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 Mar beach 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 Perlas which 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 Contadora
- Isla Chapala
- Isla Mogo Mogo
Up next we travel to La Playita and say goodbye to Wayne, Heather, and Michael.