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A Dinghy Adventure

Be prepared is a sailing cruiser's motto.  Sometimes you just can't guess what's coming next.

Breeze & Debbie from sailing vessel Blue Skyby Breeze & Debbie Filina, s/v Blue Sky

Breeze & Debbie are currently cruising in and around Panama on their 46' Island Trader.

Needing to escape from the hubbub of Colon, we spent 6 days anchored in the nearby Rio Chagres River. 

As constant rain kept us from going ashore, we passed the days catching rain water, doing boat chores, sewing awnings and mast boots in preparation for the upcoming rainy season in South America.  

Finally on Memorial Day the rain let up enough for exploring.  We tied our inflatable to the short finger dock across from a tiny bird nesting island.  After making our way up to the main trail, it was a pleasant walk hand in hand thru the jungle in the drizzling rain to the Gatun Dam and the hydro-electric plant.  From the top of the hill we could see Gatun Lake, and the locks with all the freighters coming and going.  We had made a transit a few weeks earlier as line handlers aboard a catamaran owned by Teddy Roosevelt’s great grandsons.  They were a wealth of information and had pictures aboard of the former president at different locations in the canal.

Needing to make our way back through the jungle before dark, we quickly retraced our steps as the rain came down hard and heavy.  Soon the trail became a crag mire of mud.  Parrots and Toucans squawked over head competing with the angry wet screaming Howler Monkeys.  Thunder was booming everywhere.   Scenes from Jarassic Park flashed in our minds.  T-Rex are you out there?  

Relieved to have safely made it back to the path that went down to the dock and our dinghy, I stopped for a moment to check out colonies of leaf cutter ants.  Seemingly unaffected by the deluge, making their way down a tree and forming trails along the ground, they look like tiny windsurfers carrying green sails.  Having gone ahead, Debbie yelled back to me “Breeze there may be a problem”.   I ran up to her with a million things going through my mind.  What I saw, was that the dinghy was gone and so was the dock. 

Some time during our walk a massive tree bough from twenty feet above us had broken off either from age or lighting and landed the full length of the dock and across our dinghy.  It had totally taken out the planks, splitting some of them in half and swamping our inflatable.  All we could see was the upturned bow and floating wood shards of the former dock.  The rest of the boat was covered by branches, vines and leaves.  I knew I had to get in and save the dinghy.  Earlier in the day we had seen crocodiles swimming and snakes in the bushes.  No telling whose out there now waiting and watching… 

I carefully shimmied along the fallen trunk over branches, and dropped into the bow of the dinghy.  I was happy to find some air pressure left in the tubes.  Expecting a puncture or gash in the hypalon material, I began rapidly tearing at vines and tree limbs and anything else holding the boat under water.  Realizing then, I had to find the painter, spring, and stern lines in this tangled mess.  The branches and vines were full of displaced creepy crawlers.  I had also chained the dinghy to the dock, something we had been doing all through our cruising in Central America.  Now I had to find the lock underwater.  After doing so, we were untied and unlocked, yet still trapped under the full weight of the tree.  With no tools and no one around for miles, we were on our own. 

The outboard was almost submerged.  Trying to free the dink from its binds, the best I could do was to sink the transom deep enough to push the outboard under and up to get it free.  Unbelievably the motor started.  The inflatable was getting softer and full of water and debris.  Next, I had to go around and pick up Debbie, after she also made her way along the tree trunk and busted up dock avoiding splinters, bugs, and nails.  Once in the flooded dinghy, we began to laugh, thanking our lucky stars we were okay, glad we hadn’t been standing on the dock tying up the dinghy when the tree came crashing down.  With Debbie bailing, I motored to Blue Sky, anchored in the middle of the river a ways from the dock in the thunder and lighting.  We were so glad not to have spent the night in the jungle, too many "What Ifs"!.

We are currently in Portebello, and plan to leave for the San Blas islands tomorrow.  Before we leave here we are ordering a new dinghy to replace our old damaged one.  We will pick it up in Colon when we return in two months to renew our cruising papers.

“Manana es otra dia!”




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