Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Isla Coiba: Lost Fish, Saved Bird, Bashing In the Rain and A Good Day

We have made our way from Islas Secas to the southeast end of Isla Coiba with an overnight stop in Islas Contreras, a total sailing distance of 55 nautical miles. No big event or story to tell, just a lot of little ones.

The last night that we were anchored off Islas Secas, a totally dark fishing boat appeared in the gloomy evening light a little more than a quarter mile off our stern. It didn't seem to be doing anything, just sitting there. Watching us? We were suspicious and considered our options; stay put and take our chances, head out to sea or move to an anchorage close to a small, nearly deserted resort in the next cove over. We decided to trust that the fishermen were fishing and stayed put. The fisherman left sometime during the night and all was well.

Renee put out her fishing lines when we left the Secas and it wasn't long until she hooked a nice skipjack tuna. Unfortunately, I used a line that was too thick and stiff to hang the fish over the stern to bleed out and its tail slipped through the knot and we lost the fish. I felt terrible for having killed it and then not eaten it, but Renee reminded me that something in the sea would make a nice meal of it. Still, I felt a smudge on my karma. A couple of hours later, a bird went after the lure and got hooked. I worked as quickly as I could to haul the line in and try to save the bird, but it took a while, the bird either cartwheeling on the surface or dragged below it time after time. I was sure it had drowned and my karmic smudge would become darker. Thankfully, the bird was miraculously still alive when I pulled it out of the water, not badly injured and I was able to cut off the barbed end of the hook and pull it out of the bird's wing. The bird bit me as I let it go, w
hich seemed fair enough, and though in shock and worse for the wear, seemed like it had a good chance of recovering from its frightful ordeal. I hope it did.

Much of the sail from Islas Secas to Islas Contreras was in very heavy rain sometimes with visibility of less than half a mile. We saw a few commercial fishing boats before the rain obscured them. Radar doesn't work very well in heavy rain even after tweaking the controls; we couldn't pick up any of the commercial boats as targets on the screen. Not comforting. When the rain stopped for a while, we saw two sport fishing boats, one towing the other. I steered a course to avoid them, but they kept turning to intercept me. I figured they needed help, so I slowed down and let them get within yelling distance. They were lost and asked to be pointed in the direction of Islas Secas. I yelled a compass bearing to them in Spanish, but I guess they didn't know how to use a compass as they asked me to point in the right direction. They set out where I indicated. I hope they made it.

The Islas Contreras anchorage was nothing special. In rained like crazy though, through the evening, night and morning. By midday, I was tired of sitting around, the rain had eased somewhat, so we decided to set out for the north end of Isla Coiba, about 13 nm away. Renee put out her fishing lines right when we left and within five minutes had another skipjack tuna hooked. I was much more careful this time and didn't lose the fish.

The trip to Coiba was a real basher. We had to motor west against 20-25 knot headwinds and steep chop for a couple of hours before we could turn south and get some relief. The boat pounded like crazy and we could barely keep up five knots of speed. It rained hard the whole way and I was soaked to skin and cold by the time we arrived at the Coiba anchorage. One good thing about running the engines is that they make hot water. So, once we were anchored, I had a nice hot shower, put a sweatshirt and pants and poured myself a glass of Scotch. This was not something I expected to do in Panama!

The anchorage at the north end of Coiba was not good. The west running swell wrapped around the point of the cove right into the anchorage, the waves then reflecting of the beach to roll us in both directions. It was really uncomfortable on a catamaran; it would have been horrible in a monohull. The swell didn't make for good night's sleep.

Thankfully, the weather cleared a bit in the morning and we departed the rolly anchorage right after breakfast. Renee put her lines in the water again and about 30 minutes after we left she hooked a beautiful 10-plus pound dorado (mahi-mahi). We landed it expertly, kept it on the boat and now have a nice stock of filets in the fridge and freezer.

We stopped for a few hours and anchored off pretty little Granito de Oro (Grain of Gold), a tiny islet with a beautiful sandy beach, small grove of trees at its center and surrounded by coral and rock reefs. I kayaked over to the island, took a look around, did a little snorkeling and some yoga on the beach while Renee cleaned up the boat from the fish butchery. It was a very nice extended lunch stop.

We are anchored now in Bahia Damas, a large bay at the south end of Coiba. The shoreline is thick jungle and we can hear the howler monkeys in the trees. It is a very nice spot and we're looking forward to exploring tomorrow. We were able to sail most of the way here downwind on the Code 0 in a mixture of partly cloudy sunshine, overcast skies and rain, which was thankfully limited to only short periods of light misting. Along the way we got to see a large humpback whale breaching high out of the water about a mile ahead of us. Tonight we enjoyed a delicious dinner of fresh grilled dorado filets over rice and vegetables with a garlic-butter-lemon-herb sauce thanks to Renee's fish catching skills and the boat's motivated chef. It was a good day.