Well time has well and truly gotten away from me and with all the new places to explore and sailing to be done my writing has taken a back seat. We finished up things in Panama City after a few very hectic days of running around and with swell forecast to hit a little spot we knew of, we pulled anchor and headed southwest, panama city slowly disappearing astern. The winds were forecast to be a pleasant 10 -15 knot, but soon after leaving they began to build to 20 knots, then 30 and onwards. We spent the night with the sails reefed and gusty winds that would go from 30 knots, to 40 and then 45 for ten minutes or so and then drop back off to 30 or even 20. This meant that it was pretty hard to settle into a rhythm, we would just get things set up for one wind strength, when it would change the game on us and we would find ourselves having to fight the boat from rounding up into the wind. Kuhela handled it all in her stride though, we were cruising along at a great speed of 7 knots and heading in the right direction. Kim held up really well as well, not having sailed much it was good experience and good that we got a chance to test things under a bit of load and with a bit of breeze around. That feeling of hand steering while alone on night watch, feeling the water rushing past Kuhela’s rudder, big bright moon over head peeking out from the clouds every few minutes to see how we were holding up, the water gurgling past the hull while throwing streams of phosphorescence away from the stern, these things can only really ever be truly experienced by being there in that moment. I don’t posses the eloquent vocabulary of London, Hemingway or Melville to even begin to describe this. We made our next stop at the little town of Venao the following afternoon still tackling the same amount of breeze we had the night before, it did drop off a little in the early part of the morning but was back in full force by lunchtime. We dropped the anchor a ways off a picturesque little beach running the length of the small cove and after a shower to wash the wind blown salt off our faces, hair and bodies we both crashed out for some much needed sleep.
The following afternoon around six we pulled anchor and headed for the next stop, Santa Catalina, and the building swell. The wind pulled pretty much the same trick as the day before, starting off as a nice breeze and building to 30 knots, at least until we got into the lee of the large headland that runs the 40 nm from Venoa westward, then it dropped off to nothing and we found ourselves becalmed and trying to find wind a bit further off shore. I knew the wind was there, and sure enough as soon as we stuck our noses from under the shade of the land we got hit with it, gusts to 65 knots of it to be precise. There must be a funnel effect through the hills as it rushes down to the ocean, and this certainly kept us on out toes. Again though, Kuhela handled it all in her stride and we were making great time towards our next anchorage, and the waves. Then, late the next morning, the wind started dropping, and didn’t stop till it was absolutely gone, there’s only one thing more frustrating than lots of wind, that’s no wind. We motored along for the next few hours and about five mile from our destination the wind came back with force, right from the direction we wanted to go. That’s even more frustrating than too much or too little wind. We got there in the end though and dropped anchor and the dingy in record time and shot off towards the surf, and a good thing too as it was fun and most everyone had gone in as the sun and the tide were getting low. Fun waves and only three in the water, an amazing sunset smearing color across the horizon, Kuhela sitting off in the distance, and wave after wave, it was worth the trip. On top of the surf, Kim has been trying his hand at baking and been some amazing aromas coming from the oven, finishing an epic surf to fresh baked bread and a cup of tea or coffee, life aint bad at all.
We spent a few days there surfing a few different spots and checking out the little village. To land the dingy on the beach you would have to time the swell coming in and come in on the back of a wave, to hopefully land gracefully on the beach. The alternative was to come crashing into the sand and having a wave swamp over the back of you and bury you in sand and sea. Thankfully we managed to avoid this, but some others weren’t as lucky. After a few days of fun waves the swell was forecast to drop off and the wind picking up again so we headed off to another small island about 10NM away. The little bay on the southwestern side of Cebaco offered us protection from the wind and remaining swell and we spent a few days diving and exploring there. Panama has so much great diving and spearing on offer, back in Santa Catalina we had seen some of the local divers with good-sized Cubera snapper so we were pretty keen to get out and check out some of the spots. We did find some good ground and did see some decent fish, but as the swell had only just dropped the visibility was like diving in soup. I did startle a few fish, well we startled each other anyways, but they would shoot off before I even had time to move my gun. This and all the stories we had heard about the bull shark breeding ground just off where I was diving and it was enough to put me off my game a bit. Did manage some nice fish in the end though and was good to be back to the staple of fish and rice, it had been too long, well considering I live on a boat.
