Sod’s law that after covering nearly 8,000 miles in the last 8 months we would have our worst ever weather just 5 miles from our last major Caribbean destination: Bocas del Toro, Panama.


I don’t think our families were particularly concerned about the passage as they’re getting used to our long streches at sea now. However, we knew our friends from Isla Mujeres were watching the Caribbean satellite online as they are planning on the same passage (Isla Mujeres, Mexico – Isla de Providencia, Colombia – Bocas del Toro, Panama). The text below is lifted from my email to them describing the trip:


We had a good forecast leaving Providencia, thinking that we would have one day (100-120 miles) of good wind and then a day or a day and a half of motoring, as there was no wind in Panama at all. We left Providencia thinking we’d get 20-25 kts and swiftly found it was 30. So we reefed and sailed with 3rd reef in our main and a handkerchief of a genoa. No problem, she’s a tough cookie and sailed really well. We ate up some miles that first day and then, the next day, everything slowly, slowly calmed down and got slower.


We have the radar on, helping us dodge squalls, and we see a really big one just sat over the entrance to the bahia Almirante, between us and Bocas. We watch this thing as we get closer to it and it keeps breaking up and looking smaller and then re-forming. We try to go around it but it’s just too big so, unwisely, we decide to go through it as, at this point, we’re still thinking it’s just a squall. The rain gets heavier and heavier although there wasn’t much wind in it, 12-18 knots. We have 2 reefs in the main and 2 in the genoa and we seem to always be on the edge of this thing, always into wind, which is coming from the west so we’re motoring and the hours go by.


We’re just approaching the channel, Boca del Toro, and in an instant we get a 180 degree wind shift, wind goes up to 40 knots, the sea is suddenly something you’d expect to see at Tierra del Fuego and our main is in ribbons. James is gasping at the helm as neither of us know what is going on. The rain is now proper monsoon rain, there is zero visibility and there is no way that we’re attempting the channel right now… But, at least the engine was already on so we can strap up our tattered main and steer back out to sea to regroup.


Anyways, long story short, we eventually get in, get anchored and collapse, as we’d been fighting what is now totally obvious was a storm for 12 hours. At the anchorage we look back to the entrance of the bay and there is a big, black mass in the sky just sitting over it. Apparently it was 2 days brewing, and it didn’t completely clear until Wednesday evening, which means that this was a storm lasting 5 days with us arriving smack bang on day 3.


Ah, well, another lesson learned and at least the damage we sustained was to a 10 year old sail that had seen better days rather than injury to ourselves.