Hurry Up and Wait…pandemic passages

But I get ahead of myself again.  I intended to tell you how we arrived here, so off we go!

We’ve just reached another milestone for Happy Dance and her crew!  Seven years ago, we left the dock in Anacortes, Washington, setting sail for adventure and what an adventure it’s been.  Our first stop on that momentous Bon Voyage day was a favorite spot of ours on Lopez Island.  Today we’re floating at anchor in a new favorite called Bahia de Rosario, surrounded by black sand beaches, lush green forests, pelicans in trees, squawking parrots, and howler monkeys.  What a difference over fifteen thousand miles makes!

Along the way we’ve learned that sometimes leaving the dock is a simple affair, and sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, due to rough weather, opposing tides, mechanical problems, or just not being ready.  The thing that held us to the dock in Panama for two very expensive weeks was a new thing to all of us called the Coronavirus Pandemic.  Obviously, we’re not the only ones negatively impacted by the uncertainty of the world these days, and I hardly feel like our inconveniences are worthy of mention given what people are facing around the world.  Our problems have stemmed from border closings, travel restrictions, services being unavailable, and basically just learning to wait. 

It seems as though our timing has been off since our arrival into Panama.  We had scheduled our arrival based on information from one marina employee stating the tide would be high enough to launch Happy Dance, however it was a different story when we were standing in front of the person who would actually be doing the launching!  Long story short, we were not able to launch as planned and headed off to find a hotel while we waited for higher tides.

Four days later we launched with a couple of feet to spare, thankfully avoiding bouncing on the bottom or hitting any of the other obstacles in this less than perfect marina!  Once at the dock we worked through “the List” of chores pretty fast, then had to wait, and wait, for the daily March winds to calm a bit to be able to hoist the sails.

Happy Dance waiting to be launched

Finally, we were ready to go.  Wrong!  The virus had arrived in Panama and Panama had closed the doors.  The Panamanian President decreed that marine officials would not be in their offices ready to stamp papers and give us the magic exit Zarpe which we need to be able to leave the country.  The news continued to deteriorate as it did all over the world, with stores closing, buses and taxis not running, roadblocks between us and the Port offices, and a curfew imposed from 5pm to 5am.  For us it just meant that we had hurried up and now must wait, wait, wait, to see what decree came next and when we might be able to leave Panama.  Three weeks later we’re still waiting.

We heard some good news that we at least we wouldn’t be stopped from leaving the marina, so we motored Happy Dance to the fuel dock before 8am to be ready when they opened, and they finally showed up at 11am to fuel us.  Okay, NOW we’re off!  As we left the marina at noon it was a bit nerve wracking to see one of our fellow cruisers anchored just outside the break water being buffeted by the wind and waves because the marina wasn’t letting any boats enter.  In other words, once we crossed the breakwater, we were outcasts.  No worries…right?  Gulp!

Well, nothing ventured nothing gained.  The afternoon winds had kicked up, so we rolled out the genoa and had a lovely lively sail heading due south out of Panama Bay.  The wind was strong enough that even with a double reefed genoa out, we were making tracks.  Needless to say, it was fantastic after having been in the marina for so long, being blown against the dock and bouncing on the surge, to finally put a use to all that wind!  What a great sail.  Happy Dance and her crew were all doing the happy dance!

It seemed strange to be sailing south to get north, but we were heading toward Punta Malo, with the sun setting to starboard.  Thankfully Punta Malo wasn’t malo (bad) as we rounded the notoriously rough point, and we were then able to change course to due West.  As the daily winds subsided with a moonless dark night coming on, we furled the sails and motored to first light enjoying the phosphorus light show in our wake.  In the morning we hoisted the sails again making plenty of sail changes in the offshore gusty winds, completing the 150-mile passage in 24 hours.  We arrived at Ensenada de Naranjo on Isla Cebaco mid-day the next day, and as we rounded the point into the bay we were greeted by the wonderful fragrance of flowering trees.   

It had been a dark bumpy night for the first overnight transit, and we were both tired but happy when the anchor dropped.  We spent the next couple days cleaning up from a rough passage (one duck down), swimming off the boat, enjoying the gentle roll of the boat on the incoming swells, and listening to the rollers crash onshore.   It felt awesome to be away from the dock and get reacquainted with the feeling of the boat under us.  There’s nothing like sleeping at anchor; we love it.

