Sat-Sun, Aug 9-10th - Dinner out with Max and Vittoria in Casco Viejo

When I got up on Saturday morning, I checked my email and there was no response from Mail Boxes Etc, so there was nothing to do about the ATM card. Instead, as soon as it was a decent hour, I rang up Max using Skype from the boat. He said that indeed they were leaving that morning for Panama City, by airplane, and that we could meet them at the apartment they keep in Casco Viejo that night. We agreed on 6:00 pm, he gave me directions to the apartment, then rang off.

In the meantime, I had made an appointment that morning to meet a man named Kim from a boat named ALTERA. He had a fishing rod and reel for sale that I wanted to buy. We had been graciously given a rod and reel before we left San Diego, but the reel was getting overused and was nearly broken, so I wanted to have another, better, fishing setup on board. Kim was selling a Penn 50s reel and a custom rod. I had researched different makes and models on the internet and at local stores, and had come to the conclusion that this was a very good deal. The reel was brand new and he was asking less than 1/2 of the retail price, AND he would throw in a really nice custom rod with it. So, at 9:30 am I took the dinghy to shore and caught a cab over to the BYC where Kim was waiting. After a short while we had made the deal and I was very happy as I took a cab back to the marina. I stopped at a store and also purchased a fishing harness to go with the new rod and reel.

I was as excited as a little boy at Christmas when I got back to the boat. The harness was a definite improvement over trying to hold the rod by hand. When I had been getting fish with my old setup, I had been kneeling down in the cockpit, trying to fight the reel, holding it between my legs against the floor. The reel always wanted to turn upside down, so a good part of my effort was just trying to keep the rod from twisting in my hands. Also, the pose I had been using, with the pole planted on the cockpit sole, between my legs, had been digging holes and ruts in the teak and rubber floor of the cockpit. Now with the harness I would be able to stand, the reel would stay upright, and all of my strength could be used to bring in the fish, with no harm to the boat being done in the process. So, I was pretty thrilled with this new setup.

We spent the rest of the day dinking around the boat and then in the afternoon we got ready to go out. Since this was to be a "nice" dinner we got dressed up before we got in the dinghy, rode to shore, and caught a taxi to Casco Viejo (The Old Compound) at about 5:30 pm.

The ride into Casco Viejo itself was interesting. As we turned off the main highway from the causeway onto the crowded streets of the Chorrillo section of Old Town, the taxi driver had us roll up the windows and lock the doors, explaining that there was much crime here, that even some of the children carried guns and were capable of kidnapping or other crimes, and that we should not come here by ourselves. Then as we crossed into the "good part" of Casco Viejo, he pointed out the many armed guards and police and told us that in this part of town we would be safe due to all of the security.

As promised, the "good part" of Casco Viejo was very pretty with lots of colonial architecture (1670s-1870s), cast iron balconies, and statues on every other corner. We were impressed by the location of Max and Vittoria's apartment which is located just one block from the beach, the French Embassy, and the center of the "good part" of town. When we arrived we went up to the apartment, which not only occupied a whole corner of the top floor of the building, but also had a super nice rooftop patio, where we enjoyed views of the bay, Casco Viejo, and the skyscrapers of downtown Panama City in the distance as we had a few drinks and caught up with each other.

Then, from M&V's apartment, we proceeded on foot through historical Casco Viejo. We stopped 1/2 block away where Max called up to a building where his brother, Tom, his wife, Annette, and their kids Sam and Anna were staying, visiting from Holland. Max told them where to meet us and we walked a few blocks passed churches and govt buildings to a charming sidewalk cafe, Cafe de Asis, where we had cocktails. A few minutes later, Tom and his family showed up to join us and introductions were made all around.

