Panama


Panama

Thursday 12th. April

We need to be at Colon and tied up at Shelter Bay marina early so Impulsive can be measured up to go through the Canal. Ross has organized an agent to make sure this process is done effectively. We were told in Curacao there had been a 3 week wait for yachts to be given a slot to go through. Before we left home Ross also employed a pilot to take us through, which also helps to ensure a time on schedule. We are told with these 2 things in place (Ross paid for them before we left home) we should only have to wait 5 days. This is an expensive exercise but we feel worthwhile especially as we are booked on a commercial boat tour at the Galapagos Is. on April 28th. The sailing time out to the islands depends on several factors but the inter-tropical convergence zone can slow the trip down by a few days, so we want to get through the canal as soon as possible. It is quite a challenge to make bookings for the Galapagos trip because they get booked out but there are so many variables to consider eg when we could leave Curacao, if we encountered any problems on the way and when we can get through the Canal.
Approaching the breakwater to enter the Panama there are many large cargo ships anchored waiting to transit the canal.Shelter Bay marina is a hive of activity and anticipation. People are preparing their boats for long ocean crossings when they exit the canal. We have just a few issues to address here : 1.to have the auto-pilot pump fitted when Rob arrives
2. to have the automatic bilge pump electric switch fixed (Ross has fitted the pump)
3. to change all the fuel and generator filters
4. to re-cork some of the teak joins
It is a lovely surprise to find the Turnbulls ( from Australia) here who we last saw in Curacao last year. We have a great time catching up on news and experiences.
There are several Australian boats here, including the Catamaran and its crew we saw in the San Blas Islands.
To pass through the canal each yacht needs an adviser and 4 linesmen. David Turnbull invites Ross to join them for the experience as does another Australian boat. Once you reach the end of the canal you catch a bus back and hope someone will do the same for you. Unfortunately Ross needs to be here because Rob is arriving and also he needs to have the new pump fitted. Our agent thinks we can get a transit in 2 days so he hasn´t the time.
It is part of being here to be a linesman for others so it is a pity our time is limited. However we are thrilled not to have to wait too long to go through. There is not much wind predicted for our crossing to Galapagos islands so we need the extra time in the Pacific Ocean.
Saturday 14th. April
This morning we receive the great news that we can transit the canal and should be ready to leave tomorrow morning. We have only had to wait 3 days which is fantastic.
Ross had a great day yesterday with everything falling into place. e.g. He found an excellent mechanic who fixed the 2nd. and 3rd. issues mentioned above and is happy to install the new pump when it arrives.
However today isn´t running so smoothly. Rob has arrived as planned in Panama City but has to wait for the pump to arrive on a later flight the following day. So Greg the mechanic is no longer available to install it. Also Ross spends hours on the computer with Scott trying to re-install the onset. mail but without success which is frustrating for them both.




At lunch time we wave good-bye to the Turnbull´s on their way to their transit. It is a huge task preparing for this as we are not only preparing for an ocean crossing but we have to sleep and provision for the extra crew to pass through the Canal. We will have a pilot, our assistant agent who has offered to be a linesman , and another linesman.
The whole organisation of this manoeuvre is fantastic. However the transit date is often changed at the last minute and your time can be delayed for any length of time, which can also cause difficulties with availability of linesmen. One of the benefits of engaging a pilot is that this doesn´t happen.
We refuel and while waiting for Rob Ross locates another mechanic who is happy to put the part in for us when it arrives. what a relief!
Rob has had such a long day and trip. He must be exhausted but it is great to see him. Fortunately he arrives just in time for the agent to clear him through customs so we can leave at the appointed time tomorrow.
We will have to provision this evening and this is our last opportunity for some time. We will stock up on cans in case. To do this we have to go into Colon and the agent has offered to drive us in after he has done our customs and immigration, and has delivered 12 tyres wrapped in plastic we will use as fenders to go through the canal.