Our next stop was at an anchorage tucked between the mainland and Isla Catalina, where we spent two days catching up on the news (mostly bad) via a cell tower that we know can be reached there.  It’s not the best anchorage because the swells break over the reefs at high tide making it a bit rough, but it calmed down at night, so we still enjoyed peaceful sleep. 

It’s now been over a week since we left the dock and we’re feeling like boat people again!  Happy Dance is anchored in a lovely spot called Bahia de Rosario, on the mainland of Panama about midway between the Choiba and Seca Island groups, with light winds and tides so that she is barely pulling on her anchor chain.  We hadn’t stayed here before and we’re so glad that we did this time.  It’s a fairly well protected anchorage, with small islands and a reef that stops the swell from entering the bay.  There hasn’t been much wind to speak of during the week we’ve been here, so the variable onshore and offshore breezes have been just enough to keep us cool and give us a 360-degree view of the bay.

There are no houses or people nearby, so other than the few fishing cayucas who paddle in from the next bay over where there’s a little fishing village perched on the sand, we haven’t seen anyone.  It’s about a two-mile paddle to get here, so the fishermen arrive before the sun on the incoming tide and point their boats home when the sun is high and the tide is going out. 

Sunrise and sunset are heralded by the sound of howler monkeys calling to each other from deep in the lush forest.  We read somewhere that howler monkeys are one of the loudest animals on the planet and if you’ve ever heard them it’s not hard to think they’re probably the loudest!  We haven’t been able to see their black bodies in the depths of the shadows, but we can see their passage as the tree branches dip under their weight.  It’s a riot to listen to them, along with the many bird calls and fish kerfluffles…pretty awesome.

One side of this idyllic bay where we’re anchored is ringed with plumeria trees, mostly bare branches with bunches of fragrant white plumeria blossoms at the end of each.  The trees are very accommodating for the flocks of white ibis who unknowingly camouflage themselves among the white flowers.  There are also a few great egrets who come home to roost every night, along with the silly pelicans who enjoy making me laugh.  In the morning the ibis all take flight at once leaving one to think that all the clusters of flowers were suddenly blown away.

This week of solitude and serenity has been a welcome gift for two sailors who prefer quiet anchorages over busy marinas.  Especially after all the bad news and frustrations out in the big world it’s been unbelievable to simple sit on the boat and listen to the sounds of nature and the sea all around us.  We’ve been swimming, paddling, beach walking, and just enjoying this beautiful spot.  We’ll soon go face the news again, since we need to find out if Panama will ever give us our magic Exit Zarpe and let us go on about our travels.  No doubt there are more weeks of waiting in our future, but we’ll find more little anchorages to spend the time and hopefully we’ll be soon moving again; enjoying more of this unpredictable adventure that we began seven years ago!


We’re now anchored in Boca Chica, where we have cell service and can find out what’s what in the world.  We were welcomed into the bay by a school of dolphins.  We’re sending lots of love to family and friends, wishing you all a happy lock down!  

8 thoughts on “Hurry Up and Wait…pandemic passages

  1. Looks wonderful…nice to see the update from you, we have been surprised how many ports and anchorages have been closed or restricted worldwide (following on noonsite). We miss you guys! Happy Easter and Happy travels!

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  2. I am glad to see this update from you two, we have been surprised how many ports in Mx are closed or restricted and was wondering how cruisers have fared – noonsite seems to have good info – Happy Easter and Happy travels! We miss you guys

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  3. Hi Sue and Marty!
    Great stories and beautiful writing.
    Hope Exit Zarpe arrives soon.

    Here’s a poem for you. It reflects how I feel: I’m very careful, and it’s also luck.
    Luckily I feel like I’ve had a wonderful life. No sign of trouble, but if I get it, the type 1 diabetes will be a hard factor. Love to you both!!

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    • Hi Catherine, sending you good thoughts and hugs (virtual ones)! Thanks for the note and for sharing that powerful poem. We are the survivors…for whatever reasons!! Love you


  4. Awesome, just awesome! It is awesome to read of your travels and is a welcoming getaway. I look forward to each and everyone of your blogs as they are very well written. I get lost in your adventures and can imagine the places you visit as if I were there. Sue, you are a great writer and very descriptive, I can hear the howler monkeys and smell the flowering trees as you describe them.
    Safe travels, say hello to Marty. Thank god that we retired from Boeing when we did!

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