Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Leg 3 - Acapulco to Panama

May 1, 2000 2020 16.28N, 99.33W Log: 33,636 Baro: 1007
Broadreaching at 6kts in 14kts W winds, calm seas.
Cabin temp: 85F, outside temp: 81 water temp: 82 humidity: 66%

Back to Sea!
Whoever made the comparison between Acapulco and Honolulu had obviously never visited Hawaii!

Aerial view of Acapulco Bay

Our week at the Club de Yates passed in a blur with boat maintenance, touring around with Dan & Debi and making new friends at the club. We met a lovely family from Mexico City - he worked for Hewlett Packard, who had trailered their Compac 27 sailboat from Mexico City to Acapulco. Their 5 & 7 yr old sons were either fishing or in the pool, and Amanda helped them rig their reefing set up for their first forays into the ocean.

Leg 3 crew dropped passports off on Sunday and we were able to sign them on and clear customs (Monday was a holiday) thanks the yacht club harbourmaster to Sr. Marquez. We enjoyed the stay at the club, but Amanda and I were overwhelmed by the intensity of the city in Easter party mode and couldn't wait to be at sea!

By 1500 we were underway on what has been a very calm, 1015 mile passage to Cocos Island, 350 mi off Costa Rica. We have had some great sailing, interspersed with a lot of motoring, as we expected. Originally we had planned to sail along the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica to reach Panama, but several boats who had just arrived in Acapulco from Panama said there was no wind and lots of unlit fishing boats to dodge, so we opted to sail straight to Cocos and then to Panama. With temperatures on deck between 90 and 100F and cabin temperature never dropping below 85F for a week, our biggest challenge has been keeping crew hydrated. We have found that 1/2 liter per hour is necessary and that we can't rely on thirst as an indicator for dehydration. For the first time we have rigged up a sailing awning to cover the helmsperson who isn't able to hide from the sun under our hard dodger.

Leg 3 crew.

Sail orientation leaving Acapulco.

We've only spoken with one person who has sailed to Cocos, and he said the tiny 2 x 4 mile island was a tropical paradise, with hundreds of waterfalls, famous for buried pirate treasure and thousands of hammerhead sharks! We also learned that the island is a Costa Rican National Park, uninhabited except for 6 park rangers.

May 8, 2000 1000 5.41N, 87.12W Log: 34,585 Baro: 1010
Cabin Temp: 86F, Cockpit: 84F, Humidity: 77%

Now that lush island looms on our bow, just 11 miles away! This will be a new country for us and hopefully we will be allowed to do some hiking and exploring ashore!

May 10, 2000 0720 5.54N, 85.31W Log: 34,693 Baro: 1010
Motorsailing @ 7.5 kts in 7 kts of S wind

Isla Cocos was a Treasure!

When we were 2 miles from Wafer Bay, James spotted what looked like a patrol boat, speeding toward us. In minutes a 20' Parc Nationale boat pulled alongside and motioned for us to call them on the radio. Mounted in the boats cabin window for all to see was a stainless steel 12 gauge short-barreled riot gun.

It seemed funny talking on the radio to the ranger who remained inside his boat, only 20' away but I gave him a call on Channel 16. He identified himself as a national park ranger, asked us if we knew we were inside their 8.5 mile park boundary and what we were doing.

I replied that we were headed to their station at Wafer Bay and hoped to be granted permission to rest for one night before continuing on to Panama. I invited the rangers (there were four, two dressed in military fatigues) aboard for chocolate cake and the tenor of conversation changed to a friendly tune.

Freddy checks our papers at Cocos Island.

Once anchored two rangers came aboard. Freddy Salazar and Sr. Gutterez accepted brownies, hot out of the oven and cold juice while looking over our clearance papers from Acapulco. Freddy explained that they had been on patrol since 0300, asking Costa Rican boats illegally fishing inside the park to move outside the 8.5 mile exclusion zone. He also said that before the island was a park, yachties had spent a lot of time anchored at the island, leaving rubbish ashore. Now with the modest park fees of $15 per person, per day, plus $15 per day for the boat, few yachts visited. (More likely because you can't dive for lobster thought Amanda.)

