Saturday morning finds us waiting for the weather as after blowing like a hooley from the north for the last week and a half since we arrived on this side of the Canal it is now almost millpond calm with a smattering of sea breeze from the south. Temptress is almost ready to depart – there is hardly room on board for any more tinned food, flour, pasta, rice or dried beans and pulses. We stocked up this morning with amongst other things two 1.75l bottles of gin and a similar amount of rum to add to that already in the drinks store plus 12 litres of UHT milk. Just kitchen roll, bleach (both of which I have forgotten to add to our over burden trolley on each of our treks into the supermarkets) and fresh provisions like eggs, cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables to add to our stores.
The San Filippe Market in the city centre proved a little gem for fresh unchilled locally produced veg but though we had been recommended the meat market by a local it was a challenge without the Spanish to buy much beyond whole chickens (we didn’t) or a loin of pork (we did and once home it smelt very “porky” so is now marinating for supper). The slabs of beef looked rather tired and just how do I request some mince or stewing steak? Plus, as everything was at (tropical) room temperature, I wondered how long it would keep? Judging by our porky purchase probably fine to buy and use immediately but not to stow in the fridge or icebox for a week or two. So the market for veg and the supermarket butcher for meat it will be.
Hopefully we’ll be almost self-sufficient for the next six months as the price of food is sky high in French Polynesian and that assumes there is any on the shelves as each island is dependent on the supply ship’s arrival. We may be able to purchase or barter for local fruit and vegetables but in case we can’t tins of peas, carrots, sweetcorn and spinach fill crates under the saloon table. We even have a sort of a list outlining where items are stored; behind sofa in forward port locker are tubs of Gatorade powder and packs of bread flour, the lockers below the sofa seating contain biscuits jars of coffee, teabags, cereals, dried fruit, lentils, pasta and more, the aft port lock behind the sofa back is stuffed with powdered milk and dried mushrooms plus yet more bags of flour. The mid-locker over the aft bunk is chock full of rice and dried beans. And everything is wrapped in ziplock bags or inside plastic boxes to either contain any weevils or prevent their spread as much as to keep things dry in the moist air at sea. Under the floor by the chart table is a storage box of tinned fish and corned beef, the bilge opposite it has things that come in jars like apple sauce (great on cereal when milk stocks are low as well as being one of your five a day!).
So now we wait. La Playita is not the best of anchorages, tourist boats and ferries to the local islands speed through in either direction causing horrendous wash that sets Temptress rocking and rolling at all hours of both day and night. The water is covered with a thin oily film precluding swimming and the local marina extorts US$50 per week to tie up your dinghy when going ashore though they do also take your rubbish at that price, shame they can’t also offer wifi. And Friday night from midnight until dawn sleep was hard to come by as somewhere ashore a night club thrummed out bass vibrations you could feel through your pillow.
Thursday night was pizza night so we had an opportunity to meet some of our fellow cruisers. It’s a real mixed community in the two anchorages either side of the Amador causeway here, most are just passing through on their way either to or from the Caribbean via the Canal and represent a wide number of nations – American, Canadian, French and Dutch as well as more than a handful of British flagged yachts and catamarans. There are a few who have been in Panama for several years or more and who always can be relied on to answer those “where can I find xx” questions.
The only event left on our social calendar is a Puddle Jump Party on Monday at Balboa YC at 10am. Temptress’ crew are indeed puddle jumpers, crossing the largest ocean on the planet – all 6,500 nautical miles of it – from East to West at around 6 knots (7mph) over the next few months. Organised by the magazine Latitude 38 they have speakers from the French Polynesian tourist board and several other countries that yachts like us may visit as they sail west toward Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere. Many of the islands are too small and too remote for mainstream tourists to arrive by cruise liner or airplane and the sailors crossing the Pacific each year represent a large part of their inward tourism. Though we may not represent big bucks in terms of revenue, the islanders pride themselves on the welcome they offer anyone who stops by, hence the party to kick off this season’s departures as the Pacific hurricane or cyclone season draws to a close. March and April are the months to depart from the west coast of the America’s heading for the Far East on the other side of the puddle.
Perhaps on Monday we may get some further insight into the routing options? Starting the first big jump of our Puddle Jump might be likened to rolling the dice at a casino – where will the ITCZ, better known as the Doldrums, be thinnest as we really don’t want begin by spending days with no wind and lots of squally rain? At what latitude will the South Equatorial Current be located? Its 05 – 1.5kt west going assistance will be essential for a fast passage to the Marquesas. And where can we pick up the favourable tradewinds that will enable Temptress to sail westwards? Likewise for wind should we go east or west of the tiny Isla Malpelo (250 nm off the Pacific coast of Columbia), then should we round the north of Galapagos group or pass by the south of these islands? Is the fact that last year had one of the strongest El Nino’s on record going to make any difference to where the trade winds can be found or to the current?
Reading the various cruising books like Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Guide or Michael Pocock’s Pacific Crossing Guide and others has addled our brains to the point of deciding we will simply head west (well actually south initially to escape the Gulf of Panama). For every book you read or person you talk to there is a different opinion so Monday’s information notwithstanding we plan to just go out there and sail as best we can the nearly four thousand nautical miles to the Marquesas. Once the party is over, we plan to complete our provisioning and begin the passage with the short hop to Las Perlas, a group of Panamanian islands a day sail or so south of Panama City where we can swim, clean off the city dirt and relax for a couple of days prior to heading out onto the “Puddle”.