Friday, November 30, 2012

Portobelo: Autumn Anchorage from Hell

Since coming back to Portobelo from our failed sailing trip to Bocas del Torro, Mark and I have been here three weeks. During that time, it rained constantly and we had to move several times because of “funny” wind and current situations and the fact that different boats move differently. While the bay was very uncomfortable certain times, the humidity was 100%, nothing dried and mildew grew everywhere, inside (and out!) Irie. Windows could not be opened, clothes turned moldy, and towels smelled awful. We were cooped up inside a 35’ area for weeks and each time we ran an errand, we got drenched and more wet clothes were added to the growing pile of disgust. One thing we did not have to worry about: fresh water! Enough to wash our whole wardrobe, if only we could hang the stuff out to dry…

Statistics of our Portobelo stay:
  • Consecutive days in the bay: 22
  • Maximum wave height from swells: 3 feet
  • Water color: coffee brown
  • Full nights of sleep: 1
  • Days without rain: 0
  • Near hits with other boats: 3
  • Times we had to move: 7
  • Days of uncomfortable pitching: 12
  • Thunder and lightning storms: 2
  • Staying dry during trips to shore: 5%
  • Humidity: 100%
  • Total amount of sun: 1 hour
  • Smoke detector alarm: 5 times ¹
  • Carbon monoxide alarm: 2 times ²
  • Level of crew happiness: -1
  • Days of nausea: 3
  • Better anchorages in the area: 0
  • Level of becoming insane: HIGH
  • Ranking on Irie’s list of long term anchorages: last place
  • Maximum amount of anchor chain out: 200 ft. (all)
  • Boats without anchor lights at night: 75%
  • General feeling: Being stuck indoors for too long
  • Colors of mold: black inside; green outside
  • General smell indoors: mildewy
  • Smell of towels: gross
  • Amount of towels used: all
  • Heap of laundry: growing
  • Shower water: cold as rain
  • Shower time: 3x a week ³
  • San Blas tan: gone
  • Smiles on our faces: none
  • Water tank and jerry jugs: overflowing
  • Color Irie’s waterline: brown instead of white
  • Color Irie’s bottom: green instead of blue
  • Unfinished projects: 10
  • Tools out for halted projects: floor and spare bunks covered

¹ Due to cooking in a closed-up boat
² Due to opening door a crack while generator (producing exhaust) was running in the cockpit and battery fumes traveling around while being charged in a closed- up boat
³ As to refrain wet and smelly towels

Choppy, muddy Portobelo Bay with boats doing different things

Three weeks of constant rain was too much for our cup and duct tape to keep water out of the hole underneath...

Normally not of the superstitious kind, Mark and I did blame the "little wooden man" for all our bad luck and "sent" him back to the San Blas.

One hour of sun!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sights of Linton

I’m trying to stay positive in our current (for the last 2.5 weeks) situation of uncomfortableness, wetness, moldiness, bounciness, tiredness, stuckness and unhappiness here in Portobelo. The weather is the weather (crap) and there is – unfortunately – nowhere else to go near mainland Panama that could improve our situation. We have sleepless nights, need to keep a constant look-out for surrounding boats unpredictably moving with current and lack of wind, and everything is wet and smelly. So, I will focus on something more interesting and enjoyable for the moment.

When we returned from the magnificent San Blas islands the end of October, we stopped at a place called Isla Linton. It is near the shabby town of Puerto Lindo with no facilities and sporadic bus service to Colon, but there are a few things to do and see in the area. In the past, we never explored too much, since we were always on the way to or from somewhere else. This time, with riots going on in Colon and no way to run much needed errands (the Panamanian people burned tires and created road blocks, so you couldn’t get anywhere, buses did not ride for a week and stores were closed), we “surrendered” to some local activities.

There is a cool dinghy ride towards French run Panamarina that brings you through a narrow channel under a mangrove canopy. It is a mysterious, pretty and wonderful experience to weave your way around all the massive roots, listening for the sounds of birds and nothingness. After doing this trip a few times, you can heighten the adrenaline by planing (= driving fast and focused) this flat, constricted and winding “highway”!

Isla Linton itself sports a troop of monkeys. Sometimes they approach the beach and the dock when hearing an engine. You can go to shore to observe them or watch them be silly and funny from your safe spot in the dinghy. They have been known to bite. Once – when the monkeys were hiding – we went ashore to walk through the brush and jungle and found an amazing, long trail of leafcutter ants, transporting pieces of leaves to their nest. It is quite a spectacle to watch these tiny, purposeful creatures do their thing: crawling back and forth, greeting each other and carrying a – for them - massive sized piece of greenery.

When the weather is relatively sunny and calm, one can take the dinghy towards a palm fringed, good-looking island with an interesting reef in front of it. We anchored the dinghy in a sandy spot and dove in to snorkel amongst some reef creatures and coral. It is not as nice as in the San Blas islands, but while being stuck in Linton it is a good distraction from the daily cruising life.

To me, the most interesting excursion in the area is a trip to Isla Grande, about a mile to the northeast. In calm seas the ride is not a problem at all, but when it is choppy a decent engine is recommended so you can plane there and avoid getting soaked. Isla Grande is popular with local tourists and houses a few bars, restaurants and hotels. It was dead quiet when we visited, thanks to it being the low season and the middle of the week. We followed the only path along the waterfront and turned inland to climb the hill. The trail is easy, a bit steep and slippery at times, and brings you either to massive antennas or to an ugly lighthouse (left fork). The door of the lighthouse is open and after climbing a hundred or so winding little steps, you reach the highest viewpoint of the island. The location – though a bit scary on top of a narrow, rusty structure in a third world country – has an amazing view on a clear day. The circling vultures above add to this exhilarating moment!

Channel through the mangroves

Inhabitants of human-free Isla Linton

Trail of leafcutter ants, all the way up the tree...

Local panga on Isla Grande

View from Isla Grande

Beautiful view from the lighthouse on Isla Grande

View of the bay and the town of Isla Grande

Mark, not totally at ease on the rusty structure

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

San Blas Underwater – Photo Blog

After the long story about our failed sailing attempt to Bocas del Toro last week and an uneventful rainy period here in our anchorage, it is time for some San Blas memories. Sitting in the muddy waters of Isla Linton and Portobelo for the last few weeks, one can’t help but think about and miss the relatively clear waters of Kuna Yala. Not much text, but plenty of pictures in this blog post. It’s time to rest your mind and entertain your eyes! :-)


Banded coral shrimp

Blenny in brain coral

Blue tang

Bright coral head

Christmastree worms

Anemone and coral close-up

Coming through the hole...

Coral scenery

Feather duster

Juvenile trunkfish

Lettuce sea slug


Mooray eel

Nurse shark

Ocean surgeon fish


Porcupine fish

Pretty coral setting

Ramoras hitching a ride with a green turtle

Spiny lobster

Spotted eagle ray



Tasty crab

Underwater plants

Underwater scenery

All photos are taken by Liesbet Collaert