The history of the Canal is fascinating. it is known a one of the manmade marvels of the world. It is of the lock and lake type, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It is about 82 ks. long with a minimum depth of 12 m.
In 1879 a french company began constructing the canal , but the enterprise collapsed in 1889. Under a 1903 treaty Panama granted the U.S. the panama canal Zone and the rights to build and operate a canal. Work began in 1904 and after many obstacles was completed in 1914. Allowing ships to pass through here between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without the lengthy circumnavigation of South America gave a great boon to world economy. In 1999 Panama took control of the canal again. Except for small craft ships are towed by electric locomotives and it usually takes 15-20 hours including waiting time. There are sets of double locks which enable ships to pass in opposite directions simultaneously. Two new locks are planned to be opened in 2014, and the existing locks are to be widened and deepened.
25,000 people died when the canal was first being built through disease from mosquitos of malaria and typhoid. In the rely 1900s the treatment of these diseases was discovered here.

Saturday 14th. April
This morning we receive the great news that we can transit the canal and should be ready to leave tomorrow morning. We have only had to wait 3 days which is fantastic.

Yesterday two yachts came back from the lake and have to wait several more days for their transit. Others have had their time delayed. Apparently there is a shortage of advisers which is causing this problem.
This afternoon we have our attention drawn to a 6 ft. crocodile which swims up between the same row of yachts about the same time. Also there has been a baramundi under the yacht.
Provisioning tonight is quite an experience. During the day there is a shuttle bus to the supermarket and back or there are taxis available. We are warned not to go into Colon on our own.
Rudi drives us into Colon as planned, and we are very grateful because we didn´t have time during the day. It takes 45 minutes passing through the National Park jungle and including having a stop when the road is closed for the canal. Two huge ships enter the canal being pulled by locomotives, and are followed by one yacht which looks like a small toy boat in a bath compared to the cargo ships. It is interesting to watch this operation to know what lies ahead tomorrow.
Even though it is Saturday evening the supermarket is packed with people. Apparently it is pay day. Jostling trolleys down the isles is not a great experience. Ross, Rob anI have a trolley each. The range here is very limited, especially thinking of crossing the Pacific.
The packing boys help us find transport back to Impulsive.There are very few taxis available. This is an example of the advantage of being with locals. They speak with a friend who comes by and we are very grateful when he and his friend offer to take us. Returning through the jungle they point out where the now abandoned U.S. army barracks are. The army used to practice jungle warfare here.
Stowing all these provision takes some time. It is tricky because we have to accommodate three more men tomorrow for one night. I would have preferred to provision in Panama City after the transit but Ross wants to make sure we have provisioned in case it is difficult to do so there because we have cleared out.

Provisioning






Sunday 15th. April

 The mechanic Cameron comes early to fit the new pump. The electrical fitting for it is burnt out as well.
Rob spends time on the computer with Scott hoping to establish the onsatmail again.

It is frustrating that this is such a problem.


The two linesmen come onboard mid-morning and tie on the extra 12 fenders.The extra fenders are tyres covered in plastic

We pick up the pilot outside the marina who comes out in a pilot boat. There are cargo ships coming out from the locks so we have to stay on the edge of channel.
Ross being guided by the pilot.





Rob at the helm






The trip through the canal is a great experience. The first three locks we go up, eg with the first lock the water rushes in and we rise about 8 m. in a few minutes.


 Entering the lock



Rafting up to the tug boat



A locomotive

In this lock we raft up with another yacht. It is a great surprise to find we know the skipper, James. We first met him in Barcelona where he had spent time working on Impulsive. He is English and with his Australian wife they are having a marvelous time sailing and working their way around the world. We had seen them at the marina.
We are then rafted up to a tug boat on our starboard side, which has it moments. One of our linesmen is quite excitable so it all seems more dramatic than it really is when the stern of the tug swings out from the wall with our two yachts rafted up to it. There are linesmen on shore to control the tug boat, and so they walk along beside us.
We pass through the first lock mid-afternoon and the third one several hours later. We pass into the huge manmade lake and anchor just on dusk. Our pilot is taken onshore but the linesmen stay on board for the whole trip. The both speak reasonable English which makes life easier for everyone. From here we can see some of the sites for building the new canal to
 open in 2014


