Cruising with Playpen
Leg 2 - Installment 9
Bahia Honda to Panama 3/18/03 to 3/26/03
3/18/03 Bahia Honda to Isla Cebaco 7* 29.56N 81* 13.40W 24nm 3 ¾ hr
We cruised the 24nm to Isla Cebaco under dark clouds. It was dramatically pretty with the lush hills, rocks, and white beaches on a gray/black background. Cebaco was a nice anchorage, and we relaxed and swam a bit. Just after dinner the swells began and continued through the night. We’d had much worse, but this wasn’t fun.
3/19-20/03 Cebaco to Isla del Rey 8* 13.85N 78*54.25W 170nm 24 3/4hrs
We headed for an anchorage about 50nm away, but decided it too would be rolly; so we opted for an overnighter to the Las Perlas Islands. The day began quite sloppily as we rolled in heavy short seas—Bonine time. We cruised south to 7* 11" N—our southernmost point before turning north. Capt. Fred is happy to be facing north! By sunset the seas had calmed, and we navigated under clouds backlit by the full moon.
3/20/03 Isla del Rey
We anchored around the southern tip of the island in calm water and a gentle breeze—perfect nap conditions! After our rest we traded Cokes for red snapper, and I decided to explore the island. Our guide book said, "the reason to anchor here is the access to the spectacular beach and shore along the south side of Punta de Cocos." I armed myself with a copy of the map and a walkie talkie and took off kayaking for the Coast Guard Station where I’d presumably find the 1st path on my journey. Landing at the station was a piece of cake except that I was greeted by an angry little teeth-baring dog. A man came down the steps and positioned himself between me and the dog, and motioned for me to come ashore. I followed him up the steps and asked directions to the ocean. He pointed, handed me a machete and said, "for the serpentinas, s s s ." I said, "Huh?" He said, "Sss, serpentinas" and demonstrated how to hack at snakes with the machete. I said, "Never mind!" He showed me a "safe" path in the other direction along a bluff overlooking the anchorage. I took some pictures, narrowly avoided the mad dog, and paddled back to sea. The CG Stations appeared to have been abandoned. The wire at the windows was ripped away, laundry hung outside, and Mad Dog was accompanied by 3 men in swimsuits. A drug hangout? No more lone exploring for me! While I was gone Fred met a pistol-packing native on a panga who came to ask for ice. After several fishmongers, this was the last straw. We no longer welcome pangas. We ate a snapper dinner, worked on photos, watched the stars, locked the boat securely, and went to bed.
3/21/03 Isla del Rey to Contadora 8*37.99N 79*02.32W 36.6nm 5 ½ hr
We awoke to pea-soup fog that burned off during breakfast. We considered staying put and working on the boat, but Annie and Alyssa decided to move; so we weighed anchor and slowly cruised the sunny, hot coast of Isla del Rey to the south side of Contadora. The spring high tides had cleaned out the jungle debris, and we dodged logs most of the way. The south side was open to the swells; so we moseyed around to the north, anchored in 60’ of water and went ashore with Don, Ann, Chris, and Len for my birthday dinner.
3/22/03 Contadora to Isla Tobago 8* 47.71 N 79*31.22W 33nm 5 1/2hr.
We opted for a change of scenery and leisurely motored over to Isla Tobago. It was a charming seaside port reminiscent of Green Turtle, Bahamas. The narrow streets were for a golf cart and the pick-up truck bus. The ferry went to and from Panama City bringing weekend visitors from the big city. On our stroll through town we passed the 2nd oldest church in the Americas. It was lovely inside with icons, statues, murals, and lots of candles. We also encountered a grandpa with some little ones. He asked if we were looking for "comida" (a meal). He strongly suggested a particular restaurant on top of the hill and offered to show us the way. We wanted to stroll some more and told him we’d go there later. When we got there we discovered Grandpa was the proprietor. We ate Chinese! It was delicious, and we had an informative time with the only other couple in the restaurant. She was Panamanian; he was Dutch, and they were here on holiday. She told us the word on the street was that Bush was a warmonger and shouldn’t have invaded without international support. The Panamanians claimed to have had Noriega ready to hand over, but the U.S. wanted to invade and sent 3000 troops who killed 30,000 natives and took only Noriega, leaving the rest of the bad guys. Panamanians see the same pattern in Iraq. True or not, that’s their perception; but we’ve not encountered any anti-U.S. sentiments. It’s heartening to receive email from home telling us that most are in agreement with Bush. We hear very little here, and it’s biased. After dinner we headed back to the boat for an annoying night. The loud, wild, vibrating "music" from shore kept us awake until 0200; then the roosters started at 0600. We were ready to go!
