Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bocas del Toro to Colon

March 11, 2008 Tuesday
Laguna Bluefield, Rep. of Panama
09.09.447N; 081.54.179W                  Distance sailed approximately 30 NM

Anchor and up at about 10:30 yesterday morning and we motored out of the channel between Isla Bastiamentos and Isla Carenero.  Goodbye to Bocas del Toro.  As we approached the final channel markers to exit Bocas we encountered what was first beautiful sailing conditions.  Winds were light at 9 knots from the east but just high enough to sail.  Large 10-12 foot swell was running from the ENE but spaced well apart so there was only a slow lifting and lowering movement to the boat.  We cut the engine and enjoyed a couple of hours of very pleasant sailing.

And then things suddenly changed.  We had been watching dark gray/blue masses approaching from the east, but radar didn’t pick up anything.  Instantly the winds jumped to 20-24 knots, the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees and the drizzly rain started.  This lasted a couple of hours.  It was cold!!  Not what you would expect in the Caribbean where our normal temperature lately has been 88F.

The course here took us down the eastern side of Isla Bastiamentos.  We have too deep draft to safely navigate the Crawl Cay cut way out of Bocas which is on the sheltered western side of Bastiamentos.  Our course was basically eastward bound but did have several waypoints taking us further and further back westward until we finally were heading west towards Bluefield.  These course changes placed our boat beam-to the swell.  For you non-sailors, the 10-12 foot swell is not uncomfortable if it is hitting the boat from an angle off either bow or stern; but a large swell hitting a boat directly on the beam makes the boat roll side-to-side.  We did this for a couple of hours.  Not pleasant. 

But the final hour of approach to Bluefield was behind some very small islands which broke up the swell.  And our direction to the swell was now comfortable anyway and the rain stopped, so the final hour was pleasant. 

We dropped anchor at 3:30 in exactly the same spot where we had anchored here on our way to Bocas on January 30.  This large lagoon is really an enormous bay with several long smaller finger bays branching off.  The water is totally calm.  There are no no-see-ums or mosquitoes – why I do not know, because there is plenty of vegetation and some mangroves.  There are no other boats anchored here right now.  The local Indians are friendly and paddle by in their little canoes but haven’t bothered us. 

We had hoped to go to Escudo de Veraguaz today.  This is small island about 27 miles away and would be a great jumping-off point to start the direct passage to Colon.  Haven’t decided yet if we will go.  If that large swell yesterday is still running, then it might be pretty uncomfortable anchored off a small island as the swell curls around it.  It is already after 10 a.m. so we need to make a decision soon whether we want to try it today.

Later same day…..
We did sail/motor the 30 miles out to Escudo de Veraguaz.  Cost us $20 “contribution” to the local Indians for the privilege of anchoring there.  Could have also gone to Tobobe and 2 other Indian places for the single $20 contribution, but we weren’t interested.  Stayed one night at Veraguaz and it was quite rocky – reminded me of Prickly Bay in Grenada with all that motion.  Wasn’t bad, but was a lot more motion than we are accustomed to.  By the next morning we were ready to leave.  On the way out to this island Bill noticed that our engine is still smoking.  So the mechanic we hired in Bocas was unsuccessful in finding and fixing this problem.  After we negotiated through the rocky area and were in deep water, we set the sails with preventers; put the engine in neutral and revved it up to 2500 rpms; and put in a healthy dose of Yanmar turbo wash; then flushed it with clear water.  Unfortunately, this did not solve the smoking problem.  Now Bill is very worried about the engine, so we will go into the marina in Colon so he can work on it himself now that his back is not hurting anymore.

March 12, 2008 Wednesday

First, Happy Birthday to our youngest son, Aaron.  Hard to believe that he is 33 years old today.  Seems like just a few years ago he was only 2 or 3.  Time does fly and seeing our children age really brings it home to us.  Sorry we can’t even call Aaron on his birthday while we are at sea today, but our SAT phone signal is intermittent in this area of the Caribbean.

We left the rolly anchorage at Excudo de Veraguaz shortly after noon.  The plan was to sail as slowly as possible and hopefully average 4.5 knots so that we would arrive in Colon area in daylight.

March 13, 2008 Thursday
Shelter Bay Marina, near Colon, Panama
09.22.086N; 079.57.019W                  Sailed 104 NM on overnight passage

It was an uneventful passage (the best kind!), and we arrived at the breakwater to the canal at 0800 this morning. There was a fairly large swell running and winds changed all over the compass, so it made for a very tiring passage.  Worst part was that we had to run the engine for about one-third of the passage and the diesel fumes made me nauseaus.  Very glad that this passage is over.

Boats are supposed to contact Cristobal Station on VHF 1212 when 20 minutes from the breakwater and they direct the traffic in and out.   We contacted Cristobal Station as required and were instructed to call back when we were one mile from the entrance.  When we called back at that point, the controller said he had 3 ships lined up to enter and 1 to exit so we should stay out of their way as we came in.  Yeah, well, that got my attention!!!  There were between 40 and 50 ships anchored outside the breakwater.  We waited while one ship entered and then we made our way through the entrance – with another huge ship coming up right on our tail!  All went smoothly but it is unnerving to have a ship that large coming that fast directly behind us.  We know that their navigator or pilot cannot see our sailboat when we are that close in front of the ship, and those ships move many times faster than our little sailboat.  We scooted out of the entranceway as fast as we could and headed toward the marina.

Cannot remember if I already mentioned this or not.  The latest James Bond movie is being filmed in the Colon area right now.  They were looking for sailboats to anchor in a certain place as background scenery for the movie.  We know another boat that wanted to participate but they did not want to commit for the full 2 weeks required and already left here.  The movie producers are paying $100 per day plus fuel and water, but each boat was required to commit to staying anchored in the same place for 2 weeks.  Heck, we would have done that if we had been here last week.  Too late now because they are already in the second week of filming that requires the boat background scenery.  Besides, we need to be in the marina slip so we can have shore power to charge the batteries while Bill works on our engine.

Anyway, as we headed toward the marina from the breakwater entrance we encountered all these sailboats anchored where boats are not supposed to anchor.  Turns out that these are the “movie boats” and that this James Bond movie is being filmed on the premises of Shelter Bay Marina where we will be docked for the next week or so.  There are notices posted on the doors of the marina facility telling the movie people that they are not welcome in the restaurant or bar and that they cannot use the marina restrooms.  That struck me as strange.  Seems like the marina restaurant and bar would welcome the additional business rather than rudely turn it away.  We recognized a couple of the boats anchored out there so maybe we will learn more about this movie deal.

We treated ourselves to a nice breakfast at the marina restaurant and today we will rest up and lounge around. Tomorrow we will contact our agent to get cleared into Colon and to start the process to obtain our canal transit date. Hoping to transit March 23 or so.

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