Neap Tide & The Sloth

Wednesday February 28th

I learnt something new today; it was a lesson that I would have preferred to learn from reading a book rather than through the actual experience. However, it was a valuable lesson all the same, one that could have ended badly, but thankfully didn’t. The only injury sustained was to one’s pride!
Edi and Graeme arrived in Panama late last night, so Daisy has a full crew for her journey to the Galapagos Islands. This morning our plan is to check out of Panama and spend a day or two at the Las Perlas islands before heading on to Galapagos. We had to get our passports to Debbie (one of our Oyster representatives) by 8:15am for her to give them to the immigration officer who would take them away, stamp them and then give them beck to her about an hour later.

We weighed anchor a little after 8am and motored over towards the fuel dock in the harbor. As we turned the corner towards the dock we saw that the ferry was alongside collecting passengers; we called across to the crew to ask how long they would be, “ten minutes” they replied. As it was already approaching 8:15 there was a danger that we would miss our connection with the immigration officer, and that would result in another days delay for our departure.

Someone was leaving the dock in a dinghy and I called out to him asking if he would ferry me to the dock, he said yes, so I grabbed the passports, jumped off Daisy into his dinghy and he took me ashore. I was able to get the passports to Debbie in time for the immigration officer, so that crisis was avoided. Meanwhile, the boys bobbed around in the bay waiting for the ferry to leave. I was instructed by the Dock Master to go into the office to arrange for the fuel we needed.

The lady in the dock office spoke very little English, and as you all know I speak no Spanish, so the conversation was a little difficult. I was repeatedly asked if I had a reservation, to which I said “no”, I was asked for Daisy’s draft (depth of keel), I said “6’ 6”, and the lady pulled a face and said “OK”, but she kept rambling on in rapid Spanish, and I had no clue what she was saying. In the end she simply smiled, shrugged and waved me out of her office.

Daisy came alongside a few moments later and Graeme proceeded to fill the diesel tanks. This procedure takes quite a while at the best of times, and this time it was lengthened by us having to go and buy a funnel, as the fuel hose was too big to fit in Daisy’s tank, consequently we were on the dock much longer than we had anticipated.

While Graeme was filling the tanks, Bob went over to the hotel to use the Internet and check on the weather. Once the tanks were full, Edi checked the instruments and discovered that we had only one inch of water beneath the keel. I called Debbie to ask if Bob was there and she told me that he just left. Ed and I were in a bit of a panic as we knew we had to get Daisy off the dock quickly, we were about to ground out. Without going into all the details, by the time Bob returned we were aground!
At this point, we learnt that today is a ‘neap tide’! (See note below on neap tides) “Oh crap”!
Several people came to help and advise, and attempts were made to ease Daisy back into deeper water, but the tide was continuing to drop and in the end the decision was made to simply wait it out until the tide starts to come back in at 11:30. So there we sat, with our bow over a foot out of the water; for the next hour people came looked, pointed, some smirked, some showed sympathy, some advised.

Edi and Graeme used this time to take a taxi to the local gas station and fill our gas tanks. I used the time with my camera. Since first arriving in Panama a couple of years ago, I’ve consistently looked for one of Panama’s most common creatures the ‘Sloth’. Up until today I had yet to see one, then this morning when I was rushing to the hotel to give Debbie the passports I spotted one in a tree, obviously I didn’t have my camera with me, but I determined to return later if I had time and try to catch him on camera. With Daisy grounded out we all had no option but to wait it out, and this gave me the opportunity to go back and take photographs of the little sloth, which I did.

Eventually, with the returning tide we started to float again, Edi and Graeme had returned with the gas tanks, and I had my precious photographs…
At mid-day we set out for Las Perlas. We had a wonderful sail over and were accompanied for much of the trip by dolphins and pelicans. These waters are incredibly fish rich! And it seemed everyone (everyone being the dolphins and the birds) were catching fish but me… However, I will catch dinner at some point this trip, I’m quite determined…

Note: Neap tide:
At new and full moons, the combined gravitational pull of the sun and the moon produce the largest tidal variations. These tides, which occur twice a month, are called “spring” tides. At the first and third quarters of the moon, the two gravitational forces partially offset each other and the net tidal effect is less; these tides are called “neap” tides. When the moon is at its first and third quarters, the tidal “bulge” caused by the sun is at right angles to that caused by the moon. The two tidal effects are in conflict and so partially cancel each other, resulting in smaller than-average ranges, these are NEAP TIDES.
This information taken from the 64th edition of “Chapman, Piloting & Seamanship”, Elbert S.Maloney


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