Monday, July 11, 2016

Shelter Bay Marina to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Shelter Bay Marina to Bocas del Toro, Panama

27th – June to 3rd July - 2016

The Crew Heads Home

A nostalgia moment for all cruisers who have been to SBM
Shelter Bay is a very nice clean marina. We were received at the dock by helpful new neighbours, taking our docklines and answering our 1001 questions. Shelter Bay is somewhat remote from Colon and services but judging by the warnings regarding safety in Colon the remoteness is probably a good thing. Coming from the Pacific side the shallow depths were a bit unnerving but once you are used to the 1.5 foot tide range it is fine.

Doug used the shore time to complete the work he had done getting the ICOM 802 HF radio working. The terminals at both ends of the coaxial cable to the ATU were bad and had to be replaced. I also straightened the run for the antenna so hopefully the pactor will send airmail and receive grib files. The radio transmissions are working but not tested over longer distances because there are no cruisers moving around. It is the rainy season…..

Joe Gannon doing penance on Isla Buoy, Gatun Lake
Unfortunately for Joe our extra day in the canal meant he had to return to Panama City from Shelter Bay to make his June 29th flight back to New York. He was a great addition to the crew and is always welcome back. He caught the Marina van to the Colon bus station where he boarded an aircon bus to Albrook Transportation Center and then a taxi to the Hotel Riande near the Tucuman International Airport for his morning flight. Thanks Joe.....

After two nights in Shelter Bay we left for Bocas del Toro. With a few days to spare until our next departures, we decided to do the 100 mile overnight trip to Isla Escudo de Veragua, spend the next afternoon and night at anchor and then continue northwest the 40 final miles to Bocas. Escudo is a small island with only a few Guaymi Indian families as the only residents. The two anchorages are roadstead anchorages but according to Bauhaus are protected from most conditions.

The weather patterns in the Caribbean approaches to the canal are incredibly localized with change being the most constant feature. The trades do not dip this far south so counter currents and variable winds continually keep one working when trying to do a crossing during the rainy season. We left the breakwater entrance with a 15+ knot wind on the nose.
One of the biggest pangas I have seen, riding the swell in.
A huge panga streaked in the entrance running with the wind and swell as we turned out into the swell. Although not particularly high, about 8 to 10 feet, they were very close together making for an uncomfortable ride. As we got far enough through the anchored ships to turn west, the wind veered, coming out of the northwest as well. For the next 20 hrs we motor sailed into the confused seas. The bottom is quite shallow and the north coast of South America and the close Panama coast set-up a disarray of reflected waves. Some resulting in short period 12 foot high haystacks. Not fun. At night the effect could not be anticipated, just reacted to after the impact. Escudo, rising out of the sea, was a welcome sight.

Sandy, SW point on Isla Escudo de Veraguas as we departed
We checked both anchorages and decided the south west anchorage was best although neither was ideal for the west northwest wind we were experiencing. We were the only boat at anchor and only one panga was on the beach. After getting some sleep on the hook we decided to see how close the reef was. There were enough seas running that putting the motor on the dinghy would have been difficult so we just went in with masks, snorkels and fins. The water was warm and considering the conditions, surprising clear. It was good to finally be able to see the anchor well buried in the sand and that the tides would not vary our 15 foot depth much. After swimming a couple of hundred meters towards shore where shoaling was reported, no coral or rocks were found, just continuing sand bottom with very little marine life evident. The island does have good snorkelling but it would have to be for another day.

During the night with one of my anchor checks, I spotted a new anchor light just south east of us. As dawn broke, Sunrunner became visible. Paul had just spent 36 hours without sleep beating up to the anchorage after dropping his canal crew in Colon and making some coastal stops. He was happy to get the hook down and get some sleep.

We departed northwest to round the Valiente Peninsula at the southern edge of the Bocas Archipelago. We took the Cayo Crawl Passage between Isla Popa and Isla Bastimentos. Unfortunately our intended stop for a snorkel on the Cayos Zapatillas had to be passed because although the wind and waves were better, conditions did not warrant a stop.
Everyone got time on the helm -
Once inside the pass I was quickly reminded how shallow it was and how quickly the bottom came up from 30 feet to 6 foot sandy underwater knolls.  I managed to become briefly intimate with two of them but motored off successfully.
After the Skipper touched bottom twice!
The seas inside were calm but the rainy season cloud cover diminished the colours of our tropical paradise.

