The entire crew had a fun time in Panama City, hanging at Benigans restaurant, using up its free Wi-Fi and basking in its air-conditioned glory. I can’t say we will miss the hustle and bustle of this towering city and getting hassled by the man, but we will miss its beautiful girls and the fun times enjoyed by all . So, after a week and a half of preparations to “Natural Mystic” we were ready to shove off from the docks of Flamenco Marina and head out into the Great Pacific Ocean. We had hit all the stores we needed to and done the shopping we deemed necessary, as this would be the one last chance to supply before the vast Pacific and expensive prices of French Polynesia. Three giant shopping carts were filled to the brim at Cost Smart, a spin off of Costco in Panama, with tons of staples, supplies, produce and vast quantities of rum for trading. The Commonwealth kids hit the surf shops, picking up a couple more boards each, booties for protection from the coral reefs, extra surfboard fins, and dive/spearfishing gear. I hit all the chandleries, Centro Marino, Abernathy and Tessa Marine for the spare boat parts we might need, engine lubricants and extra fishing tackle to keep us eating well.
With our boat’s fluids checked, fuel topped off, rigging double checked, we shoved off the dock on Monday June 16th for a possible rendezvous with “Kahali Kai” and a chance to meet up with Orion Barrels. He was cruising on his dad’s 90 Ft., luxury powerboat, with his bachelor party, as he is getting married the following weekend in Hawaii. Their trip had started up in Costa Rica and they were headed down the Central American coast with a stop in the wave rich, chica pour and unspoiled area of Gulfo de Montijo, about 200 NM away for us, but almost all distance in the right direction, southwest towards the Galapagos Islands.
The water was sheet glass as we headed southwest, away from Panama City and out of the Bay of Panama. Running one engine at a time to conserve fuel, we were making about 6.5 knots of boat speed and with a favorable 1-knot current were averaging a solid 7.5 knots in the right direction. Floating logs and debris were still a problem and an ever-present watch on the bow was kept to inform the helmsman of potential floating dangers. The watches would often spot more than just logs, calls to come and watch schools of dolphins frolic off our bows, giant whales blow their spouts and boobies (type of sea bird) dive for fish, hitting the clear water with tons of speed and then continuing their attack by swimming after the schools of fish for some lengths of time underwater. With the onset of night we reduced the speed to 5 knots to minimize the damage of any potential debris impact and were blessed with great visibility from a nearly full moon, still glassy conditions and continuing favorable current. It had been nearly a month since any of us had surfed, so the decision was made to pull into Playa Venao and drop anchor, with hope dawn would bring fun beach break waves and the chance to get wet.
Anchoring in the deserted bay of Venao in the middle of the night was no problem with the bright moon aiding us and soon we were sawing logs and dreaming of the tasty waves to come, aided by the sound of thundering waves crashing on the beach just 30 short yards away. All of us overslept except for Kahlil who was out in the water early, only to discover the waves had size but no shape at low tide. As the tide rose, so did the onshore breeze and soon the place was blown out and totally unsurfable. We left an exhausted Kahlil on anchor watch, while the rest of us set out and explored the hills and surrounding land of the pristine bay and were greeted with magnificent vistas and beautiful scenery. A short swim back to the boat, a little lunch munched back, the anchor weighed and we were off again heading west directly into a building breeze. We motor sailed with the jib up along the coast, scanning for surf spots, but the wind was onshore and all the potential waves blown out. Along the way we hooked into another Dorado, but as Dizzy went to gaff it, he missed and it got away, we would be eating more ground beef for dinner, as we had stocked up on tons of it. I made the call to pull into Punta Guanico, anchor and relax for the rest of the afternoon, waiting out the 25-knot head winds and short choppy swell.
Punta Guanico was breathtaking, a lush, jungle covered, steep, rocky headland with a quaint fishing village nestled in the bottom corner of the bay. It’s the last inhabited place, before the Lost Coast of Panama. We lounged around relaxing, as the wind ripped through our rigging and pongas full of fishermen went up to the reef off the point, to drop their handlines. All the pongas cruised back right by us, checking out our very foreign boat and showing off their catches of giant red snapper and rockfish, always with smiles and friendly waves. As the evening fell and the bright orange moon rose over the water, other, larger fishing boats came into anchor in the shelter of Punta Guanico, but the wind died and the swell backed off and for us it was time to weigh anchor and keep heading west. Into the night we motored, again with favorable current and a giant, bright, yellow, full moon silhouetting us against the backdrop of the Lost Coast of Panama. With towering mountains right down to the sea, surf exploding on black, jagged rocks and not even one light on land to be seen anywhere. We stayed semi close to shore, but still in deep water (drops quickly to 3,000 Ft. deep, just one mile offshore), as further out fleets of fishing boats could be seen, probably with nets and long-lines deployed, and tons of heavy shipping traffic headed east towards the canal.