The next swell was hitting and it was time to surf again, and this swell was a bit bigger than we expected. Good for the surf, not so good for the anchorage. It makes it even harder to sleep than normal when the boat is rolling from side to side and all you can do is think about the swell that must be hitting the point in the dark. We got out there before the sun in the morning and you could see the swell unloading on the point in the first faint lights of day. It was probably solid six foot and the drop on my first wave got the heartbeat up and going. It wasn’t until paddling back out when I saw someone else take off that I realized the size, it wasn’t huge, but solid and felt great to surf something with a bit of push again. Wish I could say I had an awesome session, but struggled to find my feet on my new board and as a result got to work a lot on my underwater relaxation techniques, but did mange a few god waves in the end. After a few days like this, surfing during the day and lying in bed wedged into a corner to stop the rolling we had enough and were starting to look where to head to next. Our timing for being there did work out well though and Steve and Di, friends from Boacas, were able to come and visit on their way back from the city and was great to catch up and swap some stories about what we’d been up to. They were also kind enough to bring some things that we needed, and Di spoilt us rotten again with all kinds of exotic foods and gifts.
We pulled anchor once again and headed for Coiba, which is a national park and can be a bit expensive, depending on the mood of the rangers. We decided to head to the southern most islands so that hopefully we would save the rangers the hassle of having to think too much about this. An easy day sail got us there and we dropped anchor off a heavily forested little island called Jicaron with a small channel to the south between this and the smaller island, Jicaritta. After throwing the dingy in we headed straight for the little channel and would drift with the dingy in the current flowing through it, checking out the amazing fish and coral as we drifted above. Didn’t even need to put any fins on, you could just swim down and hold onto a rock as the amazing array of sea life circled to inspected you. Saw some big cubera snapper sitting on the outside of the channel, keeping their distance but definitely with their curiosity piqued. these fish have been on my list to hunt for years and i have seen them in other places but have not been able to land one. Being a national park this wasn't going to be the place either, but was great to see some larger ones, around the 15kg mark, and to study them without the sometimes distracting gun I've usually got in my hands. We spent three days there exploring and diving lots, so much life, so much blue water and an amazing rawness to the place as we motored around imposing cliffs that take the full battering of the Pacific ocean. On the last day we headed up to the northern anchorage and just as we were coming in we say a possibly fun little right hand break peeling away down form point just to the west of us. Kim couldn't get the fins in his board fast enough and I wasn't far behind when the radio crackled to life with Matt and Kate telling us that they were on the beach and had just seen two large crocodiles just off the beach. Amazing how that wave looked so much smaller, crumbly and not so good at all after that. We jumped on the dingy and headed in to have a look and sure enough, there they were sitting just off shore, watching us, watching them. As we walked up the beach they went right out to the point and sat just behind the same wave we had been looking at before. Some locals you don't argue with. I knew there were crocs in Costa Rica, but it didn't really cross my mind that they would be here. Something to keep in the back of the mind.
We headed from there to the Secas, another group of island about 30NM away and had a brilliant day of sailing, perfect conditions and with the boat ghosting along silently as the wind vane auto pilot steered us to out destination. i had heard that Pete, a mate of mine who is a spearfishing guide around Panama was in the secas on a trip and didn't take long to track him down. He was guiding for a group who owned the amazing little resort on the island and the boys had been out getting some great fish. Was great catching up with him and the boys were kind enough to let me tag along on for a dive on a couple days. I really had to sit back and pinch myself sometimes, here i was, just pulled up on a little island in the middle of panama and i had friends there, and was aboard an amazing fishing boat heading out to spear some of the best grounds in the world. How do i pull this stuff off sometimes? i have no idea, but I'm super grateful for it and the smile i had pasted on my face almost made it hard to get my dive mask to seal. We didn't see any tuna unfortunately but got some good cubera and got a chance to dive out on Hannibal bank again and to see the massive ball of life that circles the top of this underwater monument. Hundreds of jacks circling at about 15 to 18 meters, and below that hundreds of snapper, colarado snapper, red snapper and bigger cubera snapper, all moving in a giant school as far as you could see down off into the murk below. I would dive down and just sit in the middle of it all, not even shooting any fish as i had more than i could use all ready on board, but just to see all that amazing marine life swirling below me was amazing.
from there it was on to isla Parida to stop in quickly as we heard there was a spot there on the beach where you could fill water and even do some washing if you wanted. the guy who looks after the little island there had run a pie down from the stream to the beach and water is free and flowing. its amazing how after having to be always conscious of water to see it just flowing away into the sand like that makes you fell conscious of the waste and also so happy to just pour bucket after bucket over you. W got the washing that had been backing up on board all done, turning the esky into a washing machine and trucking it all back in the dingy to turn Kuhela into an oversize clothesline. it was only a night stop over and then on to a little town on the mainland called Boca Chica to do a final stock up with the provisions we've used since Panama city and check on the weather and use internet. Also found out a part for my sat phone, which i use to download weather, stopped working so now have to wait around for a replacement part from the states. Not too bad though as we have to wait for weather anyways and hopefully can find some more surf to keep us entertained. We're all pretty ready to go, Kim, Kuhela and I, we've done so much preparation for this, now we cant wait to get the sails out and start some longer passages. stay tuned and we'll let you know when we set sail for the Galapagos. Hopefully wont be too much longer.