Friday, July 10, 2009

Traveling to and around the Perlas Islands

We were expecting this portion of our trip to be both long and nerve racking because of all the ships moving to and from the canal. The currents against us were supposed to add to the tension. To our surprise neither the ships nor currents became an issue. We made great time in pretty benign conditions. Our first land fall was on the west side of Isla San Jose called Ensenada Bodega. This was a very shallow bay with five distinct beaches to explore. We all felt we were anchored in a lagoon created by Disney. That evening we had a 3 dingy raft up and floated around the bay and down a short river drinking rum to celebrate our last step before the Panama Canal.
We stayed two or more nights in all the anchorages we visited in the Perlas chain. Each had something different to see and enjoy. On most of the islands we were able to trade with locals for lobster, mangoes, and avocados. Lobsters were small to medium in size and we averaged paying less than two dollars apiece. The people have no concept of conservation so they collect every single lobster they can find. We ended up with a couple so small they could have been mistaken for crawdads without the claws. It won't be too many years till they have stripped the local areas of all lobster. Another island we visited was Isla Pedro Gonzales. Here we anchored in a cove next to a small village of about 400 people. Upon dropping our anchor Maurice came paddling out with his leaking dug out canoe to sell us avocados, and then asked for a tow back to the shore. His paddle was a palm frond and it had broken on the way out to us. The homes were all identical except for color. We were not sure if they were government built or private industry, but they were all the same. There were two small stores, which barely had any staples, and seem to cater to the snack and beer crowd. Maurice saw us and took us in to his favorite store. The Spanish they speak here is a different dialect from the Spanish we understand, it's a blend of languages. We did anchor on the other side of the island and found one of the most pristine beached in all of the Perlas islands. We found out later that locals were paid to keep the beach free of trash. Again we were offered avocados, mangoes and found shells to collect. Unfortunately the whole island is planned for full development.
On the Southern tip of Isla Del Rey we anchored in a small bay north of Punta Cocos. At high tide we took a river cruise and enjoyed the mangrove covered shoreline. There were a lot of birds but not much else. We moved to anchor off of Isla San Telmo to look for a one hundred year old submerge submarine. We spent 3 hrs snorkeling and searching for the sub and couldn't find it. Only one of the cruising guides even mention the sub and it doesn't give the exact location. Our friends in San Cles had snorkeled on the sub last year so I knew it existed, but where? Just before giving up and moving I spotted a odd shape emerging from the water next to shore; it was round and appeared to be the hatch. Sure enough it was the sub. The location is just off the only sandy beach in about eight feet of water. Terri on San Cles tells the story about sub better than I could so I give you her account:
"Everyone else got a close-up look at the Sub Marine Explorer. One of the earliest submarines ever built, it was constructed in the mid 1860's by German engineer and U.S. immigrant, Julius H. Kroehl. It was reportedly more advanced technologically than the infamous Hunley and was designed to retrieve things from the bottom of the sea, but with the Hunley disaster still fresh in the their minds, the U.S. government was too gun-shy to show any interest, so Julius and some partners formed the Pacific Pearl Company and took the sub to Las Perlas, Panama where she made several successful dives for pearls. Unfortunately, nitrogen poisoning was an unknown danger at that time. Julius and the rest of the diving team died of a mysterious "fever". The sub was ultimately abandoned and is now a rusted hulk in the shallows off Isla San Telmo."

Just before we left Isla San Telmo to move up the shore on Del Rey we experience a very violent T-storm and saw our first water spout. It was about a quarter mile away, but still very impressive. The storm lasted less than an hour. Our next stop was a spot behind Isla Spiritu Santo. I spent the afternoon in the dingy searching for lobster in the outer islands, but none could be found. Our charging systems were still giving us major problems so we moved on. We had to run the engine three to four hours every day to keep up with our needs . The alternator was only putting out 22amps and our Honda generator was having reverse polarity problems.
We anchored off of Isla Casaya, which was surrounded by reefs except a very small opening 100 magnetic degrees off of a white sand beach on an adjacent island. I was very nervous but made it in. Once the tide went down I couldn't believe how dangerous it really was.
Our last anchorage in the Perlas islands was Isla Bayoneta. I was getting really concerned about all the projects I had to take care of on the boat and just wanted to get to Panama City and get started. We said good bye to Lea Scotia and Panchita for the time being and headed for the city.

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