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 16 January 2015 - Portobelo, mainland Panama


After Jonathan left on 31 December, things got quieter on the boat. We moved to the Southern entrance of the East Lemmons (about .7nm) where it was overcrowded with cruisers, some who were staging for further moves, but most were just lingering around the entrance rather than pushing through and finding a spot in the vast emptiness further inside - where we had come from. There were probably 30 boats crowded in the entrance, most inside the channel - where only 5 or 6 boats should safely anchor (without blocking the channel). If one boat dragged, there was going to be a domino effect……


Since we’ve been in the San Blas Islands, we’ve come to appreciate the natural beauty of the islands and the reefs. However, all is not well in paradise. Despite the complete lack of bare boat charterers, there is an overabundance of paid/professional charterers, most of which look like “red-neck hill-billies” (really, no nation in particular) carving out an existence with boats devoid of safety equipment or spares and overloaded with back-packers picked up in Cartagena or mainland Panama. We have seen the remnants of many of these boats lying on the reefs. Since we’ve been here, we’ve heard over the VHF radio the desperate cries for assistance for one whose engine was “covered in water” (“the” bilge pump wasn’t operating and there was no spare and no manual backup), another who needed assistance with their hydraulic steering, the SSB radio - and more if you got close. Also, on 8 January, we heard by name of one sailboat that crashed into a reef (and there it stayed) and then a second if you can believe it (this one an 80 foot back-packer sailboat - Independence) that ended up on a reef in the West Lemmons. The Captain blamed the incident on water in the fuel, but I think he is at fault for choosing the North entrance to a  lagoon when the wind was 25-30 knots and swell over 10 feet. In both cases, I believe the boats are “lost” although thankfully there has been no loss of life. It makes me wonder, just how much effort I’ll make to help out one of these boats (when they seem unable to help themselves with proper charts, navigation choices and maintenance procedures) when the time comes. I remind myself that I’m under legal and moral obligation to preserve the loss of life, balanced against the risks that are undertaken, but am under no obligation to assist with the rescue of their decrepit vessel.


The next day we moved on to Esnasdup, and anchored in the quiet lee of the island. We had virtually no wind, no salt spray coming off the reef, no swell - and not a single charter boat in sight, probably because there were no beach bars or BBQs planned, just a few cruisers burning a bag of garbage. The Christmas winds (NE to ENE) had set up and we had constant winds of 20-25 knots and seas of 12-15 feet for several weeks. 



Diane went in to Nargana with Cathy and Maria (and Jaimie) SV Joana No 1 and topped up on groceries, while I stayed behind and looked after the boat. When we were walking ashore one afternoon, we came across this completely gutted 50 foot sea container that had obviously washed ashore some years ago. Can you imagine running into this floating sea container, with a sailboat?



Or, how about all this garbage on the windward side of the island? Unfortunately, the windward side of the San Blas Islands serves to filter or catch floating garbage before it makes it to mainland Panama.



Again, we bought lobster and fish from local fishermen. Our practice is to buy from the locals, whenever it is available. We got these two tuna for $ 5 and made 4 meals out of it.



Since starting to cruise nearly 6 years ago, we’re rarely used our SSB, primarily to get weather information, first from Herb and next from Chris Parker. However, now that we’ve been in the San Blas Islands, we’ve started to regularly monitor and check in with various SSB nets operating in the area:


Magellan Net (or Mag net) operates at 0800L on 8173

SW Caribbean Net operates at 0815L on 6209

Panama Connection Net operates at 0830L on 8107 (alt 8167)


Each of these nets has various net controllers that seem to change from day to day. We rarely listen to all three nets in a row, since at least one net will end up being operated by a net controller that is located in some distant location where we can hardly hear him or her. We’ve been told that the Mag Net is populated with circumnavigators but I keep hearing people that are in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Florida or St Maarten, and few seem to have any interest in moving West. In short, we’re still looking for the right SSB net to belong to.


On 13 January, we decided it was time to vacate the San Blas islands and make for mainland Portobelo, Panama. 



It is from Portobelo that we plan to conduct most of the administration for our Panama Canal crossing. By doing the administration ourselves and staying at anchor instead of at Shelter Bay, we’re bound to save at least a thousand dollars. To our disappointment, we found that our Digicel 4G phone/data plan didn’t work in this anchorage. Shortly after arriving in the San Blas over a month ago, we had bought a Digicel SIM card, time and a data plan. For $ 14.95, you can have 3GB over a 30 day period. A week ago, we topped up and bought another 3GB - which isn’t going to be possible to use in Portobelo. The day after we arrived, we did a reconnaissance of the anchorage and discovered that Panama Cable and Wireless, CLARO and MOVISTAR all operated 3G networks in the bay, but we could not pick up Digicel. On shore, we picked up a new CLARO SIM card, bought $ 17 of phone/data time and then a 30 day unlimited data plan for the same charge, $ 14.95.


There are many abandoned boats in the bay, some even high and dry in the mud and more than a few that sunk. This one was pretty evident when we arrived, but then two days later somebody stripped the masts and rigging - and now it will be harder to see.



Anyway, despite all the negative rumours we’ve heard about Portobelo, we already like this place. Its not on the tourist maps. Its a gritty, standard Panamanian town, with good grocery stores and a few cheap restaurants. 


 


To see previous log entries, just use the tab at the top. 

   





SV Joana is listed for sale at this site (in case you're wondering why, we're not planning to give up the cruising lifestyle or our home, but most things are for sale and since we've met many cruisers who have listed their boat, we figured we'd do it too).

 


 

Countries Visited:         (Departed Canada: May 2009)

Antigua: May 2011
Bermuda: June - August 2009
Bonaire: February - April 2014
Bahamas: December 2009 - March 2010, December 2010 - February 2011
Barbados: March 2012
British Virgin Islands: May 2011
Colombia: Oct 2014 - 
Cuba: March - May 2010
Curaçao: May 2014 - September 2014
Dominica: May 2011, April 2013
Dominican Republic: March - April 2011
Grenada: June-November 2011
Guadeloupe: March 2013
Martinique: March 2012, March 2013
Panama: December 2014 (San Blas Islands), January 2015
Puerto Rico: April 2011
St Lucia: May-June 2011, December 2011 - February 2012, December 2012 - February 2013
St Martin /Netherlands Antilles: May 2011
St Vincent and the Grenadines: June 2011, February 2012, December 2012, April-May 2013
Tobago: March-May 2012
Trinidad: May - December 2012, June - November 2013
USA: August - November 2009, June - November 2010
US Virgin Islands: May 2011
Venezuela: November 2013 - February 2014

 


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