Sat, July 26th - 25 nm in 5 hours to Panama City

After our extended stay in primitive anchorages, we're looking forward to getting to a real city today. We spent an extra night here at Isla Bona so as to get ourselves and the boat ready to "go to town". So this morning we got up around 8:00 am, put away the rain cover and pulled up anchor. By 10:00 am we were ready to go, as were SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM, who also got under way this morning. They're going to stop at nearby Isla Taboga, but we're going to go directly to Panama City, only 25 nm away.

As we pass between Isla Otoque and Isla Bona, there are a few pangas fishing, as well as a number of flocks of frigate birds, working the waters for breakfast. We put out a line and steer the boat towards some of the flocks of birds. We can see the fish feeding on the surface and the birds are quite busy and reluctant to leave as we drive through them. Sure enough, 10 minutes after putting the line in the water we get a good hit. About 100 yards behind us a large Dorado jumps up, clearing the water, with our lure visible in his mouth. After some line runs out, I set the drag on the reel as I pick up the pole and get ready to pull the fish in. Suddenly the line goes slack in my hands and I could tell that I had lost him. Darn! Then, as I'm watching, the Dorado jumps out of the water 4-5 more times, trying to spit out my lure, while all I could do was watch in disappointment. He still had my lure!

A little pissed at losing my $12 lure, I re-rig the line with a new swivel and leader and put another lure in the water. It's been 3 months since I bought any lures and frankly I'm getting low. I only have two or three good ones left, so really don't want to lose them like that.

We continue making our way towards Panama City rounding outside of Isla Taboga. We can see SPIRIT and PIPE DREAM until they round the opposite side of the island and disappear. Already we can make out dozens of large ships at anchor around Isla Taboga. Panama City is literally the busiest shipping lane in the world; several large ships, as well as dozens of smaller ones, go through the canal each day. Many of them lie up for days or weeks here at the several anchorages before crossing the canal. So we are very cautious as we make our way across the lane so as not to find ourselves in the path of one of the monsters. However, it turns out to be a non-issue as 95% of them are lying at anchor, and the ones that are moving are easy to avoid.

A few minutes later, I get another hit on the line. But before I can even get to the reel to set the hook, the line has gone slack, again. When I pick it up I can tell that my lure is gone, again. It's only been about 10 minutes since I lost my last one! Sheesh! Down to my last lure or two, I re-rig the line one more time and put it back in the water. Once again, a few minutes later there is a good solid hit on the line. I even get the reel into my hands and set the hook and start to work the fish when ... snap! .. the reel goes slack again in my hands! MF! That does it! I somewhat angrily put the fishing pole away for the day since we are about to cross the main shipping lane. I really don't like losing those lures!

The protocol for crossing the shipping lane has been made very clear to us by the various cruising books we have on board. So when we are about 2 miles from it, we get on VHF Radio Channel #16 and call "Flamenco Station" to ask for clearance. They have us switch and answer on Channel 12. We tell them our boat name, coordinates, heading, and speed, and they tell us to call when we are passing the Panama Buoy. We have planned our course to take us directly by the main Panama City safe-water bouy that marks the entrance to the channel and the Panama Canal, at about 5 knots. About 20 minutes later, as we're passing the bouy, we call Flamenco Station again and apprise them of our position and course. They tell us to call them again when we pass Flamenco Rock.

We set a course that will take us through the array of huge cargo ships parked on that side of the channel, around Flamenco Rock to the Flamenco Anchorage, just outside of the Flamenco Marina, east of the breakwater. As we pass Flamenco Rock, we call Flamenco Station again, and tell them where we are, and they tell us to call back once we have anchored. So we motor around the anchorage looking for a good spot to drop the hook. We see MV JENNY at anchor at the far north side of the anchorage, and talk to them on the radio, but decide, for ourselves, to park as close to the marina as possible, in the lee of the breakwater, so as to minimize the distance of the many dinghy trips we know we will be making to shore.

We circle the anchorage three times looking for any untoward underwater obstructions and getting a feel for the swells and wind. We pick a place, drop the hook, and back down on it with the motor, only to find that our anchor has not set and we are slipping backwards. So we raise the anchor, circle around and drop it again. Finally after almost an hour of trying, we get it to set in the slimy mud bottom of the bay without slipping. By 2pm, we're safely "down" in Panama City! We call Flamenco Station one more time, give them our final coordinates, then start going about the business of settling in for our stay here. We plan to be here about 9 days, getting various boat chores done, before we head out to Las Perlas Islands. Overall we've got several months here in Panama City, so we figure it makes sense to break the city experience up by going "primitive", i.e.,out to the islands, for a few weeks in the middle of the stay.

We're still following the KETCHING UP Story closely on the radio. Word is, that, bless their hearts, Mark and Lynn on WAHOO have volunteered to take their motor boat out to the Perlas Islands and tow KU back to Panama City. WAHOO had left P.C. that 3:00 am and had already gotten there and hooked up with KETCHING UP and DELFIN SOLO by the time we got to Panama City. DELFIN SOLO had been towing KU, with both boats making 5 knots under sail, when WAHOO caught up with them. Now WAHOO was making 5.5 knots with KU under tow and expected to be in Panama City by 3-4 pm this afternoon. Since we have a couple of hours to burn til then, we decide to go into the marina to check it out.

Its $5 a day to park the dinghy at the marina, so the first thing we do is go to the marina office and pay for that. We ask the usual questions about facilities, shopping, laundry, and so on, then explore around the marina, its shops, and restaurants. We walk out to the edge of the marina island where we can just make out WAHOO in the distance pulling KETCHING UP into the bay with DELFIN SOLO following behind. As they make their way into the bay to anchor, we take the dinghy back to RHAPSODY and give them a toot-toot on the foghorn. Everyone is very happy when KETCHING UP finally drops the hook and is safely anchored.

Shortly after 4:00, Noel from KETCHING UP comes on the radio and asks if we can bring our dinghy over to help KU re-anchor. They've ended up too close to another (untended) boat and want to move a few yards further away, but since they have no motor, they need some dinghies to help move them. We hop in the dinghy and go over there. Noel ties us up on the starboard side, along with another dinghy, from a boat called DREAM MAKER, on the port side. After he gets the anchor up, he gives us the signal and we move KU about 200 yards away from the other boat. He drops the anchor, unties us, and says that after they finally take a shower (he's been awake something like 36 hours at this point), they will join us ashore for a celebratory dinner.

We go back to RHAPSODY, get ready for dinner (put on a shirt and sandals :-) and take the dinghy into shore, where we are the first to arrive. Mary and Dave from JENNY arrive next and the four of us sit down for a beer at the little bar overlooking the dinghy dock. When we see Noel, Ashley and the boys from KETCHING UP, Lynn, Mark, and the dogs from WAHOO, and Tahsin and Rengin from DELFIN SOLO, pull up in their respective dinghies, we all get together and then head over to Bennigan's, which is ironically an American chain restaurant, but a nice place to go here in the marina nonetheless.

At dinner, we get the full story from KETCHING UP regarding their ordeal, the shaft breaking, not being able to sail, being pushed backwards by the current, being towed by DELFIN SOLO, finally making the Perlas Islands, then being towed to Panama City by WAHOO. With tears in his eyes Noel thanks everyone at the table for their efforts. RHAPSODY was able to provide weather reports and helped facilitate the radio net that kept everybody talking, so we were happy to have been a part of it. Noel picked up the tab for dinner as a way of saying thank you and we all had a great time talking and drinking beers. Eventually everyone was exhausted, so we all piled back in our dinghies and went back out to our boats to sleep safe and sound in the bay with the lights of the city twinkling beyond.