Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 18, 2008

San Blas

4.10.08 – Gili arrived yesterday after two days of flying: Tel Aviv – New York, a flight that was delayed by four and a half hours and lasted all of 12:40 hours. The next day she flew Newark – Houston – Panama City and then by car to Shelter Bay marina, to arrive there at 2145 completely bushed. “Total Loss” she says.
A good night sleep rectified things and after some preparation and settling the marina dues we went out of colon harbour and sailed to Chagres river.
We anchored at the place where the Bauhous guide says that there is a walking trail near a bridge in one of the inlets.

Bridge

Bridge

Last time I was here I did not find it but today we did and machete in hand walked along it for a while. It didn’t take long to realize that the jungle took over and closed it for human use. We turned back and took the dinghy to explore the river. We heard the roars of the howler monkeys and went looking for them. The trick of finding them in their tree hideouts is to watch for irregular branch movements. We discovered a tree that had a group of small, black monkeys, not howlers, shut the motor down and enjoyed their acrobatics. We also saw toucans, white and grey herons and kingfishers. A fun trip!
Sitting in the cockpit, we can see big fish hunting for smaller ones. The place is full of life. Night has fallen, there is only one yacht that we can see in the distance. The jungle soundtrack is on – better than any marina!

5.10.08 – Today’s destination is Portobelo, 25 miles away. We start with sails but after two hours the wind dies down and a motor is started and pushes us along at 5.5 knots. We get to the anchorage at 1330, have a rest and at 1545 dinghy ashore.
We walk to Buenaventura and back, 40 minutes walk in each direction. Portobelo has this ancient fort, complete with many old canons.

fort and canons

fort and canons

We do some shopping in one of the few Chinese mini-markets and back to Two Oceans for happy hour.

6.10.08 – The distance from Portobelo to the San Blas is about 45 miles so it makes sense to do it in two days. We elected to stop in Green Turtle bay, a place described in the guide book as “A beautiful bay…multi million project with all facilities”. He goes on to say that the marina is nearing completion but not yet operating.
Well – a beautiful bay it is, protected from the west by coral reef and from the east by jungle covered Punta Macolla. The entrance to the marina can be seen from our anchorage and there are a few houses on the beach.
In the afternoon we take the dinghy into the “Marina” and it quickly becomes clear that whoever put his money in this project ran dry at a very early stage. Apart from a deserted building on the beach and a few shacks there is nothing. A neglected yacht, “El condor” of New Orleans, a motor yacht with nobody on board and a fishing boat are tied to one of the docks – a sad sight.

Turtle bay

Turtle bay

On the technical front we encountered a problem with the port automatic bilge pump that started operating and did not want to stop even when there was no water in the bilge. I have a spare and will replace it.

7.10.08 – 0645 and we set course to Porvenir, the entry point into San Blas, 29 miles to the east. On our way we see a catamaran coming head-on. As it comes near, a trumpet is blown and the people on board “Fritz the Cat.com” wave their hands in greeting.We anchor near the island, taking care not to block the airstrip’s final approach. Immediately we are surrounded by cayucas, ladies wanting to sell Molas and young guys trying to sell lobsters and crabs. “Manana, por favor” We need to go to the port captain and the Kuna Yala congress representative to check in.

Porvenir

Porvenir

It turns out that the former is in Panama City. “Come again tomorrow” we are told.
We decide to dinghy to the nearby island of Wichubhuala to do some shopping in the local store. It is amazing to see the village with it’s two schools and the main square. The shop does not have much, but we did get a dozen eggs and a carton of milk.

We go on to Chichime, 4 miles to the east for the night. As we anchor the local ladies are quick to come over with their Molas collection.

Molas

Molas

Very colorful but no thanks! What we really wanted were the lobster guys but they were nowhere to be seen. Never mind, I take some Wahoo pieces from the freezer, we’ll have that tonight.
Our attention is drawn to some action in the water near the boat. Some fish are either hunting or running away from an unseen predator. Gili wants me to fish a snapper so she can make ceviche, so I take some of the bait I keep in the freezer, cast it in, put the rod into it’s holder and leave it unattended. A few minutes later Gili calls and when I come out I can see that the rod is bending and the line is running out. I tighten the friction knob and start pulling the fish in. Our English neighbors are joking, saying that we caught there anchor, but they do not feel the vibrations on the line.
When they see what comes out they applaud. A nice size snapper!

Snapper

Snapper

The snapper, or rather half of it, became fish curry within two hours. You can’t get them fresher than that.

