PANAMA! Part 1: The Pacific

Ah, Panama! It was a dream for a long time. And all of the sudden it was reality. And that reality felt so good. We had left Costa Rica that morning, and suddenly, we were in Panama! We even opened up a tiny split of champagne and had a few sips – we never drink when we run the boat, but this arrival felt like it needed a little something special. So, a few sips were had. Max had some too. I mean, did he ever think he’d be in Panama? I think not. And of course, as we cruised across the border from Costa Rica, we had to crank a little Van Halen to herald our arrival into Panama. For some reason that doesn’t get old to us. I’m pretty sure that our friends Doug and Mary on N46 One Life could hear it 2 nm away. I’m pretty sure it WAS getting old to them!

Oh Panama! A toast to the dream coming true (but just a little toast). Note – it was super hot. Sweaty people!
Max’s sip maybe was too much. Ha! No, he sleeps a ton on passages!
Ready to arrive (but this flag would have to wait a bit).
Temporarily raised… (and then re-raised again after the many days of checking in)

It was a stunningly beautiful day that grew into a lovely evening. As the sun set, we pulled into our anchorage at Isla Parida. A sailboat and a fleet of Panamanian fishing boats floated nearby, monkeys and birds chattered in the trees and the white sand of a beach beckoned. But first, a passage drink was required. All successful passages earn a fabulous cocktail which is best consumed in the cockpit. And this night was no exception. We sat batting at bugs and poking one another – hey, we’re in Panama! How did that ever happen? It was one of those nights when we allowed ourselves a moment to feel pretty proud. Just for a minute. And then back to boat life reality.

Ah. Welcome to Panama, Red Rover!
And a beautiful moon too! A nice first night.

In the morning we woke up to find that we were not really in the quiet, chill anchorage we had high-fived about the night before. Pangas were zipping about, sportfishing boats were arriving in the bay and Latin rap music was pounding on the beach. It was a party! And we were in the middle of it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? I mean, we love a good morning party. Why not?

We dinghied to shore where we found a restaurant that we could barely see the night before. Friendly Panamanians waved and shouted Buenos dias at us as we dragged the dinghy up the beach. A fun and animated panga captain came over to introduce himself and to ask about the boat. Red Rover, not the dinghy that is. He also then became our local knowledge tour guide, introducing us around to the other panga captains and explaining that the restaurant, and the beach are a big attraction for Panamanians who come from the city of David, via the small town of Boca Chica. Big groups of families and friends gathered on the beach, playing music, eating and relaxing in the water and under the leafy palm trees.

We checked out the small menu at the Isla Parida Bar & Grill (for real) and decided on a cheeseburger and chicken nuggets. Yes, we are 6 years old. I don’t know, it just sounded good! Everyone else was eating whole fried fish, so I guess we looked a little out of place. Americans. Check. Eating American food. Of course.


Red hanging out off the beach.
Pangas that brought families and friends for a day of beach fiesta!
So interesting that things were in English. There were two other Gringos there and maybe a hundred Panamanians. Oh and a French family.
The Bar and Grill was colorful.
The restaurant.
I spy Red Rover.
El capitan!
Waiting for lunch!
The cool painting on the building!
An adjacent island in the bay with more revelers!
Red hanging out.
Fishing boats anchored nearby, waiting to start their work. Love the colors!

After stuffing our faces and waving goodbye to our new friends we dinghied around the bay and then loaded back up on Red Rover. We had stopped at Isla Parida in order to time our entry into Boca Chica, which involved weaving through islands and reefs. The charts in Panama offer little detail and information. Thankfully though, we had a few secret weapons. First, the SV Sarana digital guidebook that included soundings and specific details for all  of the reefs. And second, a tool that the Panama Posse and fellow cruiser Scott on SV Animal Cracker introduced us to – Open CPN. Open CPN is a PC-based free chart plotting software that allows the use of satellite charts. The Panama Posse provides a free download of a myriad of satellite charts that other Posse members have snipped and created for anchorages, islands and passages. To say this is incredibly useful and helpful is the understatement of the century. Being able to actively see where you are on a satellite image, and to combine this with carefully understood depths from your sounder, allows you to safely enter anchorages that our main charts offer skimpy information (and often incorrect information) about.

