January 22, 2022
Hit & run… okay. Someone runs into something, panics, and flees the scene.
But when someone runs into something, parks right back where they were, and goes back to sleep — there’s gotta be a name for that…Hit & Sit? Mark & Park?
Having just completed our first, and probably our only, Panama Canal crossing, we were seriously motivated to do something other than pay to sit on a mooring ball at the edge of the Canal channel.
We could also spend more money in Panama City but we had already done a fair amount of provisioning before leaving Shelter Bay, so we really just needed to move.
Less than forty miles south of Panama City, the Archipelago of Las Perlas had caught our attention.
After arriving at Isla Pacheca, the the larger of the two northern most islands in Las Perlas, we had sat contently at anchor all by ourselves for two days.
The island, inhabited by zero people and thousands of frigates, pelicans, boobies, and cormorants, provided a stunning introduction to the west coast of the Americas. Rocky bluffs, white sandy beaches, ripping current with a bit of swell, and twelve foot tidal exchanges were all part of the new norm.
Confused, choppy and rolling swell interspersed with completely benign conditions shifted back and forth every six hours or so, depending upon the interaction of tides and wind.
A number of local pangas, sport fishing boats, small ferries, and even a mega-twat or two had approached Pacheca, but only following the charted ferry path around nearby shoals. They motored right past, rarely even coming close. Two larger shrimp boats had anchored off the smaller island Pachequilla but that was nearly a mile away.
Late during the second afternoon we had our first neighbor – a steel boat that looked like some sort of small ferry – smaller than the shrimp boats but much bigger than the pangas; bigger than us. It tied up to the only mooring float in view; just upwind from us.
A short time later Kris and I were sitting in the dinghy, which was currently sitting at anchor between Exit and the shore, enjoying happy hour. We had strategically placed ourselves there to be in the middle of what we hoped would be a repeating sunset show — the day before we had seen numerous mobular rays leaping spectacularly out of the water.
As we sipped our gin and tonics, patiently waiting for the rays to reappear, a much smaller, more traditional wooden fishing boat, maybe thirty feet long with a half dozen locals aboard chugged by, a short distance away. The guys on deck offered friendly waves as they passed.
Just as the sun was setting, the boat went by once again, passing between us and the sun in dramatic fashion, eventually stopping upwind of us, a thousand feet or so in front of Exit. They looked to be pretty much right next to the larger ferry tied to the mooring.
Largely unsuccessful in our attempt to crash the leaping ray sunset show, which turned out not to be the regularly scheduled event we had hoped for, we eventually returned to Exit.
Hours later, though the sun had set long ago, the night’s darkness was still being kept at bay both by the illumination from a near full moon overhead as well as two piercing floodlights facing astern on the deck of the larger ferry boat sitting on the mooring in front of us.
There wasn’t more than ten knots of wind. However, during the period of highest tidal exchange, we could see anywhere from one to two knots of current.
At 10pm, Kris was sound asleep and I was sitting at the laptop. A particularly quiet night. The only sound at all was a dull whir from the fan on the wall… specifically switched to the low setting to try to keep from waking up Kris. With all the recent activities and drama, a sound night’s sleep had been hard to come by. It seemed overdue.
No din of noise from a nearby city.
No whining outboard engines from passing boat traffic.
No whistling wind whipping through the rigging.
No waves or swell slapping against the hull.
Just the constant whir of a small fan inside and steady hypnotic rhythmic background rumble of distant surf.
Without any warning, a thunderous, resounding BANG rang out. It was not just nearby. It was resonating through the hull of Exit. We felt it almost as much as we heard it.
A fucking impact. We had just hit something… hard
Kris bolted upright like a catapult, instantly awake and yelled out, “What the fuck?”
I scrambled from the settee reaching for our big torch, not so much answering her question as echoing the same three words, “What the fuck?”
Had we run aground? It sure as hell sounded and felt like it.
The next few moments became mostly a blur.
Clamoring up into the cockpit, I looked to the left and saw what appeared to be a wooden boat alongside of us facing the same direction as us, but moving backwards.
“What the fuck?” I continued to asked frantically, trying to put the pieces together.
