Chris visits Bocas and RHAPSODY for 4 days and 3 nights

My best friend Chris was scheduled to fly down from Vermont and visit us at the end of the second week of January. We spent the two weeks between New Years and his visit doing the usual stuff. We spruced the boat up for his visit, washing clothes and sheets, cleaning out the guest room, washing the boat, getting provisions, fuel, and so on, so that when he got here, everything would be ready to go. It had been April 2008, almost 9 months, since we'd had our last visitor to the boat and we were looking very much forward to showing Chris RHAPSODY for the first time.

Chris had allotted 5 days and nights to come to Panama, Monday thru Friday, January 12-17th, but, unfortunately, due to the inavailability of good connecting flights, he was forced to layover in Panama City the night before catching a puddle jumper to Bocas, and then again on the way back. So his visit was cut down to 4 days and 3 nights. Nonetheless, we were game to make the most of his stay, and so, excited as kids on Christmas, were at the Bocas airport early on Tuesday morning to greet his plane. We watched with anticipation as the Air Panama jet set down on the runway and made it's way to the parking area.

Ahhh. It was good to see Chris again as he stepped from the plane and we went inside the tiny baggage claim to greet him. A quick round of hugs, smiles, and his baggage arrived so we made our way out of the airport. We caught a cab for the short 4 block ride to the waterfront, where we immediately caught a water taxi and took Chris to the marina.

As I said, Chris has never visited RHAPSODY before. Yet he has, in a sense, been aboard for the whole trip. Being my best buddy, he was always there when we were shopping for boats, looking at them, long distance, with me, on the internet, discussing the pros and cons of them. And in the trip planning stages, and the boat-fixing stages, he's always been there with an open ear, clear thinking, and has added many solid positive suggestions along the way. So, we were doubly excited to have him see the boat for the first time and to be spending some time on her with us.

At the marina we showed him around RHAPSODY, stowing his gear, and feeling out the plan for his visit. We were pleased with his high energy level and positive attitude. He was basically like, "Let's Go!", when we suggested that we might get under way right away so that he could experience RHAPSODY under sail. So, by 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, we were casting off the lines and making our way out of the marina in the channel to Bahia Almirante, our destination a place called Starfish Beach on the opposite end of the island we're on (Isla Colon).

As soon as we were out of the channel, we put up the sails and turned off the motor. It was a very nice day with sufficient breeze from the right directions that RHAPSODY was making 5-6 knots on an easy starboard tack. Chris had a chance to take the helm for the first time, and when we tacked back towards the island, he got to participate in the line handling and so on. After a few hours of sailing, we were within spitting distance of the beach, so we put the sails away and motored around the anchorage to find the best spot.

Chris was all curiosity as he helped with everything. I showed him how we dropped the anchor and rigged the bridle. By 2:00 pm, we were at anchor about 100 yards off pretty Starfish Beach. During the day a number of Pangas bring tourists here, as it's one of the best beaches in the area, and so there were a number of happy young men and women playing in the water, snorkeling, and lounging on the beach when we got there. Chris, being full of energy, suggested that we go for a snorkel. We dropped the swim ladder, donned our gear, and went snorkeling around the boat.

There wasn't a lot to see in the anchorage as the bottom was mostly sand and eel grass. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing little swim and we got back to the boat after about 1/2 hour. When we got back to the boat, we did the dinghy drill, putting DITTY into the water, and taking her into shore for a walk along the beach. Starfish Beach was really pretty. It was obvious that someone was tending the growth just beyond the beach, planting palms and clearing brush, encouraging some vegetation, discouraging other, with the overall effect of creating a more open feel to the area.

We walked about 1/4 mile along the beach when I had an idea. I'd go back and get the dinghy and meet up with them. I then went back to the dinghy, took it out to RHAPSODY and got some fresh cold beers, and more importantly, some fireworks that I had purchased for Chris's visit. I then met up with them perhaps 1/2 mile further down the beach, landing on a strip and tying DITTY off, and presented them with the new, cold, beers. We lit off the fireworks and had a nice time walking up and down the beach, stopping to talk with a few of the tourists, taking pictures along the way, and checking out the neat things living by the shore.

After that we went back to RHAPSODY for cocktails and dinner. Chris, ever energetic, after having us locate the blender in the bilge someplace, mixed up a batch of rum-fruit cocktails that we enjoyed very much. Soon a guitar, then two, were broken out and Chris and I were jamming just like old times. We grilled up some Wahoo that we had caught and were saving especially for Chris. The meal was fabulous, the drinks were flowing, and we stayed up fairly late (1:30 am) jamming and chatting the night away.

The next morning, Wednesday, Chris and I, up earlyish, took the dinghy up to a small reef just off the point of the island and did some snorkeling. It was fun, but not spectacular. When we got back to RHAPSODY, we all decided that it was time to pull up anchor and do some more sailing. From Starfish Beach, we motored northwest into the channel leading out to the sea. Once in the channel, we put up the sails, and treated Chris to sailing in the somewhat open sea. As opposed to the previous day's sail in the bay, with virtually no waves, out here there were 3-5' waves at 8-10 second intervals, quartering from the port bow as we beat out of the channel.

