Panama City

July 27, 2002. Panama City, Panama.

N 8deg. 54′ 36″
W 79 deg. 31′ 34″


After a couple more days in the Perlas Islands, we motor-sailed to Panama City on July 25. On the way, Clark caught a nice sierra mackerel which is a delicious white-fleshed fish. He also caught several large (20 to 30 pounds) common jacks which were a handful to bring aboard, especially since it was only to remove the hook and throw them back in the water. They are not very good to eat, but they did stretch our hooks and marked the lure. After three of those, the last one was caught while Clark was just putting the lure back in the water, we gave up fishing for the day.


Paul on Espresso ready to attack while passing us on the way to Panama City

After the fishing and our having to repel boarders as our friends Paul and Allison on Espresso came along side we anchored northwest of Isla Perico, a comfortable anchorage during prevailing weather conditions in the rainy season. But we were informed that the Port Captain had given an eviction order for the anchorage and that we had to move the next day to the opposite side of the island, which we did dutifully. A few hours later, the order was rescinded, after protests from some cruisers and further review of the anchoring situation by the port captain. The canal authorities realized that all the yachts had been asked to move to a restricted area of the canal on the south side of Isla Perico. So we were all asked to move back to the first anchorage! There are many rumors providing various explanations for the moves but nobody knows for sure the real reasons. We are happier northwest of the island because it is a lot less rolly, but neither sides provides a good dinghy landing. Dinghy can not be left on the beach because thieves come with chain saws to cut off the transom of the dinghy and take the engine… So the yachts anchored here provide dinghy taxi service to each other. Unfortunately, since our hand held radio has ceased to function, it is particularly difficult for us to call the taxi dinghy back when we return from town. There is bus service into town, but only once an hour, so most people use taxis, which makes outings to town more expensive. We plan to consolidate several errands before going. The list is long. We want to see what spare parts we can find here so we do not need to carry them back from the US. We need to go to an internet cafe, do laundry, some grocery shopping and would like to do some sightseeing as well.


Ship traffic near the entrance to the Panama Canal

Yesterday, as we moved Temptress from one anchorage to the next, we lost the transmission and our friends on Espresso towed us around the island. The transmission oil alarm sensor had broken and released the hydraulic fluid in the bilge, depriving us of transmission. So Clark spent the morning fixing that. In the afternoon, we went to the Balboa Yacht Club by dinghy to inquire about price and availability of moorings. We are on the waiting list to get a mooring at marina Flamenco, which is quieter and cheaper, but wanted to see what were our backup options if we could not get into marina Flamenco before leaving for the US. Balboa has plenty of free moorings so Temptress will not be stranded.

Today, I worked on consuming some of the perishable supplies we still have onboard, namely bananas a little too ripe, margarine, raisins and oatmeal, which attracts weevils. I made banana bread and oatmeal raisins cookies. But I am looking forward to eat out at a restaurant soon.

Cheers, Birgitta and Clark.

Las Perlas Islands

July 23, 2002. Las Perlas Islands, Panama.

We had a slow crossing from Punta Mala to the islands due to wind on the nose, chop and current, but it was uneventful. Dodging traffic to and from the Panama Canal on the way kept us awake during watches. We arrive Tuesday July 16 at Isla Pedro Gonzales and spent a day there.


Cute island with just one tree

We visited the tiny village where nobody seems to do anything except play dominoes, chat and listen to really loud music! We bought some fresh fruit from a man owning a plantation there. I asked for 10 bananas and we got about 50. He assured us that bananas are excellent for the health. The problem is that they all get ripe at the same time. So the bananas go in yogurt, fruit salad, banana bread and on top of pancakes, and we share with other cruisers.


The next day we moved to a more protected anchorage in canal Gibraleon and we are still here a week later. Ventana and Spray Venture were anchored there too and Ventana took us on an excursion to a large flat rock which is mostly submerged at high tide. There were lots of shell and pretty rocks polished by the waves.


Clark and I also took excursions with the dinghy to other islands nearby with very pretty beaches. On Isla Bayoneta, the beach looked like it was covered with cherry blossoms just fallen from the trees but it was pink and purple scallop shells which had accumulated over many tide cycles.


All the islands are covered with lush jungle vegetation and we hear frogs singing every night. We saw also many ibis, egrets and the funny american oystercatcher with an oversize red beak.



The submerged rocks looked like ancient tiles from a roman villa, except that the romans did not come here…


Ventana and Spray Venture moved on, but we were soon joined by Espresso and celebrated Allison’s birthday a couple days late with diner, wine and a nice chocolate mousse cake. Allison and I took a dingy trip to another tiny village where we were immediately taken in charge by four little girls, all wanting to play. They showed us where to buy the awful red soda that taste like Koolaid, bread and very basic canned supplies. Their dad also very obligingly shook a mango tree, which was on the side of the only paved street, so we could have some fresh mangoes. Another older man also brought us a bag of mangoes from another tree which he claimed had better larger mangoes. Everyone was ready to be helpful.

