You may know by now we have made it to Panama City and are moored at the very entrance to the Panama Canal.
It’s lovely to be here in a large cosmopolitan city.
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.
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.
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.