November 2013 - Panama to Ecuador

1 November 2013    Bahia Honda Town, Panama
We had a leisurely start to the day.  An eighteen year old lad called Phillipe came over to say hello and spoke very good English.  He's been teaching himself using a dictionary and the odd English books that he manages to acquire because none of the teachers at the local school teach English, so he had to learn on his own.

We went ashore and Phillipe showed us around.  He first took us to the village's Internet antenna which is outside someone’s house, so I sat in the slight drizzle with my laptop on my knees, surrounded by chickens and the odd dog, while I connected to our bank and paid off our credit cards.

Bahia Honda, Panama

Phillipe then took us up to the school and introduced us to a couple of his previous teachers - he goes to college in Santiago now.  The teachers told us that there's some kind of event at the school starting at eight o'clock on Sunday, which is Panama's Flag Day.

We then went down to look at the two small tiendas, which don't really have anything that we wanted apart from bread.  They don't have any fresh vegetables in the village, but the two bars have cases of Balboa beer stacked up to the ceiling – we bought four cases which significantly added to the village’s economy.  

The village is very small with a maze of concrete paths weaving between the houses dotted around the hilly island.  The only suggestion of a street is along the water front where the two tiendas are located, but that's just hard packed dirt and narrow.  However, the people are nice and friendly, with a few stopping to say hello to us.

We chilled out for the rest of the day and chatted to the odd villagers who came alongside in their pangas and dugout canoes to have a look at us.  It amazes me how common dugout canoes are – we’ve seen them everywhere in Panama.

2 November 2013    Bahia Honda Town, Panama
Today was the festival of the dead.  We could hear drums beating sporadically, but there didn't seem to be much happening ashore.  Later in the morning, Glenys noticed that quite a few Pangas had motored across to a small island to the north west of the town.  We were wondering what they were doing and finally thought that perhaps the island was a burial ground and they'd all gone out to pay their respects.  A little later in the day, when it was quieter, we went to have a look and confirmed that there's a small grave yard on the island.

After lunch, we jumped in the dinghy and went to explore a little.  I spotted a waterfall on the mainland to the south of the village, so we went to have a look.  We found the mouth of the stream and started to wade up the fast flowing water, but after we'd gone a hundred metres, the jungle became thicker, encroaching on the water and the terrain became steeper.  Discretion kicked in and we turned back.  There was just the two of us and no one knew where we were, so penetrating dense jungle in a pair of sandals without a machete would have been a little foolish.

Main Street, Bahia Honda, Panama

Nothing seemed to be happening in the village, so we had a quiet night in.

3 November 2013    Bahia Honda Town, Panama
Today was National Flag Day, when Panamanians celebrate the country's independence from Colombia.  Just before eight o'clock, we heard drums playing up at the school.  Unfortunately, Glenys had a dodgy tummy, so I walked up to the school by myself to have a look at what was going on.

All of the school children were gathered in their playground and a little flag raising ceremony took place.  There were then lots of speeches by officials and school children - extremely boring especially when I didn't understand a word.   When everyone went into one of the classrooms for even more speeches, I sloped off and left them to it.

We chilled out for the rest of the day - I managed to get an Internet connection on board, so I did some administration, checked our bank accounts and published my blog.  It's been very relaxing being here and the anchorage is wonderfully calm, but we've run out of things to do, so we're planning to head off tomorrow.

4 November 2013    Bahia Honda  to Isla Brincanco, Panama
We pulled up the anchor and left before nine o'clock, motoring out into the windless bay and then down the narrow channel to the east of Isla Canalea de Tierra.  There are some nasty looking rocks in the middle of the channel and I was thankful that we went through at low tide when we could see the damn reef.  Our Navionics electronic charts are 0.2 nautical miles out of position and were useless in the narrow, 30 metre wide channel, but the Bauhaus charts are spot on.

We were planning to go north up the coast to Ensenada Rosario, but the wind was from the north, so we headed out to the Isla Pajaros instead.  There wasn't enough wind to sail, but it was only 12 miles.  

The bay on the north side of Isla Brincanco is very deep until you get close to shore, when it shelves rapidly.  We motored around in circles for fifteen minutes checking the depth until we decided to anchor on an eight metre deep shelf on the west side of the bay.  As we were fairly close to the shore, I put out a stern anchor to restrict our swinging circle.  Our portable depth sounder came in handy once again, allowing me to measure the depth before I dropped the stern anchor from the dinghy.

Isla Brincanco, Panama

The anchorage is well protected from the Pacific swell.  It’s a very impressive, isolated bay, but looks a little forbidding because the dense jungle comes right down to the sea and the two small beaches have black sand.  We couldn't see anywhere that was worth landing.  It would be nice to go for a walk, but the jungle looks to be impenetrable.  

In the afternoon, we went for a snorkel.  We initially tried by the island at the west headland of the bay, but it was pretty rough with breaking swell and the visibility was very poor.  We tried the east headland, which was calmer, but the visibility was still only about 15 feet.  Glenys wasn't at all keen to go in the murky water, but after I dove down a couple of times and said it was okay, she came in.  I spooked a large, four foot turtle which swam away rapidly, Glenys saw it a little later when it swam directly at her obviously panicking because of the strange aliens in its environment.  

5 November 2013    Isla Brincanco to Isla Secas, Panama
A small amount of swell sneaked in during the night and water was slapping against our stern, so we didn’t have a very peaceful night.  We pulled up our anchors, which took twenty minutes because I had to drop the dinghy into the water, pull up the stern anchor by hand and stow it all away.

There was no wind again so we motored the fifteen miles to Islas Secas.  As we approached, we got very excited because we saw that there was another sailboat in the anchorage – we haven’t seen another cruiser for ten days.  It turned out to be “Moon Shadow”, who we met briefly in Shelter Bay marina a couple of months ago.