Today we made a big bonfire on the beach to burn garbage and then climbed the steep slope of Isla Gibraleon, through the jungle, to try to get a good view of the anchorage from the top. We saw many large spiders on the way and one cool lizard with a pink pouch under his head which he could inflate to impress, we assume, female lizards.

Another boat joined us yesterday and we are going to have diner and party all together tonight. Tomorrow, another tropical wave is supposed to pass by so we will stay in this very protected anchorage. Thursday, we will head to Panama City where will we prepare the boat for a 2 months vacation. We will fly to the US and Europe in early August, and come back at the end of September to cross the Panama Canal.

We hope you are all having a nice summer.

Las Perlas Islands

7-15-02 On our way to the Las Perlas Islands

N 7 35
W79 52

Yesterday we got socked by a tropical wave. Since we made it through with nothing worse then a story I was glad to see one. These things start off Africa and move around the world just above the equator until they hit some big land mass (Panama doesn’t count as big), or they loop around on themselves and become a hurricane. Yes these are what hurricanes come from. When they become a hurricane they slide north so we never get any of the adults down here. Up until now we have only seen the edges of them or seen them after they passed over a mountain. This one was still very well formed and very impressive.


When we sail long distances, we put the dinghy on deck to reduce drag. It makes a convenient bathtub after a rain shower!

Well yesterday the seas were nasty after it passed. This was more then just a discomfort to us as we still had to pass our last weather hurdle of the season. It is called Punta Mala or Bad Point. There is a nasty current here that piles up the southern swell into steep mountains. There is often a wind here as well. We have heard about boats seeing as much as 3 knots of current against them (remember we only do 5 or 6 knots) while they were being bashed by 30 foot waves. Generally not a place you would like to be on one of it’s Bad days. We stayed the night at the little hiding place we found and waited until after lunch when the tide should knock the current down a bit. We heard a friend on the radio this morning round it and he was having an uncomfortable time of it but nothing dangerous. Well by our turn to round it all was right with the world. We had less then a knot of current against us and no swell or wind to mention. In fact when we got to the point we had to drop our head sail and just motor because the wind dropped so much.

We are in a hurry to get north (sounds strange but we are traveling north now not south) as we only have another 2 weeks in Panama before we have to get the boat ready for leaving it for a couple of months. We want to spend them in the Las Perlas Islands as they seem to have less rain and clear water for diving. We have also been told that they have nice quiet anchorages. Actually Panama in general has the best anchorages we have seen on our trip so far. My suggestion to anyone doing this kind of a trip would be to give Mexico a miss and rush right down to Panama. It is really beautiful here. Some of the jungle has been cut for farm land but it isn’t an eye sore like some places. It is nice pasture land with happy looking cows munching grass. Everything is really green here and it has the look of always being green even when it isn’t rainy season. The locals we have met are really nice and though there is some crime against boats it isn’t anywhere near as prevalent as in Costa Rica. Birgitta is getting a bit bummed about the mold we might get when we leave the boat closed up for 2 months (and the mold we are already getting everywhere! adds Birgitta) but the boat is much drier then it has ever been. With the hot weather and rain Temptress’ teak has swelled and tightened up. I guess teak likes rain forests. In fact we have been having boards spring up from the deck because they have swelled so much they are too crowded together. I expect that we will have a bit of a mess to clean up but I am hoping for the best.

Santa Catalina Island, Panama


July 10, 2002. Santa Catalina Island, Panama.

N 7 deg. 37′ 29″
W 81 deg. 16′ 22″




We stayed in Bahia Honda until July 6 as a very active tropical wave had increase the ocean swell significantly, making the less protected anchorages such as Catalina Island quite rolly. Bahia Honda remained very calm but we did get a lot of rain. We visited Domingo and his family who live on their plantation on the shore of Bahia Honda. He had sold us some vegetables earlier and had invited us to visit him later.


He had many pets, including a 3-month old parakeet, a young dog, and an old cat called Hussein who outlived his playmate Bush… We bought more spinach, peppers and fruits from him. The peppers he sold us are as sweet as bell peppers but the size of chili peppers (jalapeno). Peppers really vary a lot in Central America. In Mexico I could find both red and green bell peppers, in El Salvador, they only sold green peppers with a tough skin, but once in Costa Rica, all there was was sweet red pepper. So my dinners involving peppers have changed colors quite a bit in the last year.


Domingo’s dungout canoe


Channel to Domingo’s plantation

Domingo’s wife requested some mosquito repellent lotion and elastic and paid us in eggs that she took right from under the hens sitting on them. We also went to the small fishing village on the island in the middle of the bay and bought some bread and onions from a dusty and very sparsely furnished store.

I caught a lung infection while in Bahia Honda. It felt like back pain but breathing fully or laughing was painful, I could not sleep on my favorite side or the back, and my chest felt tight so Clark guessed it was a lung infection and treated me with antibiotics as the condition was worsening.


