Colombia to Panama
On the 6th of September we got ready to check out of Colombia. Our obligatory agent, Jose from White Light Agency handled the paperwork and attempted to make it as smooth as possible for us. The lady from Customs, however, needed an onboard inspection. She refused to be ferried to a boat on anchor and insisted we dock Exodus at the Club Nautico. Jose had just finished making the arrangements as one of the typical Colombian weather systems showed its ugly head and the predictable scenario ensued. All the boats in the anchorage had all hands on deck, taking in towels, washing, battening down stuff, dragging anchors, reanchoring, checking their anchorchains and plotting possible collision incidents with neighbouring boats. The swell was running in big ripples, smacking into the concrete piers of Club Nautico. It took several back and forth phonecalls with Jose to convince him and the customs person we would not be bringing in Exodus under those conditions. That is simply asking for trouble. Around 14h the weather calmed down and we docked. The inspection itself was a joke. The customs lady didn’t even set a foot on Exodus. She observed Jose making a picture of our engine and outboard, signed the documents and that was it…
After all that, we were good to go. We had dismantled the tender’s armae and stored it neatly at the front deck. We hoisted sail and said our goodbyes to Cartagena…
Ahead of us was a 235 nm trip. We sailed until the wind dropped, motor sailed some, sailed some more etc. All in all it was a pleasant trip. The night sails seemed to consist of steering clear of big weather systems. It can make one feel incredibly small, humble, insignificant to be sailing softly in the dark of night, with lots of stars around, staring with dread at the big cloud build ups and approaching lightening show on the horizon. It feels like a fine art, to make use of the tail-end of a big squall to be propelled forward whilst trying to maintain a safe distance of the next huge thunderclouds that are approaching. Night watch was far from boring… We even saw some strange lights probing these huge clouds, high up in the sky, moving like a bug or a hummingbird, going forward and backward, pointing with a laser like beam, falling down in a straight line, or jumping forward at impossible speeds…
On our second day of sailing, when we were several miles away from the mainland, we got a little visitor. Struggling against a strong wind, a small bird, landed on our railing. It did a quick assessment of the situation: 2.5 potentially dangerous humans versus more and more niles of deep purple sea and strong wind. Exhaustion made the choice for him, and he fell asleep as soon as he found a spot where he wasn’t blown off. This left him in the loving care of our 7year old, who ever so gently offered him some water, sang songs for him and whispered sweet little nothings in his ear… In this manner, the miles ticked off slowly but surely…
Whilst sailing along the Panamanian coast, still miles from land, we realised the scenery affected us on a deeper level. There is a certain inner peace, a calmness that falls upon you when overviewing the at least 5 layers of mountaineous jungle of Panama’s Cordillera Central, the dense emerald backbone that runs over the whole of Panama. Like opening a window and a gust of fresh air blowing the dust and cobwebs of your soul. Like the deepest fibres in your body can finally breathe. Like soul food. Like a homecoming, not for the individual ego, but for something ancient, maybe the cavedweller core inside us.
Lots of research documents how beneficial green spaces are for our physical and mental health. In our view, they are crucial for a human’s overall well being and not having any wilderness around is detrimental. You don’t realise how much modern man has lost, how much Joe Soap has become estranged from nature until you’ve felt that deep soothing feeling of an endless landscape bursting with green diversity.
After 2 days and 7hours we anchored in Linton Bay for the night and motored to Portobelo the next morning.
Checking into Panama was also a breeze. The immigration people and maritime guy in Portobelo are superfriendly. You do have to go back to Linton Bay to get your year cruising permit and we had the misfortune a miscreant tried to rob the only ATM in Portobelo, but you are given 72h to get your permit sorted. Off we went on a diabolo rojo chasing over the hills along the coast, to Sabanitas. The next morning we hopped on the diabolo rojo to Linton Bay, got our paperwork in time for the last (midday) bus back to Portobelo.
To make a long story short, we had a good sail back from Cartagena to Portobelo. We enjoyed the change in scenery and felt truely content to soak up the views of the Panamanian landscape.
Talking about soaking, as soon as we anchored in Portobelo, we were greeted by a fair dose of rain. After the drought and all our glassfibre works in Colombia, this was very welcome. We got that much rain the entire bay turned muddy brown for a day or two.
But no complaints from us. We gave Exodus an extensive rub down as it turned out the sailing did not dissipate the glassfibre from the mast and the sailbag. All that fine, prickly dust was stuck to Exodus like ‘kak in a wol kombers’ (according to reputable sources). But what the wind didn’t clean, the rain and the Exodus scrub team took care of… All the fibreglass was eradicated, making space for the future algea and mould build up. Cupboards were cleaned out, clothes and bedding were sanitised and before we knew it 10 days had past!
We got back into our routine of trading, schooling and mending and lifted anchor after 3weeks to make our way back to Bocas.
3 weeks gave us ample time to enjoy the small town of Portobelo, to explore the Discovery Centre (massive department store) in Panama City, to go to Do-it-centre in Colon and further customise our tender, to listen to the howler monkeys, and to marvel at the swarms of swallows hunting insects at dusk and dawn.
The sheltered existence
Before heading back to Bocas, we paid Steve on Cinnamon Girl a visit. He relocated to Shelter Bay and invited us to ‘kuier’. Exodus easily sailed the 18 nm to Colon, observed all the ships lining up to enter the Panama Canal, got permission from the port authority to enter the port area and continue to the marina.
We met some freediving South Africans and spent a pleasant evening. We served chilli con carne, wraps, and some Balboas. Our visitors brought Panamas.
The next morning, we filled up with fuel, took a last swim in the Shelter Bay swimming pool, a good shower, looked in vain for the resident crocodile, said our goodbyes to Steve and Katie, and set sail for Bocas.
As we cleared the breakwater, the wind picked up, and we caught a nice size King mackerel. At least we would not go hungry.
We had a pretty smooth sail back. It took about 30 hours to cover the 130 nm, and before we knew it, we had the zapatillas in sight, spent the night there and set course for the homerun to our normal anchorspot between Isla Colon and Cayo Carenero.