Long time no hear, I know. But it’s a load of old croc to think we’re having a nice long holiday. Read what the Baggy Brochure said, then read on …
Anchored in azure blue water you swim ashore to an uninhabited tropical island, run bare foot on soft white sand and meditate under the leafy shade of coconut palms as waves gently lap on the shoreline.
Feeling the hot sun on your body you cool off by snorkelling over pristine thriving reefs and free dive with eagle rays and stingrays.
“The most significant recent crocodile attack occurred at Green Island.
“The person sustained significant injuries and was airlifted out to Panama City for immediate surgery. It was believed the attack was by a female croc protecting her eggs.”
We were anchored off Green Island.
… every log or floating coconut was a croc
… every crash of a palm frond was a croc charging towards us
… every splash, a croc diving for an underwater attack.
We spotted venomous, punk rocker Portuguese man o’ wars casually sauntering past the boat; I cut my leg on coral; I was chased back to the dinghy by a feisty trigger fish and swam into the stinging tentacles of a jellyfish. We saw shark fins circling the boat.
Oh – and (more importantly the Captain says) after a week we had run out of beer!
No matter where you are, or what you are doing, real life is never like the brochure.
But whilst I can happily live with natures niggles (and running out of beer!) it was the amount of rubbish on the San Blas Islands that upset me the most.
Plastic in Paradise
The shorelines of these beautiful islands were COVERED in the stuff.
Most of the waste fringed the windward side of the islands. Aside from chairs, buckets, bags, TVs and electrical bits and bobs it was all plastic bottles, bottle tops, flip flops, perfectly in tact crocs (spot the theme?), shoe soles, toothbrushes and rope.
So – who’s responsible?
The islands are managed by the Guna Indians (no photos of them, they don’t like it).
They live in harmony with nature and have an environmental code of practice which everyone must follow. And it’s working. The islands and sea life is thriving. I’ve never seen such huge fish balls and so many fish leaping out of the water.
The Gunas are doing the best they can with the rubbish. There’s no waste collection service, but we saw them crushing cans, putting out bins and signs and burning it.
Then we heard that yachties (cruisers) were taking rubbish ashore rather than carrying it on board and found piles of plastic rubbish fringed by bin bag remnants. The paper and organic waste had long gone … the plastic remained.
In protest I collected a bag of plastic in full view of six anchored yachts and tied it to the guard rail. We took a photo and I sent it to All At Sea Caribbean magazine who are running a beach clean up photo campaign. A VERY small effort, but it made me feel a bit better. We eventually put the plastic in a bin in Linton Bay Marina – there was no recycling.
We made a short video about the problem here Plastic in Paradise.
Sailing from Dutch Antilles to Central America
Anyway, since our last blog, we’ve sailed 650 nautical miles from Aruba to Panama.
The five day voyage was fast (for us), VERY fast. Our first 24 hour run was our best yet at 167 nautical miles, which beat our previous best of 153. During that run we averaged seven knots and were struggling to slow Baggy down.
There are five potential drivers behind Baggy’s new found racing streak.
1) She has a very clean bottom because her hull was cleaned at the end of all our dives in Bonaire.
2) We think we were picking up some favourable current.
3) The trade winds were stronger.
4) Her rig of two foresails is working well with the wind behind us.
5) Realising she’s 40 years old this year she’s started to really enjoy herself!
Whatever the reason, Baggy sailed brilliantly and we just did what we could to keep things under control.
We’re also not doing too badly ourselves. Our plan to add on extra mileage to avoid bad weather worked in our favour and it was our longest trip alone … and we coped just fine.
Which is just as well, we have much longer passages coming up soon!
Panama or Pandora?
Approaching Panama was our most exciting land fall. It was like arriving on the planet Pandora from the film Avatar.
Towering mountains are covered in dense virgin rainforest. There were islands and coral reefs to navigate and from the thick, wild vegetation we heard haunting calls and roars.
Our first port was Linton Bay Marina where we were (bizarrely) finger printed for shower access.
The two showers were cold and there was no food shop or bar; everyone sat outside the petrol station because it sold beer and crisps.