At anchor, Cocos Island.

Park Headquarters, Cocos Island.

Waterfall at Cocos Island.

Tom and James enjoy a refreshing waterfall shower at Cocos.


He invited us to hike the island on one of three trails saying we were welcome to stay longer.

Freddy mentioned that 25% of Costa Rica's territory is National Park and that conservation and eco-tourism are important to their country. Dive tourism is the only thing happening on Cocos, other than an occasional yacht stopping by. There were three dive boats and they also provide transport for the three rangers and 11 park volunteers every three weeks on a 34 hr. voyage from Costa Rica. We saw moorings for the dive boats in different spots so their anchors would not damage the coral.

Freddy said that there was a $4 per day charge for scuba diving, but said snorkeling was free and marked several "don't miss" spots on our chart.

We visited ashore in the afternoon, the hardy boys off on a jungle adventure until an afternoon tropical downpour drenched the land turning the clear streams to brown raging rivers forcing us to retreat to the boat.

We changed evening anchorages in rain and rested quietly in Chatham Bay, 2 miles east of Wafer Bay for the night. Snorkeling in the next day was number one priority and we weren't disappointed with the kaleidoscope of marine life, from lobsters sauntering along the bottom in broad daylight, to spotted leopard rays, turtles, spinner dolphins, octopus and sharks, yes hammerhead sharks the size of Buicks! (Well, maybe the size of Volkswagens)

Ready for snorkeling at Cocos.

Nowhere in the world have we seen such a profusion of sealife, totally tame and unafraid of humans, seemingly knowing they are protected. After everyone was well-broiled from snorkeling in the tropical sun we had a break for lunch then landed ashore to climb the nearest peak for a spectacular view of the bay.

We thought of staying another day but decided to take advantage of the wind and clear sky. Following the coastline halfway around the island we were astounded by the sheer cliffs, waterfalls and verdant vegetation.

What a treasure to stop and explore this island paradise! I pulled out a chart and figured that we will be able to stop again on Leg 1-2002 including the uninhabited Clipperton Island, a welcome break to the 4,000 mile passage from Panama to Hilo, Hawaii.

The winds held last night and one watch covered 24 miles in three hours! We sailed much of today, occasionally dodging squalls and only powering when the rain stole the wind.

We have 300 miles to the Perlas Islands, off Panama which we know little about. Time to pull out the cruising guides on what to see before our appointment at the canal Monday morning!

Eva navigates into Panama.

May 26, 2000 0530 9.00N, 79.36W Log: 35,257 Baro: 1006
Cabin Temp: 82F Cockpit Temp: 74F (Coolest yet) Humidity: 85%

Moored inside the Panama Canal!

Just 100' off our bow a huge Panamax (maximum possible size for the Canal) tanker is being pushed into the Pedro Miguel lock. The prop wash from the two tugs pushing has us rocking and straining at our 11 docklines, our gangway threatens to jump off the dock, but this is normal! As a person who has always been fascinated by shipping, this is an exciting place to be. All day and night we see a parade of just about every type of vessel imaginable, from a US nuclear attack sub to the funkiest looking old coastal freighters.

Pedro Miguel Boat Club, Panama Canal.

Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal.

The Pedro Miguel Boat Club where we are moored is the last reminder of the American Canal Zone which was officially handed over to the Panamanian government Jan 1, 2000. The club was built in the 1930's and used to host small motorboat races (along the canal!) and dances with big bands. Now it is a funky retreat for mostly budget cruisers, a place they can be hauled (with a 1930 crane that works like a dream!) to work on their boats, or just hang out. Craig Owings, the commodore for many years is ex-US military and his wife and past commodore, Sarah Terry is the only female Panama Canal Pilot and Port Captain. They are what keeps the place ticking over, and the folks that organize mooring and potlucks. There is a huge galley in the clubhouse and most evenings you'll find several families or crews cooking and eating dinner in the clubhouse, glad to have the additional space and a chance to get off the boat.