While this photo is actually from Las Perlas, you can see all of the tablets with Open CPN and Navionics sonar charts in addition to our chartplotter, radar overlay, depth sounder graphics and more.
Open CPN on the left (does not work on Apple products) and Navionics sonar charts on the iPad, which are different from the Navionics charts we use via TimeZero (note we have multiple different kinds of base charts – Navionics is just one).
What the chart plotter showed – the orange is the radar overlay. Not a ton of information, and really, that is because there just aren’t a ton of boaters here!
Beautiful homes coming into Boca Chica.
A scenic drive coming into Boca Chica!
Now there’s an interesting vessel, passing in the channel.
The route into Boca Chica from the SV Sarana guide.
One Life anchored. This was before the dancing began.
Over on the sailboat side…. restaurants, homes and eco resorts in the background – Boca Chica.

One Life, who we often call the “Advance Team” made their way into the anchorage first and reported some skinny water but a totally doable entry. We rounded the islands, avoided the reefs and came around the corner to find One Life anchored off to the side of a channel. It looked like a fabulous spot, by trees full of howler monkeys and green, lush vegetation. As it was high slack we didn’t yet understand that the two of us anchored in a 3+ knot current. Good times. Have you ever seen a Nordhavn dance? Well, there were two waltzing trawlers at Boca Chica that night! At one point it likely became a tango. Or maybe a cha cha cha?

In the morning, we both moved to the other side of the channel where a variety of sailboats were anchored, and found enough depth and swinging room to safely put the hook down.

When we were still in Costa Rica, we had contacted Carlos, who owns a boat yard, boat storage and boat launch facility in Boca Chica. Carlos also functions as an agent, helping boats entering Panama to check into the country. The Panamanian law states that you can be in Panamanian waters for a maximum of 72 hours before checking into the country. A lot of cruisers try to make it to Panama City and skip the rural and somewhat more complicated check-in at Boca Chica. Many don’t check in for weeks. As we wanted to slowly cruise to Panama City, Carlos was our man. We sent Carlos all of our documents prior to arriving and let him know when we would arrive.

And here we were! Doug and Mary picked us up in their dinghy as we could not put our big dinghy down (see later in this story as to why) and our little dinghy with its electric Torqeedo engine wasn’t going to do well in the now raging current. We would get there eventually but…

We cruised past “town” and around the corner to Carlos’ dock. We wandered up to Carlos’ house which sits in the midst of his boat operations. Carlos is a lovely, funny, fun and engaging guy. The opportunity to meet him is enough of a reason to stop in Boca Chica. Baby cows, chickens, dogs, cats and other creatures wandered around the beautiful property, and Carlos’ family shouted hello as they worked on a kitchen project in the background. We sat in the shade chatting until the health department official showed up. The questions on the health form are hilarious to us – but they probably actually apply to a big ship like a container ship or a cruise ship. To be sure, no one died during our passage from Costa Rica! Kevin felt that it would be appropriate to joke around with the official, which seems to me to never be a good idea, but the gentleman was a good sport (thankfully!) and laughed about the lack of death on Red Rover.

Carlos’ place.
Look at this puppy!
And this sweet face!
Baby cow! (I loved visiting Carlos!)
A portion of the Health Dept’s form. No death!
Murals in Carlos’ boat yard.
Another of the murals. Carlos also runs a dive service.
Carlos’ house’s roof is a visual cue to how much it rains during the summer rainy season.

The other necessary officials weren’t able to come visit us that day, so we said Hasta Mañana to Carlos and dinghied back to the boats with a plan to celebrate Mary’s birthday that evening. And we had to make a cake! The evening was soft and beautiful at Hotel Bocas del Mar where we enjoyed not only the use of their dock but also an outstanding dinner, followed by cake and rum on Red Rover.

Happy birthday Mary! We’re so glad we all became friends!
Out for dinner! Still hot and sweating, but out for dinner!
Our taxi service providers are pretty cool people. Doug and Mary on the way to celebrate the birthday girl!
I spy Red Rover (again)!
This resort had these cool blue sheep as part of their awesome art.
Kevin’s dinner came a-hangin!
The restaurant.
The pool looked inviting. We did consider hopping in with all of our clothes on!

The next day we dinghied back over to Carlos’ to meet up with the rest of the officials, who all came together in a single vehicle from the town of David, about 75 minutes away. This time we sat around the picnic table and the Captains – Kevin and Doug, chatted with the officials over hot coffee (in 90 degree, humid weather) while Mary and I patted the dogs. Many passport stamps later, we were almost done. Our Panama cruising permit would need to be blessed by the mothership in Panama City and it would not be back to the Boca Chica area for several days. That said, we could pick it up from the Port Captain’s office in Pedregal, which is just next to David. Perfect. Carlos’ brother would take us to town on Thursday, help us get our SIM cards from the Panamanian cell company, TIGO, take us to the bank (Panama uses US dollars), the grocery store and the chandlery. Excellent. In the meantime, there were more restaurants to try, and a few beaches to discover.

