If you have been following our track via the 'Where are we now' section of our blog you'll have noticed that we have been making some swift progress down the coast.
We had a one day trip from Drakes Bay to Golfito where we were headed to check out of Costa Rica and get our international travel papers. It was a bit out of the way, but it had the added bonus of being very well protected and we were looking forward to some good nights sleep after many rolly nights at the anchorages we had been at. We arrived in the afternoon and pulled into the protected harbor and navigated our way down to Land and Sea Marina. Tim hailed us on channel 16 as we went past as it was difficult to see where the marina was and guided us in to our mooring. This is a great place to stay as well as being friendly and cheap. As I was tying us up, I heard Serena call out and looked over to see our friends Aaron and Nicole waving from their boat Bella Star on the next mooring over! We hadn't seen them since El Salvador and thought they were still behind us. It was good to catch up over dinner and get caught up on their travels.
As we only had two days left of our 3 month temporary import permit for Solent, we got started straight away on the international checkout process. The first day we paid the fees at the bank and got the necessary copies of our paperwork so we were ready for the process the next day. The check out went smoothly despite the fact that when we originally checked in they got confused with my New Zealand passport and put that I was from New Caledonia! What I didn't realize was that they had also put the boat as a New Caledonian flagged vessel, where it is a US flagged one! Despite all the inconsistencies we had done immigration, customs and the Port Captain in under 2 hours which i was happy with as each office was in different parts of town. We now had 24 hours to depart which was fine as we were leaving at first light the next day.
The next day had a few thunderstorms on the horizon, but we headed out and managed to avoid these and was hoisting our Panamanian courtesy flag before lunch time as we crossed the border. We also caught our first yellowfin tuna not far into Panamanian waters. This thing was huge and at least 20lbs or more! We have been trying to avoid night transits where possible as the nights are normally full of thunderstorms during the rainy season. Our first stop was to be Isla Parida as we could get there by 4pm which is our target time as the thunderstorms often start after that. We went to the closest anchorage on the SW corner of the island. The anchorage was small and some fishing vessels already had the best position so we didn't have a whole lot of protection. Luckily the wind and swell were coming from the same direction and we had a good nights sleep.
We left early the next morning for Isla Cebaco. 3am to be exact! I'd woken early and decided we may as well get the boat underway. The only problem with leaving that early is that the thunderstorms are still in full swing so I spent the next three hours dodging storms. Not long after sunrise the storms disappeared and we had a smooth journey. Just after lunch we came across a group of whales with little babies jumping out of the water. It was an amazing sight to see a creature of that size come completely out of the water. It was the closest we had been and I had to turn sharply to make sure we didn't hit one at one point. The swell was fairly significant and our destination anchorage, while in a bay was open to the swell, so i wasn't hopeful we would get a good nights sleep. When we got there the best spot had mooring buoys installed, but I managed to get us in close to shore tucked in behind the moorings. We were only in 10 feet of water, but it was low tide so we would be fine and we had another great nights sleep here.
Originally we were going to do an overnighter to Panama City from here, but after much reading decided to try what was considered a marginal anchorage at Ensenada Benoa about half way. The seas were a lot bigger today, but it's surprising what you start considering as fine and I didn't really give it a thought until Serena said she thought they were about 20 ft high. Benoa isn't supposed to be well protected and with the sea state I was thinking we should press on, but Serena convinced me to give it a go. We pulled in and managed to tuck in behind the little island in what is an otherwise open bay in 10 feet of water where we were protected. I could have easily swam to shore from where we were and people were surfing some big waves not far down the beach, but where we were, tucked in tight behind the island, the boat was very settled and we had a very relaxing evening.
The forecast for the morning was good with light winds which was perfect for rounding point Mala. Most boaters are anxious when rounding the point as the seas and wind are magnified by the point as well as it having lots of traffic as nearly all the ships must come around the point as they head into the canal. We were very lucky and had calm seas and no traffic until we were got around the point and were well clear of the shipping lane by then. Serena is on watch now as I write this and she just called me up as we had another Skipjack tuna on (we have caught 13 today!). We let him go as we still have tuna in the fridge and I'd even already had some for breakfast!