Thursday, October 13, 2016

Isla Parida: City of David, Threading the Needle Through Breakers

Yesterday we headed back downriver from Pedrigal and out to sea to resume our Panama island cruise.

The day prior we took a taxi into the nearby city of David to take care of business requiring a decent Internet connection and visit the grocery store to replenish perishables. David is the second or third largest city in Panama, depending on the reference, with a population of 140,000. We only visited the center of town, but it seems like a fairly clean, safe city but other than having lots of places to shop, not very interesting architecturally, historically or otherwise. I did talk way into getting the wifi code at the historic Hotel Gran Nacional, which was built in 1945 and, judging by the photos on the wall, has been visited by lots of American movie stars, particularly in the 1950-60's.

We raised anchor in Pedrigal at 10 a.m., about two hours before high tide so we could get over the couple of shallow spots along the way. The trip down river was uneventful, under an overcast sky and with periods rain, heavy at times. By the time we reached Boca Brava, the mouth of the estuary, the tide was ebbing with a decent current flowing out into the sea. Our cruising guide advises entering and leaving Boca Brava during slack water, explaining that "brava" means "strong anger". I realized that going out during an ebb flow was particularly not a good idea, as the current would be opposing the ocean swell and wind which causes tall, steep waves, but I decided to proceed anyway and survey the conditions. We could always turn around and head back in if it was too rough.

The breakers along the shallows each side of the Boca Brava channel were more numerous and bigger than when we had entered during a flood tide, but they appeared to be only along the sides, not ahead of us. The seas in the channel were a bit bouncy, but it looked like there was a clear path out so we proceeded onward.

As we motored along, plowing through the chop, the ebb current strengthened and the field of breakers expanded, encroaching upon the channel ahead of us. It was starting to look like we would have to turn around and wait out the tide, but then Renee and I both saw a relatively clear patch of water to port, a path between two patches of breakers and into safe water. We decided to go for it and I turned Intermezzo around 180 degrees on the crest of a wave to head past the clear patch so that we could turn back up to pass through with the bow angled into the waves rather than having them on the beam, a bad idea for a catamaran.

The waves in the channel were steep and close together, but most only about three feet high, with the occasional five footer. As we proceeded through the "clear patch", the predominant waves increased to a very steep five to seven feet, with near-breakers up to ten feet high. The wave pattern was quite turbulent and it was really weird to see a pyramid of a wave form in front of us, complete with three sloping sides and a point at the top. I called them "mountains" as I pointed them out to Renee.

I felt a bit apprehensive as we began our passage through the maelstrom, but then adrenaline and confidence gained from sailing a too small boat in too rough conditions as a kid kicked in and I started having fun. Intermezzo was handling the conditions well and the waves were far enough apart and easy enough to read for me to be able to pick a safe path over and through them, threading between breaking crests of the biggest waves. I was waving, smiling and saying "hello" to the white water as it rolled by us a boat length away on either or both sides and having a great time. Renee, not so much. She seemed much more reserved, concerned and her adrenaline had signaled to her that it was time to be afraid, not playtime. She seemed to relax a bit has she observed the amazing skill of the man at the helm and saw that, for him, these conditions were child's play. She appeared visibly relieved when we finally passed through all the rough stuff and back to normal sailing and threw herself upon me in gratitude for saving her life. (Well, not really, but as the author of this blog I can embellish a little if I want to, right?)

We anchored in a small cove at the northeast tip of Isla Parida for the night and enjoyed a dinner concocted of sautéed cabbage and vegetables, eggs and lightly fried leftover brown rice. It was really tasty.

Today we are heading to a new island group about 20 miles away, Islas Secas, beginning a circuit of islands that will return us to where we can clear out of Panama at the end of the month and start heading back north. I'll outline our plans and how we arrived at them in the next blog post.

(In case you are wondering why I haven't posted photographs to accompany blog posts, it's because we only have slow satellite communication most of the time and when we have cell data service, it's not much faster and won't let allow me to connect my computer to the Internet through my phone. Next time I have a good Internet connection and the time, I'll catch up and post pictures to illustrate the narrative.)