The night cruse was tranquil, as the land breeze had been killed by cooler night temperatures, the water again glassy and the only scary moment came when just before dawn we finally hit a log or some debris. This did no damage, as I had made sure we were motoring slowly at 5 knots for exactly that reason. With the break of dawn and the first signs of pink to the east I deployed our fishing lines. Dizzy and myself were on watch and after a bit I realized I forgot to set the reel clickers, which alert us of a fish hookup. I quickly flipped the switches to engage the clickers and literally one minute latter both lines were ZZZZZZZZZing away and Dizzy and myself fighting two feisty fishes. All the commotion woke up Ben and Kahlil and soon I had landed a 30-pound Yellow Fin tuna and a short bit latter Dizzy made up for the day before by landing his 25-pound Yellow Fin. We were stocked with epic Ahi tuna before the sun had even broken the horizon and I filleted them as we cruised towards Isla Cebaco, looking for waves and the “Kahali Kai”.
Neither could be found and the decision was made to power deeper into Gulfo de Montijo, with the hope of finding more obvious surf. We arrived about an hour later and the surf was pumping. The reef littered shoreline had spray flying off of waves everywhere we looked and we made straight for the anchorage. It was hard to believe that the deep, flat waters off of Punta Mariato had hidden so much swell. We dropped the hook in the narrow waterway between a deserted island and the mainland; dove on it to make sure it was properly set and then headed out to the surf in the “Red Rocket”. We were greeted with super fun, low tide waves between just overhead to double overhead and surfed our brains out until the incoming 15 foot tide killed the surf making it mushy and fat.
For the surf-starved crew of the Natty M, this was a real treat. The waves were barreling, super rippable, consistent and quite a long ride at well over 100 yards. After the session, we got on our VHF, Ch. 16 and put out a call to “Kahali Kai”, this was quickly answered by their captain, who promptly put Orion on the horn. We chatted for a bit, they were anchored a little bit a way, but not too far for a dingy ride (theirs is quite a large dink), and plans were made to meet up for an afternoon surf session.
The boys from “Kahali Kai” arrived with the high tide and we both threw our dingy hooks in the deep channel and invaded the wave. The surf was pumping again and with even better shape on the high tide and way longer rides, approaching 200 to 300 yards. It was great to surf with Orion and Scott who were basically the only sober ones out of the eight of them. Everyone traded off getting barreled out of their minds except for their drunkards, who could barley stand up, were getting pounded and going over the falls repeatedly. One guy, who reeked of boozes even in the line up, proclaimed he couldn’t stand up he was so drunk and took off on his last double overhead wave lying down. This was not a good plan as he got slammed face first into the jagged, volcanic reef bottom, splitting his lips grotesquely wide open in two places and becoming an instant candidate for some non-voluntary plastic surgery. Lots of blood was spewing fourth and Orion and the rest of the crew had to make a hasty departure to get their wounded man some hard to come by, in this remote part of the world, medical attention.
Aside from the lesson learned of why not to drink 15 beers in two hours and then go surfing, the session was an absolute blast. Traveling this far to meet up with one of your childhood friends, watching each other take turns getting barreled and just having a super fun time in the juicy surf. It is funny to think I first met Orion as an 11 year old kid taking sailing camp at the Santa Barbara Youth Foundation, both causing all kinds of trouble and now sailing to Panama to meet up with him, both still on boats and still causing trouble. I never did hear how they came out and hope and wish the best for them, their return back to civilization and Orion’s upcoming wedding.
