To Northeast Anchorage (Playa Galeon), Isla Contadora

From Isla Mogo Mogo, as soon as we rounded Isla Chapera, we could see our next destination: Isla Contadora. It was only a mile or two over to the island and so we motored casually at 4 knots or so. There were weather reports of impending north winds, along with the usual southerly swells, so we wanted to check out all the anchorages before choosing one. As we came up on the south side of the island, we could immediately see that Contadora was the most populated and developed of all the Perlas Islands.

These islands are named for the abundant pearls that the Spanish found here. Within days of his discovery of the Pacific Ocean, Vasco Balboa learned of these nearby islands' riches. The plundering Spanish quickly stole all the pearls on the islands(including the famous 31 carat "Peregrina"), killed all the natives, and then imported African slaves to work the pearl beds. The island of Contadora was used to establish a counting house for the pearls that would make their way back to Europe; hence its name.

There were some famous pirate battles fought here, the most famous being in 1685 when English captain Edward Blake, with the largest number of trained seamen and fighters ever assembled under a buccaneer flag in the Pacific, played cat-and-mouse with, fought, and fled from a Spanish Armada of 18 ships. The English, with some risky maneuvers through the reefs and islets in the area, managed to escape from the Spanish Armada unscathed.

In more recent history, Isla Contadora has been established as a posh getaway for wealthy Panamanians, as well as a regular meeting place for Central American heads of state during various summits. In 1979, the Shah of Iran escaped with hundreds of millions of dollars and set up residence on the island.

As we passed by the south side of the island, we were not thrilled with any of the anchorages there, as they were quite rolly and totally exposed to the south swell. We took a few photographs of the south side, particularly of the pretty hotel Villa Romantica before heading around the island.

Passing the nude beach, as we rounded the southeast corner of the island, we could see another sailboat making their way in the opposite direction, so we went over to them and hailed them across the water. They were a French boat named PICCOLINO, and they said that they had left the north side of the island because of the impending north winds and were headed to the south side. We decided to keep checking out the anchorages and went our separate ways.

The east end of the island has a fairly nice anchorage, but it was the location of the busiest resort, Hotel Contadora, and there were quite a few people on the beach, jet skis in the water, etc, so we decided to bypass it and go to the north side of the island. We rounded the northeast corner and checked out two anchorages on the north side of the island before deciding on the north eastern one at Playa Galeon. From the guidebooks, it looked like a better place to land a dinghy, with access to several stores, restaurants, and so on.

So, after checking all the anchorages out, we dropped the hook about 100 yards offshore from the beach on the northeast corner of the island. We were eager to go inshore and see about some provisions, so we started getting the dinghy ready right away.

As we were just getting ready to get into the dinghy, to our surprise, our good friends Mark and Lynn (and the dogs) on WAHOO pulled up right next to us and hailed us over the water! They had been through the canal twice already, done a whirlwind tour of the San Blas Islands, and were back here for a few days in the Perlas Islands. They anchored close by and we took the dinghy over to their boat for a beer and some catch-up chatting. They had another crew member onboard, Frank, whom they had known quite a while and we were introduced to him. We talked about all the places we had been in the Perlas Islands, and they gave us hints and suggestions about San Blas. We agreed to (possibly) get together inshore for a drink and left them to settle in.

We went ashore and found two very nice tiendas. For the first time in over 3 weeks we found a store that sold BREAD! Also we got a case of beer, a dozen eggs, avocados, potatoes, chips, and M&M's and Snickers Bars. Only the necessities, please!

After trundling our stuff to the dinghy, we went back up and checked out the Punta Galeon Resort, and bar. We had a Ceviche and Margaritas in the bar while some crew members from Survivor were gathered at a nearby table. It was starting to sprinkle a bit when Mark came in and said that they were gonna forego the drink and head back to their boat. After our snack and drink, we did likewise, dinghying back out to RHAPSODY in a light, but steady, rain.

That night, we saw WAHOO move from our anchorage over to the other side of Contadora and then move again over to nearby Isla Saboga. We talked to them on the radio, and they told us the anchorage we were in was too rolly for them. They reported, on the other hand, that all the anchorages tried were rolly, so we might as well stay where we were. They also told us that they were going to leave the next day to go to Mogo Mogo. We wished them well and signed off for the night.

Isla Contadora