Mind the Gap

You may know by now we have made it to Panama City and are moored at the very entrance to the Panama Canal.

Balboa Yacht Club mooring field at the entrance to the Panama Canal

Balboa Yacht Club mooring field at the entrance to the Panama Canal

It’s lovely to be here in a large cosmopolitan city.

Panama City Skyline

Panama City Skyline

But I will tell you it was not easy. To get here we had to traverse the third, and generally considered the tamest, of the Central American Gap Wind passages. (See our posts on Tehuantepec and Papagayo). You may recall from my earlier blatherings that these gap winds blow from the Caribbean over low stretches of the Central America isthmus and become accelerated due to land effects (narrow valleys, tall mountains, convection currents, etc.). This third and final bit blows north to south in the Golfo de Panama. Generally, these are lighter than other gap winds and are usually not a problem this time of year. However, unlike the others which are traversed at right angles to the wind, here you have to take them head on for 130 miles or so until you get into the lee of the mainland or the Las Perlas islands.

The guardian of this area is a notorious piece of land appropriately named Punta Mala. Once you leave to round this point and get into the large gulf, there is generally no safe place to duck into if the conditions are ugly. Before setting off on the 2 day trip up into the gulf, we staged overnight in a desolate bay on the western side of Punta Mala which showed no signs of any human presence other than cows inexplicably milling about on the black sand beach.

Leaving Naranjo Bay on a sparkly morning

Leaving Naranjo Bay on a sparkly morning

Island in Panama

In any event, early in the morning after one night in mystery cow bay we set out for the southernmost of the LasPerlas islands, which form a very beautiful, lightly inhabited archipelago in the Gulf of Panama. As a landing target they would shave off about 40 miles compared to a direct shot to Panama City. Well, it was an ugly trip generally. The winds never got much over 25 knots, but the currents in the Golfo de Panama are strong and alternate like clockwork. With 12-18 foot tides in this part of the world, the water rushes in and out at great speeds. Having to spend about an entire day working our way up the gulf, we were destined to face an adverse current at least twice. This was what made the trip a little challenging. When the brisk north winds opposed a north-setting current, we were faced with ugly, steep and closely-spaced seas that slowed us to a crawl and plunged the bows under water over and over again.

Roller coaster  - motorsailing with just the main

Roller coaster – motorsailing with just the main

Thankfully, the old ship Neko is a stoutly built boat and she shrugged off all that water without concern. We can’t say as much for her crew and after 30 hours of this treatment we were ready for a little peace and quiet. Early in the morning on the 2nd day of the trip, we pulled into a calm, picture-perfect bay on the island of Isla San Jose to drop the anchor and get some rest.

We spent two days resting and exploring the waters of this privately-owned island. Yes, its about 17 square miles and all privately owned. We saw a landing craft drop a bunch of pallets of supplies on the beach and the owners’ workers come and tote them away by tractor. The owners allow certain people to live on the island, including the man who lives in a little hut perched precariously on the edge of a cliff.  They say he walks 10 feet out his door and drops a fishing line down the cliff face to pull in dinner. [Ed: add that great pic we have.  Auth:  Sorry, it’s lost in the computer crash]   We didn’t see him but did see the little shack on the cliffs’ edge and can attest to the abundant sea life in the waters. We are quite excited to begin seeing clear water and sea life again after the murky waters of Mexico and Central America.  Afterwards, we set off for Isla San Telmo, a tiny island with a 100+ year old submarine still high and dry on shore since it washed up after its occupants ascended too swiftly, suffered decompression sickness and died inside. This was straight out of Jules Verne. Who could pass up something like that, but little did I know it would almost lead to our undoing… [to be continued]

 

NB: Our photos relating to this time perished in Mary’s computer crash, hence the abundance of text.  If we can resuscitate them, we’ll update this post but we are putting it up now anyway to try to get our postings caught up with where we are.

Advertisements

“Hello, is There Anybody Out There?”

“Hello, is there anybody out there?”  No, I’m not messing up the lyrics to Comfortably Numb, it is how we are feeling as we move into the off-season.  Suddenly the normal flood of familiar names heard over the radio or anchored nearby has become nothing more than a trickle.  SunsetFor our land-based friends, the off-season (June-Nov or hurricane season) sees many cruisers leaving their boats and heading back home.   Many Pacific Ocean cruisers set sail for the South Pacific (think soft white beaches, palms and friendly Polynesians – but only after sailing 3 weeks across an ocean) or head back north into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.  We have chosen to move south and east where we are safely out of the hurricane zone, but well within the rainy season.  Not only are there very few cruisers out there, Western Panama has very few people, period.  It is tranquil to say the least.

Islas Las Secas

Islas Las Secas

Crab coconut condo

Crab coconut condo

DSCN3201

Lucy loves this place and did not want to leave

Drift WoodIt is a rugged, very tropical, wet, jungly and sparsely inhabited land. There are indigenous peoples mixed in all about and everyone lives a subsistence lifestyle, as there are virtually no cities for miles around.

Fishing cabin

Fishing cabin

Some of the little villages we saw didn’t even have roads going to them. The locals move about by boat or when necessary over unforgiving trails through the thick forests.

Neko anchored in Bahia Honda

Neko anchored in Bahia Honda

We dropped anchored in the beautiful bay of Bahia Honda and were promptly greeted by life-long island resident and friend to cruisers, Domingo.   Although my Spanish is still that of a 3-year-old, Domingo’s constant chatting somehow sunk in and we were trading goods for fruits and herbs, visiting his home and being his guests to visit Salmonete a tiny village up a river to buy lobsters from the fishermen, undoubtedly his buddies.

