Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Portobello to Bocas del Tores, Panama (Or not!)


The first rule of sailing, as any mariner will tell you, is always wait for a good weather window before heading out. We too, know this rule, but in a moment of bravado, decided to head out from Portobello, Panama, 160 miles en route to Boca del Tores. We intended to get in front of the impending weather predicted a few days ahead, by catching a favourable wind angle and sailing to Bocas. However, the Devil plays with the best laid plans, and we awoke to a calm, clear morning which only confirmed our hopes, and so headed out at 4am.

An hour later we were sailing well with 15-20 knot winds, and rain, which continued to build over the course of the day. By late afternoon the wind had backed onto the nose we were now bogging down with a 2 1/2 knot current running against us. As night descended the waves built up to 6-9 feet with huge swells crashing against our hull in a confused sea! Our progress slowed to a crawl. Rain squalls continued to drench us throughout the night. The next day dawned and we were still far from our destination. Of course, all bad things happen in three's , and the next we knew we hit a clump of seaweed and our prop coughed and sputtered, as if it was about to quit. We decided to try to sail the last 50 miles, doubled reefed only to have 4 sail slugs on the Main shear off, making the sail quite useless. Now we were only using the Headsail, and soon realized we weren't making any real `progress, and were basically standing still! Realizing our predicament, we considered anchoring behind a small island, but could not make it there either. While stopped to consider our options we noticed we were making 4 knots back to Panama! We finally resigned ourselves to turning around. It was a relief to make the right decision, at last, and we turned our course homeward for the long slog back, this time to Shelter Bay Marina, 70 miles away and not far from where we started. With just the headsail we were making almost 9 knots!

We were granted permission to enter Colon Harbour at the Panama Canal, one of the busiest harbours in the world. It was close to midnight on our second day out. The lights of giant freighters mingled with the dock lights. In the maze of coloured lights we picked out the red and green signals of the breakwater and crept into the channel. Between rain squalls we picked our way through the tankers and joined the traffic going in and out of the channel in the pitch dark, the only tiny sailboat in their midst.
Once inside, with the waves still heaving around us, we gradually made out the yellow lights of the small anchorage, or flats, where we hoped to find shelter for the night. As we laid anchor at 2am, massive tankers and tugs were cruising by us in all directions. We turned off the engine and breathed a communal sigh of relief. Then we wrung ourselves out and took off our sopping clothes, completely exhausted and drained. After 48 hours we were almost back where we had started! What an ordeal! But we were soundly tucked away in a safe haven. All we could do was give ourselves a stern talking to, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start again with a new,( and more sensible) plan, that included allowing for the Caribbean current!

The next day we headed into the comfortable Shelter Bay Marina, where we recounted our tale to old cruiser friends on Camelot and Swift Current, and recalled that old adage…The sea truly is a harsh


Isla Providencia

Pirates - This way please!

      A little piece of Heaven fell from out of the sky one day….and they called it Providencia ('Heaven', in Spanish), and it truly was. A gem of an island situated just off the coast of Nicaragua. This heavily disputed Columbian outpost is home to approximately 4,500 Columbian citizens of Creole, Spanish and Mosquite extraction. Such a placid locale was at one time the lair of Henry Morgan, infamous pirate and notorious bad guy, robbing gold and booty from the Spaniards crossing the Atlantic. As we hiked the jungle trail to Morgan's Head we could feel the spirit of pirates long gone. The mouldering iron cannons still sit on the cliffside, threatening any intruders, and the Lady of the Sea still looks out with foreboding over a treacherous reef-infested coastline, laden with shipwrecks. Back in the sleepy village of Santa Isabella the traditional Creole music blends into Reggae and wafts over the anchorage. No one appears in any hurry to go anywhere. Life is Good.
Two for the road!

"I'm going where the sun keeps shinin', through the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backin' onto the Northeast wind, Sailin' on a summer breeze,
Skippin' over the ocean like a stone."
Midnight Cowboy


  1. Your adventures sound grand! Keep us posted.

    Nicki & John
    S/V Seychelles

  2. You happy yoyos!