After luxuriating in air conditioning and unlimited power for far too long we cut the 50 amp umbilical chord and left Red Frog Marina for the run to Colon where we intended to provision and explore the Panama Canal.
The first night we dropped anchor in Laguna de Bluefield and were promptly greeted by two boatloads of locals welcoming us to the area and taking our photograph. We later learned that the local villages are populated by Jehovah Witnesses which explained their warm welcome, however after one look at Rafiki, they saw that there were no souls to be saved and they headed back to shore.
The following morning we were again reminded that this is Panama and it is the rainy season. Lightning filled the skies, rain sheeted down and we were all counting the intervals between the fireworks and the thunder. Not a relaxing morning and a harbinger of things to come. When the rain stopped we pulled anchor and headed up the coast to Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a beautiful island 30 miles from the mainland with a few fishing families dotting the shoreline. We spent three days snorkeling and exploring this picturesque island and enjoyed the complete isolation and pristine beaches.
On the last day, we had an early dinner, prepped the boat, checked the engines (rewired the navigation lights) and pulled anchor just after 5pm. It was a 95nm run to the Rio Chagres and we needed to arrive around noon to make the cut into the river.
Everything started out normally and we were comfortably steaming along at 6kts under one engine so you both took watches before turning the helm over to your mother at 8pm. I wandered up to the helm at around 10pm to see an orange fringe on the radar and when we expanded the range we discovered that we were entering a building storm coming off the coastal mountains. Mommy and I had a quick discussion and decided to fire up the second engine and try to outrun the line of storm cells. Thus began a terrifying duck and weave at full power, with explosions of lightning turning night into day, and the crack of thunder ringing in our ears. Our course was supposed to be 092 degrees and, with constant maneuvering, there were times we were heading 350’ pointing towards Jamaica, all in a vain attempt to avoid the worst of the cells. The radar screen resembled the 80’s video game, “Pac Man”, with new orange blobs growing around us, threatening to eat our little craft, and me making drastic heading changes trying to avoid the inevitable “Game Over”. One Red Bull, many underwear changes and eight hours of hair-raising turns later, your mother took over and I crashed into bed.
Our plan was to enter the Rio Chagres, which is a freshwater river reaching up into the Panamanian jungle, and park the boat for the night amongst the crocodiles and monkeys. We explored several tributaries in the RIB and mommy wanted me to shut off the engine so she could record the sounds of the surrounding natural wildlife. Our outboard has not been running very well lately and this request resulted in immediate and strenuous protestations from you two as you scanned the shoreline for crocodiles and the overhanging trees for snakes.
While we didn’t go ashore (did I mention the snakes….?), Alex and I were lounging in the cockpit and heard what sounded like the roar of a gorilla from a bad “King Kong” movie, coming from the jungle. Eyes the size of saucers we looked at each other trying to figure out what this primeval noise was. We later discovered it was the wild howler monkeys in the surrounding trees and, while we didn’t actually see them, we were entranced by their roars that melded with the million other birds, insects, bees and critters hidden behind the dense curtain of the jungle wall.
The following day we motored the six miles into the Panama Canal harbour and took a berth at Shelter Bay Marina where we were quite happy to escape the monkeys, the Pac Man terrorizing radar, and Zeus vengefully filling the skies with thunder and lightning.