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.