The new pilot

 A different pilot joins us this morning. It is a beautiful trip through the lake which takes about 3 hours. There is a lot of birdlife and also we see several crocodiles. We also pass by a large Smithsonian centre where they are researching the effect of the manmade lake on the ecology of the area.
The descending locks are easier . We are rafted up to a tourist boat for these three locks and James´ yacht is rafted up to the outside of us for one of them.
We are fortunate to have a high tide to come out into the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise there can be strong currents here.
It is very exciting to come out into the Pacific Ocean. We are now past the areas I had been anxious of and am really looking forward to this next part of the trip. It feels we are starting to head back towards Australia. We have probably extended our sailing yet another season because we enjoy the way of life, but now it seems more relaxed.





Panama City

We are pleased there is a buoy available at the Balboa yacht club because the tidal range is 3.5 m. here. Because of this large tidal range the gates on the last lock into the Pacific are very tall to cope with the currents set up when the lock is opened.It is an attractive place on the Pacific side of the canal and has excellent 24 hour dinghy service to and from the boats. We are near the shipping channel so do get some wash from the big ships. The canal operates throughout the 24 hours each day so ships passby at all hours of the day and night. Also it is close to  Casco Viejo the old colonial part of the city we want to visit.

The wall of the old fort


The old Panama which was founded in 1591 has been in ruins since the pirate Henry Morgan attacked it in 1671.  In 1673 the new Panama was founded nearby and is now the Casco Viejo area. This area is very dilapidated and passing through you can see there are squatters living in many of these very run down buildings. However for sometime now renovations have been happening slowly and the government is insisting that the original colonial architecture is being restored to the area with any re-building.

View from the fort´s wall across to the business centre


We stroll around this area before having dinner at Las Bovedas, a restaurant by the harbour, which is set into the wall of the old fort and has been a prison. Leading yachties hours because we are tired we are first here but the numbers swell and the cuisine and atmosphere are excellent.

Panama City´s business centre has an impressive skyline, and is booming. As with the economy here when Panama took over full ownership of the canal there is expected to be another boom in the economy when the new canals open in 2014.

Crossing to Galapagos Islands

As we leave Panama City and track through Panama Bay there are many flocks of birds flying in unison. Many of these are pelicans. They look so graceful as they fly in large groups often in a straight line and sometimes in a V- shape, hovering just above the sea with the uplifts.  We also see large pods of dolphins and flying fish.
There are many large cargo ships anchored waiting to transit the canal.

Pedro Gonzales Island


We track 45 n.miles south-east to the Las Perlas Islands to drop the anchor late in the afternoon at the beautiful Isla Pedro Gonzales, just off a white sandy beach. Ashore are coconut palms and mango trees so we enjoy fresh coconuts and mangos to eat. What a treat! Sometimes  a young man comes around selling langousta. It is lovely swimming here and walking along the beach.
We are delighted to find Mawali anchored here. ( the Australians we met in the San Blas Islands). It is interesting to hear about their last few days and also to discuss with them which is the best route to the Galapagos considering the weather and wind forecasts.
Tonight there are masses of fire flies in the water at the stern of the boat. This is a lovely sight as we leave to row over to Mawali in the dark. For some reason the dinghy starts well and then just konks out. The following morning Rob checks it and realizes there is water in the fuel. The fuel level is getting low so the filtering system won´t let the fuel through with the water in it. He thinks the water is just a collection from the condensation from the extremely hot weather over a long period of time. Once the water is separated out the dinghy goes reliably again.
We decide to track slightly west of south out of the Panama Gulf. There has been much contradictory talk about adverse or favourable currents. The one definite piece of information is the winds are light so the question is how far south to go before turning west to the Galapagos Islands.
Glen´s (skipper on Mawali) grid-files suggest going 100 n.miles further south than Jimmy Cornell´s waypoint. The prospect ahead looks like doing a lot of motor sailing but we hope to get enough wind to enjoy motor sailing and maybe some sailing.

