Friday, March 14, 2014

Leaving Panamá, Celebrating an Anniversary

[Maryanne]*Warning* This is a really long post, feel free to scan through the pictures for a quick overview - please don't complain to me if you don't have time to read, I can't stop him...

Beautiful beaches in this quite get-a-way

[Kyle]Firstly, some background: I had hoped we would be able to stop for at least a few days in the Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panamá, on our way to the Galápagos. When my March work schedule arrived, I was luckily enough to have an extra 5 days off than I had hoped for. I was thrilled to have some extra time to meander through the Perlas. {Maryanne: he promised me...}

Checking the wind forecast from work a few days before my return to Panamá, it became apparent that a limited window of favorable winds was available for our first half of the journey to Galápagos. If we missed it, we would be bobbing around in light air for the whole trip, instead of only the second half. In light air, the 1100nm journey might take almost a month, we were hoping for a more normal ten day passage. The window of good wind was directly during our time allocated for the Perlas Islands. I made an abbreviated itinerary for the Perlas, with fewer stops at fewer islands that would allow us to catch the bulk of the wind to push us out of the Gulf of Panamá.

The only other potential fly in the ointment was my need to submit my bid for my April work schedule before we left internet access. I needed to bid very carefully to ensure the whole month of April would be work free as I intended to be at sea. The bids opened on March 7th and closed on March 11th. I had a nice, long, layover at my last overnight that would allow me enough time to get it done before heading home to Panamá and the boat.

I logged in at the appointed time and found no schedules ready to bid. The next day I got up really early and checked again – there were still no schedules, but instead there was a memo saying “sorry, no bid packages yesterday, they will be out on the 11th and due on the 17th“.

Aaarrrrgggghhhh! I forgot about our new company advertising slogan: “We put the everything in being bad at everything”. I was hoping to be out of the La Playita anchorage at first light, but now I would have to dinghy ashore and find wifi for a couple of hours in order to submit my bid. OK, OK, we can whack another day off the Perlas Islands.

On the day, we found out that our Panamá exit papers were not ready, and we’d have to stay at La Playita an extra day anyway! We schlepped the computers to shore, still no bids, but a new memo, now saying “Oops, sorry, the bids will now be out on the 13th. Also, check out our new ad in Screw-Ups Magazine”.

Aaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh! This left us two choices: skip the Perlas Islands entirely, or find somewhere there to submit my bid. I had originally planned in staying in a chain of the many remote and picturesque anchorages, ending with the beautiful fishing village of Esmeralda before departing for Galápagos. A little research found that the only place we could expect internet access on the Perlas Islands, and certainly not any place we had planned to visit. Everybody in Esmerelda, for example, knows everybody else’s business, because they all have to climb to the same spot on the nearby hill to make any cell phone calls. That one island in the Perlas that had any significant population or development was Contadora, and I had planned to skip it for that very reason, but now it was our first, and most important stop. The visitors center and several inns advertised Wifi.

Since we knew fuel would be difficult or impossible to obtain in either the Perlas Islands or the Galápagos, we needed our supply to last us the entire way to Hawaii (same with water, food and propane for that matter). The engines were reserved for battery charging and getting into and out of harbors. With this in mind we left La Playita at the very first hint of daylight for what was expected to be a slow, light wind sail to Contadora.

We spent most of the day going only a knot or two (that is much slower than walking), we ghosted passed the big ships in the Balboa anchorage, and then into the open sea, as we watched the Panamá City skyline and its thin veil of smog slowly recede into the distance.

Just as it was becoming apparent that we were not going to make it to Contadora by dark a breeze picked up and our speed doubled, then it picked up some more and our speed doubled again, then it turned into real wind and … we reefed! What are we, nuts?

We came whooshing into the Contadora anchorage just as the last of the daylight was bleeding form the sky and taking the colors with it. There were already a handful of other boats there but it wasn’t crowded. We couldn’t find a suitable spot close to shore so we anchored way in the back. Maryanne tried to find us Wifi but there was none.

The new plan was to go ashore in the morning, submit my bid, and then head for a nearby peaceful anchorage in time for sunset where I would improvise a long beautiful speech over a bottle of wine about how lucky I was to be married to Maryanne on this, our eleventh anniversary. That is right, it was our anniversary and weather and bid packages had conspired to change this celebration from a romantic island-hopping cruise to a search for internet.

After what felt like just 20 minutes of sleep, we packed up the computers, piled into the dingy and went ashore in search of some Wifi. We spend way to much of our time doing this sort of thing!

The Restaurante Romantica was calling my name, but we wern't allowed just yet...

