At anchor in front of Fuerte San Fernando
After our two week stay at Shelter Bay Marina, we slipped our lines and
made our way out of the mouth of the marina, along the western breakwater.
We called Cristobol Station on VHF channel 12 and received permission to
cross the Panama Canal shipping lane, which we did, as we exited Bahia Limon and
Colon between the buoys marking the channel.
Our first stop in the Caribbean Sea was to be the famous historic
town and bay of Portobelo, a short 20 nm hop from Shelter Bay.
Once outside of the breakwater, we put the sails up and began
sailing in an 8 knot southerly breeze, but soon the wind died and
we were forced, as usual, to put the sails away and motor.
After about 3 hours of motoring, we pulled into the Bay of
Portobelo and dropped the hook a hundred yards or so from
DELFIN SOLO, who had left Shelter Bay two days previously and
was already there.
The Bay of Portobelo, which means "Beautiful Port" in Italian,
was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 2nd, 1502, during
his fourth trip to the New World. In 1586, it was chosen as the
main trans-shipment port for the gold being plundered from South
and Central America by the Spanish. From here, tons of gold and
silver was shipped back to Spain. From 1574 until 1702, no less
than forty-five fleets of galleons, carrying no less than thirty
million pesos worth of riches EACH, left this port bound for
We chose the north anchorage here, as far away from the busy
town as possible, and well protected from the northeast swell
and winds prevalent during our visit. We were anchored a couple
of hundred yards from Fuerte San Fernando, one of the three
forts the Spanish built to protect the bay. Even though we
arrived at 1:00 pm or so, and the weather was nice, we decided
to wait until the following morning to do the dinghy drill and
go exploring. So the next morning, we put the dinghy in the water,
attached the motor and all that stuff, and went exploring.
Fuerte San Fernando was built in 1760. The walls are made of
cut coral, as thick as 3 meters in points. There are still standing
outbuildings where the officers were housed and magazines where the
gunpowder was kept. As this fort is off the mainland, across the
bay from the main town, even though it was a busy Sunday, there
were no tourists and we had the entire fort to ourselves to explore.
While walking the ramparts of the lower battery, we could easily imagine the
cannons firing, men running around in the heat of battle, and could
almost hear the sounds echoing off the ancient walls. The many cannon,
lined up along the wall, had a commanding field of fire, covering
the whole north side of the bay.
We hiked up to the upper battery, where the view was even better.
Down below, we could see RHAPSODY at anchor and we could see that
she would be an easy target for the big cannons up here.
It was a warm, humid day, and one could not help be be
captured by the spirits of the soldiers, sailors, and pirates
who had once fought here.
After about an hour walking among the ruins, we hiked back down
to the dinghy, cast her off and made our way across the bay towards