It was pretty exhilarating sailing as, helped by some kind of a current, we were blasting along at 8.5 knots in 15-17 knot winds on a perfect port reach ... the wind coming directly to the side of the boat. RHAPSODY was easing through the seas, though, rather than banging, and it was a pretty nice sail. After about 2 hours we reached a decision point ... should we keep going another 4 hours to Isla Veraguas, or should we turn back into the Bocas Channel?   Well, what's nice for 2 hours might not be so nice for 6 hours. And the fact of the matter was that we had heard the Isla Veraguas anchorage was rolly. So, rather than subject Chris to four hours of hard sailing and a marginal anchorage, we decided to re-enter Bahia Almirante via the Bocas Ship Channel, thus completing our circumnavigation of Isla Colon. This would allow us to spend the night in the very calm main Bocas anchorage.

Nonetheless, we entered the channel with style. We sailed the whole way down the channel, first on a broad reach, then when the channel turned, we went wing & wing, RHAPSODY's big sails set out to either side of the boat and her heading directly downwind. We put down the sails as we started the motor and turned into the anchorage. We got the anchor down and, wouldn't you know it, proceeded to have a round of cocktails to celebrate our fun sail. I called Andy up and he came over from his boat, about 50 yards away, for dinner and a jam, bringing along a quart of rum as a tiding. Chris and Andy got along well, and soon Chris had mixed another batch of those rum-fruit drinks which everyone enjoyed. A jam or two broke out through the evening. It was fun to play the old tunes with Chris and have Andy providing rhythmic accompaniment.

We feasted that night on steak and lobsters, potatoes, and veggies. We all stayed up talking, singing, and drinking until well past 11:00. Whew. The next morning Thursday, we decided to take Chris and RHAPSODY over to a place we've never been before called Cayos Gallegos, a maze of small mango covered cays and reefs about 5 miles away. I got up and made us pancakes for breakfast before we got ready to go.

We left the anchorage at about 9:00, and were able to sail for perhaps 45 minutes before the wind petered out and we were forced to motor. With some trepidation we motored our way slowly thru the hidden reef infested channel until we got to the anchorage at about 11:00. Then Chris got another taste of the cruising life. It took us three tries to set the anchor well. The sky was kind of grey, portending a blow, and I wanted to make sure we were well set for the night. The first time we tried to set the anchor, when we put the boat in reverse at 1200 rpms, the anchor just started bouncing along the bottom. We found another spot, and tried again, with the same result. Finally, we moved far from those spots and picked another place and the anchor held at the requisite 1500 rpms in reverse. By then it was after noon, say 12:30. Ahh the charms of cruising!

It was too grey to really encourage snorkeling, so we spent most of the afternoon just schmoozing and chatting. We did a quick exploration of the nearby area in the dinghy. Over the last year and a half of cruising, I've gotten used to a very laid back lifestyle. Not complaining mind you, but Chris is so full of energy, that we were just about knocked out from all the excitement. Cruisers just aren't used to staying up till 1:30 partying every night :-) OK, I know, you'll sleep when you're dead!

Anyway, we made the most of the afternoon and evening, talking about old times, plans, people we know, and everything else. We jammed a little bit too, but I guess I've worn Chris out there, as he's not too used to playing guitars for hours every day! Thursday evening Chris cooked up a big pot of Spaghetti, which we all ate up wholeheartedly before we all finally crashed that night.

Friday morning arrived and it was Chris's last day here. About 9:00 we started getting Rhapsody ready to go ... rigging the dinghy for towing, getting ready to pull the anchor, when ... the sun started shining. I was just about to start the motor to leave, but then we changed our mind and decided to do a little last minute snorkeling. So, off the side went Chris and I as we swam perhaps 75 yards to some reefs we had spotted in our previous day's dinghy exploration. Along the way Chris got my attention and told me that he'd seen a 5 foot barracuda right under him! We found a few coral heads and took pictures of each other and had a good time. Right before we came back we both spotted a large, 3' or so, sting ray who obviously saw us and had started stirring up the sand. We swam back to RHAPSODY and in a few minutes were ready to pull up anchor one last time.

From Cayos Gallegos we returned to the Bocas Anchorage, all under motor, in about an hour and a half. That left a few hours for Chris to explore Bocas Town. We all piled in the dinghy and went to town where we walked up and down main street while Chris did a little souvenir shopping. We ran into Andy in town and decided to have lunch at Lili's Cafe, which was pretty tasty. After a second Margaritta (hey it's not every day Chris visits!), it was time for Chris to go. I took the dinghy back to RHAPSODY, picked up his bags and met everyone back in front of the Pirate restaurant. From there we walked up to the airport ... only to find Chris's plane would be an hour later that we thought. We burned the last hour walking main street one more time, doing a little more shopping, before at last it was time to say good-bye to Chris.

Chris caught his outbound plane from Bocas Del Toro at 4:45 pm, and spent the night in Panama City before returning to the states on Saturday. It had been a short but memorable visit. We hope he'll get another chance to visit us soon!

Messing Around