Well, we’re not a sailboat, but still how fun!
The Panama check-in process at a picnic table. Love it!
The dogs were way more fun.
Kevin’s turn.

Another puppy!
Mary was loving up on this one!
After the offical-dom was over, Carlos helped us with some great anchorage recommendations for Las Secas and Coiba.
Awesome restaurant right outside the gates of Carlos’ place. The lady of the home took our order and then went in the kitchen and cooked it and brought it back out to us. She was great!
The kitchen at the restaurant.
So pretty.
Walking into the restaurant.
My dorado lunch – and rice with veggies!
A hot but happy crew.
Restaurant signage.

Back at the anchorage.

These cool trees didn’t seem to have leaves but they did have beautiful flowers.
This restaurant required a big hill climb so you were hungry and thirsty at the top (and more sweat-covered, if that was possible).
Oh look there’s Red again!
The restaurant was like a tree house!
More color! This restaurant was a part of another eco-resort.

Our trip to David was splendid, although the cruising permit process wasn’t a smooth one. At one point Kevin was the owner of One Life and our permit says we have a 34 HP engine. Sure, whatever works! Carlos’ brother did a great job pressuring the Port Captain’s team and we managed to get our paperwork sorted out, and a truck full of groceries back to Boca Chica.

Ah… Port Captain! Cruising permits por favor!
A view on the ride to and from David.
Carlos’ awesome brother!
Yaaas! We fit all of the groceries and other purchases in Water Taxi One Life!

In the morning, when the tide was high enough, we headed out to Islas Secas, a chain of small islands just a few hours away. One of the things we absolutely loved about Panama was the islands – there were islands EVERYWHERE! Small, large, wooded, lush, jungly, beachy – all the types. The reintroduction of islands into our life gave us a clue – we are island people. And we had found our country.

The Secas are gorgeous. The water was absolutely clear and warm, a welcome change from the blurry waters around Boca Chica which are clean, they are just murky due to the rivers that empty into the bays. We snorkeled, we beachcombed, we had dinners and drinks with Doug and Mary and we wandered the islands. It was delightful.

The beautiful view from the cockpit.
Here comes One Life!
Red looking sharp at sunset.
Does this mask make my face look funny? noo….
Second anchorage in the Secas… all ours for a bit!
Stunning beaches
I spy…. (you know the drill)
Oh wait there she is again (this never gets old to us)
Beach bums
Baby dinghy on a beach
So pretty.
Swimming man and dog on beach (ha!)
Max has earned his Junior Adventurer Dog Badge
Not sure what’s up there, but whatever it is, it is fascinating!
Checking out the beaches on the dinghy cruise.
Dinghy dog
The water is gorgeous – and it really doesn’t show in the photos.
The boys and our girl Red (there she is again!)
The water as seen from the dinghy
Oh look! Another beautiful beach.
Chewbachas in the distance


Max in his favorite spot (only available when the baby dinghy is down).
Sunsets in Panama are spectacular
Just gorgeous.
Flybridge sunset views
Can’t stop won’t stop
Hello. I am obviously starving!

Islas Secas are actually privately owned and a very high-end boutique resort ( sits on the largest island. We had heard that we should not anchor in view of the resort, nor should we go to shore on that island, or perhaps any of the islands. We found the resort staff to be friendly and open, and we did go to the islands in plain view of the resort team with no issues. We didn’t go directly to the resort itself, but watching the goings-on of the guests was highly entertaining. The resort staff took care of their every need and want. One morning we sat in a pristine, gorgeous anchorage all by ourselves, high-fiving that we were living a tropical paradise dream. Until… the resort staff showed up, wandered into the jungle and began pulling out supplies from a hidden shipping container. A beach day for 12 was being set up in no time with separate dining areas, a full remote kitchen and bar, every beach toy imaginable, umbrellas, loungers, pillows, towels, cold water receptacles, you name it. The resort’s Viking sportfisher then scrolled in and anchored right on top of us, ready for any guest who might like to go sportfishing. Another “bow down” boat owned by the resort showed up as well, delivering food, cocktail fixings and ice. After awhile, the resort guests came in a series of sleek center console boats, backed to shore so that no one got terribly wet when approaching the idyllic beach scene. Obviously, we were enjoying the show, although we were a little miffed that our tropical paradise was no longer only ours!

But wait… there was more. With the guests considering whether to play volleyball, sit in the sun, get a cocktail, go kayaking or snorkeling… the pangas started to arrive full of Panamanians out for a beach day. So on one end of the beach, we had the ultimate luxury beach day happening and on the other end we have coolers and boom boxes. Ha! And now, in our small little anchorage ringed in reefs we had a bunch of pangas, a few center consoles, a big bow down boat, a sportfisher and us. Crazy times. After some excellent snorkeling we decided it was a bit too much chaos for us and off we went, back to the main island anchorage.

