Rounding Punta Mala, 94 nm to Isla Bona

After those two nights in Benao, we got up in the wee hours and were underway by 3:00 am or so. we had sat up the night before and debated one more time the details of the two main strategies for making the passage to Panama City and had decided that we would start by turning the corner, taking the more direct route, and if the currents and winds were too onerous, we would change tacks and head out to the Perlas Islands. Over the radio DELFIN SOLO and KETCHING UP confirmed they were heading to the Perlas, while WAHOO, SPIRIT, and PIPE DREAM would be taking the more direct route, WAHOO, because, being a motor boat, could make up to 20 knots which would mitigate the effect of any currents or wind, and SPIRIT because they had an oil leak in the engine and wanted to get to P.C. as soon as possible to get it fixed. PIPE DREAM was sticking with SPIRIT for the leg, and once again they both decided to leave Naranjo later than the other boats so as to catch the afternoon winds for sailing.

I might mention here that RHAPSODY is the only one of the boats outfitted with AIS, the Automatic Idenfication System, that shows up the big ships, giving us their exact position, course, and speed, along with other information about their name, destination, etc. We had, therefore, volunteered to provide VHF updates of any large ships in the area that might affect our little fleet along the way. We saw a few, but they were less in number than expected, so it was never really an issue with anyone. Also, as our fleet was now separating, we re-affirmed the SSB schedule that I had initiated and, in addition to the VHF, kept in contact over the short wave radio.

The passage for RHAPSODY was pretty uneventful. The weather was at times a little overcast, but we encountered no rain or storms along the way. We rounded Punta Mala just as the sun was rising and sure enough started encountering a 1-2 knot current that slowed us down a bit, but we were still making good time. At 2100 rpms, RHAPSODY makes almost 8 knots thru flat water and even with the current we were still moving along nicely at 6 knots, so we stuck with our plan of taking the direct route.

As the sun rose, among the other boat tasks, like emptying the heads and making water, we put a fishing line in the water. Luckily enough, just after we rounded the point, we got a big hit. As I reeled in the fish, who gave a pretty good fight, I was afraid I'd caught yet another skipjack, but when we got him up to the boat in turned out to be a big-eye tuna. This is the first really delectable fish that we had caught since Isla Secas so we were quite pleased. Then we got another hit and reeled in a second one and that just about made the day for us. Even thought it's a bit of work to clean two large fish like this, it was worth the effort as we ended up with about 10-12 lbs of really nice, large fillets. We even had our ritual sashimi, eating a small bit of the freshly caught fish just after catching it. When the remainder was safely baggied and stowed in the freezer, there was nothing much to do but continue making our way. We continued to keep a line in the water but got no further hits on the passage.

Shortly after we caught the fish, WAHOO caught up to us. Then, as if to show off, they revved the motor up, went onto a plane at 20 knots, and disappeared out in front of us. We got some nice photos and footage of them as they passed. But the big story that started here was the "KETCHING UP" saga.

We were keeping the shortwave radio tuned to 4149.0 because now that we were out of VHF range with some of the boats, the SSB was the only way they could call us if they had a problem. At about 12:30 pm, we heard Ashley from KETCHING UP come on the radio so we went below and answered, establishing contact with her. She told us that KETCHING UP had been motoring along when all of a sudden the motor started racing and the boat lost way. When Noel went below to find out what was wrong, he saw that their propeller shaft had broken. It had sheered into two separate pieces just behind the coupler to the motor. He had stopped the engine, secured the remainder of the shaft into the bearing with a couple of pipe clamps, and fortunately when it broke the shaft had not slipped out (where it could have damaged the rudder or even fallen out completely). They were not taking on any water, but for the time being they were unable to motor and so would begin pure sailing. When this happened, they were about halfway from Punta Mala to the Perlas Islands, so they only had about 25 miles to go before they could reach the nearest of the islands, Isla San Jose.

Fortunately for them, DELFIN SOLO was on the same course and within VHF range, so we caught bits and pieces of the situation as they talked with with DELFIN SOLO and us on the two different radios. We all agreed to monitor their progress and provide what re-assurances we could that they would be ok. DELFIN SOLO was a little behind them and said they would be in visual range in a few hours. In the meantime, we kept the SSB on and did radio checks with them every hour or so, getting their status and position and plotting it on our plot charter, as we on RHAPSODY continued making our steady progress to Isla Otoque along the direct route to Panama City.

As we took our hourly reports from KU and fixed them on the chartplotter, it was dismaying to find that they had actually lost ground and were moving away from the islands. The problem was that there was virtually no wind for them to sail, yet there was a 1-2 knot current pushing them farther out to sea. Over those 3-4 hours while DELFIN SOLO caught up to them and we monitored their progress, they probably lost about 5 miles and were actually further from the Perlas Islands than they were when their shaft had first broken!

