Posted by: Sailing Camelot | October 17, 2012

Sep 24th to October 5th – Archipelago de Las Perlas

We’ve been more or less twiddling our thumbs, stuck here at the Balboa mooring field waiting for parts coming from New Zealand to fix our rebellious windlass.

Just when the level of frustration was about to hit unbearable levels the parts arrived, the fix was completed and we found ourselves finally FREE to roam, albeit on a tight leash.

Our canal crossing is a few weeks away, but we have enough time to go visit part of the Archipiélago de Las Perlas, made up of 39 islands and more than 100 islets.

With a great sigh of relief we untie the mooring lines early in the morning, leaving behind Balboa and gleefully setting the course to Contadora Island.

Unfortunately we take with us the cloud cover, there’s no escaping that this time of the year.

Escorted by many humpback whales, we arrive at our destination a little over five hours later. We put the windlass to the test as we drop anchor on the west side of the island: it works flawlessly, I’m thrilled.


Warning Puff!


Baby on Board…


The greyness of the day and intermittent rains do not inspire us to do much, so we just settle down and get used to life at anchor again, get to know our new surroundings and watch Mama and Baby Whale spin slow, lazy circles around our boat.


“Let’s take a closer look at Camelot!”


“Ok, we’ve seen enough”

The islands forming the archipelago are mostly unnamed and uninhabited; Isla Contadora is the most developed and best-known.

Founded by the Spanish, the archipelago was named for the once lucrative pearl industry whose grandest find was the 31 carat, 400-year-old Peregrina pearl owned by Queen Mary Tudor of England,also known as “Bloody Mary“.

In 1969 Richard Burton bought the pear-shaped Peregrina for $37,000  as a Valentine’s gift for his wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor. The precious gem was sold again in 2011 for  eleven million US dollars.


Liz Taylor wearing the Peregrina set in a diamond and ruby necklace by Cartier

I think I’m going pearl- diving soon…


Sep 26th

Today we move to the opposite side of the Island, just for a change of scenery. Luckily, the weather has improved a little. Time to break out the kayaks and go snorkeling!


Pretty Beach, and even prettier homes…


Our “Bicycles of the Sea” on Playa Cachique, Contadora Island.


The water is amazingly clear, nice and warm, the fish plentiful and the beach inviting. We spend a few good hours enjoying our surroundings. This is indeed the best therapy one could ever wish for, and I’m soaking it in!


I guarantee it, you’ll never want to leave this place.


Taking a lazy stroll on the beach we admire a few secluded luxury homes. There is some serious wealth on display here! Contadora is a well-known sanctuary where the rich and famous come to relax.


Vantage point!


Way out of my league, but a gal can dream…


The Shah of Persia spent part of his exile here; fashion designer Oscar de La Renta owns a home on the island, among many other high-profile people.

This time of the year, however, we pretty much have the run of the whole place.


Tom, Lord of the Beach for one day.


Sep 28th

Tom is feeling a little restless, probably craving more company that I can provide or just some new views, so we move on to the next little island – barely an hour away.

Escorted by a humpback whale, we arrive in another magical-looking place and anchor in the channel separating the uninhabited islands of Chapera and Mogo-Mogo.   

Tom breaks in a wide grin, spotting four other boats close by. I see a friendly gathering on Camelot in my immediate future…


Isla Chapera to the right, Mogo-Mogo to the left.


I keep giggling as I update our ship log, for some reason the “Mogo-Mogo” name cracks me up. I picture a cartoon in my mind, an indigenous little man who suggestively wiggles his eyebrows at a pretty island girl while saying “Mogo-Mogo?”

I know, I’m silly… But I can’t stop giggling!

This area was the location for the CBS TV series “Survivor 7” in 2003, “Survivor All-Stars” in 2004 and ”Survivor 12” in 2006.  I never cared much for TV, so I haven’t seen the show, but I’m sure no TV depiction comes even close to the real thing.

It’s so pretty here, truly a vision of Paradise: sugar-white beaches, thick jungle-like vegetation  and an extensive coral reef all around, begging to be explored. I’m very grateful it’s the OFF season, so we can have the run of the place without hordes of screaming tourists…


This will be our backyard for a few days.


We enjoy a few good, relaxing days and get to know our neighbors over cocktail hour on Camelot, a group of very nice people: Blake from the catamaran “Slow Mocean”, Roy and Jen from “Nighthawk” and Rick and Karen from “Eyes of the World”.

Sadly, the group disbands tomorrow. “Nighthawk” and “Slow Mocean” will be returning to Panama for boat maintenance, leaving just us and “Eyes of the World” to watch over the islands. Or so we thought…

Sep 29th – The Chantou saga

Much later that night, the peace and quiet are disrupted by quite a sizeable sailboat entering the channel, blasting loud rap music, colorful lights twirling like a floating disco. Passing dangerously close to our friends’ sailboat, then between us and the reef hugging the shore, they holler “wake UUUP! It’s time to partyyyy!”.  My middle fingers twitch badly, but I manage to restrain myself…

Tom and I are speechless; that’s not a common sight, those are not common sounds in our lifestyle. Must be a charter boat, the loudest one out there! In my mind I dub them The Assholes of the Sea, but they’re just probably clueless young people having fun…

Luckily, by one in the morning they fall silent; the boat is anchored not far from us, and we fervently hope they’ll leave in the morning.