Again with several people on board, we decided to check into Bocas Marina. With shallows across the mouth of the bay it was great to be given some route directions in. The marina’s free shuttle panga makes regular trips across the bay into Bocas Town where we were hoping to get Bree, Matt and Doug booked onto flights back to Panama City. Surprise - all flights booked for three days which meant missing flights back to NY and Canada. After some sleuthing Bree came up with a great return trip by boat across the bay to Almirante, van through the jungle to Boquete, bus down to David and an available flight to P’ City. They had a great adventure and made their flights on time.
Bocas waterfront

Contrary to what I was accustomed to in the rainy/monsoon season of southeast Asia, there is no pattern to the weather here. Every day is different with thunder and lightning occurring any time of the day or night. We had a good blow that had boats at anchor dragging and an enormous flash of lightning put the power out in Bocas Town for several hours. Other incredible lightning storms have reminded me that we aren’t supposed to be here, we’re supposed to be in Ecuador! Damn earthquake! Although we have travelled a lot in Asia during the rainy season, the lack of predictability makes travel here a little more problematic. We will see what we can manage.
Canada Day at Bocas Marina

Mags and I are getting used to having the boat to ourselves again. Some really nice people on the dock but several are still in the process of leaving for the season so we are not sure how many stay here full time. Mags has done the cleaning of lockers that she was trying to get done before the canal and now the boat feels great. Bocas Town has several provisioning stores and lots of restaurants so exploring is fun. We have a few issues with the auto pilot not releasing the wheel when we go to Standby that I am chasing, probably the solenoid in the bypass valve, so life is back to normal. Doing boat projects in paradise, albeit a little wetter than the usual view of paradise.
It was great having Bree and Matt onboard, looking forward to the next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Panama Canal Transit

Panama Canal Transit

28 – June - 2016

An Excellent Transit
Returning from Isla Tobago, Gehry Bio Museum is the coloured roof panels to left

We returned from Vancouver to Taboga Island finding Kanilela riding Chuy’s buoy happily. Once again Mag’s extensive preparations to leave the boat had paid off. I arranged for Chuy to have the hull cleaned before I returned because I knew we had very little time to prepare for our “line-handlers” arrivals and I did not have time to do it myself as usual.

We decided to take a berth in Playita Marina for a week to get ready for the canal transit and to make life easier for our four extra crew as they arrived. It worked out well as some big winds came up and both La Playita and Las Brisas anchorages were rough, especially Las Brisas with its chaotic beach access. Our daughter Bree and her husband Matt arrived from New York in the afternoon, my big brother Doug flew in from Duncan/Vancouver that evening and finally Bree and Matt’s friend Joe arrived from New York the following day. With six on board, dock conveniences were appreciated.
They made it look easy

We managed to do some provisioning trips with side trips to the Canal museum at the Miraflores locks and a trip back to Casco Viejo, the old town.

We were all very attentive to details at the Miraflores Locks because we were all going through the canal for the first time. Several people had told us to hire a line handler or two but I thought we could do it. While we were watching, a sailboat, locking down to the Pacific while rafted to a Canal work boat, came through and had an uneventful passage through the two locks. They made it look easy which was reassuring but going up in the locks is the direction the prop wash and inflow of water create the worst condition so I was only partially relaxed about what we had seen and there were no boats going the other direction, up to Gatun Lake.
Kanilela's Transit Crew June 2016 - thanks for the photo Matt

I decided to hire an agent, Erick Galvez from Centenario Consulting, because we needed the 4 - 125 foot lines and bumpers and because doing your own registration can cause delays and finally, we had people on tight schedules. The process went well, the Admeasurer came to the marina to complete the requisite forms and the lines and bumpers were dropped off without issue. When we submitted the paper work on Tuesday we were hoping for a Thursday or Friday date but they were full so we met our transit advisor, Francisco, about 0800 on Saturday morning, 25-June-2016.

As many of you may know, the canal has been building a new set of locks for the last many years. The new locks are to permit wider modern ships of up to 55m (165’) to transist. The old locks are 33.5m (110’) and the Panamax ships designed to that width were losing out to the larger ships which were working the Eastern North America/Europe/Middle East/Far East trade routes. Panama City was covered in ads saying the new canal would open on Sunday, 26-June-2016. Yep, day two of our transit.
Bridge of the Americas

Passing under landmark bridges can be big events for cruisers. For Vancouver sailors departing, the Lion’s Gate bridge is an emotional moment and of course entering San Francisco under the Golden Gate was a milestone. The Pacific approach to the Canal is dominated by the steel Bridge of the Americas and yes, it felt very good to be passing under the link between North and South America. While waiting to enter the first Miraflores lock we met another sailboat, Sunrunner, who would be transiting with us. The freighter, Noble Halo was to enter first, then the canal tug, Pacora, would side tie behind the freighter, then we would enter and nest to the tug and finally Sunrunner would enter and nest to us. Sounds easy…
The bow crew, Doug and Joe ready to tie to the Pacora

