Up the Jungle

Blue Sky's Voyage
George & Michael
Sun 29 Nov 2009 15:15
Hello Friends                        "9:17.76N 79:58.74W"
Our time in Kuna Yala was marked, we must admit, by being in the rainy season and so was alternate periods of glorious sunshine, punctuated by days of truly impressive rainfall. Sadly one of the wetter days dawned when we were due to go on an expedition up the Rio Sidra with Lisa, the master mola maker. The trip was abandoned and we left it with Lisa that we'd do the river trip on the next circumnavigation in a few years...
So deterred from anchoring too close to mainland Panama, which seemed a touch wetter, we returned to the outer islands and the Cayos Hollandes for our final Monday night 'Pot Luck' organised by Debbie and Reg on 'Runner'. Since Reg has been keeping the island tidy for years, clearing fallen coconut fronds and so on, grass has grown beneath the coconut palms and it has become a most pleasant place to meet other cruisers, enjoy a cold beer and share some food.
Here's a couple of shots of the island and the Monday night PotLuck in progress, with Reg (seated on left) presiding...
For reasons that none of us can remember, it was decided that Blue Sky's final PotLuck would be a pink one. Matt won the prize for the pinkest presentation and can be seen on the extreme R of the photo above. This turned out to be a cunning way of ensuring that we only spent time in conversation with the more interesting cruisers who were of course indifferent to matters of dress. In case you can't see enough detail above, here's us on the way out to the party, with 'Runner' in the background. Fortunately the skipper's pink sarong (a present from the transat crew) is not visible in either photo.
We headed west from the San Blas last Thursday. The journey, starting at 0600, went much better than expected as we kept well inshore to avoid adverse current and had a little favourable wind to help, although we had to motor all the way, arriving in Portobello in good time at 1500 that afternoon.
The Bay of Portobello was discovered by Columbus in 1502 and subsequently became one of the most important transhipment points for gold looted from the Americas by the Conquistadores. It's now a rather sleepy town but it does have actual shops; which after the haphazard provisioning of Kuna Yala was a pleasant surprise. (actually we'd run out of red wine..!)
Here's a view along one of the fortifications to the Customs House, originally built in 1630 and variously damaged over the centuries by attack and earthquake, but now restored with Spanish assistance.
We spent a couple of nights in the well protected harbour at Portobello before continuing past the Caribbean entrance to the Canal at Colon to our present anchorage, the Chagres River. The 'Mighty Chagres' (as diligent blog readers will know... recommended reading - blog 15 October) was one of the major obstacles to the construction of the Panama Canal  and was tamed eventually by the US construction team by building the Gatun Dam which regulates the flow of the Chagres through Gatun Lake and stores its flow to feed the substantial water usage of the locks.
The only difficulty with the Chagres (for a yacht) is the entry, threading your way around a reef and over a bar... but we had GPS tracks from other boats and satellite chart pictures so we made it in safely at almost high water with a metre and a half to spare: about as close as you want it with some sea swell. Once in the river, there's plenty of depth: in fact it's over 10 metres deep all the way to the dam. The funny thing is, that although we are right in the middle of virgin rainforest, there was no bug problem and the hatches were open all night, letting in the sounds of the nighttime jungle.
The best noise last night was a great slow crash which we realised was an ancient tree yielding at last to the termites, followed by a frantic howling from monkeys all over the forest. The howler monkeys make a remarkable racket - a bit like a wounded dinosaur (whatever that sounds like). Yesterday afternoon's attempts by our intrepid Cabin Boys to explore the jungle met with mixed success. Though the cruising guide says that 'the canopy is over 20 metres high with little undergrowth' our explorers managed to make little progress despite taking the Blue Sky machete. Another attempt will be made today...
Here's yesterday afternoon's exploration team (note machete protruding from Matt's backpack) off to conquer the jungle.
Well, it's approaching 0930 and we're just getting down to breakfast, so I'll leave it here with a photo of our neighbours having afternoon tea yesterday...
We will go around to Shelter Bay marina tomorrow and check up on news and weather forecasts for the Pacific. We have plenty of work to attend to, installing the new anchor chain, windmill and AIS box as well as quite a bit of cleaning and shopping to do.
We hope you're having as much fun as we are, wherever you are.
Best Wishes
George, Michael, Matt and Alex