January 14th, 2016 (-5 on UTC)
We wish we had more time and not so many boat teething issues, as clearly staying in the San Blas Islands would be good for the soul!
With all the various little problems discovered in our 1000 mile (can you believe it?) shakedown cruise and no water maker for the moment, we decided to head toward Shelter Bay and the Panama Canal. A nice stop off en route would be the old port city of Portobelo about 50 miles to our west. What a history this place has.
This city was straight out of the “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Portobelo became a very important port on the \”Spanish Main\” (see link here: Spanish Main) and sailors from Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan all were here. Francis Drake was buried in a lead coffin just outside the harbor – exact location unknown! Most of the Spanish gold and silver that came from South and southern Central America passed through Portobello. To find more about Portobelo, click on the following link: Portobello, Colon – Panama
Once the Panama Canal was built in 1904, the city of Portobelo lost its’ economic importance. Despite being only 20 miles from Colon (Columbus) on the north shore of the canal and its’ status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s well off the beaten path. Today only a population of around 4,000 people live here.
The people are mostly locals with a smattering of ex-pats, all of who remind you of escapists from a Jimmy Buffet song. We had plenty of room to anchor and were in the company of around 40 boats, many of which looked like they were semi-permanent residents. The city is in general disrepair, built amongst the ruins of the old fort.
The natural harbor is quite large and has two walled fortifications on each side. The entrance is fairly narrow and should have been easy for the defenders to protect. Despite this natural advantage, many Pirates were able to take over and sack the city on multiple occasions. See link to Captain Morgan’s sack of Portobelo here: Captain Morgan\’s sack of Portobelo
The Battle of Portobello – click link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Porto_Bello
We also visited a famous local Church of the Black Christ, which on October 21st every year, swells the cities population into the 10’s of thousands. This statue is famous because of the mystery it’s shrouded in. It is perhaps the most important Christian shrine in Panama. The statue, found by fisherman was created in Spain and washed ashore around 1658 – presumably from a lost ship at sea.
With one night in the anchorage and anxious to get settled into Shelter Bay, we’d go the final 20 miles tomorrow and get down to the serious “fixits” Miss Piggy (aka: Beach House) would require. The list just keeps getting bigger and we’ve a very long way to go!
We’ll next write you from the north side of the Panama Canal – Shelter Bay Marina.
Scott and Nikki