It’s a party in this little anchorage!

Lounging around in Islas Secas was easy and happy. Time seemed to be slipping through our fingers quickly, although we weren’t doing a whole lot! Looking at the calendar, we decided we best move along. While we didn’t have a schedule (and we try to never ever have one – schedules make people choose unwisely when it comes to weather and conditions), we did have a general plan. We wanted to get through the canal in early May at the latest so we could still spend time in the San Blas Islands before transiting to Florida. And we wanted to try to get to Florida before terribly far into June when hurricane season would really be starting.

In other words, it was time to roll.

We said farewell to Doug and Mary, knowing we’d all see each other again soon, and headed out to Isla Coiba, which is the main island in Panama’s Coiba National Park. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and once a penal colony with inmates so dangerous the guards locked themselves in at night, Coiba is an unspoiled, untouched natural environment. The prisons were established in 1919 and their presence precluded any other development. As such, the wildlife and the plants and birds are amazing. It is absolutely gorgeous. And it of course comes with a check-in process all of its own.

Red anchored and ready for the permitting process!
Heading to the cut between islands to reach the ranger station.
So pretty!
Dinghy riding to the ranger station.
The ranger station.
Panga on the beach at the ranger station. Gorgeous water!
Kevin tests the Coiba waters.
Whale bones at the ranger station.

We anchored off of the ranger station and dinghied in, leaving illegal Max on the boat. Day tour participants waved and a group of workers building a foundation alerted the office “staff” to our presence and we all met in a sparse office with a single desk and some papers tacked on the wall. We had taken our handy dandy folder of documents with us, as you never quite know what you might need. It was probably a good thing that I never opened it.

We had heard from a few other Panama Posse participants that the national park charged $60/night for boats plus some one-time fees for people beyond the captain. Well, it turns out that $60/night is if you are under 50 feet! We also had heard that generally you can tell the ranger that you’d like to stay for X days and then stay a bit longer, if you are in the far reaches of the park. So that was our plan. We figured we would have a bill of around $300. Um no. After telling the ranger we’d like to stay for four nights and that we were 58 feet (this is what our USCG documentation says – the boat is actually more like 61 feet), he turned his calculator to show me a fee of $720. WHAT?!? Um no. This conversation, by the way, was entirely in Spanish as the rangers do not speak English – and why should they, really? We are the guests in their country.

The very official looking price list pinned to the wall.

So, I somehow managed to tell him with sad eyes and shaking head that no, we could not afford $720 and that we didn’t have that much cash with us. As with many places in Panama and in Central America, this was a cash-based process. He finally asked, (in Spanish), how much money do you have? I made a quick calculation and went too high – $400. I should have said $240 or something like that. But for $400 we had a deal. And a one day fishing permit thrown in as a bonus. The $400 cash went into a desk drawer, no receipts were given, and I think we probably bought a lot of beer for the rangers.

Later that day, we were anchored in the middle of Islas Cocos, a group of four small islands and a spot that Carlos had recommended. A ranger boat approached with three men in bulletproof vests sporting sub-machine guns. Nice. They wanted to be sure that we had checked in. We mentioned the name of the ranger we gave the $400 to, and after providing some anchorage recommendations, they were off! We didn’t have any proof of payment afterall – other than a one-day fishing permit.

Red Rover at Islas Cocos.
Low flying drone.
Centered between the islands.
Cocktail hour before the ranger arrival.

Early the next morning we pulled the anchor and headed to the south end of the island. In our research, we had read that the islands of Jicaron and Isla Jicarita, just off of the southern tip of Coiba were spectacular, lush and remote. We love lush and remote so off we went! After a few hours of admiring the stunning coastline of Coiba with its incredible jungle, beautiful beaches and craggy hillsides, we decided that it might be time to put that one-day complimentary fishing permit to use. Watching the large swells crashing on the southern shoreline of the island, we put three lines and hoped for tuna. Kevin sat at the helm, scanning the horizon quietly until he pretty much freaked out. Yellowfin! Lots of them! Big ones! Jumping! Now Kevin is well known for seeing breaching whales that no one else sees, so I took his happy dance in the pilothouse in stride. Um ok, sure. But then he had the boat revved up and almost on plane, well as close as 144,000 pounds gets to planing, and we were off to the tuna fiesta. And indeed, a flock of tuna were soon leaping around us. Two seconds later, all three lines started zinging. FISH ON! Since Max has yet to perfect reeling in a fish, we started on two of the lines, hoping whatever was at the end of line three would hang on for a bit. Kevin brought his tuna on board and I reeled mine on up to the swim step for him to grab. I’ll note that mine was bigger. Ha! The third fish did get away, but honestly how much sashimi can two people eat? Silly question. On Red Rover, tuna can be ingested on a large scale.

