Up and away we go, time to leave Las Perlas. We have a 45-mile journey back to the next anchorage, La Playita. It was eerily quiet, with flat, flat seas and a strange haze all around us. Our wind indicator pointed to our location which meant we had no sails up. But, with 2000 RPM’s we were averaging 7 knots of boat speed.
Eerily still and hazy on the way to La Playita.
A small pod of 5-6 dolphins came to play with us for a while. They did not stay long on our journey, but they made a big impression.
Dolphins swam with us on the way to La Playita
I took this picture of my reflection in the water while we were underway, that is how still the water was on this trip. I am laying down on the tramp, you can see the mast behind me. Pretty cool.
My reflection on the water while underway.
We were all enjoying the large amount of wildlife around us, tons of birds, dolphins, sting rays, turtles, fish, and whales.
Heather enjoying the wildlife in the Pacific.
As we approached La Playita, we were accosted by huge cargo ships, car transports, and mega yachts. The commercial vessels are waiting to transit the canal or they just transited the canal. And evidently, La Playita is home to many, many mega sport fishing boats and mega yachts.
Large cargo ships & yachts in La Playita anchorage.
There is a beautiful view of Panama City as you approach and leave the La Playita anchorage. Bottom photo is La Playita anchorage.
View of Panama City and La Playita on the bottom
There was no wind when we arrived to the La Playita anchorage so all of the boats were facing every which way. Great! We found a spot close to a few familiar boats and dropped the hook.
We enjoyed a little leisure time, each doing our best to cool off as it was stifling hot with the lack of wind. Not getting much relief, we headed to shore to grab some lunch.
On the way to the dinghy dock, we saw Barry from “White Shadow” who told us which restaurant had the best wifi. Now we have a destination, which is always good. We easily found the dinghy dock, unloaded, and went on our way. I stopped by the marina office to pay the dinghy dock fee ($50 per week-OUCH) and met the others down the road.
We walked by a mini market, Abernathy (chandlery), and a few tourist traps before we found the main road. There is a row of restaurants, but we headed toward a pizza place called La Eskinita, where we enjoyed a cool breeze while overlooking the marina.
We did a little window shopping as there are tons of tourist stores, found a great ice cream parlor and a café with decent wifi. All the important things in life. We ran into Johanna from “Iriss” and she showed us another place with decent wifi called Hacienda.
We all have our vices.
It was late in the day when we headed back to the boat. On our way, we stopped by “Kokopeli” (Brian and Mizzy) who were hosting “Nomad” (Tom and Susan) for sundowners. We chatted a bit and headed on. We had not seen these boats since Portobello.
Since we ate so late in the day, we were not hungry for dinner, so we served cheese and crackers and left-over pizza. It was a rolly night as the fishing boats, tankers, and pangas go by at crazy fast speeds.
The next morning, Heather, Michael, and Wayne packed. It was time for them to head back to the states. We transferred Heather’s great photos from her camera to our phones, made breakfast, and chatted until we had to make our way to shore. Omar, the taxi driver who picked up Wayne would pick up our group and take them to Tocumen airport. It has been an amazing journey and we were thrilled to have them on Sugar Shack. Always sad to say “goodbye.”
Matt and I wandered around the little town to get the “lay of the land”, headed back to the boat, did some laundry and tried to stay cool as it was a hot one.
We had a full boat with 7 people and needed to take them to an island. So, we decided to head toward Archipielago de las Perlas. The Pearl Islands is a group of 200 or more islands and islets lying about 30 miles off the Pacific coast of Panama in the Gulf of Panama.
The weather report showed it being a downwind sail for this 40-mile journey, but Mother Nature had something else in mind. We started with the wind coming from 90-120 degrees at 15-18 knots. So, we put up full jib and main sails which gave us 5-6 knots of boat speed. An hour later, the wind shifted and came from 120-180 degrees at 12-15 knots, which is a great kite run. So, we hoisted up “Big Bertha” (our large spinnaker), brought in the jib and flew the main and spin for a few hours.
Big Bertha makes a splash with our friends.
On the way, we spotted a few whale spouts. We thought they were dolphins at first, but the giant water spout was a dead giveaway. Unfortunately, they were too far away for us to capture on film.
