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 Seville, Spain.

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 the town.

Fuerte San Fernando