Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Ecuador

Las Perlas, Panama To Ecuador
Saturday 9 January – Wednesday 20 January, 2016

Before heading to Ecuador we got to spend a few days in Las Perlas again with dear friends Bill & JoAnne from the S/V Ultra that we had traveled a lot with over the last 4 years. They were line handlers on another friend’s boat transiting the canal to the Pacific, and we picked them up at Balboa Yacht club and were under way by 8 AM. Motored in calm seas over to Las Perlas Islands & anchored off Isla Bayoneta by 3:30 to enjoy a nice swim then a relaxing evening on the boat. The following day we went exploring, to a rock reef that gets submerged at high tide and to several nearby beaches. Wednesday another boat anchored nearby drove his boat onto a mud flat and waited for low tide so he could clean his boat’s bottom out of the water. We had just been talking about how this would be a good place for careening a boat with the huge tide shifts. It was cool to watch him do this. JoAnne & I went back to the nearby beach to burn trash while Bill helped Steve clean the bottom of our boat in the water in preparation for our trip to Ecuador. That afternoon we went over to anchor by Isla Chapera and snorkeled. Tuesday over to Contadora where I dropped Steve, Bill & JoAnne off on shore to go walk & see some of the island. All back to the boat for lunch then a dinghy ride around to north side of the island to drop Bill & JoAnne off for their Ferry ride back to Balboa in Panama City. We were really glad to have this time to visit with them before they head east and we head west.

Wednesday we put the boat back in order for a passage, stowing things we leave out while at anchor. Steve made a few meals to heat up underway, caught up on emails and called family letting them know we were finally making the voyage to Ecuador.

Thursday morning we were underway at 7:45, in calm seas with light winds. By 9 we had enough wind to sail and it was a beautiful start. By 4 the winds died down and were directly behind us, so we rolled up the sails and motored enjoying a beautiful sunset dinner. By 10 the winds picked back up and we were able to sail all night and most of Friday, which was another beautiful sunny calm day. By 3 we rolled up the sails and motored all night and all day Saturday in very calm seas, going through the doldrums in the Intra-tropical Convergence Zone, where the trade winds from the north meet the trade winds from the south, resulting in no wind. Taking advantage of the calm seas, we topped up fuel from our spare drums on deck, joking that we could water ski and wishing we could go for a swim. Steve even made a few more meals with some veggies that needed to be used up. It was strange being underway with windows open. Saturday afternoon clouds started to form and move over us, no beautiful star gazing that night. When Steve got up at 1 for his shift, he decided to take advantage of the wind we now had and turn the engine off. We put just the genoa out and the wind angle had us bashing into waves, even though they were only 3 + feet it made it really hard for me to get any sleep, by 4 I asked Steve to make it calmer and we reefed the genoa and turned off course to make for a little calmer ride.

Sunday morning we had overcast skies and some rain during the early morning hours and more later in the day. We had been heading west / southwest and now were starting to head more south. Seas still only 3 feet +/- but not in a smooth rhythm so we turned off course looking for a smoother ride. I went down to try to catch up on the sleep I missed the night before. Steve had to wake me for a few minutes to come up on deck in case we needed to use the VHF radio as a 25 ft fishing boat was heading directly towards us. We were a long way off the Colombian coast but these small open boats go out far ! NO problem as they passed behind us heading towards land. Wind is on the nose so we continue to motor with the main up the rest of the night.

Monday January18th at 5:15 AM we crossed the equator !! Now we are in the South Pacific Ocean.
The day clears to another sunny calm day, we take advantage and top up with fuel again, these extra drums of fuel are coming in handy, as it is allowing us to motor when conditions are not good for sailing, making our 5 day passage a 5 day passage instead of a 7 – 8 day passage.  
As night time approaches and we are only 15 miles off the Ecuador coast we put the sails up, as we do not want to run over any fishing nets with the prop spinning. Steve gets to tack a few times trying to keep the sails full as he slowly passes some lighted floats and many unlit fishing boats. By the time I come up for my watch we have cleared all the obstacles and roll the sails up to motor onto course.

Tuesday morning we are approaching La Libertad, where our marina Puerto Lucia is located. The marina opens at 8 but we were told they seldom answer the VHF radio. We had slowed down to be able to hail them on the radio before entering the small marina basin. On my 2nd attempt they answered in Spanish, we were able to communicate who we were and that we would be at the entrance in 15 minutes. Not sure of her answer we proceed towards the entrance. We see a tender come from the marina and it is a “marinero” (marina employee) to guide us in. He shows us to a spot to anchor right outside the marina first and then ferries us in to the marina office. We get all checked into the marina and she calls an agent to inform them of our arrival and they let us know they will come to check us in at 2. Back to the boat by 9:30 to get lines and fenders ready. 3 marineros come back out in the tender to help guide us into the med moor slip. One of the marineros asks to come on board to help and I quickly accept the offer.

