately the squall had already passed, so we only caught the tail end of it. Whales breached off our starboard beam and we could see blow-spots for a bout 20 minutes or so. There were probably 3-5 whales in the area and we tried to get a close as possible. Unfortunately we had to redirect our heading to avoid going through the middle of the squall, which often times contains crazy electricity, which just plain freaks everyone out on a sailboat. I'm not sure what type of whales they were, but believe they were Humpbacks or Grays. I don't believe this is consistent with their migratory pattern, and plan to research this more once back on shore and with internet access. We also saw lots of dolphins, which I cannot see getting old or boring any time in the near future.
The fishing was nothing short of phenomenal, and we quickly hooked two nice-sized, Spotted Mackeral, which made killer ceviche that night. I landed a 20+ lb Skipjack Tuna (which was a great fight) and one small Dorado, which provided us with a wonderful meal. We let the Tuna go once we got him to the boat as we already had enough fish to eat that night and will clearly catch more anytime we are offshore. Skipjack Tuna doesn't make for great eating, although I can make any fish taste good and can guarantee the fish would have tasted slightly better than tuna out of can, which I think is great.
Upon arriving to the Islands we were greeted by a lean and scary looking Panamanian islander in a dugout canoe. I was setting the anchor and on the bow when he arrived and could not understand anything he was saying. Andrew smiled and tried to look friendly. Go figure. I figured he was asking for money as we were anchored just outside the village, but then realized he was selling all different sorts of fruit, fish, and best of all, the local cash-crop, Panamanian pot. We put in an order for fresh fruit and the man returned a few hours later with a canoe full (literally) of limes, mangos, bananas (which I was soooooo excited about), papayas, hot peppers, and yucca, which are like potatoes. We paid $5 bucks for the entire thing and probably would have paid $25 or more in the states. The mangos were fresh and ripe and made an excellent salsa for our fish dinner. We passed on the pot, but had a good time laughing about through the night. I prefer to see Panama via yacht rather than a window with steel bars.
We wrapped the fish in foil with some light seasoning, peppers, onions, and lime. They baked on the grill for about 8 minutes and came out perfect, moist and fluffy with perfect flavor. We had black beans, rice, and red wine. Greg and Chris got into finance talk after dinner, so I excused myself and sat up on deck and listened to the Shawshank Redemption soundtrack and glazed at the stars. I ended up falling asleep on the deck and retired down to the port settee where I slept for the night.
The next day was the conclusion of the fishing tournament which was being held on Contadora Island, just a few miles from where we first anchored. We trolled over to the island and I hooked something very big and very strong. Booyah!! The fish ran harder than I expected and didn't stop for a good while. I was concerned that whatever the hell was on the other side of the line would spool it (run away until all the line runs out) and ruin our day. Fortunately it stopped running after a minute or so. The rod was fiercely bent over with a large amount of tension. I did a few manly chest pumps and got to a reelin!! I reeled and reeled and reeled while Chris did a brilliant job keeping the transom of the boat in the proper position. Landing a large fish on a sailboat is no easy task as it is difficult to keep the fish out of the rudder (which is almost 9 feet long on this boat), prop (which is quite exposed), and keel. The fish eventually tired after about 20 minutes of running and fighting. The anticipation and excitement was a total rush. We had the video camera going and all. It finally surfaced and was ready for the gaff, which is a critical part. Chris tried to gaff the monster Jack (35-40 lbs) and actually dislocated his shoulder in his heroic attempt. Fortunately he was able to get his shoulder back in place and is okay. Our friend Greg stepped in and laid a beautiful hook right over the fish's backbone. We landed it!! We joked about bringing the fish into the tournament and bragged about landing such a large fish on a sailboat.
We cleaned it up and have plenty of fish to last for a while. The tournament party was that night, so we headed ashore and watched the weigh-ins. It was a great party with all sorts of interesting and nice Central American fisherman. We're back in Panama City to take care of a few items, but plan on heading back to the Pearl Islands for at least a week or so of exploring. And, of course, a little more fishing.