Dinner. And lunch. And maybe breakfast! After most of the blood had been rinsed away.
We will all note that my tuna is the bigger one.


While we were fishing we did notice that the swells were quite large down on the southern end of the island. Well-spaced but likely a minimum of six feet. Not a great sign for a calm anchorage. I took the helm while Kevin cleaned up the murder scene in the cockpit, and moved us along to our intended anchorage on the northern flat side of Isla Jicaron. A sailboat was already in the anchorage when we arrived, rolling and pitching and generally looking like a recipe for seasickness. The swell was wrapping around the island, and a secondary swell was coming from the opposite direction. A washing machine! No gracias. Our second choice anchorage was also being hit with swell from an unpredicted direction.

With visions of sashimi dancing in our heads we turned around and headed back north to a more protected anchorage. The yellowfin fiesta repeated on the way back, but I convinced Kevin that we didn’t really need more tuna on board, as honestly it is tastiest when it is totally fresh.

We spent a night anchored in Bahia Damas, just south of Punta Felipe, in a quiet, protected bay where we ate fish until we grew scales. Resting in the cockpit with full bellies we watched the approach of a large thunderstorm, lightning snaking out of the sky. The wind came up, and we hopped inside as the sky opened and lit up, all around us. This experience was starting to become familiar, and yet, it was still uncomfortable for me – being struck by lightning is a real fear here.

A verdant anchorage.
Hey there’s fish in the fish bag!
And there’s a lot of fish on the big cutting board! And a small nose… hmm.
The evening clouds begin.

The following morning was calm and perfect for the day’s mission – snorkeling on the reefs around the islet of Granito de Oro. We anchored by the tiny island and took the small dinghy to the white sandy beach. Putting our faces in the water, we realized that we were in an absolutely incredible, healthy reef area. This was the best snorkeling we have ever experienced with thousands of colorful fish of all sizes, five white-tipped sharks, at least six large and unconcerned sea turtles and all kinds of examples of coral. And it was all ours. Until we saw a dinghy off around the other side, being pulled behind some divers. No big deal. Well then the submachine gun rangers showed up and managed to get the attention of the divers. As they weren’t talking with us, Kevin suggested I focus in the water rather than on top of it. Until… the rangers were shouting “señora!” I picked up my head, “si?” The ranger began a long narrative (in Spanish) and ended with a directive to return to our “little boat on the beach.” Apparently, this area was closed to support the health of the coral. There was no way for us to know that. We agreed and the rangers zoomed off. Slowly, we enjoyed our snorkel back to the beach.

Our tiny snorkeling island.

After pulling up the anchor to cruise to our next anchorage, we saw a familiar boat name pop up on AIS. (AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and it receives and broadcasts information on other boats including speed, direction, closest point of approach and time for closest point of approach – handy to know – not all boats have this, but all cruising boats sure should). S/V Delos was in the house! If you are unfamiliar with Delos, go watch one of their videos. We had been following Delos for years, enjoying their journeys and antics all around the world. And here they were at Coiba! Kevin handed me the VHF mic. I frowned. I wasn’t going to be THAT fan girl. But he insisted – when was I ever going to have this chance again? Whatever. So, I called Delos on the radio and tried my best to not be a nerd. We talked about the Coiba check-in process and our boat load of tuna that we were happy to share if they ended up near us that evening.

Why who have we here?

We anchored in a beautiful bay with white sandy beaches and interesting looking reef systems by Playa Rosario on the north end of the island. While out on our dinghy cruise to check out the new neighborhood, Delos pulled in and anchored just behind us. Needless to say, we invited the crew over for cocktails and seared tuna. A great and fun evening where we were able to learn about Karin’s favorite spots in the San Blas Islands (which they noted to be one of their top 5 destinations in the world).

The first order of business upon anchoring was to make poke.
Oh and sushi rice to go with it. YUM.
Jungle anchorage. The beach grew exponentially at low tide.
So green.
Strangely, this Spidey was spinning a web in a tree.
Max spots Spidey.
Max is having some lovely scenery on his high tide dinghy tour.
More beautifulness.
The colors of Panama…
Ah, what lies ahead now Max?
Headed around the bend.
I spy…
Oh look there’s Delos anchored next to us!
Spying on Delos. No not really, but it was a cool shot.