This is the strangest set up for a marina we have ever seen !!!! Backing into the slip, a floating dock and tying our bow lines to moorings in the water. We would need to get on & off the boat from the back so we needed to move the dinghy, which we did not have time to do before coming in, and which of course was all tightly tied down securely from our passage. We are loosely in the “slip” giving us room to get the dinghy down. Moving with the surge a little close to the boats next to us. Dinghy down & to the side we get tied up to the dock and to shore and to the mooring. It takes a LOT of line adjustments as we have to be close enough to the dock to be able to jump off the boat, but not to close as we swing with the surge that we crash into the dock !! Only seeing the pictures can you understand. Once on the dock Steve asks where the electrical outlet is, whoops missing one at this slip. They say it will be fixed the following day.

During all this commotion good friends Bruce & Gina from Dream Catcher come by to say hello, and Gina brings us some of her fabulous baked chocolate chip cupcakes for breakfast. That boost of sugar was just what I needed! We had been in communication with them and knew our time here would only overlap by just this one day so we were very grateful to be able to see them again. They introduce us to Arnold the other live aboard here at the marina who is a resident Ecuadorian and a wealth of knowledge of the area. We made plans for the evening to go for pizza for their farewell dinner and for us to meet some other people, 2 of whom we had met briefly in Shelter Bay and had talked to on the SSB radio. They were a little concerned that customs might not show up to check us in and they are a lot stricter here about leaving your boat before you are checked in. But all 5 officials plus the agent show up at 3:30, and all went smoothly with help from Arnold acting as interpreter. 

All cleaned up by 6 the group piled into 2 cars and went to Salinas a few miles down the road for pizza, and then for ice cream afterward. A fun time and great to catch up with Bruce & Gina. Back to the boat for a great night’s sleep for Steve & I.

January 20, Wednesday morning Steve and Bruce talked and decided we will move into their slip when they leave. They had purchased some extra lines to tie up to the docks here and sold them to us at a discounted price, plus they were going to leave their bow lines that were covered with 4 months of water growth and slime behind. This way we could get our lines out of the water and not have them ruined and have electricity. They left their slip at 10, and went over to the fuel dock, an hour later after several goodbyes to folks they got on their way to head north to Costa Rica.   

Arnold helped us let the marineros know we would be moving, and we confirmed it with the office that it was okay. Back to our boat to get ready to move !! It was so much fun the first time we were not thrilled about moving again but it was for the best. With the help of the marineros in their skiff pushing us off a mooring line from the other side of the marina caught on our keel. Arnold and another marinero on the dock to all help with lines we were moved into the new slip by 12:30. The electrical outlet is NOT a marine outlet, just a simple wall outlet box on the end of a loose wire, but Dream Catcher was plugged in for the last 4 months without a problem so hopefully it will hold out for 3 more without any problems. Get the water hooked up, and wash the deck of the boat. Unload all items in the dinghy in preparation of lifting it onto the dock to keep it out of the water, also took the cover off to wash and get ready for mending. Dinner on board and another good night’s sleep. 

Our first impression of the marina was not good, BUT the people we have met in our short time have all been very friendly and helpful. Even the marina staff who speak no English have been extremely helpful and patient with our attempts to talk in Spanish. We look forward to exploring this area and the other regions of Ecuador. 

Link to pictures;

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Return to Las Perlas

Return to Las Perlas

Sunday 22 November – Wednesday 23 December



We spent 4 + weeks exploring the Las Perlas Islands under almost ideal conditions.  Two overcast days where we did not go swimming, and one night we had a small short shower where we had to close the hatches.  The first week we had a few days where the winds kicked up the wave action so landing the dinghy on the beach was not possible, but we could just swim off the boat.  We are still amazed at the 15 + foot tides on this side, so a lot of the pictures are of the same place one at high tide & the other at low.  The tides also brought strong currents so we could swim in place behind the boat.  The snorkeling was not very good, with all the tidal swings the water has a lot of sand floating so visibility was poor.  There were a few good spots, and times when we would see a lot of fish around the rocks.  Many times we would be sitting in the cockpit and hear huge feeding frenzies and see the water erupt with activity.  Rays were everywhere, jumping and swimming nearby.  Birds singing, pelicans fishing.  After the full moon on Thanksgiving, the star gazing was fantastic, some very pretty sunsets.  Definitely one of the more relaxing cruising areas we have explored.


