October 11, 2010
We arrived at our favorite Las Perlas anchorage at Espiritu Santo on the afternoon of Sunday (Sept 26th) after spending a rolly night at Contadora and finding ourselves at low tide closer to rocks than ideal. We had anchored on the west side of the airport runway rather than where we had previously anchored with Sea Parents because weekend motor boats were moored in our way and a chap from a large catamaran warned us that sailboats were sometimes moved from the area if they were too close to the runway approach.
We also did not want to stray too close to the rocks on the east side of the runway having recently heard the story of sailboat on its way to New Zealand that had hit bottom there during a low tide at night and then had backed over an anchor line which had caught in the propeller and bent the shaft So when we looked over the stern at low tide on Sunday morning and saw some rocks unexpectedly close to our rudder, we started to be a bit less smug about our anchoring prowess compared to the other, less fortunate boat. Randall snorkeled to see that the anchor itself was well buried in sand and by pulling in 20 ft of our anchor rode we would stay clear of the rocks but we decided that we might as well go on to Espiritu Santo rather than completely re-anchor or worry all the time at Contadora. After Randall reported large numbers of fish including many large king- and Cortez-angelfish, I snorkeled briefly before we set off. Even though we were only in the water briefly, one of the first things that we noticed was the wonderful, ethereal sound of whale songs. We made a note that this might be a good place to explore in the future…when we had anchored more safely.
Even though we had originally planned to stay for two nights at Contadora so that I could go ashore to make some pay-phone calls, our choice to move was a good one as we had a glorious, brisk and sunny sail to Espiritu Santo on almost a beam reach at 5-6 knots and the following day was very wet and stormy. With wave conditions much calmer than on the previous day, Randall set up the fishing lines and caught a large Sierra mackerel. Each time I got ready to prepare our salad lunch, one of the reels would start screaming but we landed no more fish as something large had escaped from the hooks on his small lure by unbending them and it took a couple more hits and escapes for Randall to realize the problem.
Early in the passage a log hit the hull. It was mostly submerged and hence was very difficult to see so the first we knew was when it made a very loud bang. We were thankful not to be going considerably faster than 5 knots and for our sturdy, Morgan, fiberglass hull. We saw some whales breaching as we sailed passed but the real thrill of the trip was as we started to motor into the anchorage one adult and two juvenile whales (most likely humpbacks) were swimming just ahead of us. We waited to see what they would do and they swam a lazy lap of the wide channel, between us and the two anchored boats (Wolfgang and Uta on Lumme and another boat), and then passed us to return to the open sea.
On Tuesday evening, just as it was getting dark, we were treated to a repeat performance, presumably by the same graceful trio. In the peace of the evening, the rhythmic and rasping sound of their blows positively echoed around us and we felt especially honored to see and hear their visit. The magic of that night was further accentuated by the clarity of the sky (for the first time in many nights) and with the late rising half-moon, the myriad stars constellations that we could see in the absence of city light pollution.
Learning the constellations and individual bright stars is one of those activities that become exponentially easier the more one learns. Having identified one or two distinctive constellations in an area of sky, it is then not difficult to use the charts to pick out the surrounding features. Of course, the visible constellations vary during the course of the night and over the year but I feel fairly confident about naming 30 or so of them. Spotting stars on an anchored boat usually has the advantage of fairly wide, clear views to the horizons (I usually have to ignore the stars directly overhead that get tangled up in the mast and shrouds) but the slight swinging motion does make it necessary to keep re-orientating yourself to the known constellations as your relative position rotates slightly.
To aid us in our star-gazing, we use the blight green laser pointer that I gave Randall several years ago (he could not see the dim, red ones that people usually use during presentations and classes). It can throw a green dot of light on the shoreline a remarkably long distance away and the beam is usually visible enough that it can be used to point out individual stars quite effectively. We wonder how many people on shore and in other boats have been curious about the green light-beam that jumps around an anchorage every so often!
On this visit to Espiritu Santo we ended up staying for two weeks and thoroughly enjoyed the calm of the waters, the absence of many other people, and the beauty of the scenery and wildlife. Compared to when we had stopped for the night with Tom and Rosie, the water was much cleaner with far less ugly debris floating by. Given the poor water visibility when we snorkeled there with Tom and Rosie, and having not quite worked out the pattern of the strong tidal currents, during the first couple of days of our visit I made hourly measurements of the water clarity and flow using a little homemade Secchi disc that we lowered over the side of Tregoning. (A weighted Secchi disc is painted in alternating black and white quarters and is lowered and raised in the water until it just goes out of sight. The depth of its disappearance gave us a relative scale of water clarity. Flow was crudely estimated as none, low, medium, or high based on the lateral pull on the disc. Oh, here is the little limnologist at work.)