Domingo's house

Domingo’s house

Red bananas, yellow bananas and pineapples from Domingo.  Problem with this many bananas is they all ripen at the same time.  So even freezing some for smoothies, left us with A LOT of bananas

Red bananas, yellow bananas and pineapples from Domingo. Problem with this many bananas is they all ripen at the same time. So even freezing some for smoothies, left us with A LOT of bananas

Domingo's pig, who lived with a terrified cat in this pen.  Never got a straight answer why the cat was in there.  Maybe we don't want to know.

Domingo’s pig, who lived with a terrified cat in this pen. Never got a straight answer why the cat was in there. Maybe we don’t want to know.

Domingo taking us up the river

Domingo taking us up the river

Young villager welcoming us

Young villager welcoming us

DSCN3236

Larry, Peter and Domingo and Lucy

Larry, Peter and Domingo and Lucy

Lobster dinner

Lobster dinner

Larry and Debbie from "Tropical Blend"

Larry and Debbie from “Tropical Blend”

Kayaking Bahia Honda

Kayaking in Bahia Honda

Kayaking in Bahia Honda

sssssssnake

sssssssnake

DSCN3263On our second day there we were joined by Larry and Debbie from “Tropical Blend” (whom we met back in El Salvador)  and it was nice to have friends join us on the lobster adventure and kayaking through the estuaries.

 

Gritty City Golfito

After several lovely stops throughout Costa Rica,

Drake's Bay, Costa Rica

Drake’s Bay, Costa Rica

Giant bamboo

Giant bamboo

seeing all types of creatures,

Crocodile swimming by our dinghy

Crocodile swimming by our dinghy

Squirrels with skunk stripes

Squirrels with skunk stripes

Howler monkeys all over the place

Howler monkeys

The Costa Rican Puma

The wild Costa Rican Puma

spending too much money (their currency is strikingly beautiful, which is a good thing because you are going to need a lot of it),

Costa Rican Colones currency

Costa Rican Colones currency

and with the rainy season starting in earnest,

Here comes the rain again

Here comes the rain again

rain gear for all crew members

rain gear for all crew members

we ready ourselves for our final stop in the country: the town of Golfito, which is not known for its, shall we say, hospitality.   Countless tales of crime from fellow cruisers and locals left us less than excited about going there, but it was necessary, as it is the last port where you can check out of the country.

First impression coming into the Golfo Dulce...looks promising

First impression coming into the Golfo Dulce…looks promising

DSCN3033

DSCN3053

Fishermen use these black flags to mark long lines and nets.   The worst color ever to see against a dark sea.  How about a nice neon orange?

Fishermen use these black flags to mark long lines and nets. The worst color ever to see against a dark sea.  How about a nice neon orange?

This once thriving town has fallen on hard times since the departure of the United Fruit Company and now depends mainly on a duty-free zone and robbing cruisers (just kidding…I think).   Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t pick it over a trip to Maui, but for our fellow cruisers you’ll most likely have to be here and it was not as awful as we were led to expect.  The bay is well protected and even with the biblical rains we experienced it was always calm.   And clearing out of the country is easy and only costs $20.

 

Goflito town

Goflito town

IMG_0350

Freshly shaved Captain and his faithful first mutt

We moored at Land Sea where the owners, ex-cruisers Tim and Katie, and their many pups provided a safe haven and welcomed us, including Lucy.   Land Sea has a few moorings and a wonderfully funky cruiser’s lounge.  For our land-based friends, let me explain what cruisers want in life; good weather, cheap beer, clean laundry, easy land access and free reliable wi-fi.  And we got 4 out of 5 of those things at Land Sea.   The rain was by the buckets everyday.

Land Sea deck

Land Sea deck

IMG_0355

Honor bar at Land Sea

IMG_0356

My new buddy Vinny. Tim adopted Vinny from an Italian cargo ship where Vinny was a stow away.

DSCN3048

Cruisers leave their mark on the walls of Land Sea. Can you spot Neko?

Here comes another storm

Here comes another storm

Tim regaled us with wild stories from the many years he has lived in Golfito and recommended local restaurants and field trips to fill up the week we were there.

This salty gal celebrated her 46th birthday.

This salty gal celebrated her 46th birthday.

One of our best field trips was to Casa Orquideas, only 5nm but a whole world away from Golfito. These are meticulously maintained gardens owned by an American couple, Ron and Trudy, who have lived here for almost 40 years.  DSCN2990

Trudy, coconut opening expert

Trudy, coconut opening expert

Trudy is the sweet woman who gave us a botanical education, taught us how to open a coconut, and sent us off with many of her home grown fruits and herbs.

DCIM100GOPRO

miniature pineapple

miniature pineapple

Shampoo ginger

Shampoo ginger . When you squeeze it a sweet smelling liquid comes out that you can use for shampoo.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

Lucy enjoying some lemon grass

DCIM100GOPRO

Water lilies

DSCN2988 DSCN2971

Wild macaws.  Wish the photo showed their brilliant colors

Wild macaws. Wish the photo showed their brilliant colors

We were just going to go over to this bay for the afternoon, but ended up staying 2 days.  It was a delightfully tranquil spot perfect for kayaking, swimming and dreaming of our next stop – Panama.

DSCN2776

Nappin’ Captain

 

 

 

Technical difficulties

technicaldiff

Our blogging has slowed down because my computer went to the big tech heap in the sky, and of course all our photos were on my computer.  Thankfully I backed up my files (yes, go and back up your computers now) and successfully transferred my photos to Peter’s computer.  Now Peter and I just have to learn to share, “gasp”, one computer.   Who says we aren’t roughing it out here on the high seas 😉