Santa Catalina and Puerto Mutis to Benao

Friday, April 4, 2014

007-25.524 N
080-11.328 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

Sorry for the long delays between blogs, but there's very little Internet access in the western side of Panama. This is definitely one of the most technologically isolated areas that we've been in.

MapWhen you last heard from us we had just departed the islands of Coiba national park and were headed east. Our first stop was at Isla Santa Catalina, which is basically a big rock which provides shelter from the southerly swells. The town of Santa Catalina is a mile away via dinghy and the area between is strewn with reefs and coral heads. When we arrived I checked for WiFi and saw quite a few access points, but none of them were open, so we decided to go to shore and try to locate them.

It was high tide when we headed to shore, which allowed us to zip right over the reefs and we landed ashore without any issues. The cruising guides all talk about how difficult it is to land ashore when the surf is running, but we've been very fortunate this entire trip to have only had very small swell in the 3-4' range. Landing a dinghy in breaking surf is not a something that anyone wants to do and Santa Catalina is known for their surf.

Fresh produceAshore we found a pleasant little town full of dive shops that take people to Coiba. If you recall that I suggested that if you want to dive in Coiba, you should contact a dive company and have them guide you. Well, this would appear to be the place! Other than that, there's not a lot here, or if there is, it's so far spread out that we didn't find it. And unfortunately both of the places that we found that had Internet we closed. Ah, thwarted again! As a consolation we had a beer at a very nice beach bar overlooking the bay and we were able to finally get some fresh fruit from a guy selling produce out of his truck.

The next morning before we departed I headed into shore with our trash from the past 2+ weeks and this time it was low tide. The route that I picked going in was OK, but I picked a much poorer route on the way back and ended up in the middle of a mine field of coral heads and rock. I picked my way through it, but heed the suggestion in the guides for watching how the local panga drivers go!

Puerto Mutis MapWe then headed to Puerto Mutis, which is a small town located 20 miles up a bay and then 8 miles up a river. We decided to go into there as we hadn't cleared into Panama as of yet and we were told that it had easy access to the large town of Santiago via bus. We timed it so that we could ride the 13' tide into the bay and up the river. The river starts out quite wide, but ends up getting quite narrow and winding. We followed the waypoints in the Sarana guide, but had to deviate from them at a couple of points when it was getting too shallow. My corrected waypoints are below. Considering that we had 6-8' of tide with us going in, we would have been aground several times had we been at low tide. The image in the "For the cruiser" section shows our depth over the hour that it took us to get up the river. Our wing keel is 5.5' deep and makes a great anchor if you go aground, so you can definitely see why you want to navigate this river on a rising tide.

Puerto MutisPuerto Mutis is small fishing town with road access and is a hub for local fishermen. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and we were clearly the new attraction in town as boat after boat went slowly by checking us out. After having 2 flopper stoppers stolen, the novelty of that has worn off. But everyone seemed very friendly.

We headed into shore and checked out the town (which isn't hard to do in a 1 road town) and found a several restaurants/bars, 2 fuel stations, a tienda and the port captain's office and the aduana (customs)/immigration office. On Monday morning, while BlueJacket was aground in the river, we checked in by going to the Port Captain's office and then to the Aduana, who had no interest in seeing us. The immigrations lady wasn't present, so we were told to come back the next day.

Puerto Mutis harborPuerto Mutis really doesn't have much, so we decided to head into Santiago, which is a much larger city. Busses run from Puerto Mutis to Santiago about every 30 minutes and cost $1.30/pp, so we packed up our laundry, propane cylinder and hopped on one of the busses to Santiago. We got a grand tour of lots of small villages and country roads as it appears that we were on the milk run. About an hour and many stops later we arrived at the outskirts of Santiago. Based upon information that we had gotten from s/v Serenity, we had an idea of where we had to get off, but no firm details. I saw the sign for the Tropigas store, which is where we needed to take our propane tank to, so we jumped off the bus, only to discover that the store had moved to a new location about a month ago and it was going to take a taxi to get there.

Weighing fishWe found the laundromat and dropped the laundry off for pickup the following day. After that we wandered into Santiago, propane tank in tow, looking for grocery stores, a cell phone store and somewhere to buy a new starter battery. We found a Digicell store and got Sue's phone connected to the Internet (yeah!) and we found a hardware store where I purchased a battery, so things were looking up! So now we're wandering around with a propane tank and a heavy battery trying to find a taxi to take us to the propane store. Finally we flagged down a taxi, which is easier said than done, who took us on an excursion to find this brand new store that no one knew about and which didn't have any signage. Eventually we found it, dropped the tank off so that it could be filled overnight and headed to the grocery store.

