Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pacific Panamá – Adventures at Anchor #1 -- February 15 – March 2, 2017

Greetings from Boca Chica, Panamá

Up This Way Lies Boca Chica Village -
And The Dread Mast-Snagging Power Lines Are Around That Curve

We’re stuck here at the moment – literally. Abracadabra’s anchor chain has twirled and wrapped about something we can’t see and the wind is gusting up to 35 knots which makes getting out in a dinghy and trying to un-snag whatever the snag is sound like a bad idea. We will exercise patience and wait for a calmer day to do all that -- and will report in on whatever "all that" turns out to be. In the meantime, here’s some information about how we got here:

Adios, Golfito – February 8 - 15

During our final week in Golfito we got the dinghy outboard repaired (minor, inexpensive - yeah) and purchased everything we anticipated consuming over a three-week period at anchor: diesel fuel, toilet paper, canned tomatoes, chocolate-chip cookies, rum . . . the necessities of life.

Off She Goes To Buy Stuff!

In our purchasing frenzy we managed to forget to withdraw US dollars (the currency of Panamá). We left Costa Rica with about $47 in cash . . . more about the effect of that dumb stunt later.

Our friend Greg Snead, a single-hander on Irie (Irie = Rastafarian greeting) arrived from Panamá and took a mooring ball near Banana Bay. We spent several meals catching up with him and in the process got a lot of good, current information about Panamá.

Hola, Irie!
[A Bilingual Redundancy?]

One night we received a real world reminder that being “safely” at a dock has its own risks: Dinner was interrupted when Molly looked out the companionway and said “Uhm – it looks like the neighbor is about to t-bone itself on our back porch!”

The neighboring sports fisher (45+ feet) had left the dock to find fish, but instead found that one of two massive engines was overheating. The excellent captain brought the boat limping back to the marina on one engine and gently laid her crosswise to the end of the dock, planning to use the strong current to pivot into the slip. Fortunately for the owners of the sports fisher and of Abracadabra the sports fisher crew was well versed at fending off – they had huge round fenders and bright lights, and some of them were foolishly brave. There was some tension and a lot of loud efforts at communication -- but at the end of the maneuver not a scratch on either boat. Whew. We resumed dinner with renewed enthusiasm for weeks at anchor!

Sunday was observed as a day of rest: we purchased day passes for the swimming pool at Hotel Casa Roland; a bargain at 2,000 colones / $3.63 each.

Along the way we said good-bye to many of the colorful and charming people we had met: Rick, our go-to guy for boat repairs (particularly woodwork); Adam The Canvas Guru; Silvie and Lisa,charming “jills of all trades” and citizens of the world; Captain Ron, former U-2 pilot and man of many opinions, expressed primarily in words not printed in the New York Times; Yessica, friendly and efficient manager of Banana Bay; Sergio and Chama, great boat cleaners and all-round nice guys; and Christian, the most charming and attentive night watchman we have ever met.

On Valentine’s Day . . . 

Awww - Love Is A Rose
(Or Even Better On A Hot Day - A Shared Cold 7-Up!)

. . . we checked out of Costa Rica (migración / immigration), terminated Abracadabra’s 90-day temporary import permit (aduana / customs) and obtained an international zarpe (permission to travel) from the capitanía del puerto. Each office performed efficiently and professionally; total cost $20.

We also paid our last marina bill. FYI Banana Bay charged $150 for “bonding” Abracadabra – the process which allowed her, as a foreign-registered vessel, to remain at a dock in Costa Rica last summer for up to 9 months without our having to pay full importation costs. 

Departure Day – February 15

We started out in true Abracadabra style by dawdling over breakfast with Greg. 

Looking Forward To A Bacon-n-Egg Powered Sail

At 11.15 we left the dock and motored most of the 10 miles across the Golfo Dulce to anchor at Jimenez (low wind for all but the last 30 minutes of our trip). No need spending a first night any further from a repair base than necessary, say we!