Wednesday 18th. April – day 1
We decide to track 207 degrees (west of South) before turning west towards the Galapagos when we hope to get some wind on the port tack.


The calm Pacific

During the afternoon Ross sees a marlin leap into the air right by the boat. I saw one way off in the distance. They make a huge splash when they land back in the water.
At sunset we have a display by the dolphins. It is as if they are showing off to us.
Tonight there is beautiful phosphorescence in the wake of the yacht.
At 7.30 we pass by a fishing fleet, some with lights marking their fishing nets, which is a great idea. During the night we all see some cargo ships during our night watch. One is on a collision course from 24 n.miles away and as it comes closer I am contemplating what to do when it changes course and passes by 1.2 n.miles away, which is a great relief.
We have been warned to look out for large logs that float out from some rivers in South America. Yachts have suffered substantial damage from these eg a broken rudder. We actually see many logs over the next few days, and some of them are quite substantial.

Thursday 19th. April – day 2
Today is Alexander´s first birthday. It is wonderful to be able to ring to sing Happy Birthday to him.
The ocean is like glass as we seem to glide over it. There are still only a few kts. of wind, which is just enough to set up a breeze to keep us cool.
Ross tries to join the morning sched. to see if there are other yachts anywhere near by. Unfortunately the reception isn´t very clear so he plans to try again tomorrow.
At sunset there is another wonderful display from the dolphins. They are some distance from Impulsive but are leaping high into the water with twists, and making huge splashes when they land. It makes for great entertainment as we have our happy hour drink. ( we still don´t drink alcohol while we are overnight sailing).
Another lovely sight is seeing 3 large birds having a ride on one of the large floating logs. We also see a very large turtle pass by. We hope it is all right so far from shore. Rob did see it lift its head. There is another myriad of bright stars out here tonight, and again phosphorescence in the wake.
Ross speaks to Bruce Buckley, the weather adviser who suggests we change our next waypoint to track slightly further west but an extra 100 n.miles south to below 2 degrees i.e. a total of another 300 n.miles before turning towards the Galapagos Islands i.e. another 400n.miles, where we should find more wind and in the direction we need to sail.

Friday 19th. April – day 3
Today Ross speaks with the software  creator  in California who finally sorts out the onsat mail. We are all very pleased to be back on the air with this system, especially after all the time and effort Ross, Scott and Rob have put into it.
We have tracked into 12-13 kt. winds on the nose most of the day. Later the seas became a bit choppy.
Now we can use the onsat mail we can have more regular weather updates with Bruce. During the night our plans change due to a disorganized band of thunder storms around 3N 90 W. We can see constant huge streaks of lightening in that direction. This has caused an indraft  -  winds blowing into the convergence zone. This has improved the winds to our west which will only be about 10 kts. most of the time, but means we can now head directly for the Galapagos Islands. These southerlies will probably only last for 24 hours so we should make the most of them.
Sunday and Monday are forecast to have variable winds but only about 6 kts. It seems we will have a lot of motoring this leg.
During the watches after midnight we all saw a lovely large, white bird hovering about the boat. It looked beautiful as it fluttered in the soft lights shed across the water from the yacht. Also during the early hours Ross and Rob saw a large pod of about 100 dolphins leaping out of the water not far from the boat.

