Friday, April 5, 2013

Panama to Las Perlas

Causeway to La Playita and La Brisas from Balboa

15 March 2013

Once the excitement of the transit was over, we settled down in the La Playita anchorage to do our final provisioning and boat jobs.The causeway links Balboa to two small islands and the Flamenca Marina. La Playita is on the Panama canal side, and La Briesas on the Panama City side  We learnt pretty quickly, that we had been well advised to do the bulk of our provisioning in Shelter Bay. Although the bus trip over the canal to the Reys supermarket in Colon had seemed tedious, it was a complete breeze compared to the challenge of doing it from La Playita!

Panama City skyline
Doing it from the Pacific side involves a $1 taxi ride to Cinto do Mayo. From there one has to endure an hour long Metro bus ride, out to Tombo da Morto (“Tomb of the dead”, which is appropriate given the way you feel when you get there), to reach the Reys supermarket in El Dorado.

Not this bus!
 The shop itself, the product range etc, is pretty good, and the prices are reasonable. Once done, however, one has to collar a taxi, and negotiate a fair price for the return trip, laden with shopping. The next challenge is to offload the taxi, and battle down the long sloping walkway to the totally inadequate dinghy dock, and to find ones dinghy, somewhere in the now 5 or 6  deep dinghy tangle, and load it either by dinghy hopping, or extricating it, and finding space on the fuel dock, to quickly transfer the shopping before a ferry arrives! The anchorage itself is rolly at the best of times, but the cavalier attitude of the local ferries, dive boats, work boats etc, which roar through the place, oblivious of the wakes and chaos they cause, makes the trip back to your boat to offload, an  extremely challenging, and sometimes downright dangerous task!

Anchorage outside La Playita
Of course, the 5 metre tidal drop on the Pacific side necessitates this long ramp from the shore to the dinghy dock, which varies between horizontal at spring high, to a sheer wall at spring low!  The same floating dock serves as the ferry dock and fuel dock at the same time, leaving only the small end sections for the yachties’ dinghies. For this privilege, one has to pay $5 per day, and wear a coloured wristband to prove payment, for the benefit of the security guy at the top of the ramp!

Dingy dock with a 5 metre tidal drop
 One highlight, however, was the sight of a family of Sloths lounging about in the trees near the entrance.

Sloth doing what it does best
It wasn’t too before we felt the need to get the hell out, and de-stress in the Las Perlas Islands, while we waited for the next weather window to show itself. A few last bits from the chandlery shops, pipe for a replacement cockpit shower hose, fishing tackle, lures, and Navionics charts for New Zealand ($485), now that we have decided to spend the cyclone season there, and we were ready to go.
"Move your butt!!"
Las Perlas are about 37-40 miles away, and as an introduction to Pacific sailing, it was a dream!  Flat water, steady 12-15knot NE  breeze, and, shortly after lunch, we were anchored at Contadoro, just behind fellow cruisers, Beez Neez”, whom I had helped with their Canal transit. 
Pacific sailing...............lovely flat sea!

In the anchorage we spotted this strange catamaran comprising 4 bamboo poles, rollup sail mounted over quadbike which provided propeller power!

Anything that floats?
 It is the most developed of the islands, with airport for small planes, some basic shops, beautiful homes, and some poorer locals. We were even able to buy a couple of gallons of petrol, from the supermarket, and another local dealer. One pays $6 per US gallon, and the petrol is syphoned out of a big plastic tank, into a 1 gallon plastic, ex fruit juice bottle, from where it is transferred to your container.

Gas station
We also enjoyed a couple of very good, and reasonably priced “fish, chips and salad” lunches (the fish of the day was Corvina and was delicious)at the main restaurant/bar /hotel overlooking the main beach on the south side. Landing ones dinghy safely on the beach, and again departing with some aplomb, calls for some skill, and some cruisers were clearly more experienced than others. Drenched restaurant guests were quite common, and quickly had their smart upholstered chairs replaced by plastic ones! We were also able to get the wifi code and from then on had access to wifi from the boat, thanks to our long range Wirie  aerial.

Hotel Romantica 
We spent about a week waiting for a weather window, which the gribs indicated would arrive on the Wednesday. So on the Monday, we set off to go past Chapera, and look at the anchorage there (very nice!), and head off between it and Mogo Mogo to Isla Bayonetta, where we would wait for the weather to arrive. Chapera is where the Survivors TV reality show was, and still is, filmed. On TV the island looked beautiful, wild and remote. Indeed we saw two groups of some country’s “Survivor” participant on one of the beaches, with their crude shelters , toughing it out on their deserted island, a whole 2 miles from civilized Contadora and its airport!
We woke up in Bayonetta on Tuesday morning to find that the NE breeze had arrived a day early. We would love to have stayed longer, but it was time to go! Four yachts left immediately, but we needed to lift the dinghy onto the foredeck, remove and stow the engine, and generally prepare our stowage for the 8 to 10 day passage to Galapagos.
After lunch Scott Free and Sheer Tenacity set off, sailing between the Island of San Jose and Pedro Gonzales, on a course of 220’ Magnetic, for the start of our 945mile trip to Wreck Bay,  on the island of San Cristobal.
Scott Free beaking loose!

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