Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 27, 2014

Panama – part 1 – Kuna Yala

21.10.14 – Tuesday – We tend to use the Spanish name, San Blas, for this part of Panama but the Kuna tribe, living in this area from time immemorial call it "Kuna Yala"; I think I better use it too.

It rained most of the night but the new morning was clear and calm. Just before we left the anchorage a military craft sporting four huge outboard engines and manned by four armed and bullet proof vests clad soldiers passed by and tied to a tree ashore. We motored-sailed west towards the Eastern Holandes cays, passing island groups we visited six years ago; we had good memories of Coco Bandero cays, which some people  think are the most beautiful islands in Kuna Yala. Having given one fish away and eaten another, fishing was again on the agenda and it didn’t take long for a nice, 10 man-meals Spanish mackerel to grab our hook.

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We entered the Eastern Holandes and made our way to the area called "the swimming pool" north of Banedup, near a small island which was given the name "BBQ island". Four yachts were already at anchor, one of them a big Outremer 51 that I think I saw in Grenada.

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                                     BBQ island

In the afternoon we took the dinghy to go to a reef on our east and had a big disappointment. In Cartagena we had a mechanic replace a ruined impeller in our outboard engine; Jose, recommended by Pablo, the Club Nautico manager, said at first he couldn’t get the part. I told him to assemble the motor and bring it back. Then the story changed – he could do it after all; he brought it back the evening before we left Cartagena, got a 100$ and promised that he serviced it, ran it and it was now "like new". It was too late to lower the dinghy and test it myself plus I tend to believe in people. We used the motor for a short time in the Rosario islands and it seemed fine. Now, after a few minutes of motoring, the trickle of cooling water disappeared, the outboard becoming hot to the touch. I don’t know what impeller Jose put in there but surely it was not the right one. I’ve been swindled!

22.10.14 – Wednesday – Time to make the formal entry into the country. That had to be done in Isla Porvenir; we arrived there at 1115 and at 1210 all the formalities were done and we were poorer by 440$. Immigrations took 100$ for each passport, harbor master took 209$ for a six months cruising permit plus the Zarpe to Colon and other paperwork; the Kuna Yala congress got 30$ for a month’s stay. Being out of vegetables, we anchored by the island of Wichubhuala, rowed the dinghy ashore in search of a greengrocer. The village did not change in the last six years, same reed and palm covered houses and again – no veg to be found.

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On one of the community buildings we saw the following painting on the wall in which the flag of the revolution of 1925 appeared and in it a swastika; no connection to the use of the same in Europe later on.

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We saw the same flag on a boat in Porvenir. I wonder how that symbol, originating in India, found its way to Kuna Yala.

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We relocated to the Eastern Lemmon cays for the night. We were not the only ones thinking the place was a dream; I counted other 12 yachts and motor boats at anchor.

23.10.14 – Thursday – Before breakfast we went snorkeling on the nearby reef; the highlights were a school of juvenile batfish, an area of elk-horn coral and a big spotted eagle ray. A few minutes after we came back on board a local Ulu approached; a young one driving (they had an operating outboard) and an older man in front. They had some fabric covered packages on board. I thought I knew who the man was. We started with small talk and then I told him:"I know you, you are Venancio, we met six years ago". Vinancio is a master Mola maker and was quick to take out his art for display. Mola is a quilt work the local ladies and some men do here; it is very colorful, containing many traditional symbols as well as images of the area’s flora and fauna.

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Molas by known master makers are not cheap; it seems Vinancio priced them by the number of squares. He asked for the piece above 280$ and was ready to make a reduction for the "long time friends" arriving at 200. Frankly, even if we wanted it, we didn’t have enough money on us! The authorities took most of our cash and Vinancio, with all his commercial savvy does not take credit cards (yet). He showed us a piece made out of 12 squares; 600-960 dollars?

A dinghy from an anchored 46′ Bahia catamaran near us came by. "Did you see the crocodile?" Crocodile? We fear those more than we do reef sharks! They were sure they saw one and actually followed it for a while. I looked up the matter in the Panama Bauhaus guide and found out that they are abundant in Panama and that in San Blas they frequent saltwater marshes but sometimes the open water between islands. "It is extremely rare for them to attack people in Panama although precaution should always be exercised when swimming or wading in streams and marshes". BRRR…

We wanted to go to the anchorage near Yansaladup where a two miles reef was promised. A straight line distance would have been just a mile. The chart in the guide showed shallows and reefs all but blocking the way. The C-Map showed a clear passage. I tried, I failed and had to go all the way around, taking care not to run aground on shoal like the one below.


(please remember that all the pictures are taken with our smartphones so quality is not up to the regular standard!)

The "reef" turned out to be a shallow area of seaweed, not very interesting, but the anchorage was calm and nice.

24.10.14 – Friday – We decided to swim out to the real reef, traversing the weed area. As we got to the end of it, we reached a deeper sandy patch; two wing tips came into view and as we came closer a majestic spotted eagle ray revealed itself, busy eating something on the bottom. The moment it noticed us it flapped those long wings, accelerating away in fright. The reef was nice with lots of fish and on the way back – another performance by an eagle ray. It was a long swim; we were in the water for more than an hour.

Come ten o’clock, with the sun sufficiently high, I felt confident enough to motor towards Chichime, 2 miles away. Chichime, comprised by two islands connected on the east by a shoal and reef, is a very popular anchorage and as we entered we were the 21st boat there. A  yacht close to the shore of the northern island drew my attention; there are not a lot of small  junk rigged ketches around! Could it be Amuri Mina with Kevin, whom I met in Shelter Bay, Colon on my previous stay in Panama? 