Saturday 20th April – day 4
The winds are up to 15-16 knots and Ross has taken a course lightly more to starboard so the wind is on the beam. With both sails up we should be averaging at least 6.5 kts just sailing, but with a variable and sloppy sea we are lucky to be making 5kts. We sail for about 7 hours. Unfortunately the wind drops out at midday and the motor is needed again.
Later tonight the winds come further round to the south and our speed picks up a knot. Ross is able to put the headsail up.
Another change of plan comes in from Bruce. The thunderstorm activity is supposed to be far enough away from us that we should have indirectly benefited from the inflow without the hazards of the storms themselves
We should ease 30n.miles further to the south even though it will be difficult with the s.w wind direction. It should give us more southerly in the wind direction and keep us further away from the direct active storm area. Then we can turn towards Christobel again. The winds will be patchy.
Later we marvel at the accuracy of Bruce´s decisions. Because the motor sailing is doing well ,  Ross is seduced into staying on this course. Ross misread Bruce´s  advice to head further south immediately rather than gradually and after some time you can see on the radar we are engulfed in a heavy rainstorm with the winds going in all directions and water washing over the deck. It is quite a lively storm so we furl the headsail. Two previous storms showed up in the same way but Ross had been able to avoid them. These conditions make for a rough and choppy sea, which isn´t very comfortable and makes it difficult to sleep.
 Ross changes our course a long way further to port but it takes sometime to clear the  storm. It seems to follow us. Being able to see this turbulent weather on the radar is a great advantage.

Sunday 21st April – day 5
We are out of the thunderstorm area now but there may be some passing showers.
The winds are shifting from SSE to SE during the next 24hours varying from 7-12 kts.to 3 to 8 kts. Closer to the Galapagos we can expect breezes more from ESE.
Tonight and the following day (day 6) are quiet, motor-sailing with the mainsail and headsail up most of the time. Ross checked our fuel yesterday and we still have more than half a tank full.
Ross puts the trolling line out on dusk with a new lure. He feels pressure on the line soon after he puts it in the water but whatever was there, and the lure, are gone.
Tonight Bruce agrees with Ross´ plan to track a little further north , about 15 degrees
To improve the wind angles as the winds shift SSE then SE and near the Galapagos from ESE. Wind speeds to vary from 5-10 kts.  so still very light. Here is no adverse current now.
The thunderstorm activity is sufficiently far  north and west not to be a problem.

Early this evening Ross and Rob see another large pod of dolphins. Also there a few birds visiting the yacht and it is amazing to think of how far they are from land.
We have a lovely dinner in the cockpit tonight sailing (very slowly) and watching the new moon slowly sinking below the horizon. It is a wonderfully clear night and the sky is filled with bright stars. There is a lovely feeling of space and freedom out here.
I have spent a lot of time on night watch filing photos on the computer. It is a task that is long over due.

 April 23rd. Day 7
Rob comments this morning that the scenery is the same!  360 degrees of clear horizon and blue seas and skies. The temperature has dropped considerably as we track further south.
Today Ross is keeping the speed below 7kts. because we want to arrive in San Cristobel in the daylight tomorrow morning. It is very calm out here with hardly any swell and very light winds as forecast. We are motorsailing with the headsail and mainsail up.
Our bread supplies have run out today so there is bread baking in the oven. I hope it works well because Ross and Rob are looking forward to it.
Sunset is lovely again with visits from dolphins and a few birds.

The moon is a larger crescent tonight, brighter and higher in the sky so is casting a soft reflection over the water. At 9.30 pm it slowly sinks below the horizon just as we cross the equator. Ross and Rob have already gone to bed so it is a very quiet celebration under the most magnificent clear, starlit sky.
After a calm night we arrive at the Galapagos at dawn having watched the speed to arrive at first light rather than in the dark, and drop the anchor at San Cristobel at 8.30am.



The crossing is uneventful except for Rob falling into the engine room, and the heavy engine room door coming down unexpectedly on Ross´ hand. Fortunately both were almost unscathed, but it reminds us how quickly things can happen and what care we should take to avoid this sort of thing occurring.
For boat issues, during day 6 a whistling noise starts up when there is extra load put on the engine. Ross and Rob initially think it is the alternator belt, but discover it is the belt to the engine´s water pump, which they tighten. It will have to replaced before we leave the Galapagos.