At the grocery store we managed to procure a case of wine and multiple bags of groceries. Now we've got a battery, a case of wine and lots of groceries and the concept of trying to fit this into bus didn't seem like a great idea, so we grabbed a taxi which took us on the express, 25 minute, route back to Puerto Mutis. $15 well spent!

Immigrations inspecting passportsDuring the night our friends from s/v Serenity arrived in Puerto Mutis. At around 5 AM I heard something and got up to find them anchoring behind us. They had arrived at the mouth of the river at the wrong tidal stage, so the got up at 3 AM, caught the incoming tide and navigated through this winding river in the dark! Wow!!! What's even more amazing is the first time that they came here they sailed all of the way as they had lost their propeller!

On Tuesday morning we headed into the immigrations office to get our passports stamped, but found out that there's only 1 stamp for a huge region and it wasn't in Puerto Mutis and it probably wouldn't arrive until 2 PM. "No problem" we said, we'll just run into Santiago and get our propane and fresh fruit while we're waiting. "No, no, no" said the immigrations lady. You're not allowed to go anywhere until you get your passports stamped. Oops! Well, it showed up at noon and we were able to pick up everything that we needed.

Punta NaranjoThe next day we departed Puerto Mutis at daybreak and slack high tide and began our trip to the Perlas Island, which are off Panama City. To get there you have to go around Punta Mala, which is known for high winds and rough seas. At this point there we needed to make medium-long jumps, so we headed to Bahia Naranja on Isla Cebaco, where it was really nice to swim in clear water, and the following day to an anchorage known as Bahia Naranjo, where there wasn't much except cows. From there we made a 50+ mile jump to Benao.

BenaoBenao appears to be a surfing hangout for the rich from Panama city. It's a nice bay, but open to southerly swell, which is probably why the surfers like it. We tucked behind an island to get try to get out of the swell, but we were only partially successful. All that I'll say is that I'm glad that we were there when the swell was only 3'! The bay itself has quite a few hotels and restaurants in it and we were quite surprised to see lots of high end cars in the parking lot. I guess that explains the $4 that they get for beers!

The weather window for getting around Punta Mala looks very good, so we'll head to Isla San Jose from here. It's an 86 mile jump, so we'll leave at first light and then we'll have to fight significant currents. As a result we probably won't get in until after 10 PM, but the bay that I picked should be easy to pull into in the dark.

-- Geoff & Sue

For the Cruiser:

Santa Catalina:

Santa CatalinaWe anchored in about 13' MLW in good holding sand. It appears that you can anchor just about anywhere behind the island where you get protection. I strongly suggest watching the local pangas to see how they transit the reefs. There's not much in the portion of town that we explored as it's so spread out. There's a small tienda to the right at the first intersection and just past that you'll find a self-serve laundry with a couple of rough looking machines. If you walk past the intersection you'll find 2 restaurants that have WiFi. However, one was only open from 10-2 and the pizza place opened at 6 PM.

Puerto Mutis:

We followed Sarana's waypoints on the way up the river and found that they were off at points 7&8. See out updated waypoint list below. We entered the river about 1/2 tide on spring neap new moon tide and had LOTS of current helping is along. At various points we saw 15' or less, which when the tidal level would be subtracted out would be very low (aground). I suspect that by following the depth sounder that we would have found a deeper channel. Note that tides at Puerto Mutis lag Cebaco by about 1.25+ hours.

We anchored past town near the Sarana waypoint, but ended up going aground in the 13' tides. We moved about 10' further east and was fine. Anchor closer to the E bank than the W. Note that the current can rip though here at 3+ kts and the afternoon wind can get quite strong.

We had our best night's sleep here in ages in perfect calm water and light breezes. Amazing there were very few bugs and we didn't need to put screens in.

Overall, this is a great stop and we could easily have spent another night here (we spent 3).

We cleared into Panama here with no issues. The cruising permit was $193 for a 40' boat. We also needed a zarpe, which was $17. Immigrations took 2 days as the immigrations lady wasn't here the first day and when she arrived the next day we had to wait until 1 PM for the passport stamp to show up as there only seems to be one for the entire region.

Busses run to Santiago every 1/2 hour our so and take about an hour to get there. Pricing depends upon distance, but into Santiago it's about $1.30. A taxi back to Puerto Mutis costs $15 per the tariff.

Fishing pangaIf you get off at the 1st stop in Santiago and walk back about a block you'll see a small blue sign for a Lavamatico Berta where you can get your laundry done for cheap. It's a 1 day turn-around.

