Old ruins, a night with crocodiles and our worst sail ever

The last weeks we’ve been making our way further west along the Caribbean coast of Panama. Not only did we experience the worst sail without being prepared for what was coming at us, but we’ve learnt more about the local history in Portobelo, took Porky up a fresh water river and spent the night among crocodiles, birds of prey, and monkeys in the midst of Panama’s jungle…

But let’s start from the beginning. After being back from the San Blas islands we spent some time in Linton Bay, Colon, where we got our new Caribe dinghy, “El Caribe 2”. It was a very expensive investment for us which we’ve been postponing since months. Our first dinghy, which came with the boat and had already spent many hours in the tropical sun and unforgivable salt water, was no longer repairable. We kept driving around with deflating tubes hoping to not sink.

Our new car, El Caribe 2, ready to take us to some awesome places

Luckily we could pass El Caribe on to our very inspiring neighbor, Malith, whose dinghy was in even worse shape and who was happy to exchange it for a bottle of rum and a small contribution. Malith, originally from France, has been backpacking for the last 5 years and decided to bring an old sunken boat back to life. After repairing it for 6 months in the middle of nowhere in Panama he is now living onboard with his dog. It’s good to know that someone else can still put our old dinghy to use instead of throwing it away.

Our next stop along then coast was Portobelo. This small town located in a very large bay east of Colon was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and later used by the Spanish to load captured treasures from South and Central America on their ships which sailed back to Europe. To protect their ships and treasures from enemies, the Spanish built three fortifications which can be visited today. It is also said that the British explorer Sir Francis Drake is buried in a lead-sealed coffin near the Portobelo Bay. Two of his sunken ships have been recently discovered but his coffin is yet to be found.

Since the very beginning when we had the idea of this trip, Max said that he dreams of taking a boat up a freshwater river somewhere in Central America. According to our Bauhaus cruising guide there was one river, the Rio Chagres, which is particularly beautiful and fairly easy to navigate in. So we decided to sail past Colon and the Panama Canal entrance and made our way 6 miles upstream to the middle of Panama’s jungle. The moment we got into sheltered water, 50 meter high lush green vegetation reached up to the riverbed. All we heard was the somewhat unnerving but at the same time calming sound of the jungle. We motored all the way to the first dam that separates the last section of the river that we were in with the Gatun Lake. We saw a crocodile swim past our boat, monkeys playing in the tree tops and birds of prey, parrots and toucans flying above our heads. All three of us were in total awe and could not stop searching the riversides for exotic animals.

We had to pass many boats anchored in front of the Panama Canal entrance

Our new dinghy came in handy when we paddled through the many water inlets that fork from the Rio. What an amazing experience to be able to take our home into the wilds of Panama’s nature.

Exploring the Rio Chagres

From here we thought it would be a short and easy sail to Bocas del Toro where we had to be in time to welcome our friend, Jonas. Well… it turned out to be our most uncomfortable sail so far.

Even though we only had to cover 140 nautical miles, it took us 46 hours and a lot of nerves to fight the 2 knot current and 20 knots of wind on the nose. Without any internet connection we just assumed we’d have the calm weather and sea that we’ve always had so far in Panama. Turns out we were wrong.

Motor sailing itself wasn’t the problem but Robert, our ancient autopilot refuses to work, especially in wet conditions. The combination of hand steering two days straight while slamming in choppy waves in squally, rainy weather showed us how badly we were prepared. On top of that we ran out of cooking gas and couldn’t eat most of our provisions, leaving us munching on cornflakes and cookies for the majority of the sail. Everything being soaked through, us being sleep deprived and having empty stomachs, we treated ourselves for some big lunch upon arrival in Bocas town before we disappeared in our bunks for a good night of sleep.

Within the next weeks we will explore the Bocas Del Toro archipelago and hopefully see some sloths that have been hiding from us so far.

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