 









Curacao to Panama - verse

Curacao to Panama Verse

When you try to leave Curacao

Get used to “island time”

Where the tradesmen come late or don´t turn up

And the planning was wasted time


But stay at the Kura Hulanda

Surrounding the market square

You´ll eventually be back in the water

Though your schedule now requires flair


We sail 2 overnights to make up time

Then anchor at Guayraca Bay

Cross Rio Magdalene in the calm of the night

Stop at Windsurfer Bay (Puerto Valero) for the day


Then we run down to Cartagena Bay

Coming over the Boca Grande

We anchor just outside Club Nautico

Not in mud luckily but sand


We arrive just in time for Maritza

Who flies in from San Jose

We eat well,we walk the old City

And its walls to keep pirates away


Our guide´s the ebullient Henry

Who brings the City alive

And the fortress and coastal village

The huge, smelly, Mercado hive


We feel safe and it´s fun in Columbia

The people seem happy and free

Their music is playing for all to hear

Though their poverty´s there to see


We sail down to San Rosario

To help get back into the swing

Now it´s overnight to the San Blas

Where relaxation´s the thing


We creep past the Isla Tigre reef

(The GPS has us on land)

At one end it looks like a shanty town

At the other it´s pristine white sand


The Coco Bandera cays are as close

To paradise as you will find

If unwinding´s the thing you´re in need of

Here´s the place where you´ll unwind


The water is clear, the sky is blue

We´re nestled between 4 cays

Where the palms are green and the sand is white

And it´s turned into one of those days


That you hope never ends.

Now the moon comes up as a huge orange ball

And the peaceful lights of the boats

And the stars say it all


The Hollandes cays don´t quite measure up

(The day was dull and grey)

But the Chichime cays are the jackpot again

We stay there an extra day


We buy a colourful mola here

And watch how the Kuna live

It´s a simple self-sufficient life

There´s a lot of advice they could give


The navigation requires great care

Better trust your eyes than the chart

Or like many others you´ll be up on a reef

Painfully breaking apart


There´s a wreck off Dog Island (which we tried to join)

It´s a haven for colourful fish

They boldly swim up and enquire of us

Can we help you? What´s amiss?


We anchor off at Porvenir

(A smelly place to stay)

Then sail past the Costa Arriba

To calm Portobello bay


To a beautiful spot just off the fort.

That´s all, regrettably, there is to tell

Of this special cruise. Tomorrow we´ll be

At Colon, preparing for the Canal.


April 2012

San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands

These islands form an archipelago on the Panama´s Caribbean coast. The Panama cruising guide warns of the difficulties navigating this area with all its reefs, the varying degrees of precision with the charts and the latency or lag in the GPS. After studying the charts and using the chart plotter as a guide poloroid sunglasses to see the reefs are the best aids as you slowly enter these areas. The depth sounder is also a great help. The 2 chart plotters we used had us crossing the reef and anchoring on the island.

We arrive mid-morning to come into Isla Tigre to anchor on the south side of the island. It is very hot and humid so a swim in the crystal clear water is the first thing to do.

There is quite a regular local traffic on the water near our anchorage. This includes a young man coming by in his dugout canoe, or ulu to offer us fresh langouste. Unfortunately our largest pot can only hold a very small langouste and I don´t think I could handle us dealing with it on board. However we do buy a fresh cantelope and watermelon from some other men and they are delicious. Also some colourfully dressed women come by to offer us some molas. Some people who are sailing off to a nearby island in their ulu have a small, colourful sail up.

This island is not very large and is inhabited. In the late afternoon we enjoy walking around the western end of the island where we are anchored which has a lovely spit, white sandy beaches and coconut trees. During the afternoon children had been playing and swimming here. There is a light wooden fence at the end of this area before it becomes the village with the huts. We are hesitant to enter this area until an American family who are based here for a kayaking holiday inform us that the Kuna Indians who live here are very welcoming. It is very impressive to see how these people have kept their culture and traditions.

Coconuts are the main products for the Kuna economy. They also export lobsters, crabs and octopus. Luckily we read the Kuna people are upset if you take any coconuts, even those lying on the ground. We see a lot of these and probably would have thought we could just take one back to the boat.