The wind died down again and we had to take Bertha down and motor sail with just the jib. We arrived at Isla Contadora which is the most developed island in the Archipielago de las Perlas. It has an airport, ferry dock, desalination plant, power plant, and eateries. Evidently, Panamanians come here to holiday.
We picked up one of the moorings, set out our boat toys and enjoyed the day. We had lots of entertainment including incoming and outgoing planes, skydivers, and a helicopter landing on a yacht. Evidently, we picked up a mooring right under the flight path so it gave us a great view (almost as good as St. Barths). Our neighbor, Samara, a 75’ power cat had a helicopter on its stern. The helicopter arrived in the morning and left in the evening – delivering various guests.
Samara yacht has its own helicopter
After several days on the boat, we decided to take everyone to shore for a little exploring. We have to step foot on at least a few islands in the Las Perlas chain. There is a long sandy beach that needed to be walked on and a bar with our name on it. Without planning, Stacy, Heather and I managed to color coordinate with each other (and a flowering plant). We stopped in for some cold beverages at the Villa Condessa del Marbeach bar and enjoyed some super-fast wifi.
Image: Top left Sugar Shack with approaching plane; Sugar Shack in the background with our brand in the sand; Middle: Stacy, Heather, and I; Bottom: Stacy and Gene below a large mountain home, and Heather and Michael on a rock in front of Sugar Shack.
Isla Chapera is a neighboring island in Las Perlas with a bit of a checkered past. Click the Isla Chapera link to find out why. We decided to explore it so we packed a cooler and made the 1-mile journey in Sweetie to the next island. It was a stunning landscape with the beach, tall rocky mountains, and huge trees. There was this amazing rock that had a beautiful display of layers of stratigraphy.
IMAGE: Top: Stacy, me, and Heather with Matt on top of the rock and Wayne and Michael on the right; Middle: Heather, Matt, and Michael enjoying the water; Bottom: Matt conquering the rock and playing hide and seek.
Isla Chapala in Las Perlas
We walked around the corner of the island on the rocks before heading back to the beach area. It was really pretty to see the changes in the rock from years, probably decades, of being in and out of the water. The tides rise 5 meters (yep, 25’) daily. Pretty amaze balls. We encountered two fisherman who brought back their fishing net to the beach to unload the fish into their fishing well. In 15 minutes they caught dozens of these large orange fish – do you know what they are called?
After returning to the boat, Matt put out the SUP boards, floaties, and Peggy Sue. And it was time to play! I shared my prior experience of trying to mount Peggy Sue which was challenging to say the least. She is slippery when wet. Being the brave one, Stacy went first. After two attempts and fails, I went, and failed. Finally, Heather decided to show us how it’s done.
Not to be outdone, Stacy and I decided we needed to get on with Heather. Stacy hopped on and toppled everyone over. Heather got on again first, then I joined her. Now, all we need to do is add Stacy. Unfortunately, her foot slipped and we all went in the water. Rinse, repeat. Heather, first, then Stacy, then me last and SUCCESS!
It was incredibly funny trying to get on Peggy Sue. In fact, it was so hilarious that we forgot just how cold the Pacific water was – much colder than the Atlantic at 72◦. We wore ourselves out, enjoyed the sun.
Matt enjoying some down time.
A tasty pulled pork dinner with homemade buns and a night of dominoes.
We had planned to leave the next day to either head to either the other side of this island or a different island within the Las Perlas chain. But, that was after everyone woke up, had breakfast, and enjoyed a leisurely morning. However, around 0630, a fishing boat came by screaming “hola, hola, hola.” So, I went outside to see what he wanted. He told me that we were in the middle of the flight path and had to move in 15 minutes. I tried to tell him in Spanish that everyone was sleeping and we would move as soon as we could. After all we had been here for 2.5 days already and didn’t have a problem.
A few hours later, another official looking boat came up with a super nice woman named “Adrian.” She was incredibly kind and so pleasant! She asked us to move as soon as we could, in English, and informed us that their largest island transit plane was due to arrive soon. She also said that most of the moorings are owned by home owners who use them on the weekends. As we were chatting, a military boat with 3-armed militia came up and “encouraged” us to move. Ok, ok, we got it!
