Costa Rica to Western Panama

Thursday, March 20, 2014

007-59.440 N
082-1.810 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

I didn't think that we were going to have Internet for a few weeks while travelling through Panama, but we're anchored off of a resort and we can pick up just enough signal to publish a blog.

Yacht TransportBut backing up...When you last heard from us we were headed into Golfito which is the last port of entry in Costa Rica. You go there to clear out of the country and get a zarpe to Panama. It also seems to be one of the stops that companies who transport yachts between locations stops at. While we were there 2 different shippers stopped in Golfito to drop off/pick up boats. These companies are used by people who don't want to move their boats between locations. In this case, the ship floods with water and sinks low enough for the yacht to float on to the ship to an awaiting cradle. The ship is then pumped dry and moves on to the next destination. It's not cheap, but when you consider the costs of operating a boat (fuel, wear and tear, crew), it's not that expensive.

Panama WestGolfito is in the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) which is an area which has it's own climate. As the locals say they have 2 seasons: wet and wetter! I read somewhere that they get 15' of rain a year and let me tell you, when it rains, it pours! I've been in cloud bursts before, but never ones that last for hours and dump copious amounts of rain. I'm sure glad that we were at a dock with air conditioning, as being in a sealed up boat wouldn't be fun in this heat.

One issue that you constantly need to be aware of in Golfito is theft. United Brands turned the area into a major banana producing region starting in 1938 and then in 1985 pulled out when banana prices tumbled. The area was devastated as a result and theft hsa become major issue. Boats at anchor have things stolen on a constant basis. Of course, this isn't limited to Golfito, but the entire region.

flopper-stopperAfter spending 2 nights in Golfito (upper left hand side of the map) we headed south towards Panama and rounded Punta Burica. This passage was about 60 miles, which was about the limit of what we can do in a day in daylight. We anchored at Bahia Balsa, which is basically an open roadstead (i.e. little protection). Because of the roll, we deployed our flopper-stopper (shown deployed at the dock) and relaxed in the cockpit while several fishermen motored by slowly and waved. During the night we started to roll quite a bit and when I got up in the morning I discovered that the flopper-stopper was missing! This is the second time that fishermen have stolen the flopper-stopper while anchored. We can only guess that they drift down to the boat at night, pull it up and un-clipped it. They must be stealing it for it's scrap metal value, as it has no practical value to them. For us it's another $250 and rolly nights at anchor.

One of the things that cruisers need to be aware of is that petty theft is endemic in Central America. As one person put it, it's a national sport. You need to be very aware of this and lock down everything that you don't want to lose. This means nothing loose on the deck or in your dinghy.

Caretakers wife and daughterFrom Bahia Balsa we headed to Isla Parida, which was about 40 miles away. After navigating past a whole series of rock islets, we anchored in a nicely protected anchorage surrounded by islands. After dropping the dinghy we explored the surrounding bays and noted that there were signs indicating that each of these bays was private property (and the implied message of "no trespassing"), but on the small island we had seen a family waving to us and playing a conch shell as we came in. So, we headed to that beach where we were greeted by the wife of the caretaker and her daughter. We asked her if we could walk around and explore and we think that she said yes, so we headed off.

Isla ParidaAmazingly we found a cement path that took us across the island and provided some wonderful views of the island and coastline. It's becoming much more tropical with exotic trees and palms. It's also becoming very hot and humid, with overnight lows at around 81F+ with a matching dew point. I promise you that I will not complain about the humidity when we return home! The highs are typically near 90F, but that's bearable if there's a breeze.

It also helps to be able to get in the water, which we had planned on doing, but we were informed that there were large crocodiles in the area and given that the water wasn't very clear, we decided not to find out. As a result we moved on the next day to Isla Seca where the water was supposed to be nice and clear.

Sue DivingIt Isla Seca we were thrilled to drop the anchor and watch it descend to the bottom. That hasn't occurred in years! We anchored off of Isla Cavada, which is a private island which has Yurts (high end tents) that they rent out for $600/night. I'm glad that we're anchored...Other than that price, what's amazing is that the bays are filled with coral. I haven't seen huge tracts of bottom covered by coral anywhere. It does make finding a place to anchor very difficult!

I've been diving a couple of times and I even got Sue diving yesterday! We plan to hang around her for a week or more and just enjoy the water and not be constantly moving the boat.

-- Geoff & Sue

For the cruiser:

We stayed at Fish hook marina in Golfito due to the security issues (and the fact that we'd have AC). They charge $2/ft which includes power and water. See this link for instructions on how we cleared out of Golfito as they differ from what's in the Sarana guide and are easier.

Fishermans hut at Isla ParidaAt Punta Balsa we anchored off of a large house/hotel at 08-4.50N 82-49.67W in about 25' of water over sand. Note the Sarana says maintain 2.7-3 miles off shore when rounding the point. We were at 0.75 miles and had plenty of water. The only thing that I've been able to figure out to secure the flopper-stopper is a SS cable connected to an eye-bolt on the flopper-stopper with the threads smashed so that it can't be unscrewed.

At Isla Parida we anchored at 8-05.62N 82-20.33W in about 10' MLW. We followed the Sarana suggested way point into here and I have no idea why we didn't just take the SW passage as it looks clear. Following the Sarana waypoints would be confusing without a chartplotter as it can be hard to discern where the turn points are without a chart plotter.

Once we arrived we anchored to the E of the anchoring waypoint, as it had nice airflow, but later had 2-3' steep waves coming through due to the wind. We moved into the cove to escape the rock & roll and noted that we we pointed much better into the wind at that anchorage than when the boat was further out. The cove slowly shallows and the Sarana waypoint is about 10' MLW.

CoralNote that at Isla Seca (Cavada) you'll experience 360 degree winds throughout the day. Mornings bring NE and by afternoon they'll be out of the W. Plan your anchorage appropriately. Please use you holding tanks as there's a lot of fragile coral here.

At Isla Cavada (Seca) we anchored at the northern anchorage at about 07-59.6N 82-01-9W in about 27' MLW for 1 night and then decided to move due to too many coral heads to the N and W and we didn't want our chain hitting them. Beautiful clear water on incoming tide allows you to easily see them. Note that the sand bottom is relatively steep, so you need to carefully pick you spot based upon depth and be aware that morning winds will blow you toward the island.

We then moved a little S to 7-59.44W 82-01.81 and anchored in about 27' MLW in a area free and clear of all coral heads. Unfortunately it seems to the the worst area for wind/current chop which occurs 1-2 times a day for a couple of hours. Note that you can eek out a faint WiFi signal from the lodge at this marina with a booster antenna.

We've watched several boats pull way forward into the middle bay between the N anchorage and the lodge anchorage. DO NOT DO THIS as this entire bay floor is completely covered with coral! The coral extends outward from the bay by approximately 100 yards. Only anchor in clear sand where you have sufficient swing radius to avoid the coral.

There's only room for 1 boat in the bay in front of the lodge, and even that is tricky as the sides of the bay are lined with coral and the bottom is shaped like a steep V, so you need to pick the perfect spot to drop the anchor where you won't have too much scope to swing onto the coral.

There are several little reefs in this cove where you can snorkel. The best diving was at the small island to the NE on the S point. I liked the E side best. Note that there can be significant currents. Visibility is best on the high end of an incoming tide.

Log ID: 2235

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Photos/Video: Photo Album Western Panama 

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