The first place we found on the beach, the Restaurante Romantica, had a signal but would not connect to the server, we tried another, and another, holding out our iPhones ahead of us like they were tricorders from StarTrek, but found nothing usable. Doesn’t that just figure? Given it was our anniversary, Maryanne was more than reluctant to leave Restarante Romantica, she was not happy at our ever changing anniversary plans!

We ended up finding nothing until we had climbed up and over to the other side of the island where we located the visitor center. It turned out not to be a government affiliated visitor center, but rather a vehicle rental shop and café that offered a map and wifi. We paid the man for our $1100 and were issued our 3 minutes of wifi. I signed on and found (why am I surprised?) no bid packets. Instead there was a memo dated the day before, saying “Oops, sorry again, the bids will be out tomorrow”. Wait-a-minute! It is Tomorrow. Well, not really, tomorrow often means it is the last thing they do before shutting off the lights and heading for their cars for the weekend.

OK then, the next plan is to explore Contadora, skip the nice anchorage, and wait for them to get their act together back at work. We decided to walk back to the dinghy along the perimeter, past the beaches.

Contadora was not nearly as commercialized as I had feared, although it looks like it was not for lack of trying. We walked past beautiful sandy beaches, fronted by one empty hotel complex after another. They all looked abandoned either half way through construction or demolition, it was hard to tell which in some cases. What was left had the feel of an overgrown park. At the far end of the first beach a tractor was unloading the island’s supplies from a beached ferry with a fold down ramp.

Really old buildings doing just fine, some not so old buildings being reclaimed by nature

We took a short trail to the nudist beach. There were no nudes, we had places to go, maybe next time. We rejoined a sandy road that stayed just out of reach of the beaches’ cooling breezes and were slogging our way up a big hill in a section with no shade, when a couple came bouncing by us on a rented 4-seater gas powered golf cart. The motioned for us to grab a ride on the aft facing rear bench seat, and we gratefully accepted. We tried introducing ourselves but could not find a common language to use so we resorted to a lot of Japanese style smiling and bowing. Where did that come from? After a little more trying and using a lot of hand gestures, we were able to determine that they were from Brazil, they were in love, they were very happy, and they were very drunk.

We left them at the top of the next hill with the flurry of over enthusiastic hand shakes and big drooly smiles. It is a good thing that those things only go about 6mph.

We walked the last short distance back to the Restarante Romantica on the beach just by the landed dinghy. We found a nice outdoor table by the rail and plopped down feeling much to grubby and sweaty to have been let in.

In spite of the beautiful location and the great company, I was having trouble focusing on my bride and getting into the spirt of the day. The wind was already starting to abate and we absolutely needed to submit my bid before we left the island. Maryanne had so far only been able to see a list of her email subject lines and had not been able to get at any of the content. As a result we spent most of our anniversary dinner troubleshooting password problems with the waiter, and then with the manager.

Views from our dining table - not bad at all!

At great length and with painful slowness I discovered that my company had finally loaded the schedules into the system. However, I would not be allowed access to them until 23:59. Oh you have GOT to be kidding me! While they got the letter of “tomorrow” down, they seem to have missed the spirit.

So we were exhausted from too little sleep over the previous couple of days, and we headed back to Begonia for a few hours of sleep. Even though I was so tired, I was also grubby and frustrated, I soaped up and dived in for a swim before doing anything else. The water was so warm it didn’t actually cool me off until I got out and let the wind dry me. Boy it sure felt good to be clean. I was surprised by how strong the current was when I jumped in, I had to keep one hand on the boat to keep from being swept away.

Our alarm went off, what seemed like three minutes later, at midnigiht. We exchanged bleary eyed looks of disbelief and then Maryanne got up to see if the wifi situation had improved (hoping for access from the boat). It had not, so I bid her good night, loaded up the dingy and rowed to shore.

The Restaurante Romantica was closed and dark. In a far corner a Russian man was arguing angrily with three companions across a table filled with open bottles. It sounded like it could degenerate into a fist fight at any second, so I made a point of picking a route that kept me out of sight as I tip-toed through the shadows to the far end of the balcony. I grabbed a chair and carried it around the corner where I placed it directly beneath the wifi router mounted on the wall. Again I could sign in, but could not get any further. After several attempts I packed up everything and tip-toed back out into the night, crossing the island to the Visitor Center.

