Posted by: catamarantwooceans | May 10, 2016

The way to Bocas

4.4.16 – Wednesday – Yesterday, after I published the last post, a yacht came in and anchored between “Two Oceans” and a blue monohull. Just before sunset the latecomer decided he was too close to the blue one, upped anchor and in spite of me motioning to him where my anchor was set he dropped his in a way that brought his yacht to a place right above my anchor or even crossing my chain. I tried explaining on the VHF but couldn’t understand the guy’s answer. The boat’s name was “Premier Crew”; to me they did not seem to be in any premier league.

This morning at 0610, as I prepared taking my anchor up, I saw that the Premier’s crew slept in the cockpit. They were quick to start their engine and move forward to let me go out with ease. So, they were gentlemen after all.

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They hailed from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, where I did a practical course of “Coastal Cruising Grade Two” way back in 1977…

I sailed, mostly motoring to Linton Bay marina.

5.5.16 – Thursday – At 8 a.m I was ready to leave. Went to the office to pay but the door was closed and a few local guys, including Raoul who is the office clerk, sat there waiting for Adam, the key holder, to show up. I suddenly saw that I knew one of the guys; it was captain Lopez, who used to be the port master in Porvenir. He recognized me too and we started talking. It turns out the Kuna people no longer wanted the Panamanian authorities to hold the offices in Porvenir, thus cancelling its status as a port of entry. Lopez was stationed here, in Linton and said that immigrations would also come shortly, The man’s family is still in San Blas,his lodging is temporary and uncomfortable, there is no place in the marina he can get food – he was very unhappy.

As we were talking I remembered that the day before I took all the different cheeses we accumulated during the last three weeks, buying without checking the inventory, out of the freezer.

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I went back to the boat and brought Lopez a plastic bag with bread, cheeses, pretzels and coffee. The way senior Lopez attacked the food showed me he was really hungry.

Once Adam, whose car broke down, came walking over, I paid my dues, including 64 cents for electricity and went out of the marina. With my head wandering elsewhere, I scraped the muddy bottom in one of the shallow spots, woke up and continued with no mishap. Out of Linton Bay I asked myself yet again: ”Where are the Trade-Winds?”. Ever since we left Providencia, more than two weeks ago, we saw none of those at all. I was motoring again. Around noon, just as I was preparing Pizza for lunch, the wind came. Eight to ten knots but enough to shut down the engine and sail, slaloming between the ships anchored in wait for the canal. At 1420 I entered Rio Chagres, this time anchoring near the entrance to save distance for the leg tomorrow.

6.5.16 – Friday – I made up my mind to try the anchorage near the new port being built 6 miles east of Eureo. In June 2015 I tried but the weather was not suitable for exploration with rain and bad visibility. This time all was good and I found a spot, not too close to the noisy port and anchored at a depth of 6 meters on a sandy bottom – excellent holding. It didn’t take long for the “Aeronaval” special forces to come over with their very fast boat, all except one wearing woolen ski-masks in the hot afternoon and all heavily armed. Their commander was friendly enough and said that anchoring in that area is not permitted. I had to go out of the buoyed perimeter. When not behind the cover of the port’s breakwater, one simply anchors in the big, open bay; I was not worried – the forecast was for light winds.

7.5.16 – Saturday – I was awakened at about 0430 by the erratic motion of the boat, the howl of the wind and patter of the rain on the cabin top; out to check the instruments I saw that it  was blowing 25 knots into the open bay and that the anchor held us in position. “Why not go out now?” I said to myself and started preparing for departure. I raised the anchor and motored into the wind, which by that time abated to 15 knots, and hoisted the main. It was still completely dark but I didn’t have to see; I could feel the short waves coming at us and the rain, light at first but becoming heavier as time went by. The wind was straight from the direction of Escudo de Veraguas, my destination for the day; in conditions like that the normal thing to do is put both engines ahead in cruise power and go straight to the island – but we had only the one engine and going against the wind and the waves it gave less than three knots.