Note Max’s interest in Sierra’s movie…

Is she after the phone or the rum? (the phone obvi)
Gimme that, kid.

After moving about quite a bit we decided to stay put at Playa Rosario for a couple of days, swimming, snorkeling, cleaning the boat bottom and generally hanging out eating tuna.

Beautiful spot. Handsome dude.
Reef behind the boat.
Red sitting pretty just beyond the reef.
A better view – so, so pretty.
And backing up a bit – such a spectacular island.
Max on the loose!
Such a gorgeous spot.
So much more beach with the tide out.
And now, with leaves…
And rocks.
Max can fly!
Time for a pup swim.
Just hanging out.
Poke lunch!
Fish dish dinner! Let the tuna fest continue!
Quiet day.
A hot morning on our last day in the anchorage.
Clear, clear water.

But as per usual, wanderlust called, and we were off to Isla Canal de Afuera, a steep island that was still a part of the national park. We anchored by a reef that ended up being a bit too far underwater at high tide, and while it stopped some of the wind chop and wrap-around swell, we practiced our rolling techniques all night long.

Approaching our new home for the night.
Another pretty spot – the water is just gorgeous!
Another pretty beach.
Cute guy on a log. Found him on the beach.
Panama in bloom.
Max doing a little dinghy ride.
Pretty afternoon.
Hmm. More leaves with the flowers!
Little house tucked on the shore.

In the morning we were happy to pull up the anchor and head to Bahia Honda, which we had heard would be flat calm. At this point we had not had much cell service for quite some time, and we were hoping to check in with the outside world. There was a small village on an island in the middle of Bahia Honda. Maybe? Nope. Not a bar was to be found. But we did find Doug and Mary anchored in a peaceful corner, and so of course, we invaded their peace!

Heading to Bahia Honda!
The town on the island in the middle of the bay.
Another shot of town.
Getting ready for the day of fishing.
View from our anchorage.


Bahia Honda is remote. Really remote. It can only be accessed by boat. There isn’t a source for gasoline in town and there isn’t a true store. We understand that there are a few tiny tiendas that would have some basics, but not much else.

Bahia Honda after a storm. Almost looks like the Pacific Northwest!
Dudes in sunglasses.
That’s One Life out there…
And then the sun found its way through the clouds.
A moody end to the day.

Shortly after we anchored, we were approached by a wiry older gentleman in a slightly sinking panga. We had read that we might meet this local resident, Domingo and his son, Kennedy, among others in the neighborhood. This isolated community sees a number of cruising boats throughout the year, and according to guidebooks and blogs, they feel that these well-equipped boats are floating general stores. Our new neighbors were looking to trade and also to sell items. While Domingo was our first visitor, we ended up with several visiting rowing boats and dugout canoes as well as two boats with ancient outboards. Domingo was fascinated by our Torqeedo electric engine, noting that it would not require the hard-to-find and very expensive “gasolina.” He wanted to trade for it. We had to tell him several times that it wasn’t on the offering table, but we appreciated his fascination and appreciation of it! Domingo brought us eggs, root vegetables, pineapples (cut out of the jungle and quite tiny but still…) and on his second visit, a bowl fashioned out of a coconut that his wife made for me. One gentleman brought his fifteen year old son out to see us. He explained that his son went to school on the tiny island and that they worked on their English for at least one hour per day. His desire? For his son to practice speaking with us. The teenager was of course reluctant and embarrassed (this reaction to parent prodding is apparently the norm in all cities and villages around the world) but he did chat with us a bit. I keep a tub of school supplies as well as sticker books, coloring books and the like on the boat for kids in these remote villages and many were dispersed here. Our English speaker’s dad also sold us a wood carving of a whale that he had crafted.

Me and my new friend, Domingo. Notice his hand on that Torqeedo…
Domingo, off to find us some huevos.

Other than school supplies and an off-limits electric engine, the visiting men were all seeking items from the General Store. Some things we traded and most things we simply gave. These people have very little, but they are surviving, and they are happy. Interacting with them was a gift. So, what were they seeking? Vegetable oil, canned goods, pasta, sweatshirts, t-shirts, rain jackets, a backpack, batteries, gasoline, sugar, thread and needles, milk, flour. Red Rover is a little over-provisioned so we absolutely lightened our load at Bahia Honda and felt awesome about helping some families in need.

Kennedy, paying us a visit.
Kennedy, paddling over to One Life after an evening thunderstorm.
Now are those tiny pineapples or what?
My new English speaking buddy.

After a brief but lovely stay at Bahia Honda, we said “see you soon” once more to Doug and Mary and went our separate ways. We were at a point of needing some cell service and MV One Life was off to Coiba.

