Punta Mala is the last point to get around before entering Panama Bay, it is another one of those potentially difficult points to transit if not timed well. Some boats wait several days for a good weather window. We didn’t linger at the last couple of anchorages because we could see in the forecast an upcoming favorable window. We left Benao Cove at 4 am with 2 knots of current against us for a short time. We rounded Punta Mala at slack on a rising tide and a low wind prediction. The forecast was spot on for an easy transit.
We carried on the 80 nm to Vista Mar Marina and enjoyed our 3 night stay there. It was fun catching up with some friends and meeting some new ones. We splurged on dinner at the restaurant all 3 nights. A cab ride away, we were pretty excited to find a grocery store with lots of food items we haven’t seen in months.
We left Vista Mar and headed the 38 nm to the canal zone. We dodged dozens of anchored freighters and had to call on channel 16 to the Flamenco Signal Station to request admittance to the Panama Canal region. The signal station is the marine version of air traffic control. Due to the sheer volume of boats in the area, every vessel must report in and get permission to proceed to their destination. Our permission was granted to continue on to the La Playita anchorage. We anchored amongst 2 dozen boats and watched the huge freighters go by as they entered and exited the canal. It was a little rolly at times in the anchorage but not bad at all. We did move into the La Playita Marina for a few nights too. The tide swing in this area can be up to 16 feet, we haven’t seen that in a while.
Uber is widely used here and pretty inexpensive. We played tourist and rode the Hop on Hop off double decker bus. We wondered around Casco Viejo, the Old City, and explored the Panama Canal Museum, the shops, restaurants and churches. Panama was the first European settlement on the Pacific side, it was founded in 1519 by Pedrarias Davila. There is a real blend of old and new here. Modern Panama City has tons of skyscrapers and interesting architecture.
We checked out the Miraflor locks where we saw 2 freighters going through the canal. We are going to seem very small in the locks when its our turn.
Taboga Island is only 7 miles from the canal zone. It has a population of 1600 and the village of Las Flores was founded in 1515. Iglesia de San Pedro was built in 1550 and is the 2nd oldest church in the western hemisphere. During WWII the Americans had cannons placed at the top of the island to protect the Panama Canal in the event of a Japanese invasion. There are ferries that run from Panama City bringing passengers here for some beach time, a few restaurants and B&Bs. Golf carts and motorcycles are the mode of transportation here.
We are spending some time in the islands close to Panama City while we wait on our canal transit. We are set for the officials to “measure and inspect” the boat in a week and we think our transit will be scheduled within 10 days after that.
We were planning on a few weeks in the Las Perlas Archipelago, one of the highlight areas in Pacific Panama, but decided to change plans when we heard of a sailboat that was boarded by 4 men armed with guns and machetes. The boat was ransacked and even their dog was taken. Fortunately, there were just some minor injuries to the crew, but they were no doubt shaken by the experience. This is the 2nd attack in 6 weeks, and no one has been arrested yet. All the cruisers here are now avoiding the area. As a result of these piracy incidents, we have decided to come home a month sooner than originally planned.