Panama Pacific Coast 2010

N 08° 05' W 82° 20'

Rocks, wind, and swell

May 24, 2010

Although our anchor stayed solidly in place at Las Secas, despite some fresh breezes, the water clarity was terrible at our anchorage and it was too rough to consider visiting the snorkel and dive sites that are supposed to be very good around Isla Pargo, the southern island of the group.  So after one rather rolly night and a brief visit to the beach near our anchorage we decided to move on.

With no wind early on Saturday (May 22nd), we set off to motor the 20 miles northwest to Isla Parida.  About half way through our journey the wind picked up sufficiently to use the jib to assist the motor but as we approached our destination the conditions quickly changed to 20-25 knot winds and 6 to 8 ft swells that were occasionally 10 to 13 ft high.  These conditions are fine in open water but our approach to the anchorage at Ensenada del Varadero was surrounded by tiny, steep-sided islets and partially hidden rocks so the low, grey clouds, the waves crashing ashore, and the almost-howling wind made everything seem rather forbidding. 

Our intended anchorage was in a bay on the south end of Isla Parida that was somewhat protected from the swells by the adjacent Isla Paridita but the rough seas blowing in from the southwest came straight along the channel to the west of Paridita and curved around the corner in to the bay.  The beaches surrounding the bay sloped very gently so it was too shallow to tuck-in as close to the shore as we had hoped   With unsettled weather forecast for a few days we started to back-track out of the cove, thinking that we might try another anchorage further north on the island.  But watching the walls of spray exploding off the exposed islets and rocks and periodically catching glimpses of seething white-water eddying around submerged rocks when the water level dropped prior to the arrival of a big wave, we soon realized that having never been here before, in the wild sea and low tide conditions it was too risky for us to try to navigate the narrow channels between the islets and rocks and it would be a tough slog to go all the way around the outside of them. 

While taking a chance on trusting the charts to show all the hazards in such a situation might look feasible, one always has to consider what would happen if the engine stopped at a critical point in the passage.  There might not be time to set sails enough to steer clear of breaking waves and rocks and it would be not only dangerous but also an ignominious to end our adventures in such a careless manner.

So we returned to Ensenada del Varadero and anchored with as much protection as we could manage.  I am not quite sure why an anchored boat always wants to lie side-on to the swell but that is exactly what Tregoning did and thus our first night was very rolly.  With the weather forecasts predicting unsettled weather for several more days it seemed likely that we would stay put until the swells calmed down a bit before making our overnight passage to Golfito   So the next day we used the dinghy to set another anchor on a long line off the stern and closer to shore.  This kept Tregoning pointed into the swell and although the boat still moved in the waves, the up and down rocking of bow and stern (pitching) was much more comfortable and safer (items are less likely to be thrown across the cabin) than the side-to-side rolling. 

The downsides of setting a stern anchor are the effort to put it out and bring it back in (made much easier using the dinghy) and that the boat cannot turn into the wind or current.  The latter point can be an issue if there are other boats nearby that are only using one anchor and so rotate with wind and current but we were very much alone in this anchorage.  If the wind or current are strong (for example like our 45 knot squall at Isla Perdro Gonzales) then this can put a lot of strain on one or both of the anchors or it can make the boat roll from side-wind-generated waves.  Luckily, there seemed to be little current in this bay and although we received winds from most directions during our stay, none were so strong as to cause problems.  In fact, it was so much more comfortable on the boat without being rolled by the swell that we inevitably wondered why we had not bothered to set a stern anchor before.

It did continue to be windy, rough, and rainy for a couple more days and with all the wave action, and water flooding out of the rivers to our north on the mainland, the water in our anchorage was spectacularly turbid (one could not even see the bottom of the rudder).  One afternoon we cruised around the bay but there seemed to be huts or small houses and signs (that we could not quite read from the dinghy) on each beach that we approached.  We had seen one family walk across a beach several times and one small lancha dropping a couple of people off at another house but we were not quite sure if these were permanent residences or vacation cabins. Given the waves that would make landing on the beaches quite lively, there did not seem to be any particular need to go ashore so we decided to leave our terrestrial neighbors in peace and we waited for the weather to improve.

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