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.

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