Las Perlas - the Pearl Islands

After staying overnight in a rolly anchorage close to the Pacific Panama Canal entrance we lift anchor and sail out to the Perlas, a group of picturesque islands some 35nm off the coast of Panama City. But lo and behold, this is the rainy season and soon we are sailing full steam into a black wall of clouds with much rain but fortunately not too much wind in it. All the rivers that dump their water into the large bay of Panama City carry a lot of debris. Anything from plastic trash to whole tree trunks are floating in the water and are sometimes hard to spot and avoid.


On the north side of Isla Contadora we drop anchor amidst friends’ boats from Shelter Bay Marina. Invitations for drinks aboard, pot luck dinners and bonfires on the beach ensue. We all have a merry and relaxing time. I have especially grown fond of my Kiwi friends Sue and Paul on SV Windchase with their Italian water dog Mili, a Lagotto Romagna to be precise. Like her, I cannot wait for the next walk on the beach together!

Anchor aweigh is not happening though. Suspecting something serious I don my newly acquired Scuba gear to explore and find my anchor chain firmly wrapped around the pulpit of a large sunken motor yacht. The following under water disentanglement seems something of a mix between an oversized mikado game and untangling your knitting wool. I am happy to resurface with the last air in the tank, unharmed and happy about a job well done.


SV Windchase and I decide to break away from the pack and sail south to explore some of the other islands in this magnificent archipelago such as Ampon, Pedro Gonzales, Isla del Rey, San Telmo, and Espirito Santo. Again, we head into a dark wall of rain and some lightning and thunder. Close enough to scare me sufficiently and make me throw all my electronics in the oven, which acts as a faradaic cage and is supposed to protect them from lighting strike.


The next day early we explore the Rio Cacique on Isla del Rey in the dinghy. The swell is flowing into the river mouth and as I forgot again, every river mouth has a bar, a sanddune you must cross to enter the river proper. Over that bar the waves mount and can easily overthrow an inflatable like ours…by a hair we manage to keep our balance and ourselves mostly and the camera totally dry! We let the dog run off the leash on the beach as usual until we come to notice a pond behind the beach with three (!) large crocodiles floating in it. As Mili is very fond of water and totally oblivious of any dangers that might lurk we are lucky to catch her in time before the crocs do. As one of the national park rangers with limited English pointed out when we were talking about crocodiles with him: He pointed to the dog and said: Boccadillo! She would be but an appetiser since crocs are apparently especially fond of dogs!


Next we motor around Isla San Telmo to anchor on its NE side. On the small beach there is a semi-submerged wreck of a submarine. It is rusting away since 100 years and to this day remains a mystery as to where it came from and who it belonged to. There is still not enough wind but at least we can motor sail on up the east coast of Isla del Rey, the largest of the Perlas Islands to find the very protected anchorage between it and Isla de Espirito Santo (Holy Spirit) to relax from an exciting day. This little island with its even smaller wooded hills and beaches is so enchanting that it might make one feel quite religious.


The next day, again, we motor back to our favourite anchorage on Isla Chapera. It is time for a last dinner together, a last morning walk on the beach with the dog. My New Zealanders are bidding me farewell and are heading straight to the Marquesas from here. This is a 4000nm passage (7000km) or for their boat speed means about 35-40 days at sea with no land in sight. It is amazing that we can just pick up our anchor and go on such a grand voyage, especially in these difficult times!

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