Captain Bryce - Headed to Panamá

FYI, there’s a reason the boats in Jimenez harbor are on mooring balls: the contours of that little bay are best described as Wildly Undulating. We motored around looking for the shelf at 20 feet deep we had read about and registered depths from 184 feet to 9 feet – within less than a tenth of a nautical mile of one another! Based on some shouted advice from a local fisherman we finally found a consistent 50 foot-deep area - anchor down and a lot of chain out: 14.18.

Vamanos A Panamá! – February 16

Anchor up at 05.15 and off we motored; the newly operating wind meter registering at less than the 5 or 6 kts required to move Abracadabra. Near the opening of the Golfo Dulce we were approached by the Guarda Costa de Costa Rica. They drew along side and sent their English-speaking guy forward to ask our departure point and destination. We said we were from Golfito, headed for Panamá and offered to show our zarpe; he declined our offer and wished us a buen viaje. Todo bien / All good.

On we motored. And then Captain Bryce had an idea that can only be described as brilliant. If we were going to act like a motor boat – why not look like one? He put up the cockpit sun shade. Goofy looking, but at least 10 degrees cooler -- eff-ing brilliant.

We entered Panamanian waters around 13.00 and switched courtesy flags.

Costa Rica Down. Panamá Up.

An hour or so later the breeze picked up and we were able to sail for an hour on the jib (because by this time Molly had become addicted to the shade which blocks using the mainsail – !).

Near 15.00 we arrived at the roadstead anchorage off Punta Burica and the anchoring fun began again. We could give you too much detail (which is our way) but here’s the shorthand version:
  • first depth readings showed another Wildly Undulating anchorage;
  • the depth sounder quit for about 15 minutes for reasons we may never understand (oh, sure, we'll just anchor 19th Century style!);
  • a first attempt which in hindsight might have been okay had we not been nervous about the WU topography and psychotic depth meter;
  • a second attempt that involved a steep slope, a jammed windlass and too much (more hindsight) rode to cure a set we didn’t trust; and
  • three hours later (we kid you not) a secure set in 40 feet (or at least one that let us sleep).
Rum and tonic with an ibuprophen chaser for the crew! Oh, and set the anchor alarm.
Note to Selves: Curing anchoring insecurity by putting out a s^#tload of chain and rode may not make for a more secure set and if it doesn’t, it will make it a lot harder to re-re-anchor.

Isla Parida, Southern Anchorage February 17- 20

Neptune/Poseidon apparently decided to give us an easy passage and a calm anchorage to compensate for Punta Burica. Well, mostly. There were a few hazards to navigation on the passage.

Ride, Ride, Ride - Hitchin' A Ride

We sailed for the last two hours toward Isla Parida in a good 10-12 kt wind. Nothing more beautiful than sailing as fast as one can motor. Take that, stinky fossil fuels!

We motored slowly through the rock field guarding the anchorage behind Isla Paridita on the south side of the larger Isla Parida, reminding ourselves to breathe, breathe, breathe and check, check, check the charts. [Thanks again, Sarana crew for your excellent waypoints.] 

At about 17.45 we set the anchor in a lovely little cove, a consistent 20 feet of water underneath us. Ahhhh, yes. This is why we came – dinner under the stars (Orion on guard directly above us).

We enjoyed our three nights there even though the current was too strong for swimming – we had to hang on to a line and essentially “ski” behind Abracadabra when we wanted to cool off in the afternoon. But our neighbors made up for the less than optimum swimming conditions.

On Sunday we motored along the shores of Parida and Paridita noticing faded signs which we suspected would say "private property” if we got close enough to read them. Then on the shore of Paridita we saw a boy and a little girl watching us and asked them if we were permitted to land there. The boy invited us to land and then took us to meet his family – our first introduction to the Ngöbe-Buglé people of Chiriqui Province.

Sadly, we did not have a camera with us so the following description is all we can share about our visit:

We sat with the family in the cool, thatched hut that serves as the public space of their tidy compound. It hut had a stove of questionable functionality, a separate two burner gas range top that looked like it worked, a small, rusty chest freezer (unclear whether it functioned as a freezer or simply as storage), a hammock, a few plastic lawn chairs and a wooden seating bench. The underside of the palm-thatched roof was a work of art. The floor was smooth, pounded dirt.