At about the middle of the island I came across a “bar” that was little more than a whole in a corrugated tin wall through which a bunch of drinks were passed. The clientele were standing in groups in the middle of the main road. Many appeared to be in that Russian state of drunkenness that was about three drinks past overly friendly. With my backpack and headlamp I suddenly felt as conspicuous as if I’d walked into a biker bar wearing a cowboy hat (or visa versa). I smiled and passed out a few Buenos Noches, most of them ignored or didn’t notice me although I got an “I don’t like your face” look from a woman who mercifully left it at that and didn’t get the mob involved.

At the visitors’ center, also completely dark, I found an inconspicuous table, hidden back from the road and pulled out my computer. The password we got earlier was still valid (yes!). I submitted enough schedule choices to be assured that I would not have to anchor in the middle of the Pacific and swim to work during our passage to Galápagos. Feeling relieved of that worry, I walked back through the gauntlet of the bar and headed back to the dinghy.

When I got there I found that the angry Russian had moved from his table to the beach, he was stomping around in the water, gesticulating wildly to a guy passed out on a nearby beach chair. He was a little too close to the dingy for my comfort but he didn’t look like he was leaving soon so I walked up, through my pack into the dingy and dragged it down the beach into the water and rowed off into the night as if it were three o’clock in the afternoon rather than the morning. He noticed me just as I was out of wading range and started yelling something.

I was exhausted when I got back to Begonia, I knew we only had about three hours until daylight, during which we needed to setup the dingy into life boat mode for the passage to Galápagos. Since I was already up, I decided to just get it done, rather than figure out how much earlier I needed to get up to do it. We had done this enough times for the process to be pretty streamlined. The sailing rig was already on board, I put the oars aboard Begonia because they were easier to load once the Pudgy is in the davits. I collected our emergency food and water rations, signaling and first aid kit, etc and loaded it all aboard. Maryanne had packed away everything in waterproof cases, each with a tether and clip. I put some of it in the Pudgy’s storage compartments, and clipped the rest to a pad eye in the floor of the dinghy, along with the sea anchor. Next, the self inflating exposure canopy is mounted and the CO2 cylinders armed.

The hardest part, for me, comes at the end when the rain cover is stretched tight over the whole affair. Once it is on, it is no longer possible to stand inside the dingy. The easiest thing to do, if the water is warm enough at this point, is to jump in tighten everything up and then pull the dingy into position for lifting. If I don’t want to get wet, I have to crawl on all fours, from atop the dinghy, as I maneuver it into position. I didn’t feel like getting wet so I was doing the latter. I got to the point where I had to disconnect the painter (bow line) to squeeze the Pudgy into the lifting harness. I grabbed a handful of the falls of the lifting tackle at the davits, unclipped the painter and used my legs to swing the dinghy into place.

Some protrusion on the dingy snagged on the harness, I pulled a little harder and somehow the force got transmitted to the opposite side of the dingy and rolled it the opposite of the way I’d anticipated. The next thing I knew I was underwater, there was not even time to realize what was happening. I was on top of the dinghy one second and underwater the next. That is when I realized what had happened. I managed to keep my glasses, and even my headlamp was still on and shining. The water wasn’t cold, and I wasn’t wearing my tuxedo, so I wasn’t so upset about going in, just inconvenienced. I had the dingy to hold on to for buoyancy, so there was no struggle to stay afloat. I decided to rest for a few seconds, compose myself and continue on.

Just then I realized four things simultaneously:-

  • The painter was disconnected
  • The davit lines were no longer in either of my hands
  • The oars were in Begonia’s cockpit
  • There was a strong current running through the anchorage

A moment later, I was in a mad, maximum-effort, one-armed swim, rescue-style pulling our one and only life boat behind me. I got behind one hull and was able to get a break from the current there, enough for me to make it to Begonia. With a final long stretch like a swimmer, finishing a race, I was able to hook two fingers over Begonia’s swim ladder and just like that the crisis was over. Maryanne woke to the sounds of splashing and heavy breathing. By the time she made sense of the noises and rushed on deck, I had just flopped onto the step at the top of the swim ladder and clipped the Pudgy back to Begonia.

I was in trouble for not asking for help to setup the dinghy. But I’m supposed to be awake between midnight and 8am when we are at sea, she is not, so I figured it was something to do on “my watch”. Anyway, I’m glad she was there. If I hadn’t been able to make headway swimming, plan B was to yell like hell and hope Maryanne was a good shot with one of our emergency throw ropes. As it was, I just had time to get an hour of sleep before it was time for us to be off again, to catch those winds to Galápagos. Maryanne spent the time making coffee and doing our ‘before getting underway’ checklist.

Some anniversary!

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Happy Anniversary anyway. You have had only a few properly celebrated anniversary celebrations and hope you have one planned for some year in the future.