Ole Passes a Sizzling Spectacular Birthday in Portobelo

Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama

Monday morning, November 16, we elected to get the heck off the dock for a few days and explore a bit before leaving the Atlantic side of Panama. We motored about three and a half hours west to a pretty little place called Panamarina, located inside the Portobelo National Park, just west of Isla Linton. After zig-zagging in through some pretty interesting turns around reefs, we found ourselves the rose among the thorns – the only power boat in a sea of sailboats, most of which seemed to be stored. The owner, Jean-Paul, greeted us Tuesday morning and helped us secure to the largest buoy among the moorings, and we passed a pleasant few days, although rainy.

The most wonderful and improbable highlight of this place is a French restaurant in the middle of nowhere, with real live pate maison, reasonable wine, and wonderful atmosphere including a resident tabby cat and two dogs (just like in France). We toured in the dinghy, took a nature walk through the jungle and spotted a hunk of wildlife we described as a “wet sleeping furry thing” we figured for a sloth in the crotch of a tree. After a lovely and relaxing four nights, on Friday we zig-zagged out and headed back toward Portobelo for some pirate history.

We heard rumors that Portobelo was less than secure, so Ole, Dale and Linda went ashore to explore while Jan relaxed and caught up on her PassageMaker magazine reading. They toured the ruins of Fort San Lorenzo on the town side, sampled a few cold ones in a little cantina, visited the Church of the Black Christ, and had a relatively dry afternoon. Just before cocktail hour, we opted to move across the bay away from town for the night, which proved quieter, calmer and left us feeling safer for the night. Rumors are rumors. We anchored off the other fort, enjoyed calm, though rainy night’s sleep, and woke up on Saturday the 21st to Ole’s birthday!


The Ruins of Ole’s Portobelo Birthday Cake

In honor of pirate history (Portobelo was one of the major ports of exit for the Spanish treasure ships that plundered South and Central America, with names such as Henry Morgan, Francis Drake, et al being part of its legend), I baked Ole a rum cake in the shape of a castle, and by the time the last crumbs were shaken out of the pan, it looked like the ruins of Fort San Lorenzo. Dale, Ole and I dinghied ashore to give Linda the reading room for awhile, and we hiked up to the ruins where Ole encountered his first snake. We don’t know who was more surprised – Ole or the snake – because both of them jumped backwards about two feet at the encounter, and I could swear I heard the snake yell just as loud as Ole did! Halfway up the hill, the rain started, so we squished up and down and shot several photos of Emma Jo through the cannon sights before puttering home through the wet.

As Ole’s birthday luck would have it, perhaps the only cayuco-paddling lobster salesman in the entire region picked our boat to deliver a fine catch to – so it was martinis, Dale’s home-smoked salmon, the Beatles’ White Album Birthday song, and the promise of a lovely lobster dinner – until the rolling started. The bay was glassy, but big ground swells started rolling in, and over the next hour the boat swung 360 degrees around on the Bruce, rolling upwards of 6 degrees a side, digging our holding deeper. Though not much wind followed, the next 12 hours contained the most spectacular rainstorm(S) we’ve ever witnessed, with sheet lightning sizzling on the water and thunder striking the bay more than once. Made cooking the lobsters interesting, doing the dishes out of the question, and sleeping impossible!

After breakfast, we opted to head back here to Shelter Bay to fuel up, provision up for the transit and for Thanksgiving, and get ready for the transit. It’s now 10:22 p.m., and I’m almost too excited to go to bed. We’ll be joined tomorrow by three line handlers and a pilot for a two-day canal transit that is scheduled to start tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.


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