Cheshire Cat anchored in the same bay where pirate ships used to hide
Jasp, the Dreambird and the Cheshire Cat sailed in fine weather and good winds from Porvenir; we all arrived at our first destination, Isla Grande in the afternoon. This small island has become a popular recreational spot for people from Panama. From the sea it looked quite attractive, but as we slowly navigated the reefs around the island we saw at least three sailboats washed up on the beaches! This, together with a regular and rolling swell coming into the bay made us decide to carry on and investigate the next suitable bay.
Litton was a pretty and pleasant anchorage surrounded by hills and the water was totally calm. That evening we all gathered on Jasp and enjoyed a wonderful fish and chip dinner, courtesy of Dreambird's excellent fishing skills and Amanda's excellent culinary arts.
Ad we sat in the cockpit Mike spotted some monkeys on the island and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw them strutting around on two legs, walking quite upright! One was even carrying his tail over it’s shoulder for all the world like a small child swaggering around and playing dress-up.
They bounded up onto a nearby roof, so we knew we weren’t imagining everything. (And we definitely hadn't had too much to drink, although that what the children tried to tell us!)
Next day we parted company with the other two boats and Cheshire Cat went off to visit the historical town of Portobello - reputedly the stomping ground of pirates and buchaneers Sir Henry Morgan and Sir Francis Drake.
Christopher Columbus named the bay Puerto Bella because it was such a great place for their galleons to stay. It was an easy sail in from the sea to a beautiful calm and well protected anchorage. Drake attacked the Spanish here in 1596 and after that the Spaniards constructed forts on either side of the bay to protect the entrance.
We sailed in past Drake’s Island – where it is believed the famous pirate is buried. The story goes that he was interred in a lead casket and the casket dropped into the sea. They say that two of his ships carrying his share of treasure were sunk at the same.
After anchoring and getting the dinghy into the water we went off to explore the little township. Heading towards the shore we came upon a small dingy dock and found it belonged to an American couple, Pat and Dave. They are ex-cruisers who settled there some years ago and now involve themselves with promoting the history of Portobello; Dave gives occasional lectures to passengers on cruise ships.
Dave showed us some of his sunken treasure
Dave and his wife were full of information about Portobello and we were really interested to see Dave's collection of gold doubloons, silver pieces of eight and a number of highly prized official seals from Spanish commercial documents, probably dating from the 1400's when Spain was all-powerful in the area. "ARRRRR!" (As a pirate might say)
Wanita, Mike and I strolled around, stopping for a break to sample the local beer in a convenient restaurant and later to sample the local ice-cream. We visited a couple of forts within easy walking distance and saw the old Spanish canon lying exactly where they used to when the Spanish were using them. As seems usual with most forts they were almost in ruins, although some effort has been made to clean them. up and preserve what is left. Apparently the Americans took a lot of the stones away to build the break wall for the Panama Canal. The stone (reef rock) is really coral and is very light, like pumice, but also as strong as granite; it can be cut with a saw.
Entrance to a fort
Entrance to a fort
There is one lovely building which is in good repair. The old Customs House. It used to be the official Counting House, where one thirds of the world’s gold passed through in the days of the Spanish raids on Inca gold. In fact so much treasure was collected from South America that at times there wasn’t enough space to store it all in the building and it was stacked in the market square and the streets until a suitable ship arrived to take the v aluable booty back to Spain!
In town there is a large church - the focal point for an annual festival celebrating "The Black Christ". The church is home to a unique statue carved out of black wood; the stories associated with this wood statue are numerous. One tells that a Spanish galleon tried to leave port five times and was blown back by storms each time. One day some sailors found a large box floating in the water. They retrieved it and when they opened it found that it contained an unusual statue of Christ carved in a black wood. After they took it to shore the galleon was able to leave on calm seas and with no further problems. Another story tells how the townspeople of Puerto Bella were suffering and many people were dying from cholera. Some fishermen dragged a strange box up in their nets and took it ashore. Here they found that it contained the unusual carving. Almost immediately the cholera epidemic cleared up. Either way - the statue is an object of great respect in the area, and people travel miles to participate in the festival and processions.