And it was! Everyone performed their tasks perfectly. Our advisor, Francisco and Edward, the advisor for Sunrunner, were great, giving advice clearly and demonstrating better techniques when beneficial. They were perfect for a boat load of canal first timers. Paul on Sunrunner had transited the canal fourteen times and his crew varied from two with extensive experience to a couple of first timers.
Bree set to take Sunrunners lines
As the lock closed and filled we did introductions and shared cruising histories. Once we were at the top of the lock, the forward gate opened into the second Miraflores lock. To move from one lock to the next Noble Halo went first pulled by the train mules on the canal side and using his own motor for additional thrust. After his turbulence had calmed a little, Sunrunner dropped away from Kanilela and we then dropped back from Pacora, so they could advance into the next and final Miraflores lock and repeat the nesting process again. Tied to a larger vessel that is side tied is the easiest lockage position, once nested, only the line handlers on the tug at the side wall have any work.
Thanks Marie for the screenshots, and yes, Matt is in a white shirt!

Heading out from the second Miraflores Lock into Pedro Miguel Lake

Bree and Matt had notified numerous people of the live feed canal cameras and as we were going through Miraflores they were talking to Marie, Matt’s mom in Pennsylvania. She managed to capture some screen shots of us rafted, separating and proceeding to the next lock. The viewing galleries of the lock were packed with people and knowing we had a live feed audience as well, the pressure was on. We did not want to make history by doing a 360 and bouncing off the walls.
Every person on the deck has a camera ready for some poor skipper who blows it!

The old canal has three locks rising up 26m (84’) to the Gatun Lake elevation and three down. From the Pacific side the two Miraflores locks are first, followed by the Pedro Miguel single lock about one mile away. Unfortunately, the tug Pacora was stopping to join a ship in the canal between Miraflores locks and Pedro Miguel, so our final type of lockage was changed to center chamber.
Another perfect throw
While rafted to Sunrunner each line crew would catch a line thrown with a Monkey Fist to the sailboats from the lock sidewalls therefore each sailboat would have a bow and stern line to the canal wall and would have to maintain the correct tension, keeping the sailboats in the middle of the lock.
Matt and Bree snugging the stern line 

Lock closing

Again, Doug and Joe on the bow and Matt and Bree on the stern performed perfectly. It went incredibly smoothly. The Pedro Miguel Canal staff threw the stern lines to the bow and Matt and Bree ran them back to the stern thus avoiding getting a Monkey Fist through a solar panel. Although we have heard of panels being hit one wonders if there were other dynamics taking place. The Canal crews have competitions throwing Monkey Fists through 6” diameter circles so we know they can put it where they choose to put it. With us they were all smiles, as helpful as could be and always tolerant of my Spanish. Our advisors, Francisco and Edward were great. Textbook locking…. A note on the advisors. They are Canal employees who work in other departments and have an opportunity to work as advisors on an overtime basis on sailboats and yachts. They are not ship’s pilots. Francisco is with the Environmental Department and Edward is a tug boat captain. Edward loved sharing his knowledge of the history of the canal so the transit was incredibly informative.

Once out of the Pedro Miguel lock you enter the Gaillard Cut, a 13.7 km long excavation that killed the original French effort to build the canal. By building a dam at the Caribbean end of Gatun Lake and the use of locks to gain the necessary elevation, the American contractors were able to raise the lake level therefore they did not have to excavate the Gaillard Cut as much. Still, the tailings from the excavation provided the fill for the more than one mile long Armador causeway out to the islands at La Playita and Las Brisas anchorages.

Just after clearing the Pedro Miguel Lock the canal passes under the second bridge crossing the canal, the fairly new Puente del Centenario, a beautiful cable stay structure. Another milestone moment.

Once out of the Gaillard Cut at the interior town of Gamboa, the canal buoys start to wander through the widening arms of Gatun Lake. The lake transit is about 30 km to the mooring buoy where your advisor gets picked up near the new 55m wide locks. We were told that the first ship would be coming out of the new locks at 0800 the following morning going southbound and our advisor would be onboard at some point through the morning to complete our northbound passage in the old locks. Our mooring buoy was massive, at least 10’ in diameter and flat enough to run laps on top.

Although we were close to the new lock, there was a hill blocking our view into the lock. As the following morning progressed numerous helicopters flew overhead but 0800 passed and no ship appeared. About 10:00 am fireworks started but we only saw the flashes of the first shots because the wind was blowing our direction and smoke covered the sky obliterating the following fireworks which continued booming for a long time. In a word, daytime fireworks are not particularly effective! Then we continued waiting, and waiting, and waiting…..
History is made! The first ship through the new locks
At about noon, with new frenzied activity from the tug boats and helicopters, the bow of the container ship appeared. She was a Cosco Container ship with banks of grey Cosco (China Ocean Shipping Co) containers and green Chinese Shipping containers arranged in a balanced pattern. It was clear who had financed the new locks. Although the length was no greater than the typical container ships we were seeing, when she turned stern to, it was apparent how much bigger she was. Instead of the usual 13 containers wide she held 19 wide. Pretty impressive and we were there for the historic moment, although admittedly not quite as historic as 102 years ago when the SS Ancon was the first ship through the canal.

Canadian sovereignty of our buoy/island
And the newest Bluewater Cruising Out Station
As the day progressed word reached us that there were no advisors available and we would have to wait on our buoy for the night and hopefully we would get an advisor by noon the following day. We were in clean fresh water and went swimming although we had read often that there are crocodiles in Gatun Lake and then proceeded to claim Canadian sovereignty over our island-like buoy and further to declare it a Bluewater Cruising Association Out Station. All in all a pretty successful day in the history of Canadian sailing! Especially good that there was no mutiny onboard Kanilela with no shore leave permitted. The monkeys on the shore line jungle were sounding restless.

Paul, from Sunrunner radioed that two of his crew were not able to stay the night and would we be able to share linesmen with him? We replied that as long has both advisors were okay with it and the Canal Authority had us nested for a center chamber lockage the two crews could easily handle the trip. He took his two departing crew to shore and we have not heard from them since. Presumably they made it back to Panama City.

About 1330, 1:30pm, Monday our new advisor, Elvie MacMillan, arrived on board. Elvie is an Engineer with the tugs normally and has worked for the canal for 26 years. He was a great guy to be with and was really good about sharing his knowledge of the canal, old and new. We crossed the mouth of the new locks over to the west to the old Gatun locks, the three locks that would drop us to the Caribbean.
New tug and Seaboard America behind us
It was agreed we would raft with Sunrunner and Kanilela, being larger, would control our movement through the canal. It was a great trip with the two sailboats first into the lock, one of the new canal tugs for the bigger locks side tied behind us and a smaller container ship, the Seaboard America, in last. In the lock beside us, the Hansa Europa, a large container ship out of Hamburg, paralleled our progress northbound.

Textbook line handling
We stayed nested with Sunrunner through the entire locking so Kanilela motored up the center while the dock workers walked the messenger lines through the locks. When we would arrive at our next set of bollards, the line crews would send the big lines back to the side to be attached. We only had to catch the Monkey Fist on the first lock.  Down locking is generally easier but people are constantly warning about the salt water, fresh water turbulence on exiting the third lock. Kanilela has a modified full keel and enough power that we did not experience any problems.

We transferred Elvie to a Canal tender at the Flats and continued, with lightning flashing over Colon City, up to Shelter Bay Marina. A huge check mark in Kanilela’s cruising story and kudo’s to the crew who were now experienced line handlers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama

30 – April - 2016

Plans Change Quickly

While waiting in Benao for the North Gap Winds to subside and permit us to continue around Punta Mala and head north approximately 100 Nautical Miles to Panama City, I lamented that we were 100 miles closer to Ecuador now than we would be in Panama City. “Let’s just head south now and see the City later” seemed like a viable plan. Fortunately, I heeded Mags’ desire to replenish our fresh fruit, vegetables and meat supplies and we did continue north to Panama City. The “why” will become apparent later in the blog
Benao to Panama City and back to Isla Tobago
We ended up waiting a fourth day in Benao because the winds at the point were still forecast into the 40 knot range. Finally, with strong gusts still at Benoa, we headed the 12 miles to Punta Mala. There are a range of opinions on how best one can attack the point. The large shipping traffic usually stays at least three miles out so cruisers often recommend a two mile clearance, avoiding freighters and the coast line. There are a few cruisers who recommend a day light passage running close to shore in approximately thirty feet of water. This was an old tactic we used with Porlier Pass in the Gulf Islands, the shore side currents were reduced in the shallow depth and you could spend less time in the current, possibly even catching back eddies before and after the point, to help against the flow.

Surprisingly the winds had calmed somewhat as we approached Punta Mala and we were able to enjoy the view of the coast up close. We turned the corner into the current which is a continuation of the Humboldt Current that runs up the coast of South America, turning north up the east side of the Gulf of Panama where it curls south at Panama City and comes, with some acceleration by the prevailing winds, down the west side to Punta Mala. We were slowed briefly but the tactic worked well and our speed increased as we left the point and we stayed well away from the route of the big ships that concentrate on the point.

The wind had completely dropped by late afternoon only to be followed by gradually building heavy through the night. The seas came up short and choppy limiting any windward progress. With reefed sails, pointing close to the wind, we pounded through the night, dodging the fishing fleet and approached the night lights of the western shore. A final tack took us onto a line that would bring us to a dawn arrival at Isla Otoque about twenty miles from Panama City.
There are a couple of protected anchorages at Otaque so it is often a good chance to get some rest prior to entering the chaos of the canal approaches, much like the stop at Drakes Bay before going under the Golden Gate Bridge and entering San Francisco. As it turned out we received a call from Genesis III that they were a little concerned about the amount of diesel they had burned and asked if we could spare a gerry can. Because it was still early and we had decided not to stop, we just cruised in the south bay of Otaque until they caught up. Fortunately the bay is uninhabited because the prearranged hand-off would have looked suspicious to any observer, especially as neither boat had yet cleared into the country. Genesis III slid by Kanilela with much activity on the deck, then both boats headed out again.

En route we passed close to Isla Taboga because we knew friends were considering using the mooring buoys there for long term storage and we wanted at least a passing look. The “Flower Islands” have had chequered past, first as home to the original Pacific Spanish settlement, to a long period as the base for numerous pirates, to the site of a hospital for canal workers, the most famous patient being Paul Gaugin prior to his move to the Marquesas Islands.
Isla Taboga

From the sea the village had a distinct Mediterranean flare but our attention was constantly being drawn by the movement of ships of all sizes taking anchorage locations and weighing anchors to head to the canal. This was not a place for inattentive sailing. To get to La Playita, the anchorage at the end of the causeway where access to the Port Captain and Immigration can be found, we had to cross the canal approach buoys. One of our guidebooks said we must radio the ACP, Panama Canal Authority, to get permission to be in the canal area. After numerous tries on various channels with no response, I announced our intentions and went for it. Possibly my Spanish is suspect enough that no one wanted a prolonged conversation and we were soon dropping our hook in La Playita anchorage.

When approaching an anchorage you are constantly appraising depths, space from other boats, possible currents and wash from any close shipping lanes so it was a complete surprise that we realized our closest neighbours were fellow Bluewater Cruisers from the Victoria Chapter, Judy and Wayne on Curiositas. Although we had followed their progress on the blog, we had not seen them since land travel in Guatemala. We had a good time catching up over dinners at Mi Ranchito Restaurant near the anchorage.

Now, for why it was a good thing we had not sailed direct to Ecuador from Benao, on the Azuero Peninsula. After we got into Panama City and had quickly re-provisioned for Ecuador, we heard the news that Ecuador had been hit by a devastating earthquake that had taken several lives and levelled many buildings in our planned destination, Bahia Caraquez. As news came in over the next few days it became apparent that the infrastructure was so damaged that additional drains on the local services would not be beneficial. Our daughter and son-in-law, Bree and Matt, were going to meet us in Ecuador in mid-June so plans had to be revised. Isn’t that what cruising is all about? Fortunately they had not bought tickets so changing their destination to Panama City was possible. So in late June we plan to transit the canal with Bree, Matt and my brother Doug.
Casco Viejo, the historic town, is being totally restored

Some of Panama Cities novel architecture
We spent a week in Panama City sightseeing and completing numerous boat tasks. It is a big city made even larger by the fact we have spent so much time in small towns or uninhabited anchorages. It is a vertical city with numerous buildings in the 70 floor range and interesting architecture.
A street in Casco Viejo

There is also a new Frank Gehry Bio Museum near the causeway, where his bold primary colours on very linear flat plates can be seen from long distances. We haven’t been in it yet but I like the structure from the outside. Interestingly, it is not as curvi-linear as most of his earlier structures, probably much to the joy of those tasked with the construction. The old colonial, Casco Viejo, is being restored to its earlier beauty and is a great space to visit and stroll.
The village beach on Taboga

So after arranging for a mooring buoy on Isla Tobago with Chuy and Susan of Isla Taboga Island Moorings we returned to the island to get the boat ready to leave for six weeks. It is as pretty a location as our previous pass by had indicated. People are friendly and we managed to leave for the airport before the weekend crowds from Panama City arrived.

So, Kanilela is in Panama and we are in North Vancouver with two sweet little grand daughters.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Western Panama to Benao

Panama, a long time coming!
Our route to Benao, only to be stopped waiting out a Panama Gulf gap wind, think Papagayo South

Isla Parida, Panama

02 – April - 2016

An overnight trip around Punta Burica and on to Isla Parida

We had several dolphins escort us out of Costa Rica around Punta Burica that forms the Costa Rican, Panamanian border with some shrimp boats working the coastline. The trip was shorter than the guide books said and I hadn’t checked the charted distances so we arrived in the predawn darkness and ran some lazy time killing patterns while we waited for the sun.
Lots of rocks and Islets, not made for a nighttime entry!
The Island is surrounded by rocks and islets and a very exact route must be followed to enter the southern anchorage we planned to stay in. Dawn confirmed that waiting was a good decision because a huge surf pounded on the off shore rocks. We followed the Sarana Guide’s way points in and took a protected anchorage.
Looks like paradise
Other than a couple of caretakers living in two separate bays there are no residents and little development. After a good nap to get over the night crossing we put the dinghy in the water and explored three bays on Parida and one on Isla Paridita. A big mango tree on the beach provided an impromptu treat. It was a peaceful anchorage with only a small swell making its way in, gently rocking the boat.

Islas Secas, Panama

03 – April - 2016

A short 4 hours from Isla Parida to Isla Cavada in the Secas
Another pretty anchorage

We quickly dropped the hook and got the dinghy in the water because we could see the bottom clearly in twenty feet of water. Flips, masks and snorkels in hand we ran the dinghy to the north point and dropped its anchor and rolled into the water. It was beautiful. Some new corals are re-establishing and lots of tropical fish.
And a beautiful sunset

Bahia Honda, Panama
04 – April - 2016
The lush shoreline at Domingo's
Back to the coast, past Isla Medidor to Bahia Honda
A big yacht at anchor on Isla Medidor

After another short day that took us through a narrow pass we arrived at the entrance to Bahia Honda. Again, an anchorage that lives in many stories of the early boats cruising this coast. You have two choices, north to Domingos finca where he an his son, Kennedy, greet sailboats with offers of fruit from their farm. They are always interested in bartering. we traded batteries, milk and cookies for banas, lemons, mangos and grapefruit. If you are a diesel mechanic, they won't let you leave.
We put the dinghy in the water and ran over to Isla Honda to see the small village. People were friendly and curious. Not many boats stop here.
The bay is calm and makes for a peaceful anchorage but on a minus tide as we were leaving Domingo's foreshore we stopped for an hour while the rising tide floated us free from a sand bank that came quickly up from 19 feet. Life's little surprises!

Islas Cebaco, Panama
05 – April - 2016
Sailing out to Cebaco, the winds freshened and challenged our progress into the SW bay.
A quick shot back at the "feed ship" as we departed in the morning
Cebaco is the home to a "feed ship" and some charter fishing boats on buoys. We heard that you can buy diesel and snacks from them but we just came in close to shore to get out of the wind that was building, dropped the hook and relaxed. It is a pretty bay, well protected from the north wind and the swell from the south was reduced by us sneaking in close behind the buoys placed by the charter company.

Ensenada Naranja, Panama
06 – April - 2016
The weather is definitely changing...
Some mixed winds on the way to Naranja but it is a pretty, secure bay to ride out some North winds
The land was cleared in the early colonial period so cattle are common on the hils
While we were trapped in Bahia Santa Elena in northern Costa Rica for two weeks by the Papagayos our friends Wayne and Judy on Curiositas were trapped for at least that long in Ensenada Naranja. It is a very pretty bay but more exposed to swell than we were in Elena so we empathized with their plight. We knew weather was coming from reports on the Pan Pacific Net so we stayed one night and left early.
Benao or Playa Venao, Panama
07 – April - 2016
We are definitely getting close to Punta Mala, Bad Point!
It was a pre-dawn departure to make a daylight land fall at Benao. The weather started light and after numerous sail changes and direction adjustments it became apparent that once again the wind was on our nose. We knew the gap winds were picking up and Benao was our only hiding spot from the north winds. We finally motored the final 4 to 5 hours just to get the hook down before dark.
Kanilela at anchor

We waited until the next day to go ashore and after listening to the Pan Pacific Net and realizing that we were going nowhere for three days we stopped at the Villa Marina Hotel to check their restaurant schedule. Then we wandered up the beach to the well known surf beach to relax and watch the surfers of varying abilities.
And then there were two, Genesis arrived

Much to our surprise we saw a sailboat entering the bay. It turned out to be Genesis III who we had left in Golfito as they were picking up Mary's brother, Joe, in San Jose. On our way back up the beach we met them in one of the many beach bars and caught up on our respective travels.
Villa Marina Hotel, pool and courtyard, these are cruiser friendly people!
The forecast is for favourable winds and tides tomorrow about noon so we will head out for our final two steps to Panama City, Otoque -98 miles and Panama City another 22 miles.

Golfito, Costa Rica

Golfito, Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

29 – Marzo - 2016

To our final stop in Costa Rica

After a brief two day stop we left Bahia Drake at 4:00 am, in an early dawn darkness to ensure we arrived at Golfito in the day light. There were a few lightning strikes in the mountains and squalls showed on the radar and could be seen blocking the stars to the SW, to seaward. Fortunately the clouds parted for us to slide through as the sun came up over the Oso Peninsula. The trip skirts around the verdant Peninsula, home to the Corcovado National Park. Clearly this is rain country as nothing can be so green and lush without copious amounts of rain.

While checking the engine room shortly after rounding Cabo Matapalo and entering the Golfo Dulce, Sweet Gulf, we noticed a fine diesel spray misting the top of the engine. Before shutting down the engine to let it cool, a quick examination isolated the source to somewhere in the high pressure fuel supply lines running to the injectors.
Entry to Golfito

Once again our Goddess of the Sea, Matsu, was smiling on us and one of the sweetest winds came up from our stern giving us a downwind sail to Golfito twenty miles distance.

As we neared Golfito, I radioed Tim at Land Sea to check for mooring buoy availability or anchorage options. I told him that we had a fine diesel spray issue and he responded with “when you start your engine, place a clean white sheet of paper in the area to identify the source.” He also offered a side tie spot beside his houseboat to make repairs more accessible. We were starting to get an idea as to why it is called a Sweet Gulf.

We sailed about half way up Golfito’s entry channel before I decided we had better start the engine to ensure we were able to made the turn into the wind and continue up the channel to Tim’s. The engine started fine, the white paper trick worked great and with fuel absorbent pads carefully placed, the spray was stopped and the diesel drips were caught in a container. Fortunately the machine shop two doors over bronzed the leak and all is good.
Looking out from LandSea's top deck, Peregrina and Moondancer on buoys,
Perseverance, the blue hull out at anchor and in the left foreground,
Tim's Catalina 27 that he recently sailed down from California.
Genesis III at the Banana Bay dock next door
As we neared Land Sea’s dock, with his irrepressible smiling face from behind his huge beard, Tim took our lines and welcomed us to Golfito. The location is incredible with a steep hill covered with large trees, vines, bromeliads and dense brush rising from the coastal road. Green on green. Tim and Katie arrived on their sailboat twenty one years ago from California. Tim spent some years doing yacht deliveries while Katie developed the Land side of the business. She has some beach front apartments for rent and is able to perform real estate services for Golfito. Tim has some buoys in front and the office building serves as a cruiser’s lounge with washrooms, showers, wifi, and an honour frig stocked with beer, sodas and water.
The walls are covered with sailboat names, their crews and the date they were there. Kanilela’s oft repaired, old Bluewater Cruising Assoc. burgee with our names and date was placed, under Tim’s direction, on a wall of marine memorabilia.
Kanilela and Bluewater Cruising Assoc. enshrined on Tim's wall
The point of the burgee has been repaired by Mags numerous times
It was fun finding boat names from cruisers we followed around Vancouver Island and south.
Eric and Sherrell of the
Sarana Guides fame
Email Tim and Katie at for any questions, real estate or cruising.  

There were about five boats there with some others coming and going. It was great meeting Margie and Peter on Peregrina who completed their five year circumnavigation in the San Blas Islands of Panama and are now going into new cruising grounds up the west coast of Central and North America. Also there, was Nancy and her new puppy Popeye on Moondancer who is returning to Vancouver Island via Hawaii after many years in the Caribbean. Michael and Amanda on Perseverance who sailed from the Duluth, Mn out through the Great Lakes, the St Laurence and down the eastern seaboard to the Caribbean, now heading to Washington State, to then return to work probably in Montana. A neat young couple. We are hoping to receive an email from another young couple on Calyse who are heading to the US Virgin Islands where she will attend nursing school and he can return to being a skydiving instructor. Yes, I’ve misplaced their names.  A fun, interesting couple who we hope to see when we pass through the Virgin Islands. Quicksilver from Berkeley with Dave and Roberta also passed through on their northbound trip.

Golfito quickly joined Bahia Ballena as our two favourite places in Costa Rica. Golfito is a long lineal town built on the waterfront, extending north from Land Sea about two miles to the old Banana Shipping wharves of the United Fruit Company. The old company offices and residences are being restored. Within walking distance of Tim’s are a couple of good food stores, gas and diesel serving both cars and boats, road and dock, and hardware and marine supply stores. Most things can be found, it just takes a little looking. The people in Golfito are very friendly and helpful. Taxi’s run up and down the main road on a share basis. 700 colones (about $1.40 for the first person of a group) and 500 colones (about a dollar) for each additional person. The cars usually hold four people and as nothing is more than one block from the main road you may get short side trips to drop-off other passengers.

One of the lookouts from the top of the hill behind Golfito, a long hot, humid climb!
One morning at 6:00 am, at Tim’s suggestion, I walked 15 minutes south to a soccer field and then turned left up a little gravel road past some houses heading steeply up hill. When the houses ended the road became concrete placed many years ago and a sign said Golfito Rainforest Reserve. I continued up the steep climb with the single lane road completely covered by the amazing variety of trees. After about an hour of climbing I came to the first of the view points but other than some iridescent butterflies, blue morphos the most strikingly beautiful, and lots of bird songs no wild life was seen. Then a woodpecker started drumming and I thought this could be seen in North Vancouver but just as I managed to locate the crimson crested woodpecker I saw a Chestnut mandibilled Toucan sitting near the woodpecker, then several others flew into the trees close. How those “fruit-loops toucans” can fly with that monster beak is a mystery. Also, how they know when you plan to take a picture and then hide their beak behind a leaf is an even greater mystery.
This is a water apple, it didn't move and I got a picture. The
white nosed coati, high in the canopy evaded my phone camera!
Around the next bend the ground was scattered with ripe water apples and something was moving in the tree dropping more fruit. Because it was a solitary animal I thought it was possibly a sloth rather than a monkey but when I got a good view it turned out to be a white nosed coati or coatamundi. The fruit was so good he paid little attention to me. After a short climb to the next view point where I was able to see Perseverance riding at anchor far below.
The pretty ketch Perseverance riding on her hook far below
After continuing for another mile past some fincas, farms, that were uninhabited, one with a sign saying it was a conservation area, the land had flattened as I followed the ridge line leading to some transmission tower sites. A couple of toucans flew within ten feet of me and their wings made a noise like the windmill blades on wind power generators and as they flew into the dense foliage they crashed into branches. How do these things exist? For most of the hike I had been expecting monkeys and thinking that it was a perfect environment for agoutis. I had gone about half a kilometer back when the trees above me were alive with gold brown squirrel monkeys. They are quite quiet and tiny little guys but incredibly fast and none of my attempted photos up into the canopy on the phone came out. Some were curious and came down the branches close to examine me, then scamped away through the trees, never staying still. As I continued down the road I turned a corner and heard rustling in the underbrush. There he was, my illusive agouti sneaking away into the selva. Needless to say, when I returned to Tim’s after a four hour outing, I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

Another side trip from Golfito that we had heard about was about fifteen kilometers up the Golfo Dulce to Casa Orquideas where Trudy and Ron have spent 26 years creating a tropical paradise of indigenous and imported plants and flowers.  
A beautiful space
There is no road access but you can sail your boat there although the anchorage is marginal and the beach landing in a dinghy can be difficult so we took a panga that moors at Tim’s dock and he gave us a close to shore high speed trip up the coastline. I had phoned the previous day and Trudy met us at the beach, assisting the panga to land. She and Ron first started hoping to farm cash fruit crops but the beautiful setting quickly became the results of their passion for tropical plants. Interestingly, when Golfito was an important banana port, ships from the United Fruit Company would come with tropical plants from around the world and Golfito was famous for its wide variety that thrived. When the company left, the town’s gardens quickly became overgrown and then diminished.
Fortunately, Trudy and Ron were able to take seeds and cuttings and introduce this vast selection to their gardens, palms, orchids, heliconias of the flaming gingers, bird of paradise flowers and upright lobster claw flowers, bromeliads and on and on. Even ylangi ylangi that is the sent for Chanel #5 and another miracle fruit that makes sour tastes sweet. We first ate some exceptionally sour lemon, then we ate the fruit and when we again ate the lemon it was sweet. It was not a sugary masking of the lemon, but rather a change in how our taste responded to the lemon. Needless to say there is extensive research on potential uses of this fruit. Trudy’s tour was fascinating and her knowledge infectious. 

Soon it was time to leave Golfito and Costa Rica, so we started our paperwork exit procedure. The Immigration Office was the friendliest official we met in Costa Rica and possibly the entire trip. Customs and the Port Captain were also very helpful and a pleasure to deal with while we got our departure zarpe for Panama.