Their compound included a second small (10’x10’ – ish) hut which we assumed to be the family’s sleeping quarters and another, smaller hut that appeared to be for storage. In the swept-dirt courtyard was a well. The outhouse must have been tucked away in the woods.

The father of the family explained that he works as a caretaker / groundskeeper of a small hotel compound owned by someone described as “a Russian from the United States”. According to the internet, this lodge has double rooms for $299 a night with breakfast! We did not see it.

The caretaker, José (40 - they were very happy to identify themselves by age), lives on the island full time and during school breaks is joined by his wife (33), their youngest son (the boy who had met us on the beach - 16), a daughter (10) and the family “baby girl” (4). Their two older boys (19 and 18) work as caretakers on the larger island of Parida, which may or may not also be owned by “The Russian”. [Note: Do the math, this woman was a mother at 14! Her husband was 21. In some states a crime would have been committed.]

The mother and the younger children live with the maternal grandmother in a nearby mainland pueblito (the name of which we failed to get) during the school year. February is part of the “summer vacation” in Panamá. The 16-year old is going to colegio (high school) at the beginning of the new school year, which is a great source of pride for the family. When asked his career goals, the boy said he wanted to be a caretaker like his father. Hmmm. Perhaps he will learn about career options from someone at his colegio.

The family speaks Spanish, but also the language of the Ngöbe-Buglé. The mother and daughters were dressed in the traditional, modest, embroidered cotton dresses of this group. The mother explained that she had a sewing machine in the pueblito and that she did the embroidery on the machine. She also made plastic-bead bracelets and crocheted small purses which she showed us. Had we had more than $47 on board, we would have offered to purchase one of her bags, though what Molly really wants is one of the dresses – they look very cool and comfortable.

The youngest daughter’s favorite toy was a loaf-pan-mobile: a metal loaf pan with wooden dowels and wheels and a pull string. They seem to do some communicating with their older sons using a conch shell (we would hear them in the evening) -- but Bryce and José had a lively discussion about which cell phone company has better coverage along the coast when they explained they would call and order groceries to be delivered from town every two weeks.

They offered us some limóns – which in southern Costa Rica and Panamá are curiously bumpy lime-looking things with orange flesh that taste . . . citrusy. We thanked them and asked if they needed anything. They asked for sugar. Later in the day we returned with a small bag of sugar, a large bottle of cooking oil and a set of colored pencils and some paper for the younger girls. A very small thank you for their time and hospitality.

Isla Parida – Punta Jurel Anchorage – February 20 – 24; A Second José

In search of better swimming, we sailed to the northern tip of the island (yes, sailed!) and anchored south of Punta Jurel. This which was all that an anchorage should be.

It was a calm home for Abracadabra:

Abracadabra At Isla Parida

There were pleasant neighbors, the friendliest of which was another José – this one a lad (18) from the city of David who was spending his summer holiday at his sister and brother-in-law’s home on the bay. The sister and brother-in-law work as caretakers of a failed hotel project and operate a small bait fish operation. Some mornings were busy with sports fishers stopping by to purchase bait fish.

On our second evening, José arrived with a gift of bananas and limóns. We invited him aboard to join our cocktail hour (we gave him a soda and some peanuts - manis) and learned about his family. The next evening he brought two Panamanian beers – having seen us drinking Costa Rican beers the day before – and a sculpture of painted shells made by his sister. In return he asked if we had any milk and we gave him two boxes. We are slowly learning the etiquette of the area.

José seems to spend his summers taking cell phone pictures of the sailboats in the Punta Jurel anchorage. We saw Irie’s stay memorialized on José’s cell phone! 

More picture taking all around:

José and Bryce

José At The Helm

The bait fish operation also offered some entertainment. One day a fishing boat stopped by to cut some long reeds to use as mounts for the black warning flags which are used to mark fishing lines in Central America (we have considered importing some neon orange fabric to give to fishing fleets . . . surely orange should be their new and better black!).

