A bumpy, lumpy, difficult overnight from Porvenir to Isla Veraguas and Bocas Del Toro
On Saturday, December 13th, we got up at 4:30 a.m. had our coffee and were ready
to pull up anchor and depart Porvenir by 5:00 am. Our plan is to do the entire
leg from the San Blas to Bocas Del Toro in one go, just about 220 nm. We expect
it to take us about 36 hours if we can maintain an average of 6 knots. This will
be our first 24 hr passage in almost 8 months, since we went from
Puesta Del Sol, Nicaragua, to Bahia Saint Elena, Costa Rica way back on
April 23rd, 2008.
After pulling up anchor, we motor out of the Porvenir Channel and around some
reefs to get out into the ocean before we head slightly north of west to a
point somewhere off of Isla Linton where we will make a slight turn to
due west to get to Bocas Del Toro. The full moon is shining bright ahead
of us in the west at 5:00 a.m., and it's followed shortly by the sun rising
behind us at 6:00 am or so. There's a pretty nice breeze, about 15 knots from
the northwest, so we put up the sails and turn off the motor and are soon making
5-6 knots under sail alone. Even though this is a little less than our desired average,
it's still pretty nice to sail, so we try to keep it up as long as possible.
As we're crossing the Escribanos Shoals, where we had caught 3 Wahoo on the way out
to the San Blas, we put both fishing poles into action in hopes of catching
another couple of these beauties on the return trip, but it is to no avail
as nothing bites. However, around 10:00 a.m., well after the shoals, there's a hit,
but when I reel it in, not only are my two lines tangled together, but rather
than a wahoo, I have a small 3' shark on the line. Not really familiar with
them and their edibility, we decide to cut him loose, which we do, and after
attempting to untangle the fishing lines, and finally giving up and cutting
them, we decide to put the fishing poles away. There will be plenty of work
on the passage without adding the messy and onerous task of cleaning fish.
By noon, the wind has died down and we are no longer able to sail, so
we reluctantly start the motor and try to increase our speed to make up
our average, but there seems to be a counter current working against us,
and we can do no better than 5.5 knots. The seas, at 3-5 feet, are also
right on our nose, and it becomes a little bouncy as we pass several boats
from Linton making their way east to the San Blas Islands.
By 3:00 pm, we have made it past Linton and are now looking at the big
Golfito de Mosquitos (Gulf of Mosquitos) that we have to cross to get
to Bocas Del Toro. As we round the point, and set the rhumb line
for BDT, off to our right we can see
several large ships inward bound for the Panama Canal and know that
we'll soon be crossing a very busy shipping lane. Thus, we are somewhat
dismayed when the ships don't show up on our AIS (automatic identification
system) like they're supposed to. The AIS is supposed to tell us how
far away the ships are, what their course is, and give us a sense of
security and safety when traversing waters plied by these big fast moving
ships, but it doesn't seem to be working. I go below several times
and diddle with the system, testing it, hooking it up to an
alternative power supply, and finally taking it apart and looking
inside at the printed circuit boards before finally declaring it
dead. That's too bad, because it was for these conditions that I
purchased the unit, and for it to die now is about the worst possible
time. Without the AIS, we're forced to use the radar and our eyeballs
to determine which way these ships are moving. Several times we have
to alter course and speed up or slow down so as to stay safely away
from them, because it's always unnerving to see a 300,000 ton boat
making 20 knots two-to-three miles away from you.
By 6:00 pm, we have made it through the worst of the ship traffic,
and as we are crossing the gulf, we are moving steadily farther and
farther from land, to about 25 miles offshore. The seas continue to build,
now they're 4-6 feet, and they bang into us. Also the wind
has now come up to 15 knots or so, and wouldn't you know it, it's out
of the west, directly on our nose, so our progress slows to a dismal
4-5 knots. It's all we can do to heat up some soup for dinner as
the boat is banging around, making the ride very bumpy.
At 5 knots we won't make BDT until well after dark the following
day, so by 7:00 pm, when the sun has set and it is cloudy and starting
to rain, we decide to alter our plan and course to more inshore,
to stop at an island called Isla Veraguas, about 40 nm short of BDT.
