January 01, 2011
Knowing the propensity of Panamanians to set off fireworks when given the least excuse, we were determined to have a prime view of the city skyline from the anchorage at Las Brisas on New Year’s Eve, and the fine citizens of Panama did not disappoint. We may have seen displays with more original, intriguing, or individually larger fireworks but for sheer longevity, numbers, and geographical dissemination (ahead of us along a large swath of the mainland and behind us on the Perico and Flamenco Islands), the hours each side of the midnight transition from 2010 to 2011 in Panama City were, in our experience, unparalleled.
The display at the Figali Convention Center (at the start of the Amador causeway) alone lasted for well over an hour and the only disappointment was that with little wind the accumulated clouds of smoke soon started to obscure the lower-altitude rockets. Perhaps symbolic of the year ahead of us which we anticipate will have many months of Randall and me sailing long distances by ourselves, we greeted the New Year on Tregoning on our own. But we were not lonely in the Las Brisas anchorage as we were surrounded by many other cruisers in their cockpits watching and hearing the pyrotechnic celebrations. There were cheers and horns sounded as midnight passed and several captains took advantage of the general hubbub to test a few expired flares (aimed with great caution to ensure than no smoldering remains landed on any boats). Spending New Year’s Eve celebrating alone after a trip to the Albrook Mall to buy a new flat-screen TV (having given up the expense of trying to get our old one fixed) provided quite a contrast to Christmas Day when we had been surrounded by the peace and natural splendor at Isla Espiritu Santo and shared the festivities with Martha, Debby, and Greg.
Our visit to Las Perlas had started on Tuesday (December 21st) with a fabulous sail from Las Brisas to Mogo Mogo in 10 – 15 knot northerly winds and calm seas. Randall hooked some fish but they were either returned (the not-very-appetizing Mexican tunny), cut themselves free (taking the lure with them), or broke off a hook. The latter occurred as we approached the narrow channel between Islas Mogo Mogo and Chapera and just as a 25 knot squall suddenly kicked up at the leading edge of a rain shower. It made for a few exciting minutes as Randall tried to deal with the hooked fish and I tried to spill wind out of the sails and avoid approaching the islands too quickly or closely.
Once we safely arrived at the Chapera anchorage we were a bit disappointed to see that the wind was now approaching from a more northeasterly direction making that site untenable so we motored north to Contadora where we anchored on the south side close to Sweet Dreams. Debby and Greg had made the crossing the day before with poor winds so our decision to wait a day had been a good one. The next morning in a light northerly wind, we had a jib-only race between the two Morgans from Contadora back to Chapera. Given that Sweet Dreams was towing their dinghy (with the outboard down), that we managed to steal some of their wind (while trying not to push them onto the shallows north of Chapera), and that we have a larger jib, it was not entirely surprising that we (just) won the race. It was a lovely, gentle, down-wind run and for a while, both Greg and I were holding out our jibs with boat hooks.
After everyone enjoyed a pleasant snorkel off the beach on the southeast side of Chapera, we pulled anchor raised all our sails and set off for Isla Espiritu Santo. This time Sweet Dreams won handily. Greg with his whisker-pole was able to fly his mainsail and jib on opposite sides of the boat (wing-and-wing) and he was able to use his mizzen sail (on the aft of his two masts). We did not try to set-up our bamboo whisker pole but conceded the race and followed their lead while gybing gently between broad reaches. We did win the fishing contest, however, with two Sierra mackerel that were featured that night for dinner.
Having heard of years when there might be 15 boats crowding the sheltered anchorage over Christmas, we were relieved to find only two others there when we arrived. A few more boats arrived as the weekend approached, including Terry (the undressed) and Liz on Ohhh Baby, but it was not crowded and everyone was able find a good position sheltered from the stiff northerly breezes. It was beautiful and sunny most of the time, with clear, star-filled night skies so Randall and I kept thinking how unlucky “Poor Sue” had been during her brief, rain-soaked visit earlier in the month. We snorkeled once more on Christmas Eve at our favorite beach on the northeast side of Espiritu Santo. The visibility was not very good and a strong current was running so we cut that short and instead enjoyed lazing and exploring on the beautiful beach. The spring tide was so exceptionally low that small heads of coral were briefly exposed at the water’s edge.
Given the fabulous weather and sailing, Martha’s visit was only slightly marred by her catching a cold but it was a mild one and amazingly Randall and I managed to avoid it. Debby, however, was not as lucky, having started to feel achy and chilled when they were at Contadora and becoming exhausted after our snorkel at Chapera. Consequently we did not see much of her, other than one brief wander on a beach by the anchorage, until Christmas Day when she nobly came over to Tregoning with Greg, having cooked the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. She even managed to join in a cut-throat game of Mexican-train dominoes but this excitement almost finished her off and we sent them back to Sweet Dreams with a pile of left-overs from the turkey and trimmings. Several people at the Las Brisas anchorage had complained of a similar ailment that seems likely to be the ‘flu so Randall and I hoped that the ‘flu shots we got in July would protect us.
Christmas on Tregoning was celebrated with due regard for decorations (many colored LED lights and a small decorated tree) and, of course, Randall’s overwhelming collection of seasonal music. Santa managed to find us to fill our stockings with some tasty treats and there was a modest collection of gifts (and IOU notes) under the tree. I also received several Kindle e-books (Martha having just delivered my birthday-present Kindle) but I had to wait until we got back to the City to download them, having been thwarted by a lack of WiFi access just before we left for Las Perlas. All in all we had a lovely day and it was great to share our feast (including a Cross and Blackwell traditional Christmas pudding with a citrusy St Clements sauce) with such amiable guests as Greg and Debby.
After such comfortable days in the islands (aware that much of the eastern USA and Western Europe were in the throes of one of the coldest, snowiest Decembers on record), we looked at the weather forecast and decided to scoot back to Panama City on Boxing Day (Dec 26th). Even though we motored all day directly into the wind through rather lumpy seas, we made the right decision because the following day brought steady 20-25 knot winds with 30 knot gusts and 10 foot waves were predicted for the Bay of Panama. Instead, we stayed on the boat and played yet more dominoes and Uno, for both of which Randall was enjoying a run of disgustingly good luck. The only disappointment of the day was that we had intended to go into Casco Viejo where Martha was going to treat us to dinner at Manolo Caracol, our favorite restaurant. Our enthusiasm had been further stimulated by my brother Michael reporting that The Times newspaper in Britain had featured this restaurant in an article on Panama. However, by late afternoon it was still sufficiently windy and choppy, and enough other boats had been dragging their anchors that we decided not to venture ashore.
Martha flew back to California on Tuesday afternoon and we spent the rest of the week trying out new patches on the dinghy (why not finish the year as it started?) catching up with laundry, getting WiFi access and, as mentioned before, getting a new TV so that we could quickly catch up with Randall’s backlog of seasonal DVDs. With several of our friends now on the Caribbean side the New Year promises to be a bit quieter and less hectic than the end of the old one. Other than helping Greg if he decides to transit the canal in January, we are looking forward to a month of steadily getting us and Tregoning ready for our February departure for the Galapagos Islands and our subsequent voyages to Hawaii and Alaska.
With the change of year, I will add photos to the most recent entries on this blog and then I’ll start a new blog for our new adventures. I hope that you will follow the blog transition to “Panama to the Galapagos 2011” (remember that you may need to send in a new request for email updates if you enjoy those). We are excited about the ambitious year of Pacific Ocean sailing ahead of us and wish everyone happiness, good health, and prosperity in 2011.