Amanda and I are enjoying our week between expeditions - we have found an excellent run on an abandoned railroad bed and then cutting up into the hills with a spectacular view all the way out the canal to the ships anchored in the Pacific.

Our passage from Cocos was slow with mostly light winds and a 1-2.5 knot current against us, so we skipped a side trip to the Perlas Islands and stopped for a night a Taboga Island, "island of flowers". Just 8 miles from the canal entrance, this has long been a getaway and holiday island for Panamanians. There are no cars, a few hundred little cottages perched along the harbor edge and running up the hillside, and tons of flowers.

Our crew enjoyed a dinner ashore while we watched the boat and had a little walk around, and the next morning we motored the eight miles to Flamenco Island at the canal entrance. We counted more than 40 ships anchored off, waiting to transit, and checked into the vessel traffic control system, Flamenco Control on Ch 12. They instructed us to anchor in the quarantine holding area near their control tower and called the boarding officer.

As it was Sunday morning, we really didn't expect anyone to show up until Monday, so I was shocked when just an hour later a canal pilot boat pulled alongside, dropping off Mick Perkins. Mick is an American, married to a Panamanian who has been asked to stay on after nearly all of the Americans left. He handled not only Quarantine inspection, but also as an official canal admeasurer, all of our initial canal paperwork, including actually measuring Mahina Tiare. We were relieved to find out that she is 3" under 50' overall, as then we would have had to pay $1750 instead of $500 if we were over 50'. Mick had lots of interesting tales for us as he waited for the pilot boat to pick him up. We had heard that hiring a ship's agent to expedite our transit could save us up to a week of waiting, and as I really wanted our Leg 3 crew to be able to have the experience of a partial canal transit with us to Pedro Miguel Boat Club, I hired an agent - thus the reason for the prompt clearance on a Sunday morning.

Canal admeasurer Mickey checks our measurements for canal transit.

Bridge of the America's at Panama City.

Mahina Tiare entering Mira Flores lock in the optimum transit position; side tied to a canal tug.

We were given permission to proceed to Balboa Yacht Club, just underneath the Bridge of the Americas, where we fueled, watered, picked up a mooring and waited until Monday morning when our agent arrived and completed the inbound clearance procedures.
Three of our crew decided they needed to return home early, but Jon, Tom & Eva were aboard Thurs morning when we went through the Miaflores locks, side-tied to a 70' canal tug. Our Canal Advisor (a pilot in training) was an interesting young man who had completed the Colombian Naval Academy and done several courses at King's Point Academy in New York. He was very helpful in explaining the immense forces and exactly how the lines needed to be tended.

After all I've read about the canal, it is far more impressive than I ever imagined. The men that designed and built it 80 years ago did a brilliant job, not only on the canal, but on all the infrastructure surrounding it. There are rows and rows of handsome old colonial homes and buildings from the 20's & 30's, still in perfect condition. Many of them have been recently sold to Panamanians who are redecorating and fixing them up even nicer. Hugo Garcia, the PMBC's do-anything taxi driver has driven us through three US military bases that have been converted into park-like residential neighborhoods.

Many of the local people we've talked with have said they were real sorry to see the Americans and the thousands of jobs they provided leave, but nearly all have said it was the right thing to do. We have encountered no hostilities, only very open and friendly people, hard-working and eager to help us find parts or supplies we have been tracking down, or just to chat.

Yesterday afternoon we met our Leg 4 crew which will be aboard through the canal, to the fabled San Blas Islands, home of the Kuna Indians, across the Caribbean to the Dominican Republic, possibly Puerto Rico, St. Croix and whatever other islands we can squeeze in before Tortola, British Virgin Islands. They join us in just 4 hours, and we are scheduled to transit the canal tomorrow morning sometime after 0600.

Sail on to Leg 4, 2000

Stay tuned for more adventures!

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