The main topic of conversation was Max and Tom's recent sailing experience. Max has a Beneteau 47' that he keeps anchored off Cala Mia. He, his brother, and the family had sailed it the previous weekend from Panama up to Costa Rica and back. As Max told the story, it was the typical cruisers nightmare: Check out of Panama, motor for 12-15 hours through a driving rain (with no dodger or bimini they had to hold umbrellas to get any protection), spend 1/2 a day checking into Costa Rica, then the next morning check out of Costa Rica, motor thru a driving rain back to Panama, and go through the process of checking in again. But that's only the half of it.

When they got the boat back to Cala Mia, their dinghy was stolen! Then it got even worse. Max loaned another dinghy to Tom so that he could take the family around the corner to Boca Chica. As they were returning to the boat (about 2 miles away by water), it started raining very hard and the dinghy motor failed. Tom apparently ended up swimming, towing the dinghy, some 500 yards to get back on the boat. Then, as the family was getting into the boat, dripping wet and exhausted, THE BOAT WAS HIT BY A LIGHTNING BOLT!

While we drank our cocktails that night, the family showed us pictures of the aftermath. They said there was a tremendous flash of light (in the cabin) and an explosion that blinded and stunned them, throwing them all around the cabin. Thank goodness, as it happened, no one was touching any shrouds, stays, or the mast. The strike was so powerful that it blew the floorboards of the boat up into the air, burned two holes in the deck, and popped a thru hull out of the bottom of the boat. The pictures told a very frightening story. Sam, Tom's son, was nearly concussed and possibly put in shock as a result of the blast.

While this strike was happening, Max had been ashore in the restaurant at Cala Mia. One of the guests came to him and said that he thought he saw a light flashing on the boat. When they went to the window and looked at the boat, they could see someone with a flashlight ... dot dot dot - dash dash dash - dot dot dot ... sending out an SOS! Max went out to the dock, took a launch out to the the boat where he found the family and boat in disarray. He brought the family all back ashore where, coincidentally, one of the resort guests was a doctor, who checked them all out. They were stunned, and Sam still could not hear properly, but it appeared as if they were all right, thank goodness. Then Tom mentioned to Max that he thought the sailboat, still out in the bay, was taking on water from the popped thru-hull!


So they rushed out to the boat again and found it rapidly filling with water. Max sorted thru the debris in the boat, found a bung, and plugged the thru hull. At that time, of course, no electric items, including the bilge pump, were working, so they ended up bailing the boat out using a hand pump, which took several hours.

It was quite a story!

Now in Panama City, Max was checking out the repair facilities and possibilities so that he could work with his insurance company to get the boat fixed. Also, meanwhile, he was in town to meet with a broker to sell another apartment he had here in Casco Viejo. He had arranged to meet the broker here, and sure enough the broker and his wife joined us at Cafe de Asis shortly thereafter.

From Cafe de Asis we all walked a few blocks, once again, thru the beautifully lit colonial buildings of Casco Viejo at night, to a nearby restaurant called Indigo that was newly opened and which Vittoria wanted to try. It was an exquisite dining experience, particularly after being on the boat for so long, as we sampled the Morrocan cuisine presented in a Panamanian style. Everyone enjoyed the variety and quality of the food, and attentive service as we dined outside in the quaint old building's outer walls.

After dinner, we went to a nearby bar where a band was playing American classic rock-and-roll music. we danced a few times, and it was a lot of fun as we also continued drinking beers. Finally, about 2:00 am, we bid Max and Vittoria adieu and made our way back to the boat.

We spent almost all of Sunday recuperating from our time out Saturday night, napping and reading on the boat. About the only chore I did on Sunday was to call the Mail Boxes Etc, from the boat, using Skype. When the person on the other end answered, once we established communications with broken English to broken Spanish, they told me that the MBE here at the marina would not be open for several weeks, that they were receiving the phone call at the MBE in a place called "Albrook Plaza", about 3 miles away, and that if I wanted a package delivered there, it would be ok. So I got the exact addressing instructions as best as I could from them and sent an email to PK in San Diego with the info so that he could FedEx the ATM card to me.