Welcome to Panama

After a long stretch of rough nights at anchor we arrived to the completely protected, beautiful anchorage in Boca Chica  Panama where we are anchored up for the time being.

Weather generally dictates how and what we’re doing on board. We are at one with and totally at the mercy of the local environment. Subject to swell, tides, currents, sun, heat, rain, fog, lightening, dust, humidity and most notably wind, we must adjust or deal with whatever is going on. The only sure thing is that it’s always changing.

A beautiful view looking over the Boca Chica Channel

Our last night in Costa Rica certainly sealed the deal to leave. The night after the last entry where I mentioned the nasty storm from the S, we had another rough sleepless night at anchor. Winds from the N, Papagayo in nature – dry and deserty,  blew lightly until about 8pm and then piped into the 20s until around 2am, where we held on with no land protection down the extended Gulfo Dulce. Seas built significantly and the boat was thrown about in the waves at anchor. There was a bright moon, nearly full, and no rain or lightening. No sleep either, we just had to get through it, no way to pull anchor now.

We left for Panama at dawn. The seas had smoothed and a light off-shore wind blew. Squalls teased us all day from all directions, some blacker than others, some grumbling deeply. It was overcast and gray and a nice break from a passage in the sun. We saw a pod of humpback whales that surfaced very close off the stern – the first whales we’ve seen since Mexico! It was a beautiful sight. They blew and splashed and left us quickly – welcome to Panama!

We rounded a mystical island and then saw a few small houses with bulkheads built right at the waters edge marking new territory. We never saw such construction in Costa Rica – it most likely is not allowed. We arrived to a smooth S facing anchorage just as a squall line hit. We set the anchor in 35 feet in the pouring rain and jumped below for a hot meal.

A short passage away we checked in at Puerto Armuelles, our first Panamanian port. I nick-named it puerto arm-rollies, it was not really an anchorage at all. The small town that calls itself a port is no place for a boat. A disintegrating, rusty, nearly collapsed pier is still standing, but soon will be gone. I dropped andrew at the pier steps, carefully avoiding the large rusted spikes protruding between the waves. A man came to guide him over the rust and rot.

The pier at Puerto Armuelles and another sailor who has been stuck here doing repairs on his atomic-4 engine

Here, SE winds piped into the anchorage – directly on-shore. At this point, we were getting used to these miserable anchorages and waited for the wind to abate. It didn’t. Blowing the day and all through the night. Waves crashing next to us with a terrifying sound. Our keel was spotted to have gone into the air. Our tiller, tied off to one side, snapped in two. Anything in the cabin not screwed in was lying in a mess on the cabin floor. We wished to leave but now needed to repair our tiller, which we had a spare somewhere on board, but wouldn’t have a fair look for it until the morning. After tearing apart every possible hold, we finally found it. Such a small boat yet still so hard to locate a 4ft long item! We installed it with little trouble in the rolling mess. I liked the new tiller immediately. Now a stronger tiller is steering Arcturus and we were free to go again!

At least it broke while we were at anchor. We learned our lesson to not tie it off to one side if there are big seas on the hook.

We didn’t think to eat, we didn’t sleep at all. We were both tucked behind the lee cloth making jokes about puerto arm-rollies. Winds finally abated the second night and at 2am Andrew pulled up the anchor and we left for Boca Chica under starry skies.

A light offshore wind blew filling the sails on a easy beam reach. Dolphins found us and splashed at the bow and we sailed in peace while Andrew slept for the first time in nights. I stayed watch until nearly dawn witnessing an amazing electrical storm out to sea. It made me a little uneasy, but didn’t appear to be coming our way and the grumbling roar of thunder arrived long after the lights. I have never seen lightening coming high off the cumulonimbus clouds like this one and break into a whole root system of purple electrical spikes striking the sea with four fingers, at least! Frightening… yet beautiful.

Cumulus forming at dawn

We approached the western most islands of Panama with joyful surprise. It was the most beautiful place we had ever seen! Hundreds of islands… all lush and green with ribbons of white sandy beach. We weaved between them carefully studying our charts as rocks and shoals were everywhere. We arrived to the channel perfectly timed at a mid-high rising tide to carry us into the calm little anchorage at Boca Chica.

Anchored at Boca Chica

Lush plant life carefully formed to the waters edge

An earned and delicious meal of Patacones (fried plantains) with chicken, veggies and pineapple – beats rice and noodles, our alternating meal plan for the last few weeks.

A little empty beach nearby where we found waves and a lucky lot of coconuts for hydrating

I took this photo a couple of days before a big swell arrived with a full moon hide-tide and all of these palm trees were knocked-down to the sand.

Above the anchorage at Boca Chica on a now typically gray and rainy afternoon

A couple treats from morning at the beach

Inland countryside

We took a short trip out to Isla Parida to scope out surf. The S swell was so big we barely got out of the anchorage.

Greeted by four pigs at the beach

A howler monkey headed for some berries

A fruit truck piled up with lychees and plantains

8 Responses to “Welcome to Panama”
  1. bruce macdonald says:

    Hi Julie and Andrew … recently was given your address by Bill on d dock .. I have now gone through all of your rewarding posts and through your vision and very keen eyes have enjoyed a tremendous trip … superb photography , drawings and words …. If you two in anyway represent todays youth our future is in very capable hands … Don`t stop and stay barreled Andrew ……. Bruce .. D 76 Flicka

  2. James says:

    Very cool, We didnt get to spend much time in Panama. How long are you guys planning to post up? When can you start passage to Polynesia?

    • followthearc says:

      We’ll be here a while, the plan is always changing. There are tons of islands to explore here, so we are going to take our time. Panama gives a 1 year permit on the boat, well, charges for it. It’s plenty stormy and rainy now. Maybe the crossing next year, late spring, if it’s not an El Nino. We need to do some work on the boat… we need some money!

  3. Andrea says:

    We will be in Panama in March shooting a wedding. Also Casey wanted me to tell you that we will be in Nica the last week of November.

  4. Bill wicks says:

    Pete from d dock is leaving for Panama next month with plans to sail from port to port single hand. I gave him your posting for information.

    Given your experance solo might be hard.

    Bill from d dock

  5. Chris P says:

    Heavy nights at anchor mate… good on yah for surviving

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