8.10.08 – In the morning I put in the new bilge pump and surprise! It also operates non stop! Maybe I’ll wait until my friend Moshe, who is joining us in a few days with his wife Ilana, comes to the boat. He is an electrical engineer and a genius troubleshooter.
Out of Chichime and back to Porvenir we motor to satisfy the Panamanian beurocracy. That done, we head towards Dog Island, a little one on whose shores a ship ran aground ages ago, becoming a habitat for marine creatures.

Dog Island

Dog Island

Snorkel, lunch and then to West Holandes Cay, our destination for the night. Anchor just down and a cayuca is hurrying towards us. It’s the Crab and Lobster guys! We buy one of each, let’s see how good they’ll be tonight.
The preparations for dinner were complicated. We had to boil the crab and the lobster, extract the meat from the crab and then combine it with the white wine sauce and the pasta. The crab was so big it barely fit into our biggest pot. I am glad to say that the end product was really good.
With night falling, big clouds are closing on “Two Oceans” bringing thunder, lightning and rain. San Blas is notorious for lightning strikes and I make a sort of lightning protection slinging the spare anchor on the mast and dropping its chain into the water. Perhaps not very scientific but it calms me down somewhat.

9.10.08 – When at my terrestrial home, I get up in the morning and have coffee while reading the paper. Here, we get up, take a sip of water and go snorkeling. We see a big barracuda, big puffer and a nice ray plus many smaller reef fish. Then, after breakfast, we go out of the bay to our next paradisiacal spot. The wind is very light, just five or six knots and it is from behind. This calls for the spinnaker! The big ballooning sail goes up and so does our speed. We approach Coco Banderos Cays. Even with the phenomenon repeating itself over and over again you cannot feel “Blasé”. It is simply beautiful! We anchor between two little palm covered islands.
In the afternoon we have visitors, a cayuca with two men and a woman, who gives us her card. She is Lisa Harris, a master Molas artist, who looks a lot like Tina Turner and is a known figure in the area. She told us she also does tours in Rio Sidra. Some cruisers I met told me about her, though I do not remember the details. For the first time Gili finds something she likes and strikes a not inexpensive deal. After they leave I take a look in the guide book to get acquainted with the Rio Sidra.  There, in front of me, is a picture of Lisa with the following caption: “Lisa….master Mola maker and an infamous transvestite…”

Lisa

Lisa

10.10.08 – On the way to our final destination for the day we stop at Green Island. Is it greener that the others we visited? Not really, just a name.
In the anchorage there is the yacht “Sapphire” with Bob and Sandy Buchanan on board. They come over after lunch and we have a cruisers’ talk. They have been sailing in the Caribbean for seven years, the last 18 month in Panama. They give us a lot of information about the islands we are going to, Corazon de Jesus and Nargana.
In the late afternoon we anchor there. The two islands are connected by a bridge and are much more modern than the other islands we saw. There is a bank, a few shops and – greeting us on the pier is Frederico!

Frederico

Frederico

He is a local man who makes a living by helping cruisers who come here. He can help you with your shopping (at his daughters’ or his brothers’ place, but why should I mind?) will bring water to the boat, recommend the best restaurant and take you to the village chief to pay a courtesy visit and pay a nominal sum, 6$ for the boat and 1$ per crew member. He insisted that we visit his home. It was a typical Kuna house, the walls built with bamboo or similar stalks, the floor was compacted sand and the roof – palm fronds. In front of a TV set sat his wife, who was dressed in modern attire and an elderly woman in traditional Kuna garb, her face painted red. There was a grown child tethered to a chair and Frederico explained that he had a lot of disabilities, the cause was not made clear to us. I did hear that due to many family inter-marriages, there are a lot of problems with new born children.
We were told not to expect anything much regarding provisioning, but we did get veggies, fruit, chicken and other stuff we needed and Frederico promised to bring water at 0800 temprano (early) tomorrow morning.
This place shows you the urban face of Kuna Yala (the Indian name for the region) so different from the islands we’ve seen up to now, where life was more traditional Kuna, that is – much more basic.
In the evening we went to Café Nalie for dinner. The waitress said there was nothing to drink, neither beer nor water but later reappeared with a bottle of warm beer, a Pepsi and two ice filled glasses. Food was basic and not bad at all: fried fish with plantain and rice and langoustine with French fries, all for 16$.