Before we went in different directions we had to have a pizza party on Red Rover to say “see you soon” to One Life. Max LOVES Doug and Mary.
But where are you going Doug and Mary???

Our plan was to find cell service, for Kevin to chat with his team in Seattle, for me to do a download Zoom call with my old company to support a new project, and to head out on a night run, rounding Punta Mala and landing in Las Perlas (the Pearl Islands). Anchored at Isla Gobernadora we accomplished the work goals, endured another big thunderstorm with lots of lightning, and prepped for our upcoming run.

After lunch the next day, we left Gobernadora to allow our arrival at Punta Mala to coincide with slack current. Punta Mala translates to Bad Point and it can apparently be brutal as it lies at the entrance to the Bay of Panama, which has up to 16 foot tides and currents to match. The currents at Punta Mala often exceed 2.5 knots and our experience was no exception. We were a 5 knot boat for a loooong time that night. To add to the fun, the shipping lanes that run into and out of Panama City and the Panama Canal are in close proximity to the point. We had been watching the weather and we would round the point at slack with very little wind. Perfect! It certainly wasn’t perfect, it was chunky and lumpy and not lovely, but it wasn’t bad. Apparently, that was just about as good as it gets. Phew.

Current around Punta Mala. Mala!
After we made it through all of the current and choppiness.
Apparently Punta Mala made everyone tired.
Max too.

We crossed the shipping lanes (which took a few hours), watching the steady march of container ships coming and going and trying to time our crossing to not get in their way. We were doing 8 knots. They were doing 16-20 knots. Argh!

But all was well, and we pulled into the Pearl Islands as sunset approached. Apparently, news had gotten out among the sea creatures that Red Rover was arriving and tired, and three independent whale sharks greeted us as we entered into the calm waters between the islands. Safely at anchor at Isla Pedro Gonzales we celebrated with the obligatory passage margarita and toasted to the cell tower over our shoulder!

If you look closely you might see a whale shark!

We spent several weeks in Las Perlas, enjoying the unique islands, wandering white sand beaches and doing some work with the presence of excellent cell service. We couldn’t swim a lot however, as jellyfish were around, and not simply small jellies, but GIANT ones. That said, the beaches were stunning and the daily afternoon squalls were keeping us cool.

Our fresh provisions, however, were running low and we were desperately seeking vegetables. A trip to the most inhabited island, Contadora, was necessary. We found very few vegetables, but we bought them all, and treated ourselves to lunch at a restaurant on the beach where it was literally 100 degrees with 80% humidity. Cold beer consumption was up as a result!

The charter yachts seem to hang out at Isla Contadora.
The beach is quite pretty!
Searching for vegetables in town.
No vegetables over here either…
Some big houses though!
OOOH I spy Red!
It’s a good thing this beer is ice cold!
Lunch view.

We visited the two islands used in the filming of Survivor (didn’t see any Tribal Councils however), anchored with a fleet of shrimping boats on the east side of Isla Del Rey, and did some serious relaxing and working too.

Early morning at Isla Pedro Gonzales
Beach walking at Isla Pedro Gonzalez
Swinging guy on a beach. 🙂
Cool patterns made by crabs on the beach.
Max in flight once again. He loves the beach!
A path of green leads from the beach up to fields.
And when you turn around, there’s a boat watching you. Creepy?
Our little dinghy has seen some miles on this trip! So easy to pick up and carry up the beach.
The view from the boat at our Isla Chapera anchorage on a stormy afternoon.
More swings! But this time, a natural swing…
And then we found some more…
Max prefers to climb trees.
Kevin thought he’d give it a shot too.
Still playing around at Isla Chapera.
Max rooting out sand crabs.
Love our life.
The long sleeves are not because it is cold…
A geology treasure at the end of the beach.
Another view.
The colors of the rocks were amazing. Love the robin egg blue ones!
More cool rocks.
And then we took the dinghy over to take a closer look at the rock formations.
Just gorgeous.
Against the clear aqua water.
Just so different.
Max likes it too.
A rock harbor.
And then more beach walking!
This is what tropical dreams are made of.
Max approved.
These rocks are like an Easter Egg Hunt.
Red in her natural habitat.
Shrimpers near the Ispiritu Santo anchorage (no not back in La Paz!)
Our shrimping neighbors at night.
Anchorage view just north of Isa Ispiritu Santo
We didn’t buy any (this time) but wow!
And more leaves this time!
Evening dinghy ride
Cool jungly inlet on the east side of Isla San Jose
A wee bit of current ran through the anchorage.
There’s that sneaky boat again. Follows us around.
More of Kevin’s cooking – we had one lunch out in a period of many weeks, but eating on Red Rover is pretty spectacular! Thai curry shrimp.
And the last of the tomahawk steaks from El Salvador!

