8:37.4N 79:01.8W Waiting for the Blue

Tue 15 Mar 2016 12:29
V formations of cormorants and pelicans move purposefully across the sky, sometimes there are the two types in the same formation, led by Mr Pelican. We creep from our anchorage at 06.32am leaving behind oily brown water filled with man made and natural detritus, pass the last anchored ships, Top Rich and Mandarin Grace and head off on 116’ toward the Las Perlas Group of islands. The column graph skyline of Panama fades away and the sea turns a promising shade of green.
The Gulf of Panama is shallow, no more than 50 metres deep so that glorious mid Atlantic blue is not going to happen. So we correct Zoonie’s list to starboard by making water into her port tank from green water. 55 litres per hour and the gauge needs to rise from 16” to 21” to have a full tank or just wait till it comes out of the galley sink tap.
“ This is your exceptional weekend programming, on Ultra Stereo” the Panama Radio station bleats as the popular music plays on, mostly UK and US music. BBC World Service piggy backs on the same frequency, 98.90 which is partly why we tune in.
Three fishing boats equal distance from one another reveal the lead boat is towing the others, they wave cheerily as we pass, that’s fuel economy for you!
The distant Perlas appear faint grey ahead just as a group of False Killer Whales fish enthusiastically around us. They are bigger than dolphins and have black backs. Our book describes them as lively and acrobatic and they certainly are, arching clean out of the water with twists and somersaults. One came close alongside us, about 15’ in length and quite beautiful. Frigate birds join the feeding with artistic dives to pick up any fish tit bits.
Around midday, with our destination in full view, suddenly the fishing line whurrs out of the stern “That’s a bite Barb.” My cue to nip below for the pliers, fish knife and chopping board, just as the galley sink tap starts to overflow. Its all go sometimes I thought, turning off the water-maker. We’ve caught a Spanish Mackerel. Bigger than the type we know with pretty yellow spots on its sides. “Well that’s supper sorted,” said Rob proudly.
“Look at those birds over the island.” There were hundreds all along the top of the trees and beneath them, on a golden sand beach were three ships. One was a wreck and the other two were busy offloading their cargo of building goods to waiting hands and a pick-up truck.
Nice to be turning the corner to our anchorage with full water tanks, well charged batteries and a charged up computer plus a fresh fish supper to look forward to.
Instead of the anchorage off a sandy beach we found the area full of occupied mooring buoys. Panamanians power to this island at weekends (the day was Saturday) and we were left the deeper waters on the periphery. We anchored in 13.4 metres and knowing the tidal range here is vast, Rob laid 50 of our 80 metres of chain, more than we have ever laid before. The day before the twice yearly HAT (High Astronomic Tide) with a range of 19.9 feet between high and low water. At high water our sounder read 20.1 metres, nearly 6 metres more than when we anchored, that’s over 19 feet.
We celebrated our successes with a drop of Curacao Blue and alarmed ourselves the next morning with a blue loo!
Contadora is a holiday island speckled with luxury homes and second homes and derelict resorts where once Panamanians and American Forces relaxed. There are 694 permanent residents, a school, church and many small businesses supporting the tourist industry.
We motored ashore and walked the whole island. Wherever there were hibiscus or bougainvillea tiny green humming birds flitted busily. We walked by the airstrip and through a vast wooden built and rotting holiday complex. Rusty swings, an overgrown football pitch and inside a fine green marble floor covered in dust and leaves and a polystyrene Mayan image on a roof beam in the bar was all that was left to tell the story. In the busy port at the end of the runway a ferry was moored offshore, its passengers being ferried ashore in locals’ boats. We sat in a disused bar watching a family of five having their bags checked by ‘customs’ in the form of aero-naval police. Even the little girls pink case was unzipped and Teddy jumped out, sick of his confinement.
All around water features and fountains are dry and swimming pools with only the water that is left after months of dry weather and evaporation. Trees and plants wither in the lack of this essential resource. The island has a small desalination plant but is it not enough for the modern demands and another has been promised that will cost $13.5 million and produce 150,000 to 200,000 gallons of fresh water every day. It cannot come too soon.
We enjoyed a cool beer at The Beach Club Hotel on Cacique Beach where we were anchored and used their WiFi. It still amazes me that when wifi works I can download one of my favourite author’s works, to read on my Tablet Kindle App while anchored on an isolated tropical island, when the book was only published two days before.
Then after a cool swim around Zoonie, Shelley and Kyle from a Dufour 45 called Blowin Bubbles, motored along side us and we asked them aboard for a drink.
It’s only a month now to our Amazon trip! We’ve realised we will not have any shore power or probably shore water from Guadeloupe to New Zealand! Thank goodness for the new batteries, water-maker and solar panels.
Yesterday morning, the 14th March, the shadowy hills of the Colombian coast were quite visible 17 or so miles east of us. We had a lazy morning, a rare event for us, and chose our next anchoring spot between two islands south of us, Isla Chapera and Mogo Mogo, where the tv series Survivor is filmed, I’m not sure if that’s the UK or US version. We went ashore for lunch at Dorio, a charming open air restaurant run efficiently by a team of ladies and had hamburgers, chips and Coke. We were going to snorkel around the rocks but an American lady came from her swim to ask for white vinegar at the bar because she’d been stung by jellyfish, so we chose Zoonie’s benign company for a swim instead.
The mooring buoys are now all empty but we chose not to move as we were going to Blowin Bubbles for supper and it would only lengthen the dinghy ride back in the dark.