The huts are very attractive, especially the roofs made from special palm leaves found in the jungle on the mainland. The women are keen to offer their molas to sell. They are dressed in brightly coloured molas themselves, with glass beads around their legs and arms and gold nose rings and earrings. The molas are the Panama´s most well known handcraft. They are beautifully applique├ęd using layers of different coloured cloth. They are made into shirts or to make cushions or wall hangings with using motifs of sea life or animals.

We are surprised to be informed there is a bar/restaurant here. We call in for a drink and meet the couple from the only other yacht anchored here. The French skipper has been sailing for 10 years and his Belgium partner for many years also. She is trying to return to life on the land but is finding she prefers this way of life.

Friday, 6th. April

Today we think we have sailed into paradise when we arrive at the Coco Bandero Cays. These islands are protected by a 4 mile reef and are beautiful. They are small, uninhabited islands with white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal clear, turquoise water to swim in. Snorkeling off the outer reef is a treat.

At this time of the year the days can be hazy but we are lucky to have a perfect hot, sunny day and the full moon at night

Again we are offered fresh langouste and when we dinghy out to a tiny island to snorkel we meet up with the couple we met the previous evening.

There is another chilling reminder of navigation problems here with a large ship up on a nearby reef.

Saturday 7th. April

This morning we wake up to torrential rain. Ross takes this opportunity to be out on deck scrubbing down the boat. We haven´t had a chance to do this previously since we returned to her. After the rain it is a good time to wipe over the stainless. Now Impulsive is sparkling.

Tracking up through the San Blas Islands we are only 10 to 15 n.miles off the Panama mainland coast with its high mountains on our port side. Often we see lightening and hear thunder in that direction. It often looks as if it is raining there but it is bright, sunny and hot out at the islands. Once outside the protection of the reefs we experience the slight swell of the Caribbean Sea.

We have a relaxed morning reading before setting off to the uninhabitated Hollande Cays. These islands are only 7 n.miles but is still challenging with the navigation.

This is a peaceful anchorage in 5 m. of water. We have an isolated spot with just a large cruiser nearby. They kindly give us an update on Passage weather, which is our preferred forecast when the Onsat. Mail is connected. The forecast is all clear except for a few showers of rain. Ross is trying to set up the Panama network on the sail mail to use in the meantime.

It is amazing that in such an isolated place we can call our family for Easter. It is a very clear reception on the satelite phone.

Easter Sunday

The Easter bunny didn´t come to Impulsive this morning! In fact we haven´t seen Easter eggs anywhere. Maybe it is too hot in these places and they would just.

After taking up the anchor we must have come up on a small sandbank even though the depth sounder shows the depth is O.K. After churning up lots of sand we are free.

Today we venture 12 miles westwards to Chichime Cays. To come in here we need to round a reef with yet another wreck on it, this time it is a yacht. This is another beautiful anchorage and we are thrilled to see another yacht here flying the Australian flag. This is the first Australian boat we have seen this season. We pass by their large catamaran on our way to swim near the reef. Glen, Chris and Ben bought this lovely boat in Gibralter and are taking 9 months to sail her back towards Australia where they hope to sell her. Glen and Ben did the same exercise 5 years ago.

They invite us over for Easter dinner which is a wonderful feast starting with langouste and salad. We have a great time discussing experiences and what is ahead of us because they have done it before.

Monday, 9th. April

Glen kindly comes over to Impulsive to check out the auto-pilot problem. He is very competent with the electrical systems on the boat. He confirms what Ross thinks – that the hydraulic pump is broken. We are so grateful for this advice because we have a chance to organize a new one straight away and to have it fitted in Colon.

There are none of these pumps available in Colon or Panama City. We are very fortunate that our friend Rob who is joining us in Colon is not leaving Melbourne until early Friday morning. Mark Coates who is based in Sydney with Buizen yachts is able to organize one to be freighted down to Melbourne overnight so it will be there in time for Rob to bring it with him. We are very grateful to Rob because we have the spare B and G auto-pilot but to have to hand steer any of the long leg across the Pacific would be exhausting. Amazingly enough Mark suggested knocking the raymarine auto-pilot with a big screw driver handle and now it is going again, but we don´t know how long for so will change it.

