Linton Bay and Portobello, Panama

We sailed to Linton Bay from the San Blas, an easy beautiful sail as are all westbound trips in the Caribbean.

We wanted to arrive with reasonably good light, and to make it as easy a trip as possible, so we split the journey into two legs. The anchorage closest to the center is Playa Chiquita, a small bay off a small town in which a surprising number of ocean-front buildings have no ocean-facing windows. The reviews on ActiveCaptain had described “some rolling” in “prevailing-northeasterly winds”, and “tucked in as close as we could but still had some roll.” We found both of these descriptions to be optimistic: despite getting as close as we dared to the rocks jutting out of the eastern-most part of the anchorage, Villa spent the night pitching up and down in the two-foot swells that still reached us.

So we were pretty happy to get up and out the next day, and sail the rest of the way to Linton, where we found a nice protected spot near the back of the anchorage.

We putted Dinkus past all the other boats, some derelict and some sporting huge anchor collections, which we later found out were Eric Bauhaus’s (of the charts) project to design a new anchor. We continued into the marina, where the immigration offices are, but it turned out that they weren’t open on Sunday. The fuel dock was, though, so we got Dinkus juiced up. The dock staff was very insistent about mask wearing, which felt weird to us after nearly two weeks of barely seeing other people. After three shots and an Omicron infection, we feel we’re pretty unlikely to get or transmit COIVD at this point, but we’ll mask up to tick the boxes.

We also got to meet up with our friends Russel and Janice, of SV Ddraig, who we hadn’t seen since Grenada, or in Janice’s case, Christmas in Puerto Rico. They gave us a bunch of useful info on the area, like the fact that the next morning there would be a veggie truck outside the Blue House restaurant, which is not blue. So we showed up, and we found a huge and reasonably priced spread of local fruits and veggies, like “8 for a dollar” local limes, which turned out to be orange inside and slightly sweeter than usual but still very tasty. We carried a couple of big bags with us to a lunch at the Blue House, which felt just like the $2-4 executive lunches in Colombia, except now for $8, and with worse beer. Seriously the Panamanian lagers are all pretty bad, Jazz won’t drink them.

The next phase of the operation was figuring out what projects would need more parts, since we were getting on towards our last chance to order from the US before crossing the canal and the Pacific. (We thought, at the time.) So here’s Captain helping Andrew take some hose measurements in the bathroom, and again, helping him inventory the electrical spares. He’s very helpful, at least for the six hours a day that he’s awake.

Linton bay has some really excellent wildlife. Besides the little birds that are always flitting around the boat, there are spider monkeys on Isla Grande, and pelicans that fish from the reef-marking posts. The monkeys were given this island as a reserve, after they retired from being lab animals, so despite being a native species they are pretty well socialized to people, and will happily steal your phone and object to you leaving without giving them bananas.

There are sometimes even dolphins! A pod of maybe five, with one baby, swam through one morning as we were making breakfast, so here’s Andrew drinking coffee and watching them. That’s actually a very happy face, by before-coffee standards. Even Captain agrees, Dolphins are cool. The underwater life is also surprisingly good, with a couple of moderately healthy reefs around the entrance to the bay; we had a night snorkel that was good enough we’ll write it up separately.

Russel and Janice took us on a guided tour of the nearby town Portobello, reachable by a gaudily-painted public bus that stops right in front of the marina. We learned that, because it gets full, it can we wise to get on some ten minutes early when the bus passes going the opposite direction, and ride around to the turn-around to guarantee yourself a seat.

Portobello is a pretty little town, with the trappings of being an infrequent stop on the backpacker circuit that leads to the San Blas. It’s got a pretty little church.

And it has an old fort, with views out over a well-protected bay. Note all the wrecks: apparently the reefs here can be deceiving.

The fort just runs straight into the town, with the stone walls abruptly ending and giving way to modern buildings. That stone, btw, is mostly coral from the bay. The first building here is the old gold exchange, currently under UNESCO-sponsored reconstruction: Portobello’s fort is part of one of two UNESCO cultural heritage sites in Panama, the other being the old sections of Panama City.

The downtown has a nice park with a pagoda, with many closed businesses around it. It’s clear that the pandemic has reduced the traffic here. Some things are still going strong, though: there’s clearly construction going on somewhere, say the muddy tracks on this passing backhoe. And Russel’s favorite coconut shop is still selling flavored… we still don’t know what these things are called. The best flavors are the fruit ones, because of course that’s what’s fresh and available here, but that still hasn’t made it to Andrew’s hind-brain because he still reaches for the relatively disappointing caramel.