The next day, the saga of the Loud Sailboat takes an unexpected turn. They move from their anchoring spot to another one opposite us and closer to Mogo Mogo beach, in very shallow waters. Tom comments about the extreme tides in this place, wondering if they know that in a few hours the water will go down about 16 feet, leaving them on a bed of coral reef… Oh, c’mon, the MUST know, the water is crystal clear and the reef clearly visible!


This is clearly how NOT to do it…


We get on with our day, snorkeling one of the reefs, spending a lot of time in the water and forgetting all about the Loud Sailboat. But when we return a couple of hours later we clearly see the boat leaning at an unhealthy angle: the tide is going down and they must be touching bottom. But they seem to be okay, cleaning the exposed bottom of the hull -a common technique called careening-. Strange place to be doing that, you usually choose a sandy spot, not a rocky one…

Another couple of hours go by, we see the Aeronaval guys from the nearby base (local equivalent to our Coast Guard) come to get the guests off the boat and help tow the big beast into deeper water.

Now, we’re not exactly following their every move, but we’re close enough to notice things. Tom is also keeping an eye out in case they need help, although they seem to be unconcerned.

The next morning we look over their spot. The boat is now on her port side, firmly planted on the rocks! How did that happen???


Tom is more distressed than the guy who drove the boat on the rocks…


Chantou on the rocks… Not the name of a cocktail…


Tom and I hop in the dingy and go to see if they need help. We find two young and quite clueless guys just mildly annoyed at the inconvenience, but still totally unconcerned.

I’d be pulling my hair out in their place, but they are totally cool with it. I wonder if they’re stoned out of their mind…

The boat’s name is Chantou, hailing from Emeryville, California. She’s a true beauty and it breaks my heart to see her like this. I hope they can get her up and to safety before it’s too late.

Reminds me of a beached whale, equally sad…


This image will stay with me for a very long time. Just hoping it never happen to us!


Tom learns a strange tale full of conflicting details, quite a confusing story … But it really is none of our business.  We establish that the kids are okay, tell them to call us on the radio if they need a place to stay or any help. But they decline, saying that the owner should be back to get them soon and they’re camping out at the Aeronaval base for the night.


Oct 2nd

Anyway, we carry on with our life. Our outboard motor starts sputtering and misbehaving and after some testing and poking we determine that we have contaminated fuel. We’ll need to dispose of the dirty fuel and get some clean gasoline. No big deal, we can continue our island hopping, rely on our kayaks to explore and take care of this problem when we return to Panama City…

But the next morning Tom suddenly and unexpectedly decides we should go back to Contadora to solve our problem before exploring further islands and wouldn’t budge from his decision even after my protests! I’m not happy, but if that’s what it takes to move on, fine, let’s do it.

So at nine in the morning we leave Mogo Mogo and our friends, with promises of meeting up again at some point.

An hour later we throw anchor in Contadora, and a string of unlucky events starts.

A panga comes by with orders from the local authorities to move to another spot, as we’re smack in the middle of the little airport runway and our mast is in the way of the small aircrafts landing and taking off.

No problem, we just move a little to the left and everyone’s happy.


Oh, sorry! Is our mast in your way?


Definitely… We better move, and quick!


The weather quickly changes, dark clouds promising a good thunderstorm and lightning, the sea getting choppier by the minute. We won’t be paddling our dinghy ashore today!

So I get my sewing machine out to repair the dinghy cover that’s starting to come undone. After a few frustrating minutes it’s clear that there’s something wrong: I can’t sew three stitches in a row without breaking the thread! Ok, scratch the sewing project until I can get this sorted out…

Shortly after our generator’s fan belt breaks, but even after replacing it there’s clearly something else wrong with it, like unhealthy voltage spikes that could be fatal to the batteries.

Oh, and the shower sump pump quits working as well.

Tom is at his most frustrated, I’m incredulous and speechless.


The Big Ominous Cloud of Negativity.


We’re both puzzling about this sudden dark wave of bad luck, when a few minutes later we get a weak radio call from our friends on “Eyes of the World”: they have been hit by a direct bolt of lightning that wiped out all of their electronics and electrical systems.

Thankfully, no one is hurt. The only working things are their engine, the windlass and a portable VHF radio, so they are going to limp back to Panama City.

Wishing them the best of luck we monitor their trip as far as we can, then alert the sailing community by HAM radio to standby for assisting them upon their arrival.

Then it’s reflection time for us: six hours ago we were anchored not more than 200 feet behind them. Tom says “someone is watching over us!”  I smile, knowing that to be true and with a pretty good idea on whom it may be….

Suddenly, I don’t feel so unlucky anymore.


Just a few hours before the lightning strike: Camelot anchored behind “Eyes of the World”.


Change of plans: we don’t feel like staying out with all of our annoying problems needing attention, so after a couple of days we return to Panama City to take care of them. Besides, all this lightning activity is making us nervous…

I’m pretty sure we won’t get another chance to visit the Las Perlas; I am disappointed that we won’t get to see more of this paradise, yet very grateful for what we were able to see.

So, among humpback whales breaching around us and whale sharks swimming lazily beside us, we reluctantly make our way back to civilization a good week ahead of schedule.

So, back at the Balboa Yacht Club mooring field we are.

Sunset over the Bridge of the Americas, back at Balboa Mooring field.

Well, I guess we’ll just have a lot more time to prepare for the transit…




  1. Lori I’m not much for reading blogs and literature but, This was one of the best written blogs/books I’ve ever Read! I couldn’t put it down. You write very well, & You have a very good sense of humor.

  2. Good stories,good photos.

    Talked to Terry Parks, N6NUN, on ham radio on Monday and Tuesday.

    Arthur Lee WF6P

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