The next day was rad. The surf was solid, fun and to our surprise who should come around the corner and into our little anchorage then our buddies on “Wildflower”, Tom and Bruce. Tom was a charter boat captain from Lahina, Maui now changing directions, captaining the older Peterson 44 for its surf guru owner and Bruce a retired American now making his home in Panama helping out. They were delivering the boat to Gulfito, Costa Rica then, Pavones. We had spent time with them in Shelter Bay, transiting the canal a day apart and hung out together in Flamenco Marina. I thought we had seen the last of them, as they left Flamenco a few days ahead of us, but they were cruising, taking their time and it was great to bump into them yet again. They showed up while we were surfing, just as a monster set struck, closing out the channel and trying its best to demolish Ben and the “Red Rocket”. They were cracking up saying how funny it was watching Ben with his camera in hand totally airborne, falling down the back of the monster set wave (Ben pulled it off without incident). We all spent a couple evenings swapping story, relaxing on “Natty M’s”, comfortable cushions, sharing tuna sashimi, sipping Panamanian rum and it was wonderful to have such enjoyable, familiar company way out here. Upon leaving us probably for good this time, as a generous gesture they gave us four diesel jerry cans they didn’t need anymore, as they were close to their destination and knew we still had a very long way to travel. It is just amazing the generosity and help the seafaring people give each other and I know the lubbers of the world could learn a thing or two from the attitudes of the seafarers. Thank You, Tom and Bruce, we all wish you fair winds and safe passages wherever you may journey. Needless to say there was no need to rush off to the Galapagos Islands, the surf was pumping and we were going to take advantage of it. With waves to be found here or there on all the different tide levels. We were in heaven. The surf has stayed well overhead every day we have been here and we made the most of it. Surfing until dark, cracking it at dawn, beating the afternoon heat in the water, and
even checking it under full moon. Dingying back to the boat after your 3rd session of the day, to cook a bomb dinner of fresh yellow fin tuna, and then just passing out from pure exhaustion into a solid, deep slumber. Our anchorage very protected, with good holding, our own private island to explore just feet away and just a short dingy ride to the waves. Panama seems like a perfect surf yacht cruising ground to me. Great anchorages near all the waves, on two different ocean coastlines that you can take a canal between, reasonable facilities for yachts, fuel available in many locations, tons of secret/mysto surf spots, super cheap food, runs on the U.S. Dollar and the country in general is very ocean/boating oriented. Really the only thing missing on most of the Pacific side, is the lack of fun nightlife, but even that can be found if you know where to look or just get lucky and stumble across it as Kahlil and Ben did one night ashore with Diz and myself on anchor watch. However, it could have taken more like a sacrifice to make the good times roll. As their arrival ashore started with a trip to the ding repair guy, Carbo to drop off Kahlil’s broken board. Claimed by one of the thick, solid lips, the board had only two sessions on it, been purchased a week before and was mercilessly snapped in two. The broken board was even Kahlil’s second sacrifice of the day, as the powerful wave before ripped his board short pocket straight off, sending his expensive waterproof camera on a one way trip to Davy Jones.
By weeks end we had eaten most of our fresh stores and as there is not too much shopping around, we were again lucky to stumble across a produce truck with a local farmer in it and snatched up some local fare. Eight avocados, a bunch of tomatoes, great big bag of peppers, couple bunches of bananas, two cucumbers and two pineapples for a whopping 5 bucks. You got to love Panama and I don’t understand how the farmer could make a profit driving around with gas at $4.60/gallon down here, but whatever, we were stocked up again and ready for more action.
The swell is still pumping, overhead to double overhead every day, like a machine, the winds are mostly favorable or nonexistent and what else can we do, but take advantage of it and surf until our arms fall off. Kahlil ripping big turns off the bottom and slashing gouges off the top on his backhand and Dizzy doing lots of late airdrops to immediate annihilation. Even Ben, our faithful photographer tried to give the surf a shot. Growing up in upstate New York he hasn’t developed the water skills of the rest of us, but has developed New York stubbornness and after being way on the outside and still taking every wave of a huge 20 wave set on the head and getting washed down through the next break, still paddled back out to take some more late afternoon beatings. We still don’t quite know where we will head next or why we should ever leave this unreal and unspoiled place, where children still ride their horses to school every day, the locals happily show you where to pick the best fresh fruit and even lend you a ladder to help. Maybe to search out some more surf fabled and remote islands, then stopping to resupply or possibly just peace out, heading straight for the Galapagos. I guess time will tell and Mother Nature will help make the decision, but right now its feels absolutely great to enjoy “Natural Mystic” in her salty element and use her for what we outfitted her to do. Getting us great surf and good times in the remote parts of our world, Hell Yea! Cheers – Kyber