Loading Raw Materials For Fishing Net Flags

Workers' Benefits - A Tow

We enjoyed beautiful sunsets:

Tropical Dreams Are Made of These

And the nearby beaches offered calm swimming. One afternoon we took the dinghy over to nearby Isla Gamez for a swim.

Secluded Beach - Isla Gamez
(If You Wait For The Hotel's "Secluded Beach Tour" To Leave)

Trusty Dinghy

It was very hard to leave. But there are other places . . .

Boca Chica – February 24 – March 2; And A Third José

Boca Chica (Little Mouth) is a challenge to get to – lots of low water and reefs at the entrance - but thanks (once again) to the excellent waypoints provided by Eric Baicy and Sherrell Watson, authors of the Sarana Guides, we arrived safely and anchored between Reef 2 and Reef 3 (which are marked with red floats) and avoided The Wreck (which is not marked)! We are off the Bocas del Mar hotel and Seagull Cove Resort

Reef # 3 At Low Tide
(At High - Two Small Red Floats)

We were greeted kindly by Mitch and Vicky who have been at anchor here for over 14 years (!) and really know their way around. They offered a lot of good information.

They explained how to get to the city of David – the closest known ATMs (see above re: having only $47!). Following their instructions we took a water taxi to Boca Chica village ($3 each – call 507-6569-9066) where we started our hour-and-a-half trip on (a) an extremely sketchy mini-bus and then (b) a way more comfortable (and air-conditioned!) but crowded Coaster (a small 30-passenger bus popular in Central America). In David (pron: Dah-veed) we arrived at a truly Third World bus station: wall-to-wall people, piled plastic bags of stuff (clothes, food, pots and pans, toilet paper), ladies in indigenous dress with babies and toddlers, elderly people being helped by porters, confusing signs, no visible central information or ticket office and dozens of places to buy cell phones and fried food.

We used the least sketchy-looking ATM, had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (edible, but even Molly’s Gringo Girl stir-fry is better!) and bought local cellphone simcards. We took a cab to the Super Baru (a local grocery chain) for a scouting mission (the cheese selection looked fabulous after weeks in Golfito!) and a small purchase and then returned to the station. Somewhere along the line we learned that it was Carnivál which in Panamá is the time everyone empties out of the cities (there are only really two: David and Panama City) and goes to the beach. This, we were told, was why the traffic was bad and the bus-station was so crowded.

After we returned to Boca Chica we put Vicky and Mitch’s best information to work: We took our dinghy over to the Seagull Cove Tiki Bar for Saturday Night. The hamburgers were big, the beers were cold and the crowd was eclectic. The Tiki Bar is only open on Saturday night so if you’re in Boca Chica on a Saturday, don’t wait.

Tiki Lounge At Low Tide

Boca Chica village info: The reported vegetable and fruit truck now comes every day and parks across from the small tienda. 

Boca Chica anchorage info: We have had lunch at Bocas del Mar (really, really good at American prices) and at the hotel at the tip of Isla Boca Brava (friendly and just fine for less). Both hotels will do laundry upon request: $1.50 a pound at Boca Brava when they don't have many guests and $10 a kilo at Bocas del Mar regardless of the hotel's occupancy level. Water is hard to come by here. The manager at Bocas del Mar let us fill a 6-gallon jerry can as a courtesy when we had lunch and did a kilo of laundry there. They aren’t in the business of selling water, and we were told we would not be able to fill our tanks at their docks before we even asked.

Yesterday we returned to David and did a three-week shop. We hired a taxi – thanks for the contact, Don! If you need a big shop in David, we recommend José (apparently half the men in Panamá are named José . . . ); call 507-6442-2004, $100 for a round trip ride (one hour each way) and full day shopping tour in a mostly air-conditioned cab. José doesn’t speak much English, but if you speak Spanish he will search out boat parts with terrier-like tenacity. Note: Boat parts in David are in some rather obscure locations. At Daisy (downtown David) they are found upstairs, behind the “neon plastic stuff for your wedding reception” area.

As we said earlier, this morning we jumped up and prepared to leave only to decide . . . to try it again later. It’s only now gusting at less than "like stink" levels. Quizás mañana?

More on where we go when we go there!

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