Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mogo Mogo! Las Perlas Islands, Panama

By Nicole

For the last 6,000 miles, the wind, swell and current often forced us to spend more time motor-sailing than sailing-sailing. But lately, that’s all changed. We’ve felt the warm, 10-15 knot trade winds blowing steadily from the north, bringing great sailing weather and natural air conditioning. For a boat from Seattle, these winds are quite a treat!

After a false start getting out of Panama City (ahem, barnacles fouling the propeller), we set sail – literally – for Las Perlas Islands, about 40 miles to the southeast. We had a lovely trade wind sail, with seas and winds on the stern quarter all the way. Fabulous. Las Perlas, (the Pearls) were once famous for, well, pearls. So much so in fact, that Spanish conquistadors attacked the native peoples, defeated their king and enslaved the pearl divers. Apparently you can still find oysters with pearls in them here, but I have yet to even see an oyster … In any case, Las Perlas are amazing. A taste of the South Pacific in the Bay of Panama, perhaps.

P1070365Bella Star anchored in the channel between Islas Chapera and Mogo Mogo, Las Perlas

Besides pearls, these islands also have another claim to fame – a season of the TV series, Survivor, was filmed here. I wonder how they kept the cruisers from wandering into shots and offering the contestants cold beers.

After an overnight on Isla Contadora, we hopped over and anchored in the channel between Isla Chapera and Isla Mogo Mogo (which is really fun to say). We spent a couple days exploring, swimming, socializing and generally soaking up the awesomeness.

Pretty nice, right?

Fun times on a random beach swing

Two more islands conquered! Beat that, Palarran!

The first time we brought the dinghy to shore on Mogo Mogo, I stepped on this great purple clam shell. Always searching for cool shells, I stopped pulling the dinghy out of the water (much to Aaron’s displeasure) and picked it up. Neat! Not two steps further, though, I saw that the entire beach was littered with them. Hm.

Keep clam and carry on

DSC_4751 Looking across the channel from Isla Mogo Mogo to the anchorage off Isla Chapera.

DSC_4752Teal-colored water, interesting rock formations and Aaron off exploring


I finally caught up to the bold explorer

We heard rumor of a citrus tree just off the beach on Mogo Mogo with fruit free for the taking. Free anything? Yes, please! If cruisers are one thing, it’s cheap, and the word “free” always makes our ears prick up. Plus how fun is it to pick your own produce? Of course we had to check it out, so we packed a picnic lunch and zoomed over. We’d heard the tree referred to as the “Mogo Mogo lime tree,” but after seeing it and looking it up in my tropical plant field guide, my best guess is that it’s actually a sour orange tree (citrus aurantium). The fruit is tart like a lime with a floral hint and reminds me of the limon mandarinas that were so popular in Costa Rica. In any event, we stood in the shade and picked a bag full, as I fantasized about all the delicious things I could make with them.

DSC_4763Isla Mogo Mogo sour orange tree loaded down with fruit. We picked the low-hanging ones.


DSC_4784We picked a variety of colors (the green ones are extra tart) … add a bit of sugar, rum and ice for a Mogo Mogo cocktail! Or bake up some Mogo Mogo Meltaway Cookies.

DSC_4789Mogo Mogo Meltaway Cookies. Holy crap, these buttery, sweet-tart gems are
amazing. Amazing! It could be my new favorite cookie. But then again, I do have
quite a thing for citrusy desserts. And breakfast treats, like …

… Mogo Mogo Scones. To keep ourselves from scarfing the entire batch,
we sent our friends on
Sundancer off with a few for their sail back to Panama City.

The beauty of Mogo Mogo is incredible, and one day on the island just wasn’t enough. With our speedy new outboard, we were able to zip around to the other side of the island and do some real exploring. (That’s right. A new outboard, that doesn’t poke along or die whenever if feels like it, was our very romantic Christmas gift to each other.)

DSC_4817 I like long walks on the beach …

… And collecting sea treasures (yes, the milk crate is a treasure, too, thankyouverymuch).

Treasure! Anyone know what the puffy sand dollar things are?

DSC_4829Iguana tracks

A few of the cruising boats in the anchorage invited us to a fish grill and bonfire on the beach. Our friends on Sundancer, who we met in El Salvador (and who did the Canal transit with Aaron), were there too – fun!

P1060330 Ron from Sundancer and Aaron, the mighty driftwood hunters

P1060341In true El Salvador-style, the boys lit the fire with a washed-up flip flop (works like a charm!). Just don’t tell the EPA.

P1060344 Ben from Knee Deep expertly ignites a bamboo log (while holding his beer, no less) …

P1060347… and entertains us with a fire show. For free!