3/23/03 Isla Tobago to Balboa, Panama 8* 54.72N 79* 31.22W 8nm 1 ½ hr
Annie & Alyssa had an Elvis Night—rockin’&rollin’; so we were all anxious to go. We cruised toward Balboa with views of the Panama City skyline (like any big city) and the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North America to South America. It was quite exciting to be getting so close. We secured at Flamenco Marina behind a breakwater. The marina consists of a fuel dock (completely out of fuel), fresh water and bollards. At the head of the pier is a developing complex of restaurants and shops. All of this is located at the end of the peninsula that separates the Bay of Panama from the entrance to the canal. It’s a beautiful walk between the waterways with views everywhere.
Pete Stevens, our canal agent, came to begin the paperwork cha-cha and brief us on procedures. The ad-measurer measured us coming up with 2" more than Capt. Fred. We went to a very nice supermarket and provisioned for the next month (we hope). After dinner the 6 of us gathered on our back deck for popcorn and a movie. Nice, relaxing day.
Capt. Fred changed all the oils in the engine room, and then Ann & Don joined us for a foray into downtown. We went to a chart store to get Cuba charts (just in case) and then to the Panama Canal Museum—lots of info. Back at the marina we went to the Italian restaurant and afterward convened for "Captain Ron" on the back deck.
This was fuel day. The marina filled their tanks and then the 2 tugs, Playpen, and the 140’ brand new Feadship, Andiamo all fueled. Ann, Don, Fred & I took a taxi to the Mira Flores lock where we watched the Dawn Princess and a fuel tanker lock through. We had previously seen the Dawn Princess in Ketchikan, Alaska—small world, again. It was interesting to see the locks work from the land and to get a little more info for our adventure. We should be in front of the webcam between 8:30 and 10:30am on 4/1 (www.pancanal.com). We expect to be the middle boat in the raft with an American Tug on either side. We will be following the last ship of the morning. They begin with the largest ships and work down; so we don’t have to worry about being in the prop wash of a huge ship. The whole journey will take us 8-10 hours. The guide we spoke with said Panama is now better off with control of the canal. Now they can have tourism at the canal whereas the Americans wouldn’t allow that. She has been working there 12 years and she said it’s harder now because even though there are less ships, they are larger. The Dawn Princess had 24" on each side in the lock. We returned to cocktails aboard "Ike", a 50’ trawler cat just cruising around. A big part of the fun of cruising is meeting new and interesting people. Tomorrow we move to a mooring because the dockage fee goes up the longer you stay at Flamenco.
Capt. Fred's Thoughts
3/22/03 Isla Tobago, Panama 8* 47.708N 79* 33.038W
After dark I sat on the bow box looking ashore at the terraced town with its lights and listening to live Latin music. We’re anchored in 62’ of water with a fresh breeze that feels fantastic after the heat of the day. The boat’s movement is like being underway in a gentle chop. Hope it doesn’t get like broadside rollers. There are about 10 ships anchored a couple miles off awaiting their calls from Flamenco Station to enter the canal. There are 2 smaller ships rafted close by. One, Lucille, was in Madero, Mexico when we were there.
The 19th of March was a significant day in the cruising annals of Playpen and its crew. We rounded Punta Mala into Bahia Panama crossing 7*11N latitude. 7*11 is the furthest south we would go on our great odyssey. Turning both east and north at the same time was literally a turning point of our voyage, taking us closer to home. When we approached the island today I took pictures of our last anchorage on the Pacific side of the canal. This would begin to culminate 3 ½ years of an experience that few have the good fortune to enjoy. Our most northern latitude was 58* 45’N at the Johns Hopkins glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. The difference in latitude is 51*34’ or approximately 3090 nautical miles. The Latin music ashore now is very festive, a very fitting tempo to match the occasion. We have seen immeasurable beauties of nature: glaciers, ice bergs, volcanoes, beautiful flowers, whales, sea lions, seals, otters, black bear, Grizzly bear, turtles, dolphin, Coati-Mundi, 3 toed sloths, monkeys, brown and red squirrels, various birds, including so many bald eagles you couldn’t count them, Toucans, pelicans, frigates. I reeled in and released sailfish until my arms were tired—8 in one day. Fishing is great in Los Suenos, Costa Rica on Jeff Leerink’s (son of Hans and Judy of the 48 LRC, Dutch Master) 68’ Tribute, Speculator. Perhaps the most rewarding part of nature is man, himself. We have made many friends with our fellow cruisers and the wonderful people ashore along the way. We have seen and experienced a full spectrum of social, financial, and cultural groups. We dined with the elite in Marina del Rey and traded chili and cola for fruits and seafood with remote island people of the Pacific. It’s been awhile since I bought a boat. In John Rains’ guidebook, page 225, is a picture of Joe Domingo. I purchased some stone artifacts and his dugout canoe. It rests on the swim platform for its voyage from Bahia Honda, Panama to Walden on the Wye, Chesapeake.
Most important of all, the crew, visiting crew and the vessel are to date unscathed!
God Bless the men and women who are risking it all that I may be free!