The anchorage off Isla Cavada looks nice, but again the sea bed drops off steeply, so it took us a while to motor around and find somewhere where we were happy.  We dropped the anchor in 7 metres on the edge of a shallow area – the sea bed slopes off, but at least it’s good holding in sand.  As we swung around during the day, we were in 4.5 metres close to the shore and 15 metres when the wind blew us off shore.

Having checked the anchor, we spent some time snorkelling around in the shallows behind the boat and found quite a collection of fish.  The water is the clearest that we've seen on this side of the Panama Canal, but still only about 8 metres visibility. Later in the afternoon, we went snorkelling on the headland to the north of the anchorage which was okay.  

Checking out the beach at low tide, Islas Secas, Panama

While snorkelling around the boat, I spotted a large number of big conch.  They’re different from the Queen Conch that we've been harvesting in the Caribbean, and don’t have any spines sticking up on the top.  I picked one up and had a go at trying to extract the creature, but after bashing several holes in the shell, I couldn't find the abductor muscle which needs to be cut to pull the creature out of its shell.

There was a small fishing boat anchored nearby, so I went over and tried to ask them how to open it, but I couldn't make any sense out of what they were telling me – at first, I think that they said to smash it open, but then they seemed to be telling me to boil it.  I've given up, which is a pity because I was looking forward to some Conch Salad and a Conch Curry.

John and Debbie invited us over to “Moon Shadow” for cocktails.  It turns out that they were up in Maine at about the same time as us last year and we have a number of friends in common who we met on the East Coast of the USA – small world.

“Moon Shadow” visited Isla Coiba a couple of nights ago, which is part of a large Marine National Park.  We avoided the place because we’d heard that they Park Authorities were charging large fees to visit the park.  “Moon Shadow” is 62 feet long and rangers wanted to charge them $180/night for the boat and $20/night per person – that’s $220 per night.  You can stay in a five star hotel for less than that.  John and Debbie managed to negotiate them down to $100 for the night and left in a hurry the next day.  Apparently, the fee for boats up to 50 foot is $60/night, so it would have cost us $100 to stay for one night – we’re glad that we kept away.

There’s another island called Isla Parida on the way to Golfito, where we were going to stop, but it’s part of another Marine Park which charges similar fees.  We’re going to strike that one off the list as well, which is a pity because it looks nice.  The park authorities just haven’t got it right, I can understand them charging for commercial tourist boats and the fees make sense if you have a forty foot boat carrying 40 tourists, but it’s a nonsense to charge cruisers $100 per night just to anchor there.  

6 November 2013    Isla Secas, Panama
We had a big thunderstorm last night with torrential rain.  I was hoping that we were getting to the end of the rainy season now because I’m paranoid about being struck by lightning.  Our friends on “Vanupieds” and “Nuwam” had a very close lightning strike a week ago in the San Blas islands and have damaged electronics – both of their autopilots are completely blown.  That’s going to delay them for a month or so.  I’ll be glad when we’re in Ecuador, south of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and in a drier climate.

This morning, Glenys spotted a group of at least twenty whales passing through the channel to the north of the anchorage – we think that they were some kind of pilot whale, possible False Killer Whales.  

There’s a gap between two islands that is flooded at high tide, but exposed at low tide, so we went for a walk around, picking up bits of sea glass and shells.  We saw some strange Rockpool Blennies that hang about in the rock pools and crawl out of the water.  If you go close to them they make astonishing three foot leaps into the air and scurry off, half jumping and half swimming.  I spotted some huge limpets on the rocks and brought one back to the boat intending to cook it and taste it, but my nerve went and I released it back into the sea.

We went snorkelling in the afternoon in the shallows around some coral heads off the beach, which was okay.  We saw quite a few fish, especially Butterflyfish which swim around in big shoals around here – in the Caribbean we only ever saw them in pairs.  

Large shoal of Butterflyfish, Islas Secas, Panama

When we got back to the boat, I dived down and brought up three conch, which Glenys steamed in a big pan for fifteen minutes.  It was then quite easy to pull the creature out of its shell.  I cleaned them up and we put the conch flesh into the fridge for tomorrow night.

“Moon Shadow” sailed off to Golfito, so we had a quiet night in and watched a movie with a plate of Baccalau a Bras – brilliant.

7 November 2013    Isla Secas, Panama
I woke up remembering that I still have to do my tax return for the last tax year, so I dug around in our records and worked out the figures.  It’s all pretty simple because we only have a little bit of income from some investments and savings accounts.  As usual, I came to a grinding halt because I don’t have access to the Internet – I have to get some tax certificates from the banks, etc.  I’ll finish it off when we get to Golfito in a few days’ time.

Glenys chilled out reading and cleaning the shells that we picked up yesterday, including one of the Conch that we boiled – it came out really nice.  That’s yet another artefact to add to our growing collection – I wonder how much stuff we’ll be carrying when we complete our circumnavigation.

I spent most of the rest of the day writing out a guitar music score for a finger style arrangement of Desperado by The Eagles.  I’ve got a video lesson and some music for the song, but I needed to pull all the information together into a useable format.  I had a go at playing it this evening and there are a lot of slides and hammer-ons which have bruised my fingertips, so I’ll have to go easy on the playing guitar for the next few days.

We had Conch Curry for dinner, which was tasty, but the conch was very chewy.  Glenys gave it a good hammering to tenderise it before cooking it for twenty minutes in the pressure cooker.  It seems a lot tougher than the Caribbean Queen Conch – perhaps she’ll have to cook it for longer. We’ll have to figure it out because conch is so easy to find here.