COZUMEL – PANAMA – JULY 2006

    With Chris, Kehrer, Tawa, and everyone from the pink house waving us off, Jerry, Conceicao, and
    I set sail for Puerto Aventuras on a beautiful afternoon, beam reaching with a nice breeze.  The
    plan was to make it there in time for fuel and dinner and then be back underway for an overnight
    run to Chincharro Reef.  Our timing was looking great until we pulled up to the fuel dock to find out
    that the guy who runs the fuel dock had left early for the day and wouldn’t return until the next
    morning.  Oh well, the dinner at Richard’s on the waterfront was good and a good night of sleep at
    the fuel dock really wasn’t that bad.

    The 110 mile run to Chincharro started out as a slow motor run, but quickly became a nice reach
    with boat speed around 8kts most of the way.  We slipped in just behind Cayo Norte and dropped
    anchor in about 6 feet of crystal clear water with sand bottom.  After a short rest, Conceicao and I
    were off in the dingy for some snorkeling on the reef.  Awesome is the only way to describe it!  We
    were in about 12 ft of water with coral heads all around us that would in some cases rise to the
    surface.  It was amazing the amount of brightly colored coral and fish in this place.  This was
    definitely some of the best snorkeling either of us had ever encountered.  Our snorkeling was cut
    short when a Mexican patrol boat showed up and wanted to check out Free Spirit and all of our
    paperwork.  Four of these guys boarded us, weapons and all, while the other circled around.  At
    first they really seemed unhappy to see us there, not one smile.  They looked over our papers
    and then did a complete new set giving us permission to be at Chincharro, which we felt as though
    we already had.  Two of the guys came in and conducted a search of the boat looking for guns
    and drugs, which I assured them we didn’t have.  Not finding anything, they finally, after a lot of
    work on our part, loosened up and enjoyed a couple of ice cold cervezas around the cockpit table
    with us.  Before long, they were even ready to point us in the right direction for some more great
    snorkeling.

    We left Chincharro, hard on the wind just as we expected.  In order to get to Panama, you have to
    be prepared to fight the easterly trade winds.  I was not looking forward to this part of the trip, 800
    miles, a large part of which is to windward.  It didn’t take long to figure out that we were aiming
    straight for the Bay Islands of Honduras, which we quickly decided was not such a bad thing.  I had
    always heard good things about Roatan and the surrounding islands, so the decision was made, if
    the wind took us there, then so be it, we’ll go.  Sure enough, we continued racing along towards
    Honduras, not making much easterly headway.  The wind continued to build along with the seas to
    the point that it was just plain rough.  We were in confused seas to begin with and now they were
    not only confused but also growing fast.  Before dark we had to reef the main as the wind was now
    headed above 25 kts which lasted throughout the night.  Jerry found it difficult to sleep in these
    conditions so he just helped pretty much all night with the sailing.  We took a heavy pounding most
    of the way to Guanaja, Honduras where we decided to stop over, rest and do some good
    snorkeling.  We chose this island over Roatan because we were able to easily sail there and it was
    the farthest east which is the way we were headed trying to get to Panama.  It turned out to be
    more great snorkeling and a beautiful cove to anchor in for a good night of rest.  We were going
    to stay the next day but with a very unusual break in the prevailing wind, we pulled anchor and
    headed out, sailing very nicely right on course to the east.  This lasted all the way to the corner of
    Honduras where you turn to the south for the rest of the trip.  This was a huge break, as we really
    expected to be facing a strong and very nasty headwind and seas.  Really lucky break!

    After an easy day of sailing, we rounded the corner of Honduras and started sailing south toward
    Panama.  Once again, the wind started increasing just before dark, so we decided to go ahead
    and reef the main before it was completely dark out.  Good decision!  The wind continued
    increasing all night and we took another even worse pounding.  We ended up reefing the genoa
    and main as the wind increased to 30+ kts.  By now Jerry had his sea legs and I couldn’t keep him
    away from the helm.  With all the excitement and conditions as they were, I think he sailed almost
    the entire night, not really able to sleep even if he wanted to.  Throughout the night we dodged
    the nastiest looking thunderstorms as best we could.  They would show up very bright on the
    radar and you could see the lightning in the near distance.  We later met a couple that had been
    in this same weather not far from us that said they had seen 40+kts on several occasions through
    the night.  I’m sure that had we not dodged the worse cells that we would have seen the same.

    It was pretty obvious to me that a stopover and rest would be a very welcome site for the crew at
    this point.  With the island of San Andres, Columbia close by and just slightly offcourse, the
    decision was unanimous, stop and rest.  By early morning we came out of the howling weather and
    into the lee of San Andres.  Conceicao came out into the cockpit area with this huge smile on her
    face, as usual, and her first comment was “WOW”.  We couldn’t help but laugh after a reaction like
    this!  

    As we made our way into the anchorage near town, we were immediately met by a big Columbian
    guy who introduced himself as RAMBO. He turned out to be very friendly and helpful, as was
    everyone we met here.  We contacted an agent, Thomas Livingston, to handle all of our
    paperwork with the Columbian authorities.  This was an elderly gentleman that was born and
    raised here, respected by everyone on the island, and full of great stories and advise for us.  
    What a wonderful man.  He told us all about his life on the island as a kid and sea stories from his
    30 years working at sea.  He had traveled the world as a seaman and was a wealth of knowledge.  
    He explained that his world travels while working at sea, along with his love for reading, was how
    he received his education rather than the traditional method of formal schooling. No doubt this
    worked for him.  His great grandfather built the first Baptist church in San Andres.

    The waves across the reef offshore of us must have been around 15ft.  The water was crystal
    clear, similar to Cozumel, with at least a dozen different shades of blue when looking across the
    bay towards the reef.  We anchored in the lee of a small offshore island near the outer reef which
    was absolutely the perfect spot.  The swimming here was great.  We were able to easily take the
    dinghy in for fresh seafood dinner at the local waterfront restaurant in the main harbor. Fresh
    grouper and lobster helped us in our regrouping efforts here.  Afterwards, I of course found my ice
    cream shop as we walked the town.  Conceicao couldn’t believe all the quality shopping available
    on the island.  This was however a main tourist island for the people of mainland Columbia and
    the island was full of Columbian tourists.  We were amazed at how friendly the people were and
    how welcome they made us feel on the island.  After 2 nights on the island, everyone was ready to
    finish the voyage to Panama.  The 190 mile run into Bocas del Toro was pleasant and as we
    entered the Bocas Channel heading towards the marina, we were met by Dick and Theresa
    paddling rented kayaks waving us in.  WELCOME TO PANAMA.