11.10.08 – At 0640 I spotted the lights of the airplane with Ilana and Moshe on board. I rushed with the dinghy to the airport and as I was tying to the dock they disembarked.
Together we went to Nargana to do some more shopping and look up Frederico. He got us 55 gallons of water and after saying goodbye we went out and headed to Coco Bandero cays. The sky was cloudy, we could see rain falling on the horizon and the wind went up to 18 knots true. We ran with full sails, Two Oceans showing our guests what she is capable of. We came into the anchorage and as we were sitting down for lunch Lisa arrived with her collection of Molas. “Come back in an hour, please” we begged and she relented.

Ilana of the islands

Ilana of the islands

Lunch finished and Lisa is not coming back. Then another cayuca came by. Now it was the other famous Mola maker – Vinancio. His stuff is even nicer than Lisas’ and Ilana buys some. When,after two hours, Lisa comes back, she has lost the business.
While all this is going on, Moshe has put on his troubleshooter cap and with me aiding checks the bilge pump wiring and solve the problem. Together we follow the pipes of the salt water system and in short order we have pressurized salt water in the kitchen and in the port front locker, where we can connect a pipe and wash the boat even when underway. Salt water in the kitchen is a great thing, enabling you to wash the utensils first with salt water and thus save potable water, very important on long voyages.

Moshe on a job

Moshe on a job

Later in the afternoon we take the dinghy towards the edge of the reef where a ship has gone aground. The reef in that area is the best we’ve seen so far in Panama.
Back on the boat, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made to Moshe regarding fishing.
Half an hour later, he has two nice snappers and a third big something that had broken the line and disappeared. Moshe is happy.

12.10.08 –  Coco Bandero is a great place but we want to move on. So after taking a swim we go out. We are sailing with what little wind there is and one motor running to charge the batteries. We are also trolling a line, no big hopes using this system in this area but you never know.
As noon approaches we turn to the western islands of Coco Bandero. Going into the anchorage, in which two yachts – a mono and a cat – are at anchor, we go slowly with Moshe on the bow looking out for reefs.  The sun is hiding behind clouds and it is very difficult to read the bottom. At one point, where the depth gauge shows about 5 meters, the keels hit a reef we did not see. Bummer! We get away in reverse, try another approach, and anchor safely. Diving to look for damage I am relieved to see only some scratches on the keel paint, nothing serious.
After lunch we head to the Eastern Holandes, a spot called “The swimming pool” near BBQ island.
When evening comes the fishing gear goes into action. The first catch is a sting ray, Gili asks that we release it and we do.

Sting ray

Sting ray

Next some other fish takes the bait but breaks free with the hook, line and sinker. The third in line give a good fight, is brought almost to the stern, shows itself to be a good size Tuna, then breaks the line and disappears.  We replace the line with a heavier one and go on fishing. We have been bitten by the bug and there is no cure…

13.10.08 – In the morning we visit Tiadup, a small inhabited island close to the anchorage. Seeing the Kuna Indians in their natural abode is surreal. It is difficult to accept that people live in such conditions in the 21st century. Shacks with palm thatched roofs, no electricity and no agriculture save for coconuts.
An old lady sits on the ground and does some needle work. An albino boy shows up, another aspect of marriage between close relatives.

Ilana and the local family

Ilana and the local family

A grim picture? Absolutely not! They are full of smiles and greet us in the most pleasant way. They really look genuinely content. We buy three lobsters at 10$ a piece and coconuts at 25 cents each. I learn that there is a different name for the green coconut (Pipa) and the brown, hard one (Coco).
Around 11 a.m we set sail for Naguargandup cays, nested along a 6 miles barrier reef.
Out of the Holandes, we start trolling and very quickly catch a small Wahoo.  As I process it in the galley another fish is caught, this time a big one. “It was like hitting a wall” says Moshe. He fights the fish but it escapes. When we get closer to the Naguargandup islands a problem becomes evident. There are many anchorages in that group, but almost all of them are good for northerly or northeasterly winds. Today the wind is southerly at 15-20 knots and all those beautiful bays will become lee shores, open to the wind and seas. So, without delay I turn to a small island (its’ name is: Gorgidupdummet…) that has 2-4 meters depth on its’ northern side. This is where a catamaran comes into its’ own. We end up anchoring in 2 meters depth, but still the waves are noticeable.
Dinner was a gourmet affair: First course – Wahoo Ceviche; second – Penne with crab meat and third – grilled lobster. Dessert: fresh pineapple.

