Weather for our stay in Cartagena had been pretty mixed with thunder storms and rain but she left the darkest day for our departure. We left under foreboding skies, we heard the thunder and saw the lightning but nonetheless it was time to leave and we did.
We motored the first twelve hours in the sort of windless conditions you get around these unsettling thunder storms. We then had a day and a half of gentle sailing albeit very overcast and sunglasses were not required. We did have the odd squall coming through and whilst we reduced sail and indeed, were sailing quite nicely, when one squall hit 36 knots the skipper thought the bimini was going to take off. We had planned for three nights at sea but with all the wind going up and down and the motoring (we always make less progress motoring than sailing) it became obvious that we wouldn’t make Shelter Bay marina (SBM) before sunset on the fourth day. John (SBM manager) had given us extensive pre arrival information including advice that with the reefs and shallows on the entrance coming into the marina in darkness was not recommended. Before entering the breakwater into the Panama canal shipping lane, the skipper radioed Cristobal Signal for permission to enter the shipping lane ahead of proceeding to the Flats to safely anchor up for the night. We got the anchor down at 23.55 so it was three nights at sea after all.
The next morning we leisurely got Amelie ready for tying up to the dock in SBM, pumping up the inflatable fenders, getting the lines ready for mooring and generally making the deck tidy.
We were greeted in SBM by Maurice and Deuwke, Atmos having been there a month already. Unfortunately they are sorting out electrical problems caused by a lightning near strike. Shortly afterwards Leo and Karin arrived to welcome us in. As it says on the sign at the bar, It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so we celebrated in the cockpit.
Leo had warned us that the formalities for entry into Panama were not straightforward and the very friendly immigration officer, Mary, would only grant us 72 hour entry stamps. The following day from 9am to 6pm, was spent by Stephen having to got to Colon. First the Port Captain’s office to get the entry formalities filled out and then to the cruising permit administration office. It took six hours before Stephen was presented with our cruising permit. It was explained that the Colon office had no authority, everything had to be copied to Panama City and it took forever to get their say so.
There was still one final hurdle, which is the 90 day visa but Mary doesn’t work at the weekend so that had to wait until Monday morning. The whole exercise relieved us of 400$ plus a 60$ taxi fare, some countries just don’t make it easy.
This is our second time in SBM and we wrote about that in our OWR blog, we won’t repeat ourselves.
Our reason for stopping at SBM before heading off to Bocas del Toros was to fix the watermaker which needed a replacement salinity control which had broken off at it’s fitting to the copper tubing. Kate at Oyster Marine did a great job in sending off the part from the UK on the Friday and delivered to Amelie the following Wednesday having cleared the Panama customs. That afternoon Amelie’s watermaker was fully functional once more.
We did enjoy one aspect of SBM because of it’s unique location on the edge of a pristine rainforest. We did a walk with Leo and Karin through the forest spotting and hearing Howler monkeys, various birds of prey, vultures and a very industrious line of Leaf Cutting ants. We couldn’t but help wonder why they didn’t take leaves closer to whatever their destination. The walk took us to an unspoilt beach called Playa del Diablo (Devil Beach) from where we spotted the big ships anchored outside the Colon breakwater awaiting their passage through the canal.
Naturally we had a cigar crisis and Stephen was informed that the Free Zone would have cigars. Karin was looking for a new cheap supply of cigarettes and our newly made friends, Michael and Anne from S/Y Nimue, wine. We used a local lady who had the required car pass to get us into the duty free zone and were amazed at what we found. Some 3,500 shops selling obviously liquor and tobacco but also electronic goods, clothes and even work tools. Our guide took Stephen to her choice of tobacconist and he was in heaven. Cuban cigars at around one-fifth of normal duty paid prices…….the cigar crisis was over. Karin also did well with cigarettes at 2$ a packet, whilst Michael and Anne found a ready supply of their chosen wine at 5$ a bottle. Everyone was happy.
Meanwhile Leo and Debbie were doing the grocery shopping! When we return in January, we will be going back to the free zone but we believe there will be more than cigars being bought!
We applied for our US visa online and have our appointments in the new year at the American Embassy in Panama City.
Unlike previous years we are spending Christmas alone in Bocas del Toros, indulging in the miniature Christmas puddings given to us by Clive and Ju, way back in March. Stephen being the romantic that he is, has stored some Amarone ( a wine that we enjoyed in Rome on our honeymoon) to savour over the festive period.
Dock parties with Bubbles, Babe, Atmos & Nimue all done, shopping done and watermaker fixed - time to head off to Bocas.
Wishing all our readers a Very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year we’ll be in touch in 2016.