PI­RATES & PIECES OF EIGHT IN PORTOBELO

Cruising World - - Underway - — Nadine Slavin­ski

Panama is full of fas­ci­nat­ing nooks and cran­nies, the most strik­ing of which might well be his­toric Portobelo. Colum­bus first charted this deep cut in Panama’s Caribbean shore­line in 1502. At the hey­day of Spain’s New World con­quests, Portobelo acted as a col­lec­tion point for huge quan­ti­ties of gold and sil­ver — the trea­sure chest of the Amer­i­cas, so to speak. To this day, im­pos­ing fortresses bristling with canons greet in­com­ing sailors. For us, what was orig­i­nally just a step­ping­stone be­tween the idyl­lic San Blas is­lands and gritty Colon, gate­way to the Panama Canal, quickly be­came a high­light in its own right. We spent days ex­plor­ing Unesco-rec­og­nized forts and climb­ing the creaky stairs of the his­toric Cus­toms House, where our imag­i­na­tions turned the cruis­ing fleet into galleons and pass­ing tourists into the pi­rates who hunted them.

Two of Portobelo’s more prom­i­nent “vis­i­tors” in­clude Henry Mor­gan, who sacked the town in 1671, and Sir Francis Drake, who is said to have been buried at sea off Portobelo in 1596. Our own lit­tle pi­rate had a great time ex­plor­ing the balustrades him­self, and we spent a mem­o­rable Christ­mas and New Year’s Eve in this fas­ci­nat­ing town that still plays promi­nently in our cruis­ing mem­o­ries.

In­trigued by pi­rates? John Mase­field’s 1912 book, On the Span­ish Main, chron­i­cles the ex­ploits of buc­ca­neers like Sir Francis Drake and Henry Mor­gan, who preyed upon the Span­ish trea­sure pipe­line in the Amer­i­cas. This book was hot read­ing among canal work­ers in the post-roo­sevelt years — and nowa­days, the e-book edi­tion is free thanks to Project Guten­berg. Look for it on Ama­zon or other on­line book­stores.

David Mccul­lough’s epic The Path Be­tween the Seas is a his­tory of the Panama Canal. We zipped through the 700 pages of this in­cred­i­ble book while cruis­ing both coasts of Panama.

Markus and son Nicky trace the foot­steps of pi­rates while ex­plor­ing the hills above Portobelo, Panama.

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