Monday, January 28, 2008

Chagres River, Panama

Chagres River, Panama

January 22-28, 2008

N 09 17'44.2", W 079 58'47.3"

The last week and a half has been a mixture of about every emotion I have ever experienced. We originally intended on leaving the morning of my birthday, January 20th. As we pulled away from the dock with half a dozen other cruisers waving,wishing us well and singing happy birthday I was elated to finally be leaving the dock. No more than 30 minutes from the dock I began to notice the engine was running much too hot. After a quick call to the former owner we turned back to the marina to determine why the engine was overheating. I located a leak in the water pump and thankfully there was a replacement on board. The rest of my birthday was spent removing the old water pump and installing the new. Not a difficult job but one that did require a vise which I got access to the next morning courtesy of the marina. So after a 48 hour delay we were off again. During repairs, the kids were able to play Mexican Train Dominoes with about 20 other cruisers…a regular Sunday event.

It was a blustery day but our trip to the Chagres was a short hop so off we went. Leaving the Panama Canal breakwater surrounded by container ships makes one feel really small. As we cleared into the ocean it was apparent this was going to be a roller coaster ride. We were happily motoring along when the fuel filter warning light came on and the motor began to sputter. Down in the engine compartment I went and while rolling up and over 8-10 foot seas I drained and cleared the fuel filter and we were once again on our way.

No sooner did this happen than we lost the dinghy. We did not really lose it;I just did not tie a good enough knot. That special snowball knot I tied just melted away. On a short motor like this we were towing the dinghy. On longer passages the dinghy would be secured to the fore deck. Anyway, Sue took the helm and turned the boat and positioned us up wind from the dinghy and on our second pass I retrieved our wayward dinghy, tied a better knot, and we were off again. Neither of these events are any big deal; it is always just a little more stressful the first time. The cool part was that everybody did exactly what was needed without a lot of shouting etc. and I was very proud of the crew.

Amy faired the best of everyone in terms of the rough water. Marshall got sick but I have to say he was really amazing. He threw up without complaining once and just took it all in stride. Thankfully he didn't need help or comfort from anyone, because the rest of us were all trying to hold our own in terms of how our stomachs felt. In fact the anchor had barely hit bottom in the Chagres and Marshall was in the water swimming and having a great time. I think Sue and I were too stressed to be sick.

The Chagres River does not reveal its' treasures without a cost. The cost to cruisers is getting through the entrance. On a calm day it is tricky at best but on a blustery day it is nothing short of a roller coaster ride. The entrance is a due east approach between Lajas reef on the north and a shoal to the south. Vigilance is mandatory as are good charts and navigational equipment. After turning due east to head into the river and passing Lajas Reef to our port, the seas that had been building all day sent an unusually large wave that broke completely over s/vMima. Neither Mima nor any of the 4Wheelers was in any real danger but suffice it to say we were glad to arrive safely and that was enough excitement for one day. Look at the before and after photos of my office on board Mima.

We anchored in three different locations throughout the week and had a grand time. The beach at the entrance to the river was a blast to walk on and the kids had fun in the waves and collecting shells. Amy found her first shark tooth and some cool shells. Exploring in the jungle was really cool as well. The day after we got here my refrigeration system went down again. You know that brand new one I just had put in. Yikes,when will these problems end? After a frustrating 4-5 hours of trouble -shooting and no solution found, we decided we had plenty of provisions on board and we would just stay put and enjoy the river. So we just began eating what thawed first, we had a rather high protein diet for a few days. In retrospect it was absolutely the right decision. We were in a wonderful new place and if cruising teaches us anything we hope one of them is to be more flexible when life throws a curve ball. I think we lost one chicken but our loss was a gators' gain. It is their river after all.

No sooner had we entered the river than all of our senses were inundated by the fragrance of tropical trees in full bloom, the raucous calls of parrots, and the unmistakable roar of howler monkeys. This is the Central American jungle at it's' best and a wonderfully unique and protected place to anchor. Tributaries and waterways allowed for endless hours of exploring in the dinghy, deep into the jungle. The jungle canopy here is over50 feet high which means very little undergrowth making exploring on land also easy. Check out the picture of the canoe and paddle Sue and I found exploring one afternoon. This was a wonderfully romantic place for me and it reminded me again that one of the things that has always held Sue and I close over the years is a shared love for our natural environment.

The cacophony of sounds resonating from all the inhabitants is at once enticing and also maddening for amateur naturalists who long to not only hear, but also see the authors of this jungle symphony. Our last evening on the river as the sun was setting, we saw three species of toucans and hundreds of parrots while sitting on the bow of the boat (check out the bird/mammal list from the Chagres River and a few photos). The smallest of hummingbirds and antwrens, Violaceous Trogons and Blue-grey Tanagers, large Keel-billed Toucans and Mealy Parrots all provided us with non-stop aerial entertainment. Howler and Spider monkeys along with crocodiles, coati and even a Northern Tamandua (Google that one)entertained us as well.

We went spotlighting at night and although I got a hold of two crocodiles I was unsuccessful in keeping a hold on them, but I will keep trying (sorry Mom, I just can't help myself). We spent two days with the Grego family on the river sharing meals, trips to the beach and one croc hunting adventure. We are blessed to have met them and we certainly hope our paths cross again soon.

The trip back to Colon was much less exciting but just as rough. So now we are back in Colon tore-provision and get this &*#$ refrigerator fixed so we can head toward Portobello and the San Blas Islands. One of our cruising friends told us the definition of cruising is, "fixing your boat in exotic places". Well, I guess we are cruising then!


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