Leaving the marina felt great, we arrived back at Contadora around 3:30 Sunday afternoon, picking up a mooring we realized later a little too close to the runway for the small planes arriving and leaving the island.  I am sure they were surprised to see us also.  We moved to another one further away the following day, but as we went to check them first the dinghy motor died.  After rowing back to the boat Steve was able to diagnose the problem of a screw holding the float valve in place worked its way loose and the float valve was off.  Fixing it took a couple of hours bringing the motor back on board to do the work.  Just another day in paradise.  Staying at Contadora a few days with good internet as Steve made sure the parts we needed were ordered.  A few power boats around & one other sail boat came into the anchorage. 


Next stop back to Isla Chapera, where we had the island to ourselves to spend Thanksgiving, watching the beautiful full orange moon rise and talking to family back in the US.

Friday 11/27 over to new anchorage, east side of Isla Casaya, no other boats around, but a few local boats from a small village on the nearby island of Isla Casayeta.

Saturday 11/28  over to Isla Bayoneta, where we are still receiving internet from Contadora 8 miles away.  There are 2 other sail boats here with a single guy on each, we visit with them learning a little about the area.  Easy to visit other islands and bays with the dinghy from here.

Tuesday 12/1 over to Isla Viveros, anchor on south side, a beautiful bay but the swell works its way into the anchorage, making it quite rolly.

Wednesday we head over to the other side of Viveros and anchor in a little bay on Isla La Mina, nice and calm.  We are across from the north side of Viveros, where we see several houses.  They are trying to develop it like Contadora, but we are still the only ones around.  We took the dinghy over to the big beautiful beach on Viveros but the seas were too rough to land the dinghy on this day.  We enjoy another beautiful day at this perfect little anchorage.

Friday 12/4 we start making our way down the east side of Isla del Rey, the biggest of the Las Perlas islands, anchoring first between Isla del Rey & Isla Espiritu Santo.  Another perfect isolated anchorage.  A few spots where the snorkeling was fair, staying here 2 days.

Sunday 12/6 move down to Isla Canas, another island off the east side of Del Rey,  Anchoring up in a small bay, then explore by dinghy.  A beautiful afternoon until sunset when the no-see-ums came out.  This was our first and only encounter with the biting insects, it was a rough night. 

The next morning we took the dinghy to a near by village to see if they had and fruits or veggies but no luck.  Back to the boat to move to another anchorage as we did not want to deal with biting insects again. 

Monday down to Punta Gorda off Isla del Rey, shortly after we anchored 3 young men & their dogs  stopped by on their way from shore.  Not sure if they were trying to sell us iguana or asking us for $ to anchor, either way we said NO.  We had read that here, as in many Caribbean places the locals eat iguana, that and that cock fighting still happens.  We were concerned that the anchorage might be too open to the swells, but when we came in it was not bad so decided to stay.  Later in the night the winds picked up and shifted from north to east so put us on a lee shore, it was a sandy shore but we still did an anchor watch that night.

Tuesday morning we went out to a reef to snorkel, but a huge black cloud (no rain) moved in just as we arrived and the seas were a little too rough so we passed going to walk the beach instead then back to the boat and moving down to the next bay Morro San Juan,near a river to go explore.  Our first attempt to enter the river it was too much at low tide, we wanted to go in at a rising tide so we could just drift up the river.  The waves were crashing over the rocks near the entrance and only a few inches of water in some spots.  To dangerous to try to enter, so back to the boat to wait and about ½ hour later we were able to make it in between waves.  A nice trip up the river past the mangroves then back to the boat to go over to Isla San Telmo.  Known for its “mysterious” sunken submarine.  A very interresting story behind it as the FIRST submarine built during the civil war !!!   Try this  for the story.  The water visibility not the greatest but still very cool to see this 150 year old dive submarine.  Not an overnight anchorage so final stop for the day is at Rio Cacique on Isla del Rey in the Bay of San Telmo.  And we have another sailboat in the anchorage.  Go check out the river entrance and stop by the other boat to say hello.  Plan on seeing the river the following day.

