Finally, finally the ropes that held her fast for two months, while her owner was off doing other things, were dropped and she moved as she should again, gently rocking form side to side at anchor. She was happy, and I knew it, she sings when she’s happy. With her aluminum spreaders and mast, when the wind blows (and she is happy of course) she sings, the harmonics vibrate through the mast and give out an ethereal song that rises and falls with the wind, and amazing duet. I had not heard this the whole time we were in the marina but the first night in the anchorage she was singing away loudly. She was ready to explore and put to sea again, and so were we.
There are a few people that I know will actually take the step beyond talking about travel, and get on a plane at the drop of a hat, close to the top of the list would have to be Andre, who travels the world filming and promoting amazing marine life for his production company, Terra Australis. He had wanted to come out to sail for a while and now had some time available, so he booked a ticket from Australia and three days later stepped off a plane in Panama. There were some new areas that I wanted to explore and he was just the person to do it with. A keen diver and surfer, the hunt was on for fish and un-crowded surf. We spent the first few days talking to friends and other sailors in the area and going through the charts to figure out the plan. Then after stocking up on enough food and fuel to see us through two weeks away, early one morning the anchor left the seabed and Kuhela glided forth towards areas that none of us had been to before. We could not have asked for a better first day, with a perfect 12-15 knot Northwesterly breeze, we had nothing to listen to but the wind in the sails and the gurgle of the water as it flowed past. Epic. First stop for the trip an anchorage tucked in a behind some little islands, sheltered from all wind and swell. Showering outside on the bow that night, with millions of brilliant stars above, I realized how much I’d missed being out sailing.
The next morning however was a reminder of one of the more unpleasant aspects of getting purposely lost, I found myself totally wrapped in the cocoon of my sheet but still they got to me. You know its bad when you can see the sandflies, swarms of them around you, the bed littered in black specs of the ones you’ve managed to kill. This was the worst I've ever seen it in all my travels. The only comfort was in the bothered question from Andre, “Umm, hey mate, are you getting bitten?” at least I wasn’t suffering alone. As fast as we could we were up and out of there, anchor up in record time as we beat and scratched ourselves for the next 14 miles to the next anchorage. This is no exaggeration either, we could not get rid of them, they found a home in my room and would not leave without a fight. We took to running in with and towels and fighting them out, it was a hard battle but we won in the end, thank god. Our next spot was in another amazing little bay, bobbing gently in the swell as a full moon played hide and seek with the clouds above. With a better nights sleep we were ready to go dive in the morning. We explored the areas close by first, but found them all very shallow and more like a nursery area, with some cool little swim through caves and crazy rock formations to explore, but no fish. We then headed to some islands further away, about 2 miles. With allot of swell and water movement, making diving hard work, we still managed to cover a lot of ground and pick up some fish for dinner, still not the quality of reef and fish that we came for though. That, we figured, was another 2 mile out to sea, at some other islands further out, but with the wind and current that was a mission we would have to wait for the right conditions for, or try to rent a panga (local boat) for the day. The right conditions showed up the very next morning and with no wind, we ate quickly and began the trip out to sea. Anchoring as best we could in the lee of a small island we dived in a fair amount swell and had to fight a strong current to make it back to the boat. There was good ground around but again, not many fish. I thought we were pushing it a bit heading out there in Violet, and maybe we were, but in the days after we saw locals diving and fishing in that very same spot in their dug out canoes and suddenly we didn’t feel so tough at all. To see these little canoes bobbing up and down and disappearing in between the swell, as they paddled their way out to sea and back, amazing.
We made a few missions to the beach on the other side of the island too, to check out a few waves we had heard rumors of. Walking through the little path, which takes you through the local village, with kids peeking out from windows in little wooden houses and waving hello, we found ourselves on a beautiful little beach with amazing, world class surf, and not a soul in sight. Haha, no unfortunately not this time, but made you heart race little as you read that didn’t I. The potential was definitely there and we did get a few small surfs in, but the conditions didn’t quite come together for us. The one down side to this amazing place was that the locals seem to have gotten wind of making money off this and it costs you ten dollars to access the beach, complete with official, stamped paperwork and all. We did manage to find some other local divers there on the beach though and managed to organize a trip to go explore with them the next morning though.
Panamanian time moves at a somewhat slower pace than others, like most of the Caribbean I guess, and the 9a.m. start that we organized found us sitting at the jetty waiting, and after a marathon mission of running back and forth from different little villages we found our trusty divers and we finally headed out at around 11. We finally got the chance to properly dive the spots we looked at on the charts and worked our way along from reef to reef exploring and mapping out the area. Again though, the potential was there but the conditions weren’t quite right. The swell was running and the water was dirty, pretty much black past the 20M mark, with vertical walls disappearing to the depths below. We did manage to get a few fish and scope out some good ground though, and did see some decent fish down deeper, before the scurried off into the blackness. We dived most of the day and on the last spot one of the local divers with us jumped in to dive with us, with his large full face mask and old scuba fins and with a home made pole spear. I'm using the excuse that I had been diving hard all day and was tired, but he absolutely smoked me. He would do a quick dive and be off to the next spot as I would just be starting my dive and then I’d spend the next ten minutes trying to find him and fighting the current and then he would be off again, by the end of it I was shot and made my way back to the boat to recover. Great to be diving somewhere new and with the right conditions think there would be some quality fish there.