Clark also made bread and fresh pizza on one of the very rainy days, which made me feel almost as good as the antibiotics! As of today, my chest still hurts a bit but I am mostly cured.

On July 6, we motored to Santa Catalina to meet again with our friends on Espresso. Santa Catalina faces a little surfer resort on mainland were limited supplies are available. Meat and vegetables are sold by visiting trucks with highly unpredictable schedules which makes catching them a game of luck. With 3 boats in the anchorage, we told each other what we wanted so that if one of us caught the truck, he could buy for the others. So after 3 days, we got tomatoes and meat. We also got 12 gallons of diesel which were a challenge to take through the beach surf with the dinghy. We had a fun evening of trading stories aboard Actarus and I made a hearty chili with corn bread for everyone the next day.

The boat pitches quite a bit in the afternoon when the wind picks up, so we plan to move further east soon. But the combined sun and wind has provided sufficient power in the last couple of days to allow movies and computer games, which was quite nice.

Bahia Honda

July 3, 2002. Bahia Honda, Panama.

N 07 deg. 45′ 15″
W 81 deg. 32′ 52″

After a couple more days of snorkeling, fishing, and playing evening games with Espresso and Spray Venture in the Islas Secas, we moved to Islas Contreras, another 20 miles further East. They are another group of small inhabited islands completely covered with lush jungle vegetation.

On the way, the throttle for the engine stop working and Clark had to reach in the engine compartment to manually change the rpms when needed. He was able to fix that problem when we arrived at the islands. But two other problems will require further work and parts from the US. The engine kill switch is malfunctioning, and again Clark must dive below the floorboard to stop the engine. Solving this may involve replacing the kill switch solenoid (we do not carry a spare of this). The raw water pump (pumping cooling water to the engine) is leaking again, which is very disappointing. The pump we left with from Seattle lasted maybe 15 years. We had it rebuilt last summer when it first started to leak and apparently the rebuild job was poorly done so the pump is already leaking again. This causes corrosion of the pulleys for the alternator and make the alternator belt slip which affect batteries charging and destroys belts. So we will have to buy a new pump this summer. In the mean time, we have to tighten the belt frequently which is not that easy and requires pushing and grunting from both of us. But it is very important as we now depend on the alternator for a large portion of our electricity. The weather is too cloudy and rainy to provide sufficient solar power. We have cut down our power usage a bit by trying to go to bed earlier, not watching movies or listening to music or using the computer for playing games.


These problems are real annoyances but fortunately they do not force us to shorten our cruise of the islands which are very peaceful and beautiful. At the Islas Contreras, we shared the anchorage with Espresso and spent time together diving, swimming, chatting, sharing dinners and playing games, everything from Trivial Pursuit to board games and card games. We have enjoyed very much buddyboating with them as they are about the same age as us and fun loving. Clark speared his first fish: a trigger fish with firm white flesh, and Paul showed him how to clean it so I received to nice clean fillet for my lunch.

One evening, we had a local fishing boat come alongside with four people onboard. We had trouble understanding their Spanish and they were not very talkative, mostly looking at us and at Temptress. They finally asked us for some sugar. That visit made us a little uneasy as, from our point of view, they seemed to inspect the decks to see what could be stolen of value. Panama is not much safer than Costa Rica and petty theft is reported common. We hate to have to be suspicious of everyone but we really can not afford to lose anything since, in most case, it can not be replaced down here. So that night we locked everything up which is quite a chore. It was sad as we had gotten used to empty anchorages with no one around but our friends. Latter that night several sport fisher boats and a big cruiser came into the harbor. They seem to be running a SCUBA diving vacation outfit where the guests spend the night on the big boat and dive each day on the small ones. The small boat anchored near us and might have scarred off any possible villainy by the local fishing boat. Likely nothing would have happened but we felt better with the company.


Yesterday, June 2, we motorsailed to Bahia Honda, a large protected bay on the mainland with many anchorages. It is calm as in a pond which is very nice but the water is too murky for snorkeling or fishing. There is no road to the bay, so the few people living on the shore and the island inside the bay are subsistence farmers and fishermen. Two of them came in the morning in dugout canoes to offer fresh fruits and some vegetables. It is too rainy for tomatoes and bell peppers which rot on the plant but they offered spinach, chilies, ginger, mangoes, papayas, pineapple, bananas, avocados and limes. I was delighted to get more fruits as they do not keep well and I had only a few bananas left from Golfito and a few apples in the fridge. Unfortunately, this was not enough for Espresso which had run out of food and today they decided to leave and sail to Catalina island which is a surfer resort with many supplies. We provisioned better and are only about to run out of bread (the little we have left is turning green), which just mean that we will start baking. We still have plenty of vegetables, meat, eggs and dry goods onboard. I even made fresh tiramisu for dessert a couple of days ago.


We plan to stay here another day or two and then head for Catalina also. After Catalina, we will be sailing for a few days in a row, stopping only at night, to reach the next large group of islands we want to see: the Perlas.

We hope all is well with you