Week 6 5 – 11 February 2018 Las Perlas – La Playita, Balboa, Panam City 105 nm
5 February Monday Last overnight sail for several weeks to come – Las Perlas
It was a relief to anchor in the southern most bay, Bahia San Telmo, on Isla de Rey in Las Perlas during late Monday afternoon after a very tough run from Isla Cebaco, starting Sunday morning. The strong wind yesterday lasted until 11.30 in the morning and from there on we had to use the engine and sails until we had five miles left for Isla del Rey when the wind picked up again. But directly from where we were heading, so instead of shutting down the engine we furled the headsails and motored the last miles into the huge bay where we anchored in the northern end with no swell and good cooling wind.
One other reason for going to Las Perlas before Balboa, except for the wind direction last night, was a planned meeting with a Swedish boat in the northern Las Perlas where they are to start the third leg of the ARC cruise around the world.
After having reorganized down in the boat so we can sleep in the bow cabin that has much better ventilation through a big hatch compared with the aft cabin, we had a sundowner sitting in the setting sun in our chairs on deck. We had some reflecting thoughts around our years in Pacific since 2007, soon coming to an end as we are now close to the Panama Canal.
6 February Tuesday Bahia San Telmo – Isla del Espiritu Santo 14 nm
We went early to bed yesterday due to almost no sleep the rough night before and because of the heat we woke up before sunrise.
We decided to leave for another cove before breakfast to get going before the wind picked up. We were going in the opposite direction to the coming wind and we wanted to do the 30 nm to our meeting bay in two morning laps before the headwind picked up too much.
Tidal range is almost 16 feet, so there is a quite strong current to consider as well. Half of the day we have counter current and that together with afternoon gale from where we are heading doesn’t make room for much of a choice. Already half past ten we were anchored behind some small islands close to main island, Isla del Ray. The charts are not that accurate and the water not very clear, but we thought we could see the difference between deep water and less than three meters making day anchoring the only safe alternative.
7 February Wednesday Isla del Espiritu Santo – Isla Contadora 18 nm
Another day with an early departure to reach the gathering cove for the ARC rally where we are to meet our friends in Bijou. We had some tidal waves when we left our anchorage but after that almost flat water until we arrived Isla Contadora.
Anchored before noon a bit off the ARC fleet, outside a nice sandy beach.
Salad lunch and then a quiet afternoon relaxing and had a swim around the boat in the refreshingly “cold” water.
Bijou came late afternoon sailing from Balboa, anchored close to Moon and came by dinghy to inspect Moon, a boat they never seen. Had a long chat and of course a great dive into the computer to see what we had that could be useful for Bijou in the Pacific. Our tracks from our trips, especially Fiji, imported into Open CPN was probably the most valuable item.
When they went back to prepare dinner, Annika followed for more detail work on their computer.
Björn was collected later using Bijous dinghy. Bijou has davits while Moons dinghy still is secured on deck. We had a fun evening/dinner in their cockpit until late?
8 February Thursday Isla Contadora – La Playita, Balboa, Panama City 36 nm
Elisabeth and Roger came over after breakfast, giving us a Panama guide and they got some more guide books, courtesy flags for the Pacific, Asia and Africa which might come handy.
Then we said farewell and left for the Panama Canal.
No wind and motor for the first hour. Then motor sail which slowly became sailing without engine. Moon thanked for the wind and powered up a few knots faster than under engine making the trip across a comfortable run in soft wind on the beam and little swell.
Reach the anchorage well before sunset after some contacts with Flamenco signal station, the traffic tower for the approach of the canal.
Soon we got confirmation of our canal ships number and because of that we relaxed and thought everything was in order. Oddly enough they had no information about clearance and immigration, only referred to a “local agent”, which we don´t have.
That will have to wait until tomorrow.
9 February Friday La Playita anchorage
None of the radio nets in the pilot came up this morning, so still no info about how and where to clear in. All boats around us have transited the canal to the Pacific and had no info about where to go in Balboa. Annika took the dinghy to the marina and got info where to go. After having gathered all documents, Björn drove the Captain ashore to clear the paperwork. After an hour Annika was back and called for the dinghy and then we had lunch.
Soon after lunch the inspector from the Panama Canal arrived and measured Moon and inspected cleats and so on. Moon was well under 15 meters, the limit when we have to pay another $500.
When the inspector had filled all forms he realized that the bank probably was closed tomorrow Saturday and probably even Monday Tuesday due to the Carnival?He called the bank and we got info that they close half past three today and open again on Wednesday?.
Full speed ahead in a taxi to the bank, but first we had to have a SIMcard for the phone to be able to get information about our banks SWIFT and IBAN numbers, necessary to be able to get the refund of the “buffer”, the $500 we have to pay as a deposit if something happens.
After having used three taxi drivers and twenty minutes in Digicel office we were back at the bank an hour before closing.
In spite what we had understood from various sources the bank didn’t accept credit cards! Luckily the next-door restaurant had an ATM so we made a quick run to that machine. The remaining problem was the amount of money being able to redraw in one day from our cards. The canal fee is quite something, but we managed with two cards and some pocket money to gather $1875 and could pay the bank ten minutes before closing time!!!
The bank phoned the Canal and informed them that we had played and the process could start.
The built up pressure in the heat was almost too much. To relax from all excitement we took a long walk back to the Flamenco Islands where the La Playita anchorage is located.
Coming back to the marina there was a nice restaurant where we sat down and had dinner well before sunset, in a way celebrating that we had gained four days getting in to the transit waiting list.
Coming back to Moon we had almost a chock when Annika called as agreed to get our preliminary transiting time – 28 of February!!! Yes you think this is a joke and there is little you can do when they tell you there is a lack of advisors? We are not allowed to transit without an advisor so here we are stuck for almost three weeks.
Had a shower and then tried to forget all about the Canal for tonight.
10 February Saturday La Playita anchorage
The wind across the anchorage gives us a decent climate in the boat during night, and that together with only 22 C in the water makes us sleep very well. But daytime it’s far too hot downstairs and on the not shaded parts of the deck. We live most of the day under the tent above the deck in front of the mast. Sometimes almost too cool in the wind!
Today we had to deal with our lack of cruising permit and only 48 hours visa that they decided yesterday we only needed. We took the dinghy to the marina and walked across to the harbor office and immigration that was said to be opened today.
Now we suddenly had to pay $185 for a cruising permit and because it was overtime an extra $20.This is about three times the numbers we can find in our four year old pilot. And yesterday the customs charge Annika $ 20 without a recite!
Another dilemma was that the immigration was closed until Wednesday, meaning we will be fined for overstaying due to their handling yesterday. It’s not easy to be the polite customer?
Luckily there was an English spoken agent at the harbor office and he helped us to translate and got in contact with an immigration officer that prolonged our visa until they open on Wednesday when we will come and pay a lot of money for a tourist visa!!!
With these new permits and documents we took the local bus in to town. We have not bought any food since we left Mexico almost two weeks ago so sure our storages in Moon were very low.
Started with buying a SIM card from another provider to get better reception on the anchorage – if possible… It turned out to be as slow as the other one? The bus stopped at the bus terminal where hundreds of bus lines and tube lines connect. A super big mall is across the street, and it’s really a super Mall. You can walk for a day in and lose your bearings all the time. You find several shops from all the famous brands with prices that are not cheap. Who buys all these products? Not the average Panama citizens for sure.
We finally found the food market and with those findings we went back to the bus terminal. Yes we found our way out of the Mall, even if it was difficult without a map. Found the bus just as it was leaving for Flamenco.
Coming back to our marina we sat down and had a beer at the restaurant we had dinner yesterday.
Back in Moon we opened all hatches to let out the heat from the day and sat for a while in our deck chairs in the shade admiring the sunset.
11 February Sunday La Playita anchorage.
Another nice cool night thanks to the wind that kept on through the night.
Breakfast in the shade on deck where we later spent most of the day catching up with blog and e-mails. We have not had internet since Mexico, and two weeks almost not attend the “inbox” create a lot of work.
OK we have HF radio/SSB with a modem so we are not out of reach on passages. A long quiet day on anchor without even letting the dinghy into the water.
Annika & Björn