Military and Adrian trying to get Sugar Shack to move
We pulled up anchor and were escorted, by the military boat to another mooring. 45 minutes later a pretty large mega yacht started hovering around us. Humph. After about 30 minutes, they grabbed the mooring next to us. Another 30 minutes later, their dinghy came over and informed us that we are on their mooring ball. Drat, what are the odds! They were very pleasant about it and let us finish breakfast before we moved again. In our defense, the moorings are not marked “private” nor did they have names written on them.
So, we picked up anchor and moved to the other side of Isla Contadora. It so happens to be the other side of the airstrip. However, we anchored off to the side of the flight path this time. We made our way to shore where there was a lot of activity. A hotel sits atop the cliff and overlooks the beach below. We learned that they were hosting a jump fest called Pepe’s Island Boogie. where you could jump out of a plane and land on the beach for $300. That explains all the jumpers that fell from the sky every few hours – they were extraordinary to watch! We walked around the The Point Hotel, had some beverages and watched the jumpers.
Of course, the boys had to chat it up with the jumper that landed as we were pulling Sweetie up the beach. Evidently, only the organizers or instructors could land on this beach as it was a challenging descent. Everyone else landed on the next beach over.
Michael and Wayne chatting with skydiving instructor
IMAGE COLLAGE: Top: Isla Contadora w/ Isla Chapera and Peggy Sue behind Sugar Shack. Middle: Group Photo: Wayne, Stacy, Gene, me, Matt, Heather, Michael and Heather enjoying the princess seat. Bottom: Stacy and Gene at bow and Stacy and I w/ jello shots.
Isla Contradora exploration
It was time to send Stacy and Gene off. They hopped on the Ferry Las Perlaswhich will take them back to Panama City where they will stay in luxury at the new W Hotel and then fly out of Panama City the next day.
After they left, we motored to a anchorage between Isla Mogo Mogo and Isla Chapera. It is rumored that the TV show Survivor filmed on these islands a few years ago. The rest of the day, we took it easy, had pork chops and spicy corn for dinner and called it an early night. It was a quiet anchorage, but a wee bit hot at night when the wind died.
After they left, we motored to an anchorage between Isla Mogo Mogo and Isla Chapera. It is rumored that the TV show Survivor filmed on these islands a few years ago. The rest of the day, we took it easy, had pork chops and spicy corn for dinner and called it an early night. It was a quiet anchorage, but a wee bit hot at night when the wind died.
Michael enjoying a cool breeze under Sugar Shack
Las Perlas Islands Visited:
Isla Mogo Mogo
Up next we travel to La Playita and say goodbye to Wayne, Heather, and Michael.
After about 2 hours and lunch at Gamboa (in Lake Gatun), we started toward the Pedro Miguel lock. While on the way, we passed what looked like a giant hotel resort, but reality it is the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center which was founded with the purpose of increasing and sharing knowledge about the past, present and future of tropical ecosystems and their relevance to human welfare.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Center
As we neared Pedro Miguel, we rafted with “Una Mas” again and followed “Mi Panga” into the 4th lock. This time, “Mi Panga” was close to the wall (starboard), “Una Mas” rafted to them, and we were on the other side of “Una Mas.” We were three boats wide and had NO port lines up to the port wall. It was a struggle with huge winds and an outgoing tide that was pushing us toward the forward gate. At one point, Sugar Shack almost squished “Uno Mas” between us and “Mi Panga” as our bow tried to go in front of them. Luckily we had tons of fenders out and there was not a scratch on either boat.
Note: The current pushes you back as you go through locks 1-3 but they push you forward in locks 4-6. They change somewhere in the middle of Lake Gatun.
A tug boat came in behind us and the large orange tanker came in behind the tug. This time, “Mi Panga’s” line handlers had to release or give slack on the starboard blue lines (instead of taking slack in). “Sugar Shack” and “Uno Mas” only had to manage the steerage to keep the boats in line.
Nobody was happy about this rafting situation and evidently, they were not supposed to have us do this. All rafting is to take place as you enter the locks, not once inside.
Three boats wide with only one side tie to Mi Panga – YIKES
IMAGE: Top shows our solar panels and boom super close to tug’s bow, Middle Matt and I at Tug’s logo, Bottom two are tug workers and tug logo.