We also made a new friend, Rafael. One morning, while anchored at Isla Pedro Gonzales, a panguero came by looking for the sailboats that had previously been anchored alongside us. All French boats, they had left that morning for the Galapagos Islands and then onto the Marquesas. So cool. One by one they asked us if we were going to French Polynesia. No, just Florida… maybe someday! At any rate, Rafael was looking for the boats as he had a huge bunch of bananas that he had cut down for them to take on their journey. He just missed them. And with that knowledge, he chatted with us and then tried to start his outboard. No love. We tried to help him, looking to see if we had the correct sparkplugs (no), cleaning his sparkplugs and ultimately, towing him with Red Rover back to his town and his home where others could help him fix his engine. Riding in Red Rover was a fun adventure for him, and also for us! Rafael gave me some beautiful shells as a thank you, but honestly, the gratitude goes to him for a meaningful experience.

Argh! So frustrating for all of us when the engine won’t start.
Towing Rafael’s panga.
He looks good in that helm chair! Such a lovely man.
Hey, there’s a panga following us!
On our ride to the village. Wearing his new Red Rover hat!
Sweaty crew photo. Rafael isn’t sweating as much as we are!
Rafael’s home town.
It was shallow, so we turned and scooted Rafael toward shore. All is well!
My beautiful shells from Rafael.

Astute readers might be wondering why we didn’t tow Rafael with our big dinghy. Well, we had not been able to use the AB tender since mid-Costa Rica. One fine day in Costa Rica we started to raise the dinghy and saw that the stainless steel cable that raises and lowers the dinghy (and comes in and out of the crane), was frayed. No bueno. We couldn’t take the chance that the cable would fail and the +/- 1,000 pound dinghy would crash, damaging itself and everything in its path. The result was that we hadn’t used the dinghy in about 2 months. Thank god we had the baby dinghy aka Bebé. But with a boat, when something goes wrong, the problem usually has a partner in crime or two – related, or unrelated. In this case the problems were unrelated. When we were happily anchored at Coiba one day, we started the engine and then turned on the stabilizers. A lovely alarm sounded and a “DANGER” message appeared on the stabilizer control screen. Fabulous. Of course, the good folks at ABT-TRAC answered our satellite phone call immediately, managed the time delay that the sat phone has, and gave Kevin some trouble shooting advice. After some tightening and checking of the connections within the servo control box, the stabilizers started up again. But unfortunately, the stabilizer problem happened several more times during the coming weeks. We needed a new servo control box, and we were in remote Pacific Panama. We had replaced the servo control box in 2020 in southern California after the stabilizers had a challenge… and it seemed that as unlikely as it is, our new (refurbished) box had gone sideways. ABT-TRAC is an outstanding company. They always answer the phone immediately, they are calm, cool and collected and they offer tremendous service. We can’t say enough positive things about them. In this instance, they immediately shipped a new box to our friends in Georgia, who would carry the box on the plane and bring it to Panama when they came to be a part of our Panama Canal crew.

Danger. Never a good message to read.
This is the servo control box in case you were absolutely dying to see an image of one.

9With all of this going on, it was time to deal with these issues. After another lightning-filled night, anchored off of Isla Bayoneta, our last night anchored in the Pacific, we pointed the bow toward Panama City. And of course, we did some fishing and caught our last Pacific fish (for now – we’ll be back). Within an hour we could see the massive skyline of Panama City, known locally as Panamá. Panamá is absolutely mind-blowing. The skyline is stunning. The amount of container ships anchored, moving and generally existing in the bay around the city is also stunning. Crazy.

A beautiful evening before the fireworks began.
Last night anchored in the Pacific….
My fishin’ magician
Last Pacific Dorado!
Oh hey Panama City!
So big. SOOO BIG!
Octopus, the yacht built for, and formerly owned by the late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Fun fact, I worked for Paul for 4 years. A generous man.
Just a few container ships waiting for transit.

Tears were in our eyes as we maneuvered into Marina Flamenco. We were leaving the Pacific, our ocean home. The Panama Canal transit was coming up. We’d be in a new ocean, and we’d be heading back to the United States, albeit a different coast. It was a wave of emotion, to say the least.

We made it!
And the boat is tied to the dock!

As this is already an incredibly long post, I’ll write a separate piece on the Panama Canal, the fun of fixing the crane and the beauty of the San Blas Islands. Coming up shortly (and for sure, I will try to be faster!)


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