11 June 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
We left Providencia late in the day to sail down to the Albuqurque Cays, a couple pf small islands surrounded by an extensive reef system. They are owned by Columbia, who keeps a small contingent of navy personnel there to maintain their presence and protect the fishing grounds. Night fell as we left the mountains of Providencia in the distance and we sailed past San Andreas in the dark. San Andreas looks the opposite of Provdencia in that there are many resorts and the population is large. It was lit up like a city as we passed by in the night.
We enjoyed a pleasant sail south in 10-15 knot winds with an almost full moon lighting up the night. Daybreak found us off the northern edge of the reef, so we hove to for a while to let the sun get up a bit higher so we could see the coral. We had some waypoints to follow going in but the charts are known to be way off, so navigating by sight is very important here. As we entered the reef, we found that the waypoints were not good so we wound up navigating with Molly on the bow sighting the coral. We wound our way down to the cays, through numerous coral heads and anchored in the lee of the island. Our plotter had us about 300 yards south of our actual position. We had gotten a call from the fellows on the island and so we through the dinghy in and went in to let them check our paperwork. The Latin countries are very particular about having all the proper paperwork, especially the Zarpe’, which is the clearance to leave port and travel to your next destination. All paperwork was in order and the guys were very friendly.
In the afternoon we snorkeled around some of the heads enjoying the beautiful coral, fish and clear water. We found a couple of conch, which we put in the freezer to enjoy later. We spent a good night there and awoke early to head on south to Panama. We had waypoints for the southern entrance which turned out to be very good. Interestingly, the plotter corrected itself and began showing a correct position for the boat. I’m not sure how or why. The southern entrance was deep and with only a few well charted heads to avoid.
We were able to sail the first 25 miles but then the wind died and we motored overnight and had landfall in Panama in the early afternoon. We entered the Bocas del Drago channel and came into Bahia Almirante. Since it was late in the afternoon, we anchored in a spot called Big Bight for the night. The next morning we moved over to Bocas del Toro and pulled into the Bocas marina, where we cleared into the country. $115.00 for Customs, Immigration, Agriculture and Port Captain, and $185.00 for the cruising permit. We plan to stay in the marina for 2-3 days and then start exploring the archipelago.
For those who might be interested some waypoints for the Albuquerque Cays follow.
Northwest entrance: Outside the reef
12 11.627N: 81 52.776W
12 11.121N: 81 51.790W
12 10.195N: 81 51.284W
12 09.992N: 81 51.123W
Anchorage 12 09.776N: 81 50.919W
Going south 12 09.475N: 81 50.919W
12 09.219N: 81 51.929W
Outside the reef 12 08.438N: 51 53.049W
The north entrance should be done with good light and visibility. Even with the waypoints you will be moving around large coral heads. The south entrance is deep, and although the route comes close to some heads, it could probably be done at night if need be. The Columbian Navy guys will want to see your Zarpe’, passports, and vessel documentation. The stop is definitely worth it if you have the time.
Look for some new pictures in the gallery.