14.10.08 – During the night the wind blew from the south southwest and continued blowing all day long. We went out of the anchorage and set sails to the first reef. Later the wind got even stronger and we had to reef some more and finally take all sails down when it blew 30 knots. We continued motoring to Carti islands, where we thought we’ll be able to do some shopping. On the way I saw a cayuca with a single person rowing and then noticed that there was a diver near it. The depth was between 16 and 20 meters. This is probably how they take out the crabs, free diving to 20 meters, astounding! Carti islands have a relatively big population but the contents of the stores leave a lot to be desired. We found water bottles, Chitos snacks and some ready made dough for buns. We wanted to go to another island to check the inventory but the strong wind deterred me from leaving the boat with nobody on board so I thought of postponing the visit for tomorrow.
As a night anchorage I chose the bay behind Nonemulu island, 1.5 miles from Carti. Anchoring was not easy, we dragged a bit before changing position and digging the anchor securely in mud.
Moshe went into “work-mode” and made the gas grill serviceable by connecting its’ pipe with a “Y” fitting to that of the kitchen stove. He then reverted to “Fisherman mode”, put a hook with wahoo pieces as bait in the water and sat waiting. He didn’t have to wait too long, a 1.5 foot shark took the bait and when we tried to dislodge the hook, it spun and broke the leader. Another shark sporting a piercing!

Shark

Shark

15.10.08 – This is Moshe’s 61st birthday; Happy birthday, man!
A local man came over with a big cayuca for a chat. He said that strong wind is coming around noon and will subside in the evening. We’ll see.
We went back to Carti Sugdup, anchored and took the dinghy ashore. Right at the dock we found a nice “tienda” a shop with almost everything we needed including flour, yeast, tomatoes etc. We asked about water for the boat and a guy there told us we could tie Two Oceans to the dock and fill up for 5$. That was good news!
After filling up we asked if we could stay on the dock for a while and walk around the island. “No problem!”. We visited the Kuna museum, a shack with some pictures and artifacts of Kuna life and religion. The guide, a man called Davies, gave a lecture that was very interesting but a little too long.

Kuna museum

Kuna museum

Back to the boat, we went out into a 25 knots wind, raised the main and opened the jib to the second reef position and sailed towards Porvenir to arrange a Zarpe for the trip back to Colon. We then went to Chichime, with just a half of the jib unfurled, wind blowing at 30 knots, intending to spend the night there and go on west in the morning.
Chichime is really two islands connected by a reef on the east, in the entrance on the west there is a small island with a few coconut palms that is joined to the southern island by a reef, making a protected lagoon. Entering it and hiding behind the southern island, the wind fell to less than 10 knots, the contrast with what we had just a few minutes before was simply incredible.
Night is falling, a full moon lights the scene and it is pure magic.

16.10.08 – Early departure is called for today. We are leaving San Blas and have almost 40 miles to go to Isla Grande. Unfortunately Moshe is suffering pain from a bad inflamation of a tendon in his shoulder plus he hurt his lower back hauling water containers. During the night I worried about the conditions we will encounter on the way, remembering the 30 knots southwesterly.
Luckily the wind did not go over 20-22 knots and from a direction that enabled us to sail fast on the right course to destination. With a boat speed of 8 knots a fish was caught. In order to be able to bring it to the boat we had to reduce speed significantly and did it by rolling the jib completely and releasing the mainsail. After a lot of effort I brought the fish to the stern. A monster barracuda, probably over 4 feet, the biggest I’ve seen so far. We decided to let it go, fearing Ciguatera in such a big specimen.

Miki & Cuda

Miki & Cuda

At 1230 we anchored near the settlement of Isla Grande. Went ashore to investigate and had a bit of a disappointment. The guide described it as a popular vacation spot, full of restaurants and bars but in reality it is a not a well to do comunity. We did find an attractive restaurant and had a simple dinner there. Moshe, still with pain stayed on board and got a Calamary dish in a bag.

17.10.08 – We motored out of Isla Grande, through the narrow and reef strewn channel between Isla Linton and the mainland and out to the open sea on our way to Shelterbay marina, Colon. Gili is flying back home tomorrow and will go to the airport from there.

We do not go straight but make a detour via deeper waters in order to troll for fish. Our freezer is practically empty! Even before reaching the 100 meters depth line we catch two nice tunas in quick succession.

tunas

tunas

We enter the marina and tie at what has become my regular place, position C-2 and sit down to have lunch. Gili, with moshe giving instructions, baked bread which came out really good. This is another breakthrough for the “Two Oceans” crew that will be significant on the long legs in the future. We also discovered that powdered milk made good, tasty milk and that you can easily make yogurt with it.

We saw Anita and Chris of “Padma” in the restaurant and invited them for dinner.

Anita and Chris

Anita and Chris

They postponed their San Blas plans to stay in the marina with internet connection and manage their assets in the current world economic crisis, which we, in the San Blas, were not aware of.

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