Anyway, where we were anchored the flow was strongest going towards the north for three hours after low tide, it briefly went slack an hour before high tide, it was strongest flowing southward for three hours after high tide, and was slack again three to two hours before low tide. The water was clearest when the current was strongly going southward (coming in from the more open sea) and was reduced (from 12 – 14 ft to 4 – 6 ft vertical visibility) when the current flowed from the south. At that time the flow was bringing water past us that had drained at low tide from the muddy bays and streams to the south of our anchorage.
This information was useful in telling us the best times to get in the water to clean Tregoning’s hull (good visibility is nice and some flow is good but too much current makes it hard work) which we did for a couple of afternoons. The waterline was a mess but the hull was better than expected because the triggerfish that bang against the hulls (especially at 6 pm and 6 am) were doing a pretty good job of removing any barnacles (I saw some large, half-eaten ones which provided testimony of how strong the fish teeth must be).
We had also hoped to compare the water clarity at the best snorkeling sites with my data from the anchorage but we were thwarted from doing any snorkeling away from Tregoning by further problems with the dinghy. It sat on the deck from the time we had left Las Brisas until we finally had some dry enough weather for Randall to try fixing the tiny leaks around the new patches on the starboard tube. But as we examined the patches we realized that parts of them were now less well adhered to the tube than they had been before. With one swift yank, Randall was able to pull off not only our most recent patch but, attached to it, the patch that we had paid Diego so much to apply. The seam below it had become unglued again and further examination of the seams on the bow tube showed that they were becoming unsealed as well. At this point, even if we had had enough glue, our attempts at patching were likely to be useless and it was time for the manufacturers to see if the boat could be repaired or if we needed to get a new one. Using the single-side-band radio we sent an email to the warranty office of the manufacturer and then waited to hear what they suggested.
In the meantime, we decided to stay at Espiritu Santo and cope without a dinghy. With such lovely surroundings and plenty of projects to do on the boat, this was no hardship. There was so much rain during the first week that we were able to wash the deck, all of the cockpit cushions, and various other cushions from the cabin. We spent time reading various books and studying the pilot charts to plan our trip to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and Alaska, drawing the conclusion that we should plan to leave Panama in early February. We also made a list of things that we need to do before making our long passages and started checking the necessary equipment, such as the life-raft…which we had yet to get out of its shipping box. I also started using my new sewing machine to make various bags and cushion covers, leaving the more complex canvas projects until I have a gained a bit more practice on thin fabric and simple items.
Even without the dinghy, we were not totally isolated. A couple of times, Wolfgang from Lumme brought us Sierra mackerel that he had caught from his dinghy. Their dog from the Kuna Yala, Lucy, only eats fresh fish, so Wolfgang has to go fishing every few days and he was kind enough to share some of his catch with us. We usually returned the favor with a few brownies or oatmeal raisin bars. One day, the little red inflatable from the other anchored boat came nearby and we were greeted in his own, rousing style by Terry from Ohh Baby, a boat that we had first seen in Golfito. Terry warned us that he planned to set-off some fireworks that evening from the beach in honor of Wolfgang and Uta’s 10th anniversary. We mentioned that it was our 7th wedding anniversary and immediately Terry arranged for us all to get together on Lumme to celebrate as his 11th anniversary was the following week. We had a loud, funny evening exchanging stories with Terry and Liz, Wolfgang and Uta and they were very sympathetic to our dinghy woes. It turned out that we were the only ones celebrating a wedding anniversary as the others were recognizing when they had set sail, in Lumme’s case, from northern Germany, and Ohh Baby from San Diego. Luckily, I had made a chocolate and raspberry cake for our anniversary so I contributed that while Terry and Liz generously provided a couple of bottles of good wine.
Although our first meeting with Terry and Liz in Golfito was during their return from a year of visiting Mexico, we learned that, like Lumme, they had spent several years hanging around Espiritu Santo so they all knew each other and the place very well. That week, with drier weather and very low tides in the morning, Uta kindly took me to shore to join her and Lucy on several of their beach walks and I was greatly honored to be shown some of her favorite beaches and where she finds fruit and grows small crops.
Later that week, Ohh Baby went to Contadora to get gasoline and while they were gone, Serenity, with Debbie and Victor arrived. We had met Debbie a couple of times at Balboa and Randall had talked to her several times as she organizes the SSB network (which Randall hosts on Sundays). We invited Wolfgang, Uta, Debbie, and Victor over on Saturday evening and were delighted to discover that Uta’s father had been a master baker and she has an incredible talent for baking exciting cheese breads, etc. We had another entertaining evening and being a clear night we even got everyone out on the deck to identify constellations with the laser pointer.
When Ohh Baby returned the next day, they brought us greetings from Sea Parents who had also been anchored at Contadora. While Brady was visiting the USA, Troy and the girls were getting lots of school-work done and enjoying the clean waters away from Panama City. Having not heard back from our emails about the dinghy, we decided to go to Contadora ourselves for a night or two to use the internet and phones…and, hence, this update of the blog.
Oh, yes…good luck with everything, Valma. We are sorry to miss you and Eddy now that you have to stay in NYC for a while.