We are enjoying the Chichime Cays so much we stay an extra night. We are having time for swimming, snorkeling, drawing and painting. Again the snorkeling here I lovely. A small lectric blue fish particularly caught our attention. It seemed it was showing off to us with its antics. The fish in this area seem very trusting and come close as you swim by.

Walking ashore on one of the very small islands we are invited to come back at 6.30 pm to join in the festivities for one of the girls on a nearby yacht´s 21st. birthday. We decide to stay on board and watch the fire and listen to the music and singing because earlier in the day we bought a langouste and thought it best to have it fresh. It was delicious.

Tuesday morning we up anchor early to track just a few miles s.east to Dog Island. This is a day anchorage only because it is not protected by an outer reef. Again care is needed with the navigation. This is pristine, beautiful small island with its main attraction being snorkeling around the wrecked freighter here. Apparently it had an uncontrollable leak so the captain deliberately ran it up towards the beach so they could save as much of the cargo as possible. The small coral growing on the ship´s sides looks wonderful in its autumnal colours and with the early morning sun shining through on it and the variety of fish here.

We have about an hour here with only the few Kunan Indians who live on the island before small motor boats arrive with other visitors. The Kunan women have some beautiful handicrafts.

We track across to Porvenir to check in and out of the San Blas Islands. The customs officer wants to charge US $200- which is a lot much more expensive than usual. Ross has organized to pay in Colon when we check in at Panama instead. It also may be due to the increase of transit fees at the Panama.

This is a pleasant anchorage so we will stay the night here. It is not safe to navigate these areas once the sun has set.

This tiny island is the hub of the San Blas islands with easy access to an airport and the Customs and Immigration offices stationed here. We are the only guests at the restaurant tonight, which is in a large kunan hut. Here we can see how well these are constructed. The people are very friendly with just a little English. There is just one dish available and that is “fish”. It is lightly fried and served with fresh salad and chips, and is delicious We sit at a seafront window where there is a lovely sea breeze and view over the ocean.

Our time in the San Blas islands has been a wonderful experience with the stunning scenery, lovely swimming and snorkeling. It has been interesting to learn about the Kunan Indians and to see how they have kept their traditions and culture. They are a strong people. They are small, serene and tranquil and self sufficient. They seem keen to educate their families.

Wednesday 11th. April

Today we are tracking 50 n.miles along the Panama coastline, the Costa Arriba section, or the upper coast, to Portobella. The coast has low lying greenery with the mountains of the San Blas in the background, still with large areas of undisturbed tropical forests. We average 6.5 kts. with the headsail up until towards the end of the trip the wind drops out so we are just motoring. It is a glorious day out on the ocean with the brilliant sunshine and blue waters.

Closer to our destination we begin to see cargo ships waiting to go through the canal and some that must have just come through.

Portobella is a very attractive anchorage. We anchor close to shore at the old fort. There is an upmarket resort nestled in here, from which we keep hearing loud roars like a lion. We discover later it is a very expensive resort and the noises we hear are from pumas.

Just on dusk we take the dinghy for a .5 n.mile ride into the town. The town seems dilapidated and run down with some old, elegant buildings from the days of the Spanish being here. eg the Renaissance style Custom´s House. This beautiful harbor was once one of the most important sites for transferring South and central American riches.

There are hundreds of yachts anchored here probably because it is only 18 miles from the Panama Canal and it offers great protection. We find it surprising there are only a few small restaurants here but are lucky to be told about Jack´s restaurant up the hill. The cuisine is excellent and we enjoy talking to Jack from New Jersey, who gave up a successful business life to sail around the world and then decided to live here. He has set up this restaurant and a hostel for back packers. He wants to help other travelers. He also runs charter trips to the San Blas Islands and now has a good rapport with the Hunan Indians on the 3 islands he visits. When they come to Portobello he puts them up and gives them board . They come 3 or 4 times a year to go into Colon.