The thin strip of land now called Panama was used to transport gold since the days of the earliest explorers. When Spain needed to take it's plunder from the Incas of Peru, they transported the gold by mule from the Pacific side, to the Chagras River, then North actually!...to the Caribbean Sea. From there the Spanish fleet transported the stolen gold to Spain.
Henry Morgan the 'Pirate', was a thinker...and figured out how to simply TAKE the Spanish forts for his own stronghold on the land. Later, the British (also good at warfare) took it from him!
The U.S. fortified this fort and other locations along this coast during WWll. What stands now however, is mostly early British efforts at rebuilding the fort AFTER they blew the S___ out of it!.
................................THIS WILL TAKE TIME.
more on CHAGRAS AND POGO/CIELO further below....
We called our driver and friend Roger and arranged for him to drive us out to the Castillo San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagras River. He brought his son, and we had a relaxing mid-day.
Most of the fort was in disrepair, but you still got the feeling of it's early importance. If nothing more, it was a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea and the Chagras River entrance.
At the end of last April2010, we took our boat, Memory Rose up the Chagras River and stayed for a few days. We had plans to meet a friend in the San Blas Islands soon, so upped anchor so we could proceed East along the coast.
Before raising anchor, I did not anticipate nor did I read the weather(clouds moving above my masts/and linking those images as astutely as I should have). The 60-90' jungle hid the wind from our level and I was 'sleeping at the wheel'. When I entered the mouth of the river, the weather...... as bad as it Truly was, I came close to the potential loss of our boat and maybe even.........us!
The seas were quite big, the channel going OUT, was an unmarked 90 degree turn towards the cliff of Castillo San Lorenzo, then a sharp left for maybe a hundred yards, (this to get around a sandbar extension of the landmass to the west...., then a sharp right to get pointed out to sea "just" after a coral reef easy seen as waves in any conditions broke on it.
All of this Right/Left/Right was around a bar/ between a cliff, reef and a rocky shoreline.
The breakers were huge and square. In the short time available now seeing this, I had to decide to GO or try to turn around in the bend of the river, I decided to 'go'. Actually, that was because I did not think I would be 'able' to turn the boat around in such tight waters with any degree of confidence and chose to 'power' thru what I sensed was ahead.
I also FAILED to recognize that the 'river' was NOT flowing. The gates had been shut, the water in the river was not moving. I screwed up and find it hard to forgive myself on this one! However, it was once again, a lesson a cruiser will learn and never again forget. Yup, lot's to learn but it's better than bumper to bumper on Friday anywhere!!
I handled the boat as a power boat and pulled it off, but my knees were knocking after and I counted my blessings then, now and until I'm gone. Especially for plenty of power boat experience in rough waters and a powerful engine in our boat.
Sorry to say, about December 10th, here in Panama, there was such bad weather and incredible amounts of rain, that the Panama Canal was closed for the first time in it's history. Shipping actually Stopped! The gates were opened to allow the water from inland to flow out to sea from the Canal locks and the Chagras River. This was a national emergency in Panama.
Sadly, during this storm, a sail boat we knew, formerly Pogo/ now Cielo, was trying to or had actually sheltered in the Chagras river.(conflicting reports...I'm leaning to the right now but 2nd hand info. but all is close enough.) Locally this storm is now being called the 'storm of the century'. Pogo was owned since manufactured by Craig and Sara Owings, friends of ours. They sold Pogo last year and the new owner (Dave), a highly skilled ex charter boat captain from the Virgin Islands, was living aboard in retirement and had been enroute from Bocas del Toro to the canal area. Dave, had owned the boat about 18 months at this point.
The story I heard, was that Pogo,(now Cielo) also had engine problems and were trying to stay anchored in the Chagras River. They did not succeed and were unable to hold anchor in the outflow caused by the opening of the Flood Gates. Their anchoring system did not hold and were 'flushed out' and went aground outside the river in short order. Out of control, the boat became hard aground in the whirlpool event when river outflow and sea met.... and Dave, Martha and Olga, a crew member, later made it to shore on fenders; stranded but lucky to be alive.
Cruisers rescued them from the beach, the next day David thought he could salvage the boat and paid local inhabitants to guard it, but now, a month later I can see the boat is stripped and I've just heard, the boat was insured. The thieves seemed to take every metal they could find and probably gutted the interior. From the Castillo, I was able to zoom in on both vessels, but it is clear they are total losses.