Only a few feet away, I could make out more and more details as the boat alongside us slid further and further astern, almost sheering off the solar panel which extended horizontally from our stern railing as it drifted backwards. I could only imagine what I was hearing from the other boat was the Spanish equivalent of “What the fuck?”
It quickly became apparent that my initial fear that we had either dragged or swung erratically into the nearby rocks was not quite accurate.
There had most certainly been an impact; only something had hit us.
The other boat’s engine fired up with a cough, and its reverse momentum slowly stopped. As it began to pull forward, about twenty feet off our starboard side, loud conversation continued among the crew.
I went forward to the bow and tried to make a quick damage assessment. We still had absolutely no idea where we had been struck, exactly what had happened, or if we were damaged.
As much as I looked, all I could see was what appeared to be a small scuff, not longer than six inches, approximately halfway between the bow roller and waterline, just slightly to starboard from dead on to our bow. In fact, it looked more like a tiny spot where paint had been deposited on our aluminum hull rather than a scratch that actually took something off.
The boat next to us seemed to be the same smaller wooden fishing boat that had anchored in front of us earlier. The faces aboard appeared just as startled, confused , and sleepy as ours.
There didn’t appear to be any sense of malice or anger. Just an equal lack of comprehension.
I still couldn’t locate any point on our boat that matched the intensity of the collision sound we heard inside Exit. Even with a wooden boat on the other end, it would seem we should have more visible evidence of the impact we experienced.
Certainly more than what amounted to a paint scuff.
Best I could guess at that point was that the brunt of the impact from the fishing boat must have been taken on our anchor chain hanging down, right under the bow roller. It would help to explain why we could only find a tiny scuff on our hull. Yet, my recollection was the sound of them hitting us seemed well more solid and resonated far more deeply than one would expect from an impact with our anchor chain.
Slowly, the wooden fishing boat crept forward, its outboard chugging away as it angled around in front of our bow.
Only one floodlight was now illuminated on the steel ferry still tied off to the mooring, but it was enough to confirm the boat lit up between us was definitely the same boat that had anchored a thousand feet in front of us just before sunset.
The same flood light we could see them with should have made us easily visible to anyone else, as well. That, and our mast light… and lights on inside the salon. Unless they hadn’t been looking. Which would be the case if they were all asleep.
Eventually it became apparent that the wooden fishing boat which had just collided with us was resetting their anchor in just about the same spot it had been before. Pretty soon it shut off its engine and all was quiet again.
Whatever damage they had incurred, they didn’t seem to be sinking.
As far as we could tell, we were just the victims of a Hit and Sit accident [rim shot here].
With our heart rates eventually slowing and our adrenaline levels beginning to drop, amazingly after some time we were finally able to drift back to sleep.
By first light the steel ferry was gone. The wooden fishing boat was gone as well. They must have left just before sunrise.
The light of a new day allowed us a closer inspection of Exit, which revealed a previously unseen second point of impact on our hull – at the top edge of the toe rail, directly above the first mark we found. However, it too was nothing more than a paint scuff.
Ultimately, we pieced together a storyline which seemed to represent the most likely sequence of events that took place the previous night.
During the wee hours of the morning with everyone on the wooden fishing boat sound asleep, a ripping current brought on by the changing tide probably caused them to start dragging, which nobody realized. They would have drifted straight down onto us, more than likely broadside in the current. Based upon the height and color of the scuffs on Exit, it must have been the prow of their boat that struck us, causing their boat to spin around and drift backward alongside us.
The impact they felt on their boat must have been even more jarring than what we experienced. What only later occurred to us, was that their perspective, as they first looked out still half asleep, would have been of us alongside them appearing to move forward instead of them drifting backwards. They would have initially thought they were still stationary at anchor and had just been sideswiped by a moving boat – us. After they had started their engine and were moving, the discussion we heard must actually have been them sorting that fact out amongst themselves.
It could have gone much worse.
In retrospect, the initial confusion on both sides may actually have helped to freeze the moment with mutual indecision, effectively defusing a situation that could have become quite volatile.
In the end, there appeared to be more confusion than damage.
No blood, no foul.
The guy in charge of setting the anchor on the fishing boat would probably be getting shit for quite some time.
Big noise. No damage.
Aluminum boat (aluminium… sorry).