Day 5, All Pro Wave Invitational, Panama
Today we went into serious expedition mode. An early start from the Maccavite hotel, then south to Escudo Veraguas 34 miles with 25 people on board. Escudo has zero population, rarely has a visitor and as it’s offshore some 10 miles we hoped would have more wind. Discovery comfortably sleeps 11. We have 25- 8 pro riders, Rami, 4 film crew, 3 boat crew, one photographer, one owner and his girlfriend, one writer and his wife, Scott (our local guide, guru and surf wave god), and two Panamanian chica friends of Scott to keep the morale high. One of them seems to keep Will’s morale higher than the rest of us, which doesn’t seem fair considering we’ve been catching plenty of fish… We planned to either sleep everyone on board or set up some tents onshore as there’s no way we can go all that way and get home in one day.
Scott would have to drive the jet ski 34 miles, half of them offshore. He and Mauricio went ahead to get some early waves at Cusapin to break up the trip with us on their tail. By the time we arrived we’d already been through several serious downpours, one of them providing more than enough water for a full deck shower for yours truly, and some strong winds.
We pulled into Cusapin and knew right away the swell was way up from the day before. Mauricio jumped on board and our own Scott joined Scott Balogh to surf. I programmed Escudo into a hand held GPS so they would have a guide if they lost sight of us, and we headed south. The weather was wet and visibility went from poor to nearly zero. For 17 miles we ran south while I just stared north hoping for a site of the ski and the two Scott’s. They would have no land reference at all and have no backup- if the GPS ran out of batteries, or if the ski had a mechanical failure, or any number of other failures, they would be totally on their own, drifting alone.
But just as we pulled into Escudo the sky lifted a bit and finally the ski came into view. After crossing some 17 miles of open water, the boys were pretty wiped. I was incredibly relieved to see them. I’ve got 25 people in my charge and the thought of losing someone either to injury or other nightmare is just that- a nightmare.
Escudo is a stunning island, with a series of offshore islets which dot its small coast. All are covered in thick jungle with a mix on the shoreline of steep clay walls and then long beaches. The wind was up just a bit as we pulled in and we were escorted by a small pod of dolphins, to everyone’s delight. We anchored at the south end, behind a series of tiny motus which made for a spectacular backdrop. Joao launched off the boat, but then the wind was replaced by a windless rain squall and the “kiting” was quickly finished.
We never imagined or planned to be running things with everyone on board overnight. Nico will have to prepare three meals a day for two and half days for 25 people in a galley that’s challenging for 6. Not only has he ridiculously trumped anything we’ve had locally he blows everyone away. On a trip where we’ve had very little wind, it’s a damn good thing we’re eating first class fare. Will took the ski in for some fly fishing, others went for a snorkel, others just stayed on board for a rest, while a few of us went for a stroll up the coast to recon for waves. Rain squalls were coming in rapid fire succession by this point and I kept thinking the wet weather and lack of wind would wear thin on everyone, but this group continues to amaze me. They take whatever the weather throws at them and we continue on, seemingly undaunted by the poor conditions and lack of kiting.
Late in the day some wind finally did arrive and just about everyone got in a short semi-wave session. I managed to bury the dinghy a couple times shuttling people in through the shore break, but otherwise there were no major catastrophes. The winds were hardly strong or consistent enough to be called good, but I think those who got a chance were glad to at least have a go. If nothing else, the scenery was incredible. I can practically guarantee no one has ever kited here.
Early that evening we found ourselves in a major debate. The options were numerous, with no clear favorite: 1) Stay in Escudo and sleep on the boat, with those on deck suffering through the inevitable rain (although the skies where clearing rapidly); 2) head back to the Hotel Maccavite (4 hours) to be more central to waves; 3) head all the way back to Bocas (6 hours) where I could take on fuel as both Discovery and the ski were getting very low; or 4) head back up to Cusapin (3 hours), sleep on the way and at least have the option of good surf in the morning, though we’d be one crowded boat for the night.
The debate raged for a good hour and option 4 won. By the time we pulled out of Escudo at 2200 the skies were completely clear and the moon was brilliantly waxing to nearly full. Scott B took the first leg on the ski, we raised all the sails to take advantage of a light apparent headwind and headed out. We’d come a long way to leave such a beautiful place so soon, but this expedition is all about wave kiting and Escudo was currently lacking both wind and waves.
Even with the help of the wind and the motors cranking, a counter-current kept our progress slower than normal and the trip ended up taking over 4 hours. But it was a stunning night. I was wide awake for the duration and had several others stay up to keep me company. Mauricio, Mike Jones and I brought Discovery in around the point at Cusapin under a brilliant sea of stars, the Milky Way in all its glory. By the time we dropped anchor we were nestled into a perfectly calm anchorage and bodies were strewn sound asleep everywhere. I gingerly made my way to our cabin and passed out immediately. Sleep has been in as short of supply as kiting, but we’ve certainly had no shortage of adventure!