The rest of the time there was spent waiting out the rain that would frequently come through and saying hi to the random little Cayucos that would pull up along side for a chat. The Indians here would sometimes just pull up alongside and look at us and at Kuhela, regarding us as some strange spectacle. We brought down some coloring pencils and books and a few other things and gave it out to some of the kids that pulled alongside as well. Always cool to see kids happy and laughing at us, and where as grown ups would accommodate my childlike Spanish, kids just looked at me blankly and wondered if I was slightly slow. We did take Violet to go explore up one of the many little rivers one afternoon with some new friends from the village and found ourselves weaving our way up into dense jungle and under fallen trees, while trying to dodge large logs that had long ago fallen into the water. I didn’t want to say it at the time but one sharp stick in the wrong spot in the murky water, would have meant a long trip back home with a deflated violet. Not the kind of place you would really want to swim through. After a while the local lads indicated a place to pull up to and we followed a muddy path up the hill and were quite surprised to see a little shack sitting there in a clearing, this was one of their shacks that they tended their local fincas (farms) from. Amazing to see this little farm in the middle of the jungle with plantain, cacao, and taro growing and the boys dug up some fresh supplies for us. Talking and sharing with other people from different cultures and backgrounds is what makes travelling so interesting and amazing, how we can all share in the same experiences, especially when one of the boys said he had to get back home or his girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy.
We decided to start making our way slowly back up towards Bocas and after ticking off some daily chores we pulled anchor and pointed the bow northwest. This is where we wanted to go, but the wind had other ideas and was blowing directly from there, so we spent out time tacking up the bay. What I didn’t expect though was for it to continue to build from the pleasant 15-knot breeze through to the 30-knot wind over the next hour. Was actually pretty nice though to get Kuhela going a bit and with two reefs in the main and the jib we were galloping along as we worked back and forth up the bay. I knew once we got into the lee of the island the wind would not be an issue, but again the wind had a secret in store and simply decided to quit blowing just as we got there, one minute 30-knots the next not a breath and water like glass, the weather here leaves even your best guestimate wanting, it simply changes its mind and does what it likes.
Next morning we moved over to another spot, that is one of the coolest I have found. We met Fred and Cindy back at the marina and they told us to come visit them at their island, that’s right, they own an island. Not bad at all. Dropping anchor just off their dock with “Kelp Fiction II” (their yacht) parked at the end and spending a few days visiting and checking out the work they’ve done in this amazing little place. Fred and another mate, Bruce, have build this amazing little surfboard shaping room out of bamboo and to see these boards getting shaped on a little island in the middle of no where is in the true spirit of surf travel. We spent a few days exploring and diving with Bruce but have yet to find the ground and fish we are searching for. I know its out there, just takes time to find, again what its all about.
With food getting a bit low we decided to head back up closer to town and came up through the little gap between that lead us up to one of the bigger islands, Bastimentos, and dropped anchor just outside the marina there. There’s a little path that leads over to a lovely little beach on the other side of the island. There were a few larger super yachts here in the marina and we ended up meeting some of the crew of one of them, Seven J’s, and were kind of adopted by them. No more food problem as Loren, the chef who is from Margaret River, began feeding us and inviting us over to join them for amazing meals. We hung out with the crew quite a bit and found ourselves getting a lift out to the surf on their jet boat and tagging along to go exploring the area on quad bikes. I thought it was going to be a tour and didn’t think too much of it, but then we found ourselves let loose with the quads in the jungles to the north. Flying along jungle trails, crossing waist deep water and blasting down the beaches, it was amazing that we all escaped unscathed, no one held back and considering I was wearing no shirt, thongs, and an open face helmet, was maybe more luck than skill. Covered in mud and sweat and smile smeared across my face. At the end we pulled into the beach for a swim, not a bad way to spend an afternoon, exhilarating only just begins to describe it. Most afternoons we would find ourselves sitting in the marina next to amazing yachts and swapping stories and laughs with crew from all over the world. Always amazes me the places and situations I find myself in.
It was on one of these nights where we got chatting to the harbor master at the marina and on seeing the videos that Andre makes, he offered us a deal. Do up a video for the marina and Kuhela could stay for free, at least for a few months. Not bad, so the next few days we filmed and put some things to together and Andre added to the video he was doing up for me and we will put it forward to the marina to see what they think. If it all comes together could be quite a good little deal. I am starting to see things fall into place for leaving Kuhela here and feel a lot better about the decision to hang around this area. I know things always work out in the end, how many examples can I draw on from this trip alone, but I do still find my self fretting as I try to organize the future in my head, one day ill learn.
It seems that everyone has finally taken up on my offer of coming to visit, though almost all at the same time. I am now pretty much booked out until the time I leave, with back-to-back visitors joining Kuhela and I for a bit. Awesome. Again, the right people have come on board at the right time and I'm just running with my intuition and gut feeling that its all going to work out in the most amazing way possible. I am seeing the end of this leg of the journey peeking its head around the corner, and can visualize myself on a plane heading to the southern hemisphere sometime in the near future. I look forward to seeing how it all will play out. As I lie in bed at night, my mind drifting back along those many miles crossed this last year, I try to cement each of those many, many memories in my minds eye, so that I will not forget the power of going out following your dreams and listening to your heart. So many memories, friends and places to remember, gently drift through my mind as I slowly drift off to sleep, looking forward to what tomorrow may bring.