We couldn’t plug into the electric, but we did have fresh water. Then, miraculously, a fruit and veg van arrived. We’d run out of fresh food days ago and to eat something fresh after days of tinned and dried food was AMAZING.
Venturing into Portobelo
First job. We needed to clear in with the Panama immigration office in Portobelo.
The promised bus didn’t turn up on the deserted jungle clad road, but we did hail a dirty taxi with no seat belts, broken door handles and thumping reggae.
Portobelo was a colourful, filthy eye-opener! Immigration sent us to the pharmacy (which sold kids party stuff) to do photocopying.
The supermarket had individually priced out-of-date eggs (yes, one was bad) and dusty packets of overpriced dried goods.
We saw cockerels tied by their feet to a washing line, small children throwing stones and running around with whips. The streets were lined with rubbish and rubbish was being tipped directly into the sea.
But … people were happy, there was a community feel and we saw the remains of the Spanish colonial fortifications.
Personally escorted into the Port of Colon
Post Portobelo and re-provisioning (the best we could) we retraced our steps and sailed to the lovely San Blas Isands for a week.
We then sailed directly to the Port of Colon to start our preparations for transiting the famous Panama Canal into the Pacific.
We heard we should head for an anchorage called ‘The Flats’ and radioed port control to tell them we were entering the huge, busy commercial harbour.
Feeling VERY small against the giant container ships we inched our way into a completely empty anchorage area!
Then the VHF called out …
PORT CONTROL (in a Spanish accent) “Bagheera, Bagheera … where are you going? ”
US: “To anchor at The Flats before moving into Shelter Bay Marina.”
PORT CONTROL: “Flats is closed. There is a new anchorage for yachts on the other side of the channel.”
Little Baggy was now on the WRONG SIDE of the main approach channel for the Panama Canal. And huge commercial ships were powering up and down in front of her.
Think crossing a busy motorway of monster trucks on a kids scooter!
But,m an escort boat suddenly arrived next to us and we were safely guided across and directed to the ‘new’ anchorage. Talk about making an entrance!
The next day we were safely moored up in Shelter Bay Marina – or so we thought – until we realised a seven foot crocodile saunters past our pontoon at 6pm every evening … !
In other news …
It would have fed a small village and was the biggest fish we’d ever caught.
We quickly released it. The fish and I were both traumatised, but I’m relieved to say it survived the whole ordeal. Not sure about me!
Monkey magic: Shelter Bay Marina is in a remote area of Panama, protected by a naval guard post.
From the marina we walked straight into the rainforest … with its 10,000 plant species, 900 bird species, giant butterflies, leafcutter ants, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, coati’s, sloths and more!
So – what now?
Trying to sail around the world in three years is rushed. But, unlike most of the people we’ve met, we haven’t retired or made our fortunes, and have to go back to work. So – we gotta keep on moving and next up is Galapagos and the South Pacific Islands.
Our Panama Canal transit date to the Pacific Ocean is Tuesday 5 March.
Friends, Bruce and Mel, have flown in from the UK to help as line handlers through the locks and we’re busy getting everything ready. We’ve been measured, treated for cockroaches (for Galápagos), hired tyre fenders and special long lines, topped up with gas and fuel, deep cleaned the boat and provisioned with enough dried and tinned goods to see us through to June.
Once through the canal we will visit Balboa and then the Pearl Islands, a group of over 200 islands 30 miles off the Pacific coast of Panama, and say goodbye to Bruce and Mel.
We then sail 900 nautical miles to the Galapagos Islands for three weeks exploring the islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela.
From there it’s our longest passage to-date – up to a month sailing to French Polynesia! And I’ve done the research – it’s apparently home to the worlds largest salt water crocodile!
By comparison it certainly feels like everything else has been a test so far!
Keep in contact … we 💙LOVE💙 hearing from you!
Our Panama Canal video and blog is underway and we’ll be posting up the thrills and spills before we leave the Pearl Islands mid-March.
You can follow our route on Yellow Brick. We’ll be keeping the tracker on throughout all passages and change of location and only turning it off when we’re stationery for a while.
Let us know what you think, or if there is anything you’d like to know! And we’ll see you all again in the Pacific! 😃