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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Off like a herd of turtles

That's how John described our Panama City departure Saturday morning as we slowly sailed out of La Playita bound for the Perlas islands (yet again). Four similarly destined sail boats motored by us as we drifted under main and jib past an enormous tuna boat (complete with helicopter on the bow), container ships, and a mysterious barge with what appeared to be a small industrial city on its deck. We even had our photo taken by a crew member on one of the smaller ships. By mid-morning we could set the spinnaker, but were still only making 1.5 - 3 kts of speed. Just before noon something made John decide to douse the chute and within 15 minutes we were moving along with a nice breeze at 5-6 kts.

The wind was beginning to die by 2 PM when we were 25 nm out of Panama City with another 15 nm to go. I had been keeping an eye on a panga in the distance without paying close attention to it. It was unusual in that it appeared to be full of figures wearing yellow and neon orange. I imagined it might be a group of tourists or marine researchers because it seemed to stop or drift now and then. It slowly crossed our bow, but still at some distance away. As we drew closer to pass it on our starboard side, I got the binoculars out for a better look. Uh oh - the panga was stopped, the people were all wearing life jackets, the outboard motor cover was off (always a bad sign), and two guys were leaning over the motor trying to get it going again. A minute later I could see a man waving at us, and I called John up on deck for a look.

To divert to the panga we started the engine, rolled up the jib, and dropped the staysail. When we got close enough to speak to them, they signalled for a screwdriver. "Cruce?" (cross) John asked. No, "Plano" (flat) was the reply. I circled the panga while John dug out his toolbox to find what they needed. He searched for the cheap screwdrivers that we planned to use as trade items in the South Pacific, forgetting that we'd already stowed those in the "trade bag" deep in a locker under our berth. He came back on deck with a good one, handed it off to me, and directed me to the bow. "Which side?" I asked. "The END of the bow!" So I squeezed in front of the jib furler to get to the very front of the bow pulpit and John aimed for the stern of the panga. When he got close enough I leaned out as far as I could and a man in the panga grabbed the tool. But instead of drifting apart in the breeze like John thought we would, there was a brief moment when we continued making way towards the panga. I shouted "Push!", then remembered "Empuje" on every shop door, and two guys managed to give us a shove as John got Nakia back under control.

We indicated to them that we would wait while they made the repair, and John kept Nakia close by. The panga was a local taxi service loaded down with 10-15 men, women, and children, with one person using a bucket to bail water that had sloshed in over the low stern. It didn't take long for the driver to get the motor started, and it was then that I noticed a woman crying from fear or maybe with relief. They waved for us to come get the screw driver but John thought, "Now there's a guy who really needs a screw driver," and told them to keep it as a gift. There were smiles, thumbs up, and waves at this, and then they roared off towards the village of Pedro Gonzalez. With not another boat in sight for miles around we were happy to have been passing by that way!

We motored the rest of the afternoon to Isla Bayoneta, arrived half an hour before sunset, jumped in for a refreshing swim, ate dinner, went to bed, and were promptly attacked by hungry no-see-ums. This morning we moved farther out into the channel (away from the mangrove lined shore) to try to escape them. The weather has been completely overcast, with rain, lightning, and thunder over the mainland in the distance. I think the wet season has started right on time.

Linda and John