World ARC - Day 33 - 10th Feb – Into the Blue, well, the murky green.

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Thu 11 Feb 2016 14:09

08:37.3N 79:02.1W

World ARC - Day 33 - 10th Feb – Into the Blue, Well, the murky green.

The First Leg - Panama to Las Perlas
The first leg of the Pacific Ocean for us was the 40 miles to Las Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama.With our repaired Anchor Windlass and clean bottom, we upped anchor at 07.00, an hour after first light.The wind was a gusty 10 to 20 knots from the North, with Steve stowing the anchor on the bow, and Lynda at the helm, threading our way between the other boats in the anchorage at La Playita for the last time, and heading out towards the South East, inside the Canal buoys and South East of the enormous Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), heading towards the huge gaggle (or is it a fleet of different ships?) of 60 or more ships anchored in the bay surrounding the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal.At night from our anchorage, they looked like a city on the horizon, all lit up, various shapes and sizes all having different lights, cranes and towers on their decks adding to the appearance of towers and high rises. During the day, they were an ominous looming hazard of smoky, oily rusty steel boxes, all hanging onto anchor chains, some with water gushing out of various holes, many different flags, languages and names. Now as we picked a course to head through the middle of them, we were carefully looking out for anchor chains being lifted, or smoke coming from the tubes sticking out of their funnels, betraying imminent departure and possible problems for us.. It took the best part of an hour, but eventually we were through and into the wide expanse of Pacific Ocean beyond. We were bound for Las Perlas Islands, Contadora island.We had a group of the last of the ARC boats talking on the VHF behind us, also joining us. Waterman, Ain't Fancy, Toujour Belle, and Time Bandit, so we were relaying wind and conditions as we went.

Pacific sea lifeWe saw flocks of Pelicans streaming in over the surface of the sea, each following the other in long diagonal formations, looking like prehistoric Pterodactyls floating and sometimes flapping over the surface of the ocean, with their large beaks and angular bent wings.Frigate birds elegantly wheeling overhead, sometimes dropping down and picking fish from the surface, never landing, always gliding and soaring.

Boobies, like big seagulls, but somehow friendlier and with rounder heads, flapping round the boat.No flying fish? we had seen so many in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, picking them off the decks every morning where they had landed, that to suddenly have none bursting out form around Nina was a difference that was noticeable. Perhaps that's the influence of the CanalThen suddenly, on the starboard beam, about 20 to 30 meters away, a blow and puff and spray and a fin. Not a huge fin, but it was attached to a long black back that curved and crested and continued to come out of the water, ending in a large black horizontal tail, that barely lifted out of the water, then was gone. There were a few of them, not big whales, (we think Pilot whales) all coming up for a few seconds to breath, then they were gone again, leaving us cheering and hugging and dancing on the deck. We dived for the camera, but they didn't reappear.
The wind picked up, and we had 30 knots of breeze, but with three reefs in main and gib, Nina picked up her skirts and we had a great sail across, passing lots of motor boats and gin palaces, all speeding the opposite way towards the mainland.

Las PerlasWe came into the North of the Islands at midday, entering the narrow shallow strip between Isla Pacheca and Contadora. Steve was going to pass between the islands, having studied the charts and planning a course over the 20m shallows, but there were a couple of areas which did not match the charts, and a few places that were only 10m deep which should have been 20m, so we made our way out again through the far side, and around the outside of the island, to finally see the rest of the fleet anchored to the south of Contadora island.Other ARC boats were streaming in to the anchorage. Not in the book, the beach had now been buoyed off, so all the boats were anchored in 15 to 20 meters, Some even reported dragging on the rock and sand bottom. We hit the sand on our first attempt, 65m of chain was paid out, and we got the dinghy out to join everyone ashore for the traditional 'sundowners', the crews from other boats helping to drag the dinghies up the beach as each arrived.