Isla Joya

Isla Joya, Bocas del Toro

October 1 – 30, 2020

After our new ground tackle had been installed, the first thing we did upon arriving back at the Red Frog anchorage was to drop anchor in thirty feet of water (almost the same spot we had dragged to over three months prior) and put out one hundred fifty feet of chain —- ten feet more than had ever even been an option before.

Big squalls? No worries…

Brief time lapse

Croc sightings? No worries…

How big?

About a size seven, I’d guess.

Hey… comedy is not pretty.

The second thing we did was lower Kris’ new SUP into the water!  She had been trying for the better part of six months to acquire the perfect third option between swimming or using the dinghy to get off the boat.  Up to now she had been relegated as an observer of other peoples’ freedom.  Now she was finally the one wearing the shit eating grin.

Two days later we departed the Red Frog anchorage and arrived at Crawl Cay after having confidently navigated The Cut using the Navionics track we had saved from our previous trip in the opposite direction.  We chucked out two hundred feet of chain, just because we could… and then laughed as we realized that, even so, we still had more chain remaining in the locker than we used to have available in total. 

Crawl Cay represented the furthest we had ventured since arriving in Bocas del Toro.  During the past six months, we had remained inside a ten mile perimeter from Bocastown.   Now, for the first time, we were fifteen miles away.   

After two nights there, we decided that the anchorage was a bit too exposed for the schizophrenic shifts in wind direction we currently were experiencing.  So we very carefully inched our way from Crawl Cay through bays, around islands and between mangroves in water that ranged under us from six to sixty feet deep.  

We had manually laid a course into our Navionics software, but much of the area had no depth soundings to go by.  Many of the twists and turns we had plotted had been determined by studying corresponding charts in the well-known Bauhaus Panama cruisers guide which were created by superimposing recorded depth soundings he took over the top of satellite photos of the areas. 

Despite being very helpful in setting a tentative course, in the end, every time we approached a questionable area or the depth gauge started shallowing up quickly, someone stood at the bow to act as spotter.  Three hours and fourteen miles later, numerous anxious moments had resulted in only one actual emergency full stop and zero touches.  Our Navionics course had proven true.  

Passing Loma Partida on the way to Isla Joya

We were slowly becoming more confident in our ability to feel our way around, carefully picking and choosing a way though mangrove passages and mazes.  With good light, minimal wind, patience and slow speed, we found ourselves willing to probe into uncharted areas we would not have felt very comfortable in a short time ago.  If our draft was much deeper, a lot of places wouldn’t even be an option.  Shallow draft… deep commitment. Whoop, whoop!

Our friend Bev was currently caretaking a house on a small private island for a few days as well as looking after the three resident dogs —- Quila, Spock, and Bug —- on behalf of the owners, two Canadian expats named Sharon and Roy who had purchased the island less than two years ago.  Sharon needed to visit the nearby city of David for a short time.  Roy, on the other hand, had been stuck in Canada for the past six months on what was supposed to be a short visit after Panama’s international borders shut down in response to the coronavirus.

Our destination, named Isla Joya, is a tiny island 0.8 acre in size, which pokes out of the water at the very back of the massive Chiraqui Lagoon.  We tucked into a spot behind Isla Joya and its larger neighbor Isla Mono, in a relatively small but long cove with nearly three hundred sixty degrees of protection, where we knew we would find S/V Aseka already anchored.

Isla Joya with S/V Aseka and S/V Exit at anchor

The backstory of Isla Joya had all the makings of a farfetched blockbuster Hollywood movie except it was non-fiction.  An American white supremacist calling himself Wild Bill managed to swindle money from someone by selling them property he didn’t own, and then fleeing the U.S., murdered a man in Costa Rica who had boasted to him about sneaking a briefcase of cash into the country.  Once in Bocas del Toro, Panama, he embarked on a scheme to acquire properties.  Posing as a potential buyer, Wild Bill would set up a meeting with the owner requesting they bring the property deed (in Panama, possession of the deed represents ownership of the property), then subsequently execute them and dispose of the body, or bodies.  

Located just across the cove we were currently anchored in, on one of those very properties, Wild Bill had a bar called the Jolly Roger Social Club, which reportedly gained quite a reputation as a party location for years.  The previous owner of Isla Joya was his final known victim.  Her murder, and eventually the whole plot, was uncovered largely because the ex-boyfriend refused to accept Wild Bill’s story of the woman’s disappearance and continued to press the authorities.  

Despite the dark outcome which culminated in numerous victims eventually being dug up on Wild Bill’s property, the silver lining was not only the fact that Wild Bill still resides in a Panama prison serving forty years for murder, but also the alignment of stars which, years later, allowed Sharon and Roy to accidentally stumble across a now languishing and well overgrown island while searching for property to buy.  Eventually they were able to wade through all the confusion, ultimately purchase the island, and move in while they continue to repair and renovate the existing buildings.

We met Sharon once she had returned from David.  Day after day for weeks, she continually offered her island paradise and endless hospitality to us.  Her generosity was amazing, especially considering she had just met us. 

Playing with the dogs — Quila, a nine month old Rottweiler; Spock, a four year old Papillon; and tiny Bug, a somewhat brain damaged, eternally suspicious and always yappy though oddly adorable something or another — became a source of daily entertainment… and inevitably raised voices.  

In these Covid times of social distancing, hyper-diligence, and unprecedented isolation (not only from each other, but from what we are confident may or may not be the truth), it is encouraging… no, it is invigorating to know that strangers in completely different orbits can still become lifelong friends having to do little more than reach out.

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