We also found some nice street art in Portobello, including outside the small cultural museum, which featured a room full of locally-produced art and a very friendly docent.

We were thwarted in our first lunch attempt by relaxed business hours, but we found a nice set of sandwiches at a coffee shop. From the second floor, we got a nice show from a very loud bird (grackle?), and got to puzzle over the collection of satellite dishes sprouting from the same house across the street.

Back in Linton, Russel and Janice pointed us towards the “Tunnel of Love”. This path through the mangroves that connects to the nearby Panamarina, where there’s a small but well-stocked marine store. It’s a beautiful place that totally lives up to its nickname. Though we did run Dinkus a little shallower than we like, resulting in a little sand blocking the cooling water, which is why the cowl is off in that first picture. Whenever the path widens, stay on the mainland side, and when in doubt, follow one of the tourist boats around the coral heads at the entrance.

So we got that sorted out, and visited the shop, and on the way back, we were rewarded with monkeys! Apparently Panama has six to eight species of monkey, depending how you count. These white-faced capuchins were the second of three we would see from our dinghy.

Don’t worry, Captain, you’re still our favorite species.

Speaking of Captain, we returned to the boat one day to find that he had somehow managed to bring home a bird, presumably dragged to the kitchen floor through the tiny cat window. To this day we still do not understand how this happened. We have watched Captain hunt, and his hunting consists of standing maybe five to ten feet away from the bird, often inside the door of the boat, staring fixedly, and cackle-meowing. This is not a process that should lead to success. And yet, somehow, evidence indicates that he pulled it off.

Over the next few days we made some progress on projects, like finishing the first half our our boarding ladder re-wrap. It turns out that coachwhipping is surprisingly slow going. We also got some of our supplies replenished, and added a few extras, like these syringes. Fun story there: when we were getting our COVID boosters, a South African boater asked whether they were using clean needles for everyone or whether he needed to bring his own from his boat. (Jazz had been translating Spanish for the other boaters). The idea that they wouldn’t had never occurred to either of us, and fresh needles for the medkit immediately went on the shopping list. They happened to have some on hand at Panamarina, and though they were probably intended for injecting epoxy, we snatched some up anyway.

But we spent more of our time going into the marina to work on orders and catch up on these blog posts on their fast internet. That also gave us ample opportunity to buy bread and cakes from the bakery truck, and more veggies from the other, daily veggie truck. This veggie guy was super helpful; he carries eggs, frozen meat, and a variety of other basics. He also gave us his WhatsApp number for special orders, which he’ll pick up for you at a supermarket on his way in.

Linton turns out to be a surprisingly comfortable place to stay, with great access to daily necessities. Even laundry is super easy, with an affordable drop-off service a short walk from the dock. There’s a fee to use the dinghy dock, but it’s a reasonable $15 per week and includes garbage, wifi, and even access to the showers. ActiveCaptain reviews really shat on this place, so we were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked it.

The anchorage itself is also reasonably pleasant. If you put your boat in the right place, you get all-around protection, marina wifi, and a front-row view of the spider monkeys and of the tourist boats visiting them on the weekends. Unfortunately, we’d initially dropped our anchor just a little too far behind the island to get cell coverage on the boat, which limited how much we could get done. So we decided to move the boat forward a little, and picked out a nice spot. But about when we got the anchor up, we noticed that the engine sounded funny. When we looked, we found there was no water coming out the exhaust. So we idled Villa to the back of the anchorage but a little further south, figuring that whatever it was would be an easy fix and we’d get her forward afterwards. On inspection, it turned out that our impeller, just a little past its expiration date, had given up the ghost. And when we went fishing in the heat exchanger to find the remaining pieces, we opened up a can of worms that would leave us in this sub-par spot for a solid week.

It was rolly enough to make even Jazz and Captain seasick, and left us mixing epoxy by guesswork as the liquid rolled back and forth in the cup. We got a little bit of respite from the roll when this big boat stopped next to us and literally blocked some of the waves. We were initially excited to see a boat full of young people, but then they started unloading into launches and we realized that of course this had been a charter run. Meanwhile Captain seemed to find the roll only suitable for napping.

So we were rolling, but at least we had internet… until suddenly our laptops refused to connect to the internet via tethering. We eventually concluded that Tigo was doing something at least slightly sneaky to disable tethering, so Andrew took a walk to town to buy a Digicel card. This gave him a good view of the town dock, an alternate landing location for Dinkus, with Villa in the background. He also found wine in boxes, but for a disturbingly low price, leading to his favorite terrible joke of the day: “Is it good wine?” “It’s clos.” We didn’t take the risk.

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