Bocas es Amor. That is exactly my feeling. Bocas showed us nothing but love from both locals and tourists alike. Everyone is there to have a good time and get into the Rasta vibes and Caribbean Rhythms. Our friend Ras Tourty who was the first person we met in Bocas, in a surf shop and later was the only surfer out at the little secret spot we stumbled across is a constant reminder of the love the people of Bocas show. Not only did he wave a boat load of 3 surfers out into the almost deserted lineup, to share his waves, he made sure we were taken care of the whole time we were in town and as we left hooked me up with a turquoise necklace he made, from turquoise found by the local Indians. Giving it to me to symbolize our shared love for the water. Bocas es Amor and we were all sad to leave the funky, little Caribbean town.
We had no choice, as much as we would love to stay we had an official date to transit the Panama Canal, May 31st. Miss it and your waiting at least another month. So, with a tropical storm brewing to our North we decided to head back to Colon and get through the canal. A couple of last stops were made in Bocas Town, provisions were taken aboard, last minute gifts bought and the never-ending string of good byes said. We weighed anchor around 4:30pm, headed to the fuel dock to top off our diesel tanks, got some water and then hit the liquidity road to cover the 124 NM back the way we came.
The wind was blowing off the mainland and dark clouds hung in the sky, you could tell the weather was a bit unsettled and unusual. But, the forecast said for winds in the 10 to 20 knot range and at a favorable angle. Wrong! We left under power, navigating our way through the reefs that guard the entrance to Bahia Almirante and with the last reef safely behind, hoisted our sails. The breeze was light, a tight reach and we were just making 5 knots, “lets hope we make it to Colon in time” was what I was thinking. Then, as we just pulled away from Isla Bastimentos, the breeze started to freshen and go forward. Getting windier and windier as the sky grew darker and darker. The sun was setting and the view ominous. Dark clouds hung low over the horizon in front of us and the emerald green hills of the Bocas islands stood out clearly behind us, I had the feeling we were going to be in for a long night.
Just after dark and Kahlil and Dizzy’s cherry was popped, their record of sailing downwind with little swell, perfect wind and never reefing had ended. The first reefs were put in and the wind was now a solid 25 and a short swell, right on the nose building. The moon was nonexistent and steering over the waves proved futile in the cloudy darkness. The wind direction was totally opposite of normal, opposite of the forecast and much stronger. We banged away all night, sailing a little further off the wind, because of the short swell that made the boat pound and shutter. I didn’t get much sleep as we were constantly tweaking this or that and the thought of a tropical storm kicking away in the back of my mind.
Before dawn and the favored tack to Colon was no longer an option, the waves were short and steep and we had to bear off the wind to reduce the pounding. So, the call was made to tack and head into Gulfito de los Mosquitoes and get as close to the coast as we dared, with hope that would reduce the swell. This worked and sometime after daybreak the swell had dropped way off and wind started slackening. We took out the reefs and tacked back with a great angle towards Colon. We were cruising comfortably again, enjoying the view of the towering mountains and a coastline devoid of all civilization and covered in lush jungle.
I thought I would finally be able to get some sleep, but soon as I started to nod off Kahlil was waking me up and we were putting reefs back in the sails. The wind was back up to over 30 and hooting, but at least the swell was much less annoying. We sailed like this for most of the morning and around noon the wind was back down to 15 and we took the reefs back out. Still sailing briskly along at 8 knots, but it wasn’t to last. It increased again, however this time we were closer to our destination and it wasn’t going much over 25, so we left the sails alone and were flying along doing almost 12 knots, straight upwind in the flat water with the breeze blowing at a forward angle, off the land. We were just smoking along and it was exhilarating sailing.
Past the Entrance to the Rio Chagres, past our coveted little surf spot and we flew, spray just flying off our bows in misty, white vortexes. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. ZZZZZZZZ, our reel started spinning and soon another Jack was landed, and P Kiddy was up and attacking it before it was even cut up. Our tack into the shore had paid big time and was well worth the extra 50 NM it added to our trip. Soon we were upon the entrance to Colon Harbor, with freighters anchored everywhere and we planted a tack right in the middle of the entrance. An outgoing tanker was just far enough away to pull this maneuver off safely and we sailed right up the inside of the long breakwall, close to giant, hulking rusty ships and dropped our sails right in the mouth of the entrance to Shelter Bay like pros. It felt great to do a passage with out the use of the engines what so ever and logged 174 NM in just over 21 hours all upwind, not too shabby.
Our prime spot was waiting for us at A dock, with beautiful Never Say Never taking up the front of the dock again. We were greeted cheerfully by Kelly, Never Say Never’s Stu, who was ecstatic to see her friends returning and to have some company, as her Captain and Mate had gone on vacation, their chef fired and poor her all alone taking care of a 110-foot luxury, mega sailing yacht.
Upon retuning, Shelter Bay seemed tame and devoid of the culture that is exuded everywhere you look in Bocas. The surf was flat and we spent the rest of the day scrubbing the boat, getting the caked on salt off all the surfaces it accumulates on from a hard day and night of sailing fast. Later grabbing a tasty burger from the restaurant as we were all too spent to cook and retiring to Never Say Never’s obscenely spacious, super air-conditioned saloon to watch movies on the giant flat screen. I passed out after one episode of the Trailer Park Boys (classic Canadian show if you have never seen it) and believe everyone else did too. It felt neat to sit sprawled out on a real couch, with a blanket to warm you from the cold interior and da P just snuggled in-between my legs. It reminded me of old times back in Santa Barbara and a different lifestyle with more time to just relax.
The next day was filled with boat work, fixing little the little shit that always breaks, doing tons of dirty laundry, cleaning heads, vacuuming, polishing, scrubbing floors/counters, giving salty P Kiddy a bath and making room for our pal Sandor who was coming to visit, helping us transit the Canal.
It was a warm day, our solar powered dryer (the sun), only took about 10 minutes to dry an entire load of laundry and we learned just how much fruit flies love fruit. We stocked up on the bountiful fruit upon leaving Bocas and woke up to no exaggeration, dense black clouds of the pesky flies just wedging the tasty fruit. They were everywhere in every room, but I discovered they didn’t fly all that well and with a few swipes through the air with the vacuum cleaner you could reduce a dense cloud of the little buggers to just a few lucky survivors.
Then like the beacon of happiness he is, Sandor showed up, smile gleaming, gracing us with his presence once again. Bringing gifts of important stuff you can’t get down here. Packages of Ranch Dressing mix, low volume free-dive masks (thanks Andy at Blue Water Hunter) and shackles and blocks to replace broken ones (thank you muchos, mi amigos Jamie and Kenny). Hugs were exchanged, introductions to the new crew made and talk about what adventures lay in store for us discussed.
Then our canal agent Pete Stevens came through for us bigtime, with a truckload of plastic covered tires to protect our boat and the required 4, 125 ft. lines to secure us away from the dangerous, boat destroying canal walls. I’m finding it extremely hard to sleep tonight, I’m so excited about getting out of the Caribbean Sea and into the Great Pacific Ocean, with thoughts of exotic islands and dreams of big surf, setting my mind racing. We still don’t know exactly where we are headed once we get there, but that’s half the fun, figuring it out and just going where the wind blows you. Cheers – Kyber