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Once anchored, we went into the water, checked the anchor and swam over to that yacht. A stark naked, long haired man came up on deck. "Dress up, Kevin, visitors!" I hollered and he put on a pareu. Two more figures appeared, a young woman holding a blond baby boy, six months old. "A lot of changes in your life" I said, Kevin was all by himself six years ago and crewed for me on the Canal crossing. Now he had Julia and two kids; their two years old daughter was on shore at the time. "I got stuck" he said "I have everything I need here". 

We learnt from Kevin that the sold beers at the back of the island; that was good news, because we were down to our last can. A woman dressed in the traditional garb sold us cold Balboa beers for 1.5$ and allowed me to take her picture.

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Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 25, 2014

Sailing From Colombia to Panama

Hi All! I published two posts at the same time so please do not miss the post below (Colombia part 3).

19.10.14 – Sunday – We had 157 miles ahead of us to the Cayos Ratones (Mice Islands) in San Blas. With a forecast of light southerlies I figured it’ll take about 30 hours of motoring. Wishing to arrive in good light, we started out at 0700. Frustratingly the wind was from the west southwest; exactly on the nose but apart of a few periods of 7-10 knots it was less than 5 and we were advancing according to plan. Another frustrating issue was our complete failure in the fishing department; we kept changing lures, giving each model a few hours, but no fish was taken.

As the sun came down we noticed a yacht at our 2 o’clock on a converging course; they slowly came closer and just before it became too dark to see them clearly, I called them on V.H.F. Having our navigation lights on, I wanted to suggest they do the same thing but they never answered, probably having their radio closed.

20.10.14 – Monday – During the night a favorable current added one knot to our speed. Gili did the first shift, I did the second and just before she came to relieve me at 0530 I let the fishing lure out, briefing her to close the throttle to lower power when a fish is caught and holler my name. In less than five minutes I heard the engine noise change and rushed into the cockpit. It was still quite dark and as I brought the wildly struggling creature to the aft steps and tried to gaff it – the hook broke and a nice size tuna escaped to  live another day.

I couldn’t go back to sleep and sat waiting for another strike. When it finally came it was a skipjack tuna, a fish I’m not crazy about so I put the fishing gear for another try and bingo! a small Spanish mackerel was caught. Cayos Ratones came into view and about two miles from them we met a local Ulu, dugout canoe, with one man rowing and two guys diving for crabs and lobsters. “Let’s give them the tuna” I said, slowed down waving to attract their attention. “Do you want a fish?” I asked lifting it for them to see. Smiles of joy appeared on their faces and they rowed over and took it.

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We still had a mile and a half to the anchorage. “Shall I put the lure in again?” “Yes” said Gili and it was done. Half a mile to go, I started reeling it in quickly and when it was about 20 meters from the stern another Spanish mack took the lure!

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Not big ones, those, each a meal for two; we’re not complaining.

We took all sail down and entered the anchorage searching for a sandy spot to drop our anchor. The fishing excitement did not diminish the one the island’s view created. The fronds of the coconut trees waving gently in the wind, the white coral sand and the clear water in the anchorage – we were back in paradise!

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Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 25, 2014

In Colombia part 3

17.10.14 – Friday – Going out of the tight spot we held at the Club Nautico was  made relatively easy by the marinero named Kiko (popular name here). In gratitude we gave him two bottles of beer. Out of the harbor we motor-sailed towards Islas Rosario, aiming at Bahia de la Mantas on the northwest of Isla Grande, where we thought we’d find clear water and reefs. Cloudy skies made the shallow entrance difficult but very soon we had two locals competing for the honor of guiding us in; three guys on a sit-up kayak and one on a small motor boat. Just as our anchor hit bottom, even before we had all the chain out, they were both with us requesting compensation for their effort. The kayak guys were first so they got some of the Colombian money I had left.

Next there appeared a fisherman, offering lobsters, crabs and fish, priced for the rich tourists. Gili wanted a fish for dinner so a deal for a nice red snapper was struck making everybody happy. Part of the deal were two bottles of beer, one for the fisherman and one for the aspiring guide who tried to sell us some touristic trinkets.

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Once those guys left, we could look around and enjoy the view; the bay is nice and green with a few houses on shore, at least one of them is some sort of a resort.

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                          Isla Grande Eco-hotel

We went snorkeling and found the bay almost completely devoid of life; visibility was not that great either. We had the red snapper baked with couscous salad on the side for dinner; it turned out to be big enough for two meals.

18.10.14 – Saturday – In the morning we went ashore to explore; for some reason I imagined the island to be a well kept place revolving around the tourist industry. We found it to be a bit run down, an empty, deserted hotel stood at a beautiful corner of the island; houses of local people were very modest. In one of the "Eco Hotels" they had an aviary in which they kept the most colorful parrots and two toucans; those, in my view, are a marvel of creation evolution. Look at the colors on that beak!

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Back at the boat we went snorkeling again to the reef on the north of the anchorage; dead coral and not a lot of fish but we did enjoy the workout. Around noon the action started. Motor yachts in quantity came by, local fishermen quick to offer lobsters and fish.

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Tomorrow morning we’ll set sail to Panama, our intended landfall – the San Blas islands.

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                          Two Oceans in Isla Grande

We did not spend enough time in Colombia; in the planning stage I thought about it as a "technical stop" on the way to Panama but later, as more information became available I understood that the country is worth while exploring. We did not go to the Tayrona park bays due to the slow bureaucracy. The numerous Rosario islands seem to have a lot of potential for the cruiser. I wish I could take the time…

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