Posted by: vlbyers | June 4, 2012

Crossing Gulf of Panama

Our dinghy will be safe tied to this!

Fruits of our hike

Ensenada Grande

Leaving the coast of Panama

Passing a BIG ship at anchor

It is actually the 28th of May, Veterans day this year and my sister-in-laws birthday! So Happy Birthday Valena, hope it is a great one. She is a school teacher and since this is a holiday I am sure she is doing something fun.
We are here in the Las Perlas Islands off of Panama. The anchorage is by Isla Casaya which is surrounded by reefs and not easy to get into, our friends were here before us and gave us some hints so there was no problem getting to our anchoring spot. It is calm, there are several small beaches and reportedly a town which we are going to explore later today, but first.
How did we get to Panama anyway, seems the last time I entered a blog we were in Golfito. The trip from Golfito to here took about 4 days, most of that was on the boat sailing, well motoring actually. We left Golfito on the 10th of April, water tanks full and fuel about ¾, my estimate since we don’t have a gauge I use our engine hours and am a stickler about documenting every hour, end result is I am only off by a gallon or 2 when we fill up. We would have plenty to make it to the Las Perlas islands and then to Panama City.
Our first stop would be Bahia Honda, this is very calm protected area where we would be able to spend the night before taking off to cross the Bay of Panama. After 24 hours and an overnight sail we were close to Bahia Honda and encountered another sailboat that was just leaving the area heading the opposite direction from us. Larry got on the radio to hail them and get whatever information they had to offer, it is often nice to get a heads up about the area. After talking with the other boat Larry decided that we were not going to go to B. Honda, his reasons were there was nothing to do there, not much of a town so we would just go on.
I was not happy about this decision, I felt that I couldn’t go against his wishes but I also knew that the night rest before we continued was something I was more than looking forward to. Maybe I need to work on my ability to adapt but my plan for a pleasant night sleep, after the lost one, looked like it was going to disappear. We talked about this for a while and then suddenly made another change to go to Isla Cebaco, in the Ensenada Naranja anchorage, which wasn’t too far out of our way. Larry wanted to make sure that I got the sleep I needed and thankfully changed his mind about continuing on.
Isla Cebaco provided a safe anchorage and we slept pretty well, ready to continue on. April 12th, again we headed out at 4:30 pm heading to Ensenado Benao, our last stop prior to heading to the Las Perlas. Ensenada Benao is not the most ideal anchorage as it is a prime surf spot, surfing and anchoring don’t go well together, but it would provide a safe spot for a rest. This trip would be about 60 miles and then we would have about another 60 miles to the Las Perlas islands where we would hang out for several days before going into Panama City.
The first 8 hours we encountered a bit of a current, we figured it was about .5 to 1 knot the swell was uncomfortable but not too bad and I saw my first shooting star in 3 years, it was magical. The seas smoothed out about midnight but the current increased; we were making a slow 3.5 to 4 knots. At this speed we knew our time of arrival would have to be adjusted. At about 6 the next morning we began making our usual 5.5 to 6 knots so we thought we were through the worst of the adverse current, it was at this time that we made ‘the decision’. Instead of going to E. Benao we continued on toward the Las Perlas. The favorable current lasted about 5 hours, just long enough for us to have committed our decision to go on, by 11am we were making 3-4 knots and by 1pm we were lucky to get 2.2 knots, the seas were beginning to build again and when we slammed into them (as much slamming as you can do at 2 knots) our progress slowed to 1.2 knots. Oh give me back the 4 knot progress!
We were motoring, we were headed straight for our destination not fast and we couldn’t sail. Then the motor quit, OK if that’s not providence I don’t know what is. I was in heaven, no worry on my end I just made the adjustments we needed to continue moving, which ended up being about 40 degrees. Heading to starboard meant we could sail, we were making 5 knots, and it was more comfortable, yeah. Larry was busy below trying to find the problem with the engine, first he was sure we were out of gas, refer to my fuel calculations above, we were not out of fuel. Somehow the engine wasn’t getting the fuel though so he worked hard changing the fuel filter and re-priming the line since we had emptied one of the tanks. This took about 2 hours, thankfully the boat wasn’t getting bashed around so he could work fairly easily.
Once he got the engine going again and we cleaned up the cabin, which was a disaster, he asked about our progress. I proudly informed him what I had done and that we had been sailing all this time, he wasn’t as thrilled about this as I was since we were going so far off of our rhumb line. So I went below to make some calculations about our course. My calculations showed that if we continued on this (my) course for the next 5 hours we would be able to tack and be on a rhumb line to the islands, still be able to sail and have about 13 hours to our destination. If we kept motoring on our rhumb line (his) course it would take us 3 hours longer. Of course all these calculations were based on what information we had at the time and didn’t account for any variations, which is what happens all the time, things change. We had an agreement to sail, another Yeah.
No surprise to me, our ‘agreement’ lasted about an hour when Larry started saying things like, ‘I wonder if the current has changed?’, ‘Maybe we should tack, why wouldn’t we at least see if has changed?’. My responses were that the more we tack the more we lose time, the straighter we can go the faster we will go. My responses fell on deaf ears and within another hour we had tacked, were bashing into the waves, making very little progress (the current was still against us) but we were headed toward our destination and Larry was happy.
By 4 the next morning the nausea that had been building over the last 8 hours got to it’s apex, I was not able to function, the seas were mixed and uncomfortable and there was no end in sight. Oh did I mention that the wind was 21-25 knots and we were still motoring. I repeatedly said that I had to do something to get some relief, I needed sleep which I hadn’t gotten for over 24 hours, I suggested heaving to. After mentioning this several times, and going over it in my head how we would exactly do it, I begged him to heave to for even an hour. Reluctantly he agreed to do it though continuing to say that he didn’t think it would do any good.
Immediately the boat was calmer, the seas weren’t crashing over the side and being blown into the cockpit, and I felt instantly better. I don’t know if it has to do with feeling more in control or what, but it worked. Our boat heaves to beautifully and after a little tweaking we (I) had it in the groove. I still heard comments from the captain about not feeling that different, our experience of this event was not the same for sure. I laid down on the settee and fell into a hard sleep, the motion of the boat was now comforting and not threatening. We were in the shipping channels but the boats we had talked with up to this point had known where we were and assured us they had us in their sights so I was not too worried about that. Larry stayed up in the cockpit to keep watch.
At 730 I woke up, 1 ½ hours of sleep renewed me, my nausea was now tolerable and I was able to drink fluids and eat some crackers. We had lost a couple of hard gained miles during the process due to the current, Larry was ready to get going. The wind was now 17-21 knots and although the seas were still confused, there were times we could feel they were calming. By 11 am the wind had dropped to 16-19 knots, Larry got some sleep and then I was able to get 4 hours. I also took some Sturgeron which helped with the nausea. By 5 pm we had gotten past most of the current and were making enough progress that it was clear we could make it to the island before midnight.
Ensenada Grande is just that, a big anchorage, mostly sand without reefs and rocks, so although it was dark we felt comfortable going in and anchored next to another boat at 945pm. This was the end of one of the most challenging trips since we left Seattle, it felt good to have it behind us. We’ll never know what would have happened if we had stopped in E. Benao for that night like we planned?

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