It’s been so much fun buddy boating with Ben, Molly and the boys again. Until we reconnected in Panama City, we hadn’t seen each other since we left Bahia del Sol in May! One day, we all decided to cool off by heading to shore for a little beach time.

P1070380J.P. gets a turbo boost from Aaron

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwimming, with Bella Star and Knee Deep in the background.

Molly and I stopped the horse play long enough to pose for a respectable picture

After drying off and cleaning up, Sundancer had everyone over for a make-your-own pizza night – we brought the toppings, they supplied the fantastic crust and sauce (and an oven big enough for a large pizza!) So good. The view from their boat that evening wasn’t half-bad either. Thanks for the picture, Ron!

There are over 200 islands and islets in the Las Perlas archipelago, so we’re off to see what other interesting places we can find. Soon enough, we’ll be back in Panama City finishing up projects and getting the boat loaded down with South Pacific provisions. That basically means rum. Lots of rum. :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Panama City and the Ditch

By Aaron

So here we are in Panama City.  We had the boat in the yard for a week and did final inspections of hull and rig for our insurance company regarding the lightning strike.  Everything checked out fine, and we’re feeling better about taking Bella Star across the South Pacific.  We replaced a bad battery in our house bank, and we’re adding 200 more watts of solar panels to accommodate the demands of the water maker and our computers. 

We drove Bella Star into position and then hopped onto the launch while she was lifted out.  Several people got out their cameras and phones for a pictures of the pretty lady’s bottom. 

PC120232The lift got the boat out and plopped down on stands without any drama, although it’s always a little nerve-wracking to see our home dangling in the air.  I totally forgot to take a picture of the leading edge of the keel where the minke whale hit us and took the paint off.

After so many lonely anchorages working our way to the city, it’s been good to meet up with friends again.  Knee Deep, Serendipity, Sundancer, and Taking Flight all showed up from points north and it was a fun reunion.  We’ve also made several new friends, many of which are heading to the South Pacific as well.  A neat change is the makeup of the cruisers in the anchorage here.  For the first time, we’re really seeing a truly international group of boats and are enjoying meeting cruisers from all over the world. 

Plenty of room in the Las Brisas anchorage

We had to stay in a hotel while the boat was in the yard.  On Sundays the yard is closed and we couldn’t get aboard to work on projects, so we took a little trip up to the Panama Canal visitors center at the Miraflores locks. We spent an interesting day there learning about the canal and its history.

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The view from the top floor of the visitors center. 

We even saw some sailboats lock through.  We commented that it would be fun if we met any of the boats that we took pictures of.  Sure enough, we soon met Christian and Birgit on SV Pitufa (with the yellow sail cover) heading to the South Pacific from Austria. 

The restaurant at the locks was surprisingly good, and had the most amazing buffet we’d seen this side of Las Vegas.  The unlimited champagne may have contributed to our thorough enjoyment of the visitors center. 

The requisite arm shot

Our pals on SV Serendipity were making the transit through the canal and asked us to be line handlers.  (The canal authority requires 4 line handlers and an advisor for the transit.)  Nicole couldn’t go because she had to work.  Like at a real job.  She received a contract to do an editing job, so she worked on that while I went through the canal.  Personally, I’m coming up on two years of unemployment and I really don’t want to break my streak.  Fortunately the crew of Sundancer filled the other line handler spots and it made for a fun group.

Heading out bright and early under the Bridge of the Americas.

On each of the two days, an advisor joins the boat to guide the process.

We tied up to a tug for the first sets of locks, which made things pretty easy.

On a full keel boat like this you can really feel the turbulence as the lock is filled.

Once the first lock was full, I got the reverse view back to the visitors center where we were a couple days earlier.  You can see the observation deck crammed with people watching us make the transit.

P1020479Most of the canal transit is through Lake Gatun.  It’s totally undeveloped and wild – I can see why it’s so popular with cruise ships.  Our advisor took us on a shortcut off the main channel through beautiful winding jungle passages. 

The transit takes two days.  At the end of the first day you tie the boat up to a giant rubber buoy for the night in Lake Gatun.  I’d never stood on a buoy before this. 

It’s all fun and games until a crocodile gets hungry for Canadian food.

On the last set of locks we were in the middle, so we line handlers fed out the line as the water drained from the lock.

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50 feet forward and 80 feet down to get to the Caribbean …

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That’s me with Ron, Heather, and Lisa from Sundancer, and Serendipity’s Hugh and Anne in the front.

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It was a fun trip with a fun group of people.  Hugh and Anne, thanks for taking me!  We wish you the very best on your travels on the other side.