If you continue into town past the church, you'll find a block where all of the veggies and fruits are sold. Much better quality and variety than you can find in the supermarkets. You probably will need to take a taxi to the Super 99, but they had the best selection of groceries.

Propane can be filled at the Tropigas/Faverisa (?) store which is located just past the Hotel Hacienda (on the same side) on the Pan American highway. It's a 1 day turn-around. The taxi from downtown to the Tropigas store to the Super 99 grocery store was $4.

There are 2 fuel stations ashore with very reasonably priced fuel. I jury jugged fuel, but I assume that you can bring you boat to at least one of them as we saw some big boats coming in, but didn't watch the fueling process. Where they would fuel is very rough concrete and I would assume that they only fuel near high tide. 2 cycle oil is only available in pints.

There are several restaurants ashore and our favorite was the Pacific View which is just past the Aduana's office. We also ate at the restaurant next to the Port Captain/Police station and had a very good typical lunch for $2/pp.

The tienda only has basic items, so if you need any mor than that you're headed into Santiago.

Here are the waypoints which we used. Note that they are from the Sarana guide, but differ between points 7 & 8 in the guide.

DepthApproach Waypoint 1 07°47.637' N and 81°05.689' W
Approach Waypoint 2 07° 48.00' N and 81°05.538' W
Approach Waypoint 3 07° 49.362' N and 81°04.32' W
Approach Waypoint 4 07° 49.800' N and 81° 04.160'W
Approach Waypoint 5 07° 52.170' N and 81° 04.100' W
Approach Waypoint 6 07° 53.184' N and 81° 04.036'W
Approach Waypoint 7A (different) 07° 53.783' N and 81° 03.686' W
Approach Waypoint 7B (new) 07° 54.386' N and 81° 03.454' W
Approach Waypoint 7C (new) 07° 53.856' N and 81° 03.353' W
Approach Waypoint 8 (different) 07° 54.980' N and 81° 03.297' W
Approach Waypoint 9 07° 55.200' N and 81° 03.250' W
Approach Waypoint 10 07° 55.412' N and 81° 03.275' W
Approach Waypoint 11 07° 55.541' N and 81° 03.265' W

Isla Cebaco - Bahia Naranja

Rocks off W tip of CebacoWe pulled into here on our way E and had a very comfortable stay. The bay slowly shallows as you work towards shore and we finally dropped the hook in about 27' MLW into good holding mud. I had to pull the anchor out with the boat motor.

The NE winds seem to funnel through the saddle in the hills that surround the bay, so I think that they get amplified.

We didn't go ashore as most of it had disappeared at high tide when we were ready, but the beach looked very nice.

We also didn't explore the Cebaco Bay ship which is permanently anchored here, but according to another boat that did, diesel was available for $6.50/gallon (as compared to $4.13 in Puerto Mutis) and you can get free fresh water via a pipe that comes from a deep well ashore.

Note that the water was nice and clear. Could have made water here.

Bahia Naranjo

Bahia NaranjoWe stopped here on our way to the Perlas and had a good night's sleep. We anchored in the middle of the bay in about 24' MLW and dragged the anchor for quite some distance before catching. Once it was caught we were well secured, but it took a while.

Northerly winds were blowing, so we didn't go ashore to see the cows. Two roads were visible leading to the beach, so if you wanted to hike, it appears that it would have been quite easy.

Upon leaving before sunrise we went between Isla Roncador and the mainland by going down the middle and saw 40' MLW at minimum and most of the time it was much more.


BenaoWe pulled into Benao on our way to the Perlas with 3-4' swells out of the SW and a SW wind. The chop from the wind/wave caused a lot of hobby-horsing, but no roll. That is until the winds turned northerly over night and we rolled big time. It was sleepable, but not enjoyable.

We anchored as far behind the little island as we could. We anchored in about 17' MLW, but we still in the swell. Some friends anchored W of us and they had a much more bumpy night. Holding was OK.

We went ashore about mid-tide on a rising side and landed the dinghy almost as far to the NE as we could to get out of the swell. There were no issues landing the dinghy, but when we arrived near high tide we found that the little reef connecting the island to the shore was underwater and waves came in at a 45 degree angle to the main waves, making it quite difficult to time getting the dinghy out.

We walked down the beach to the first large beach bar where beers were $4 and mixed drinks were $7. I think that the rich Panamanians come there as there were BMWs in the parking lot and the average surfer couldn't afford this. The menu looked good, but we didn't want to do a night dinghy landing to sample it.

Log ID: 2237

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