We decide on our watch shifts - I will take 2:00 am to 6:00 am watch -
but already we know that neither of us will rest very
well with the banging and bouncing of the boat. There is no way
to stay on the bed in the forward master cabin, so we take turns scrunching
ourselves up against the wall in the port aft cabin trying to sleep a little.
During the long, bouncy, rainy night, we get to see a little
of the full moon as it occasionally breaks through the clouds on our
respective watches, but the winds pick up to the 20-25 knot range and the waves
look ominous in the moonlight as they confront RHAPSODY every inch
of the way, building to perhaps 5-7 feet, but at 3 second intervals,
which is very close together, resulting in a very rough ride.
By 6:00 am, when the sun rises, we are only making 3.6 knots, even
though we also have put up the mainsail and veered off course a bit
so that it will fill. RHAPSODY is constantly crashing into the waves,
sending up huge spumes of spray over the deck to the dodger windshield.
It seems to take forever to get through the next 5 or so hours,
until finally, around 2:00 p.m. we are headed into the anchorage
at Isla Veraguas. Instead of the 220 nm we had hoped to make,
we have only gone 170 nm or so by now. But the passage is not over yet!
Finally granted a little break from the rain,
we pull into the anchorage designated in the Bauhaus book, near the
west end of the island, but due to the fact that the swells seem to be
coming from two directions, both from the NorthWest AND the NorthEast,
we find that the anchorage is untenable. There are 2-3' waves breaking
less than 100' from where the book says we should anchor!
So, on our own now, we slowly scope out the southeast side of the island
using the FLS (Forward Looking Sonar) and depth sounder, avoiding
a big reef in the middle of the island, until we finally settle,
at about 3:00 pm, on a spot located at 9° 5.294N; 81° 33.066W.
Though there is still about a 1' chop, we are both very tired,
and agree that it would be better to drop the hook here and get some sleep than
to risk trying to go to the next available anchorage, about 15 nm away, at dark.
It works out ok, as once we put the hook down in about 12' of water
(with about 120' of chain for a super cautious 10:1 scope), the boat is safe and secure.
And even if it's moving a little, it's way better than trying to sleep
the previous night in 4-6' seas, so, soon after we anchor, we celebrate
our survival with a shot and a beer.
As ship's engineer, I have one task remaining, before we go to BDT, and that
is to empty the holding tanks for the heads. Wouldn't you know it, that,
bone tired as I am, as I turn on the macerator for the port cabin, it
grinds to a halt, plugged up. So I spend about an hour disassembling
and rebuilding the macerator. Then when I go to empty the starboard cabin,
it too fails. Boy was I pissed as I then spent another hour rebuilding the
other macerator as well. By 8:00 or so,
I finally got to do my "computer stuff", like update the logbook, send out an arrival
email, and, believe it or not, pay our bills using the SSB and email, before
I finally got to take a shower and get to sleep around 9:30 pm that night.
The next day, we made a pretty uneventful 42nm passage from Isla Veraguas
to Bocas Del Toro, getting under way at 5:00 am again. The seas and wind
were still pretty much on our nose, but it wasn't as rainy, and most
importantly, it wasn't a night passage, so the 10 hours or so were not
as difficult. We kept the mainsail up for stability and an occasional
boost to our speed. Along the way we used the Satphone to call the Bocas Marina
and get a slip, and when we put the sail away and entered the buoyed main channel
at 2:00 pm or so, Dana, the dockmaster, guided us in on VHF channel 68,
telling us where to turn to avoid reefs, and how to get into the narrower
bight channel into the marina.
We finally entered the slip,
around 3:00 pm. It was a little hairy getting in, as the individual slips are only
5 ft long fingers with cement posts set at the entrances. With some help, at 4:00
RHAPSODY was secure and we had been to the marina office to check in.
Then it was over to the marina's charming Calypso Cantina where we had the first of several
rounds of drinks before a wonderful taco dinner.
Welcome to Bocas Del Toro!