After two still nights and two action-packed days in and around northern eastern Coiba and Rancherita, we sailed around the northern end of the island to check out the western side. For the first night we pulled into Playa Rosario just as the wind was dying. It has been our experience over the last two weeks that the wind usually dies at night; however, this time a freaky chop kicked up out of nowhere the moment it grew dark. With no wind to accompany it, we twirled aimlessly on our anchor rode while bouncing madly every time we moved perpendicular to the chop. Lying in bed, wide awake, it sounded as if our rudder would fall to pieces as it thrashed back and forth. To make matters more exciting, we had a bit of coral under one position of our anchor swing and as we passed over it, a loud crackling would echo ominously through the boat. Needless to say, neither of us got much sleep. The next morning brought us glaring to the surface of the cabin to eyeball this freakish chop in person; we pulled anchor before even the coffee pot was on to boil and got the hell out of there.
Destination Ensenada Hermosa; a modest trip of a mere nine miles. It took us almost four hours because the wind was so finicky that we had a hard time keeping the sails open in that ungodly chop. Once inside the bay, the swell reduced somewhat and after we anchored in the lee of the point, we prudently set a stern anchor just in case. Then we paddled ashore to check out the river and the long playa hermosa. There used to be a penal camp here (what the difference is between a penal camp and a penal colony—which is what the box on our map on the other side of the island is labeled—I don’t know). We read that once upon a time, in the ’80s, some hapless cruisers anchored in this very cove and alighted upon the beach in search of high adventure and possibly some coconuts. Unfortunately, some penal campers, disillusioned with their current situation on the western, choppy side of a remote tropical island, saw fit to commandeer the sailing vessel for their very own (after dispatching of the owners) and make due speed for the mainland. This is how bad reputations are born. Nowadays, the penal colonies (and camp) are no more. We couldn’t even find it (we didn’t try too hard).
Sadly, our river excursion was cut short by a too-low-tide and several crocodiles, one as long as our kayak, which freaked me right out. (Being in an inflatable kayak does little to fill one with confidence in the face of rough-skinned, pointy-toothed beasties.) So we pulled the kayak back up onto the bank and headed off down the beach. The beach was just a beach mostly except that it was littered with a fascinating array of debris. Naturally, with the net tonnage of the Time Machine—not to mention the vast amount of unused space—in mind, we were sure to collect a variety of ungainly stuff to weigh down the boat (a foam float for our anchor, an assortment of plastic lids to hopefully replace damaged ones—but then we can’t get rid of the ones that don’t work because: littering!, lots of cool seed pods, like fifty coconuts, etc.) By the time the tide was back up, it was nearing dark and so we just headed back to the boat where we were happy to have the stern anchor set because sure enough, a tight chop was coming right into the bay from seemingly nowhere.
And again, we had a hell of a night. Bouncing all over the place; this time we had the boat facing mostly into the chop but the up and down motion of the stern was a little nauseating (that’s where our bunk is). It rained too; when the rain began, it was pitch black night. We could hear it thick pounding the water first on one side, then the other, then in back, etc. yet very little was hitting the boat, only a few random splatters. It felt like we were on some movie set with a less-than-masterful artificial rain handler. Finally he got it right and once the rain hit our boat it poured steadily for hours. We filled all our tanks.
First thing the following morning, we set out early for Isla Jicaron, which everyone has said was amazing, beautiful, do not miss. Wind was very light yet there was still this most obnoxious chop except this time, up inside the bay, it was coming up against the outgoing tidal current. The scene was ugly. Waves lunged up from all directions and made little splishies at the peaks and with no wind and a motor that prefers to work in flat calm, it took us over an hour to go the mile or two we needed to get beyond the mayhem. I was highly irritated with the whole scene, especially since I spent the majority of the day seasick after just that morning. Listening to our motor race and cavitate as it pulls free from the water makes my hair stand on end. As we neared Jicaron a squally wind kicked up from the west, making the only anchorage showing on our guide totally ugly. We sailed around the corner to see if it would be possible to anchor on the western side of Jicaron, but no: rocks everywhere and a swell. Oh well, we decided that if we were lucky, we could make it back up around the bottom of Coiba where our book showed a lee anchorage north of Boca Grande. We sailed very fast on the front of the squall with our gennaker up, but that lasted all of twenty minutes. Okay, then we motored until we hit the next poof, killed the motor, then sailed, then motored. Back and forth. Very, very annoying. The southern end of Coiba was pretty though with a spectacular point comprised of a series of rocky arches jutting out into the water; I was happy to have seen it at least. Took some photos from the moving boat.
Finally the wind died utterly and we were motoring again, checking the time every ten minutes to see if we would make it to our anchorage before the sun went down. Everything was looking promising but then a squall popped up from the north, which meant that our proposed anchorage would be terrible. The seas went from flat glass to a massive frothing herd of white cats in no time at all. After consulting our charts, we decided to try to nudge up into a different spot a few miles further where the wind chop would be shortened by the northern point of Bahia las Damas.
We tacked back and forth north into the corner of Bahia de las Damas to where we were out of the worst of it and set the stern anchor. It was maybe twenty minutes after sunset and we still had a little light. After the storms past, we had a very quiet night. Finally.