Wednesday we were off with the timing for the tide and the river entrance was a big sandbar.  Nice walk on the beach then we went back to the boat to wait for the tide to come in a little.  The other boat had a smaller lighter dinghy so were able to carry it over the sandbar and start up the river.   Had to wait 2 hours this time before we had enough water to get in.  Later we went by dinghy to the near by village of Esmeralda to get gas for the dinghy. 

There are only a few small fishing villages in this Archipelago, Contadora is the most developed island and a few of the other islands are trying to build resorts and marinas to expand on the tourist trade.  We are glad we got to see it so undeveloped, but still find it surprising that being so close to a major city that there is not more vacation resorts.

Friday time to move on, passing by Punta Cocos at the bottom tip of Isla del Rey.  We passed on this anchorage as a swell was working its way in, there is a dock to go ashore here for the Servicio Maritimo and they welcome visitors.  They called us on the VHF just to check in.  Rounding the tip of Isla del Rey there are several shoals and the waves were building and crashing around them.  We looked at an anchorage in Concholon Bay on the west side but conditions were too rough to even try to get close never mind try to enter.  So plan B is a nice sail over to Isla San Jose.

As we were approaching Isla San Jose we passed a boat leaving, calling them on the VHF radio to say hi, turns out it was S/V Mandala the boat we went thru the canal with.  Another boat heard us talking and hailed us S/V Sweet Chariot were heading to the same anchorage as us.

Once anchored in the big beautiful bay Ensenada Playa Grande, we went over to visit with them.  They were heading out the following morning heading for Costa Rica.  The water here was clearer but still not great visibility, & the beaches were a little to rough to land dinghy on, but it was still magical.  This is the 2nd biggest island in Las Perlas and is privately owned !!    A lot of tractor work going on around the beach, we could not see any buildings from this bay but were told on the SE side you can see the owners home. 

The generator sprung another leak, this time from the sea water pump seal.  Steve had a spare he had to dig out then take apart all the housing surrounding the generator to be able to access the work area.  Removing it and replacing and reassembly taking several hours.  Then, he found another sea water leak, this time from the generator housing cooler.  The cause was a familiar one, stainless bolts into an aluminum housing that had corroded the aluminum and loosened the bolts enough to allow the box to leak.  Not enough thread left in the aluminum to tighten the bolts, so Steve removed the washers, and the extra couple of threads engaged were enough to seal.  Later back in Panama City, he replaces the bolts with longer ones coated with Tefgel to prevent more corrosion.  Yes, once again boat repairs in exotic places coming true. 

Monday 12/14 we head over to Isla Pedro Gonzalez and anchor in Ensenada Honda.  A marina and resort called Pearl Island are almost complete.  They have a good size village, but we saw a ferry bringing in workers from either the mainland or one of the other island villages.  All the villages we visited the people were very friendly, and they were all very clean, having recycle garbage cans, not a common sight in Panama. 

Wednesday 12/16 we go back to anchor of Isla Mina near Isla Viveros, time to get internet again, even if it is slow.  Weather being much calmer now we took the dinghy all the way around to the marina and ferry dock for the resort.  Walking towards the resort passing some very impressive private homes.  Arriving at the resort they are having an employee party day but welcome us to look around.  Workers live / stay on the island and today family came to visit.  After sight seeing for awhile we head back catching the shuttle bus bringing visiting family back to the ferry as we dinghy back to our boat.  Enjoying our private anchorage and beach at our private island for a couple more days.

Saturday we go back to the resort for lunch, landing the dinghy on the beach this time.  Only a few guest here, not a cheap place to visit. 

Sunday 12/20 we head back to Contadora to get better internet, and check on our supply order.

Tuesday night Steve’s tablet decides to die, making the decision to return to Panama City the following day to be able to get if fixed.  

Wednesday 12/23 at 7:30 AM we say adios to Las Perlas and motor back to Panama City with light winds on the nose and flat seas.  Sighted a pod of dolphins on the way back.  Still looking and waiting for whales.

Picking up a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club by 1 PM, we get the water taxi to shore.  After checking in with the office we head to town to go to the mall and the Samsung store to get Steve's tablet fixed.

After being on our own for almost 4 weeks seeing VERY FEW people and wearing VERY FEW clothes it was quite a shock to go to a mall 2 days before Christmas !! 

Tablet fixed, and a few groceries purchased back to the boat to see another pretty sunset and watch the ships enter and leave the canal while rocking and rolling to the big wakes from passing power boats. 


Link to pictures;

Pictures are not all in order like how I entered them !!!   Not that anyone but me would notice or care.