Vista Mar - The Torture Chamber
Our second season of cruising was coming to a close as the heart of rainy season quickly approached. We were lucky enough to have good weather windows to hop from Bahia Honda all the way around Punta Mala and up to San Carlos, where we planned to decommission and leave Agape for a few months in Marina Vista Mar. We had heard that sailing around Punta Mala can get quite terrifying as winds are accelerated around the cape, also causing scary squalls and increasing lightning storms.
We got lucky to hit it when we did, there was very little wind and we ended up motoring most of the way around, with the exception of two or three intimidating squalls that brought a lot of lightning, heavy rain and wind around 30 knots. As we rounded the cape, we had to fight a 2-3 knot current right on our nose as we pointed north towards the marina. At one point we even slowed to only 1.5 knots. It was pretty miserable bashing and after 27 hours of sailing and dodging squalls, we were ready to get into the marina and get some sleep.
Eighty nautical miles southwest of Panama City is the fairly new, though never fully finished marina of Vista Mar. Their ads in magazines and on their website shows what it could have, or had been planned to look like, but upon pulling in we found something slightly different than what we’d expected. The docks were new and in great shape, but the break walls to protect the boats from surge were never quite finished, leaving the marina with the nickname of “the torture chamber”.
As high tide comes in, one of the small break walls becomes almost fully submerged, leaving the marina open to the swell on two sides. The dock becomes a roller coaster as it pitches and slams against its steel pillions. Boats tied to the docks roll one way and are violently yanked back the other, and dock lines holding the boats are wrapped in firehose, water hoses or rags, in hopes of giving them some protection against chaffing on the sharp edged cleats.
Why leave a boat in a place like this if it is so bad? Well our reason was reflected in the marina’s cost, as was the same for most of the other cruisers. Honestly, there was little choice as the other marinas near Panama City were at least three times more expensive (at the time) as they cater to more high-end power yachts.
We decommissioned Agape in just under two weeks, cleaning every inch of her inside and out. We pulled the sails down, washed, dried, inspected and stored them down below, along with every line on the boat. If you’d like a list of what we do when decommissioning Agape, or want an idea on how much work it takes to leave a boat for months, check out our post on decommissioning Agape in Mexico. You do not have to leave a boat like this, theoretically you can just tie it up and walk away, and we have seen people do just that. It’s more about what you will find upon returning to a boat left like that, that motivated us to be so methodical with our decommissioning. Last season it took us about four days to get Agape ready to leave for the offseason, but this year it took us 10 days and we could have easily spent a few more cleaning. The amount of mold inside the boat was unbelievable! In Mexico it was fairly dry, even in Chiapas where it rained a lot we never got mold as bad as we did in Panama.
I think it was the fact that we had been cruising during rainy season and it was almost impossible to get our backpacks, clothes, cushions, sails and shoes to dry out. Once in Vista Mar we had to pull everything out of lockers to clean, all of our backpacks, hats, shoes and gear were covered in mold. If we had a sunny day we’d pulling everything on deck, hose it down and spray it with vinegar (white vinegar kills mold spores really well and is less harsh than bleach) and it looked as if we were holding a massive yard sale each afternoon.
All in all we spent 10 hot and sweaty, long days working on the boat. We knew it would be worth it when we returned to Agape three months later and find her dry and mold free.
We left Agape with 12 lines holding her to the dock, all with heavy duty chafe gear and tied to balance any load that might come from being banged around at the dock. We also left a small, window AC unit running again on eco-mode, like we did the previous offseason hoping it would work just as well. The unit mostly works as a dehumidifier and the extra expense to run it has always been well worth the cost, as we return to find a nice, dry and mold free boat.
Every time we walk away from our girl it’s with mixed emotions. On one hand we are know we are heading back “home” to see friends and family, while on the other we are leaving our real home to live out of backpacks on the road. We hated saying goodbye to Agape and our life on the water but we were also so very excited to get back to California to see friends and family. We said a quick prayer at the bow asking for safety and protection for our little floating home, waved goodbye and headed off to the airport and back “home”.
Season 1 stats (Nov ‘16- ‘17)
6 months on the boat
108 days at anchor
70 days in a marina
12 nights at sea
2,455 nm traveled
Countries visited: Mexico
Season 2 Breakdown: (Nov ‘17- July ‘18)
8 months on the boat.
179 days at anchor
52 days in a marina
4 nights at sea
1,803 nm traveled
Countries visited: Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama.