Islas Secas, or the Dry Islands in Spanish I believe, are of a rare beauty. Imagine black rocks covered in lush tropical forest with white beaches and transparent waters inhabited by curious colorful fish. I know, that does sound appealing, and it felt so nice after the long months spent in the city by the brownish river water. The largest island by which we anchor is home to an outrageously expensive and select resort where my former physical therapist from David now works. Sadly, due to covid - which seems to be the perfect excuse for them to be very very close, the reported behavior of the resort even before the pandemic - we were not able to meet again in this paradise. Luckily though, that earned us the password of the property wifi under the (rightful) pretext of contacting her on WhatsApp, which help overcome the absence of cell coverage in the island. But before all that, arriving at sunset, we anchored between the main island to the West and a smaller island, to the East, where we were not at risk of hitting any coral head with our anchor. Quite a nice problem to have! We spent 2 days at this quite rolly location, enjoying the privacy we had missed in Pedregal as well as one of the most transparent waters we had seen to this day. We used the time to do some maintenance of the autopilot which didn't work on the previous leg (spoiler: we didn't fix it!) and of the steering system in general. I assessed my swimming abilities by reaching the Eastern island, hoping for a nice visibility by the rocks, but although the fish seemed abundant, the swell was stirring the water. I joined Yalçın, who had been following me for safety in the newly repaired dinghy and we took off for an attractive beach on the main island that was disappearing at high tide, virtually splitting the island into two. The landing wasn't as trivial due to the abondance of corals in the shallows, but once we had set the dinghy on the beach, the views were stunning: Drift wood, a circle of palm trees and two separate beaches facing the other side.
I think it's that excursion that motivated us to move the boat the next day and get closer to this wonderful island. To be honest, we were also hoping for a flatter water, to test the recent repair of the autopilot and also for some cell coverage that never came. After being saluted by the other sailboat which was anchored by the resort when we arrived and now leaving for Mexico, we had a quick lunch and took off. We explored a couple of the marked anchorages by the shore, to settle not too far from the low tide beach where little jellyfish didn't seem as bad as in other places and where our anchor finally held after two attempts in 40 foot deep water, which sadly wasn't as clear as our previous spot. If we could complain about the latter, we did appreciate the calmer water and this became our base for various snorkeling and dinghy excursions.
We explored the two beaches of the resort, as well as a third one we had seen was used by the staff to beach their large utility barge. Navionics also indicated the beginning of a trail leading to the island airstrip where they shuttled the guests from Panama City. On December, 9th, Yalçın's birthday, we went explore on a secret mission to the airstrip, both for the thrill and to exercise my convalescent foot. We didn't see anyone on the ascending road, nor on the airstrip, but it felt quite surreal to walk on concrete surrounded by solar panels so far from any apparent civilization. After some more walking, we decided the resort was too far to reach by land and dinghied to their main dock where our hopes of getting drinks or dinner for Yalçın's birthday got crushed, though access to the internet was already an improvement.
The snorkeling on the island was incredible. Many location to choose from with clear views on coral patches inhabited by a multitude of fish. Enough for me to finish filling my GoPro SD card and identify many species from my "Reef fish identification" book, a great companion which would become obsolete as soon as we would cross the canal and leave the Pacific ocean. This island made us want to linger some more though. We decided to take our time here as this place was scoring pretty high in the list of our favorites since departure. We relaxed, explored, swam, made some bread experiments (which turned out quite successful) for Yalçın, inaugurated our new swing and tackled various chores on the computer. It also made us reconsider the potential of the Panamian cruising scene. Maybe we didn't need to try to take off to the Caribbean as early as we could prepare the boat for the challenging passage? Maybe we could spend some enjoyable time in Panama - Panama City, Boca del Toro, San Blaas... - and prepare the boat with more serenity to be in the Caribbean at the end of the next hurricane season. Once more, we looked at guidebooks, charts, routes and ending with yet again a different plan, with one objective in mind, taking in places like Islas Secas as much as we could!
A few days later, the paradise we had all to ourselves started to fill up with other cruisers and on the day we left, there were three other boats. The first one to arrive was a blue Jeanneau called Dina Helena skippered by a couple of Dutch cruisers, Marija and Hank, who sailed all the way from the Netherlands via Brasil and Patagonia, the long route that most people skip by transiting the canal. We exchanged tips about Mexico, where there were headed and some of our future cruising destinations. They invited us aboard for some drinks on their arrival day and happy to have such good company, we decided to stay in Secas an extra day and returned the invite the next day after a last snorkeling (and high intensity exercises for Yalçın, inspired by his CrossFit days) in our favorite spot by the beach that vanishes at high tide. With mixed feelings of apprehension, nostalgia and excitement, we tidied up Tire-Bouchon for an early departure the next day.