In the meantime, RHAPSODY had just about closed with Isla Otoque. We decided that with the prevailing currents the best anchorage to be had was off the little secondary island there called Isla Bona. By 5:00 pm, we had pulled into the anchorage and dropped the hook, and found it to be a charming little place. There were no inhabitants or other boats to be seen and we were nestled in a small, perhaps 1/4 mile wide cove that wrapped around us on three sides. The open portion was protected from the open sea by the other big island (Otoque), so it was quite calm in the anchorage. There were the remains of some long forgotten mining operation (probably iron ore, judging by the redness in the rocks), and the abandoned equipment on shore seemed to add a certain mysterious nature to the anchorage.

As the sun set for us at Isla Bona, we had our shots and beers, watching hundreds of pelicans nest for the night in the surrounding trees. We had never seen pelicans nesting in trees before so that was quite an unusual sight. We continued to monitor KETCHING UP, who by now had hooked up with DELFIN SOLO, but they did not seem to be making any more progress then before. I got some fresh weather information over the SSB and passed it on to them, but apart from that there was nothing that we could do, so, although concerned, we bedded down for the night.

Because of all the excitement, and because we were expecting SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM to arrive, I got up early and turned on the VHF and called out. Sure enough at 5:00 am, Dan from SPIRIT came back and said that they were just an hour or so from the anchorage, asked us for a weather update and about the anchorage conditions, and told us that they would see us in awhile. About 6:00, their masts appeared around the corner of the island and by 7:00 both boats were safely in the anchorage at Isla Bona. We decided that since it was such a nice place, even though we only had some 25 miles to go to Panama City, that we would stay another night at Bona so as to be fresh when we left early the next morning for the short passage to the big city. By now we could see dozens if not a hundred or more big ships on the AIS and we wanted to make sure that we were as prepared as possible before we entered the shipping lanes and crossed over to Panama City.

In the meantime, SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM, who had been up all night making their passage from Benao, went to sleep for the day. Since it was a really nice day, and we had nothing else particularly important to do, I did a little snorkeling, working about 1/4 mile of the coast line which was about 100 yards or so from our boat in all directions. I saw quite a few fish, including schools of Parrotfish, and it was neat to dive some of the abandoned underwater construction equipment. We spent the rest of the day tidying up the boat and getting ready to go to Panama City.

As far as KETCHING UP goes, the story continued thru the day. By noon, 24 hours after their shaft had broken, they were still only a few miles closer to the Perlas Islands than they were when it happened. During the night, apparently, DELFIN SOLO had hooked a tow rope up and attempted to tow them, but the best they could do was to mitigate the effects of the counter-current. So when Ashley came on the SSB she was sounding pretty beat. Noel had not slept in over 30 hours and, although the kids were being great, there was still quite a bit of stress to deal with on the boat. Finally, about 8:00 pm that night, after we had had dinner on RHAPSODY, word came that KETCHING UP had finally made an anchorage in the Perlas Islands and dropped the hook. It had been a frustrating passage for them. One could only imagine the patience required to take over 30 hours to make 25 miles, and that's not even counting the fact that they had left Benao at 3:00 am the PREVIOUS day.

There were other factors adding to their problem. I saw in the weather forecasts there was a tropical wave expected to move thru in two days, promising severe rain and thunderstorms, so KU had to make a decision whether to stay at the Perlas or try and make Panama City. Then the shocker came when they got in contact with WAHOO, who was already on their 2nd day in Panama City, and who had scouted out a boat towing service for them. The tow-boat wanted $400/hour to come out and pick them up at the Perlas Islands and bring them back to Panama City, a journey that would probably take 12 hours or so. Yikes! Not only were they looking at the cost of getting a new propeller shaft, but it might cost as much as $5000 to have the boat towed to P.C. Everyone felt quite bad for them as we maintained regular radio contact throughout their ordeal.

For dinner that night, it turned out that like everyone else SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM were getting low on provisions (and had not caught any fish of their own and said they were down to one "cup-o'-soup"), so when we invited Dan, Erin, and Timo over to RHAPSODY to mangez on the Tuna we had caught the previous day, they eagerly accepted. We made rice and beans, and served up these 5 huge, grilled fillets, like 1-2 lbs each At first we didn't think we'd be able to eat it all but everyone gave it a great effort and one by one the plates were cleaned. We then sat up on RHAPSODY, bellies full, contentedly drinking quite a few beers, along with, I think, the better part of a bottle of rum, which, along with creme de coconut and various fruit juices, we made into a concoction Pussers Rum calls a "Pain Killer", to good effect.

So, nobody was feeling any pain that night as we went to sleep. The next morning, while SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM were planning to go to one more island, nearby Taboga, located only 8 miles from Panama City, RHAPSODY would proceed directly to Panama City.

Snorkeling Pics