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Date: 08 Feb 2014 12:11:00
Title: Portobello

09:33.3N 79:39.667W

Drake's Island, at the entry to Portobello Bay. He died of dysentery and was dropped overboard in a lead coffin. They're still looking for him. I tell you: I wouldn't open it if I found it!

It was hard to leave the San Blas but time is getting on, we have to be in New Zealand by November to avoid the cyclone season, and the Pacific is rather large to cross... so we moved on to Portobello, en route to the Panama canal.  

It was quite en eventful passage, even though it was just a day sail. As soon as we'd crossed the reef above Porvenir we saw hundreds of flying fish, jumping out from our bow in squadrons of 40 or more, but all of them tiny, looking like little dragon flies more than flying fish. Then, about an hour into the passage, we saw Portuguese Man of War float by. At any one time you could see a dozen of them and they continued to pass for about 20 minutes. Scary things, looking innocent enough on the surface, like plastic cornish pasties floating on their sides, but underneath are long tentacles with an horrific sting. We were careful of any ropes on the fore deck after they'd passed, in case any tentacles had been washed on board.

  
Sorry, hard to get in focus when they're bobbing on the waves.

As we passed just North of the Providencia Shoal we heard the line run out again just as we were eating our lunch, so Phil put the lock on the line and we finished lunch, letting the fish tire himself a while. Even so it took us about 3/4 of an hour before we hauled on board 23 lbs of yellow fin tuna. It was quite a struggle, harder than the Dorado we got on the way down to Santa Marta, although it was about the same weight and quite a bit smaller. He was just so damn strong! We got him in by working together, Phil pulled back on the rod, then I wound in the line as fast as I could whilst there was slack. This operation gained us about 6 inches a go. So, 6 inches at a time, muscles straining, blisters forming, we gradually got him in. He was hard to gaff as his gills, when closed, form a perfectly smooth slippery shell and you can't get the hook into them. He made absolutely delicious ceviche and marvellous steaks, bigger than I've ever seen before, just one feeds the two of us.


We were just resting up from catching and preparing him when something strange started to appear ahead. At first it was just flashes of orange, coming and going with the waves, then we could see things that looked like nets thrown over a pole standing up above the water... if any one has any idea what this is please let us know:


Portobello Bay itself is a perfect anchorage, well sheltered. You can quite understand why it was so important in the days of the Spanish Main, tons and tons of gold and silver flowed through the port back then and I could imagine the bay filled with galleons. The old customs house, where all the goods passed through, was restored recently by the Spanish.

  

There's a great museum in it now, well worth a look around. The town back then was pretty tiny, swelling to ten times it's normal population the couple of times a year that the convoys came in. It's much the same now, but the increase in numbers comes at the end of February for Carnival and in October when people come on pilgrimage to see a wooden statue of Christ, notable because he's black. People crawl on their knees all the way from as far as Costa Rica they say. I'm not sure I'd like to see them arrive, they must be a in a bit of a mess by the time they get to Portobello.

  
Sleepy Portobello, from Captain Jack's bar and the black Christ of Portobello.

With so much wealth passing through it the town was a magnet for attacks, including Captain Henry Morgan in 1698, and again, in 1739, it was taken by Britain, Admiral Edward Vernon. This act of piracy was so applauded by the British that streets got named after Portobello in the UK and in the Colonies, hence London's Portobello Road. The forts that were constructed to repel attacks still have remains now and are a World Heritage site. 

  

You can catch buses from Portobello to Panama City and Colon, they are all privately owned so they paint them up like showman's trucks to attract customers.

I'm not sure how much the driver can see...

It was these buses that we caught our attention most on our first evening as we sat on deck at anchor looking around. After weeks in the San Blas with no cars or buses the squeal of the bus'  brakes at they negotiated the bends coming over the hills, and the blast of their horns made us start and look up.

The other thing we noticed was the bird song. Although we'd heard plenty going up the river, out on the Cays there wasn't much except for Grackles in the mornings. Here there were plenty, we even had humming birds fly across the deck and we got to watch the Turkey Vultures wheeling up on the morning air currents.

  
Turkey Volture and pleasure houses on the North of the bay.

The vultures were at one with the wind, their flight looking effortless as they barely flaps their wings. Other birds have some difficulty when they're not sitting head to wind. I know the feeling.

  






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