Lock 4, three wide, with tug and tanker behind us
Moving from lock 4 to lock 5, “Una Mas” untied from “Mi Panga” and Sugar Shack untied from “Una Mas.” We all made our way to lock 5 with all lines on board. Locks 4 and 5 are not connected to each other.
We passed a super cool “welcome sign” on the wall of the canal.
Welcome to Panama Canal sign on canal wall.
We had to raft up to “Una Mas” again before we entered the 5th lock. At this point it has become a non-event, easy peasy.
Rafted to Uno Mas in Locks
This time, in lock 5, “Mi Panga” rafted with the tug at the front of the lock, then “Una Mas” and Sugar Shack were center chambered, then the large orange tanker came up to our stern.
Here is an example of one of the panama canal gates (there are two of these on each side that close behind all of the boats)
Panama Canal gate (blue/green area)
IMAGE: This collage is a combination of locks. Top 3 images are lock 5 with “Mi Panga” tied to tug and orange tanker behind us. Bottom image is lock 4.
Lock 4, tied 3 boats wide with tug and tanker behind us
Pull lines up, cleat, release slack, close gates, release water, move forward, lock 6. The last three chambers did not have the measuring gauge on the walls so I could not note the number of feet we fell.
As we moved forward we saw a group of cars that are used to move the large cargo ships. Their lines are secured by these cars as opposed to line handlers.
We so badly wanted to say “Yeah we are in the Pacific” but technically we were still in the canal channel. So, instead we screamed “Yeah, we transited the Panama Canal.” This is a shot of the last lock as we are entering the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.
Last lock releasing us into the Pacific side of the canal
Matt was in charge of music so for each lock he played a rockin tune at full blast for all to enjoy. We had everyone from our advisors, to the tug folks, and “Mi Panga” singing along.
“So long, Farewell, ” played on Lock 1:
“I’m on a Boat” jammed in Lock 2
“Welcome to the Jungle” blared in Lock 3
“Days like these” played in Lock 4
“California” rocked the house in Lock 5
“Celebration” blasted in Lock 6
We had hoped to find Van Halen’s “Panama” but could not down load it in time. Everyone chipped in to help with the 125′ lines – they were fun to man handle.
After we came out of the canal and were pretty close to the Balboa Yacht club, we saw the famous Bridge of Americas. The Bridge of the Americas is a road bridge in Panama, which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It was completed in 1962 at a cost of $20 million, connecting the north and south American land masses.
Bridge of Americas
After we removed the lines that had us rafted to “Uno Mas,” we each motored down the canal channel toward Balboa Yacht Club where we would stay for the night. It was a short motor, maybe 45-60 minutes. Our agent had arranged a mooring for us, so we just hailed the Balboa Yacht Club water taxi when we arrived. Within 10 minutes, the pilot boat came to pick up Francisco and another 5 minutes had the water taxi on our stern.
The water taxi assisted with a mooring and then came back to pickup the lines and fenders to give back to our agent, Erick. Sweet, the boat is getting less cluttered. We hailed our friends on “Uno Mas” as we had planned to party, party, party. Unfortunately, the long day and all the prep wore most of them out so they were in for the night. However, Gene and Stacy were ready to play. Matt went to pick them up and they joined us for a champagne and jello shot celebration.
IMAGE: Wayne, me, Matt, Heather, and Michael Sugar Shack Panama Canal Transit Crew.
Sugar Shack Crew celebrating a successful voyage
Stacy and Gene join Sugar Shack in our celebrations.
Celebrating a Successful Transit.
“Uno Mas” was planning on hanging out at the Balboa Yacht Club, so we had made arrangements to take Stacy and Gene on our boat. We picked them up early the next morning as we had a 40+ mile sail to Las Perlas Islands. It was a crowded boat with 7 people: Matt and I, Heather and Michael, Wayne, Stacy and Gene.
35-40 boats transit each day
10 boats transit the new locks each day
The Neo Panamax
New ship for the new locks are 1200’ long, 106’ wide and carry 40,800 containers.
Require 3 pilots on board
Sugar Shack crew: Matt, Christine, Wayne, Heather, Michael, Francisco (pilot), and trainee who was on our boat for 2 locks.