I knew that if I tried tacking under sail I might have good speed but my distance would be doubled and daylight arrival was unrealistic. There  was no other port or bay in the vicinity and for a moment I considered going back with the wind to Colon. I would have gotten there in less than ten hours but then would have to sail that distance back again. The other option – go on to Bocas through the night. Daylight came and I could see the big rain-clouds all around me. Every passage of a cloud brought about a change in the wind direction and velocity. I saw the wind go from 15 to 30 and then 5 knots and let’s not forget the current – at least one knot running against us. Operation of the boat was hard and WET work .

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        trying bravely to smile

I started the tacking game. On starboard tack I was 65 degrees off my required course, on port more or less the same but right into the waves which necessitated using the engine to advance at a reasonable speed.

Breakfast? A granola bar; lunch – a sandwich. The going was rough but I made up my mind to get to Bocas as planned. All the time I was willing  the wind to go to the north and at one point it shifted and suddenly I was going straight towards Escudo at 6 knots! The time was 1545, the distance 18 miles – I  could get there with good light! Boy, was I happy! I even thought of  the dinner I would cook when I get there and took some chicken breast out of the freezer.

My happiness was short-lived though; nine miles to the island, I was inside the salon when I heard the jib flapping. The wind has backed and was now blowing 15 knots on the nose. Our speed dropped to around 3 knots, forget daylight arrival. Having been to the island twice in the past, I knew I could safely approach the anchorage “flying by instruments”, going to the way-point in the guide book and dropping anchor as I reach 4 meters depth. As I advanced looking at the island in the fading light, I imagined some entity slowly turning a dimmer switch to the stop, to complete darkness.

At five minutes to eight I dropped anchor. It was one of the most difficult legs I ever sailed, certainly the worst single-handing experience. It reminded me of something I put is the blog after a tough sailing day in Fiji: Cruising in not always Fun in the Sun… sometimes it is Pain in the Rain”.

Let’s see what tomorrow would be like.

8.5.16 – Sunday – I was awakened at about 0430 by the erratic motion of the boat… Not as bad as the day before but still with the wind blowing 15 knots into the anchorage the sea kicked up a bit. I waited until good light to go out hoping that the southwest wind will stay and let me sail a close reach course to Bocas. This, of course, did not happen; the wind went forward, forcing me to go more than 40 degrees off to starboard, out to sea and into a one knot current which slowed me down too much. But the sun was shining, the sea more or less calm, I even let the trolling gear out, trying to catch my dinner. A strike came quickly – a seven pound Jack. I released it and put the lure out again. Right then I decided to tack back towards shore, with the hope that there would be less current there. A tack does not take long and as I finished the maneuver I looked back and saw that my trolling line and lure were gone, taken, without me noticing, by some sea monster. 

The wind slash current situation did not improve, so instead of going around Isla Bastimentos and through Boca del Toro channel I entered the bay near Laguna de Bluefield aiming to go “the internal route” passing Cayos Tigre, Crawl Cay and through Bahia Almirante to Bocas.

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                                            Islas Tigre

That trick did it; no current and flat seas made my speed go up to 5 knots (!). Then another idea surfaced – why go all the way to Bocas if you only enter the marina tomorrow? I looked at the chart, found Johnson Cay, about 7 miles from Bocas and anchored there for the night. Trying again to fish dinner I hooked a small nurse shark; let it go free and made me a sandwich for dinner.

9.5.16 – Monday – At 0900 I entered Bocas marina, my trip ended. It was an irregular one where technical problems accumulated, surpassing my “Go No Go” principles by a large margin. The correct thing would have been to fix the boat as we first came to Panama and not continue on a single engine and a single improvised alternator. The thing was I made a promise to Gil, who came to Jamaica and saved me from the necessity of sailing single-handed long distances. My kids always knew that their father is a man who keeps his promises, I felt I owed Gil the San Blas trip. Would I go out again with just one engine? Not if I can help it. Would I continue sailing single-handed? As long as I am sound in body and mind – yes, I will.

Now another maintenance chapter is opening. I wanted to do it all in Florida but reality decided otherwise. Let’s see how it goes.

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