Thursday 12th. April
Curacao to Panama Verse
When you try to leave Curacao
Get used to “island time”
Where the tradesmen come late or don´t turn up
And the planning was wasted time
But stay at the Kura Hulanda
Surrounding the market square
You´ll eventually be back in the water
Though your schedule now requires flair
We sail 2 overnights to make up time
Then anchor at Guayraca Bay
Cross Rio Magdalene in the calm of the night
Stop at Windsurfer Bay (Puerto Valero) for the day
Then we run down to Cartagena Bay
Coming over the Boca Grande
We anchor just outside Club Nautico
Not in mud luckily but sand
We arrive just in time for Maritza
Who flies in from San Jose
We eat well,we walk the old City
And its walls to keep pirates away
Our guide´s the ebullient Henry
Who brings the City alive
And the fortress and coastal village
The huge, smelly, Mercado hive
We feel safe and it´s fun in Columbia
The people seem happy and free
Their music is playing for all to hear
Though their poverty´s there to see
We sail down to San Rosario
To help get back into the swing
Now it´s overnight to the San Blas
Where relaxation´s the thing
We creep past the Isla Tigre reef
(The GPS has us on land)
At one end it looks like a shanty town
At the other it´s pristine white sand
The Coco Bandera cays are as close
To paradise as you will find
If unwinding´s the thing you´re in need of
Here´s the place where you´ll unwind
The water is clear, the sky is blue
We´re nestled between 4 cays
Where the palms are green and the sand is white
And it´s turned into one of those days
That you hope never ends.
Now the moon comes up as a huge orange ball
And the peaceful lights of the boats
And the stars say it all
The Hollandes cays don´t quite measure up
(The day was dull and grey)
But the Chichime cays are the jackpot again
We stay there an extra day
We buy a colourful mola here
And watch how the Kuna live
It´s a simple self-sufficient life
There´s a lot of advice they could give
The navigation requires great care
Better trust your eyes than the chart
Or like many others you´ll be up on a reef
Painfully breaking apart
There´s a wreck off Dog Island (which we tried to join)
It´s a haven for colourful fish
They boldly swim up and enquire of us
Can we help you? What´s amiss?
We anchor off at Porvenir
(A smelly place to stay)
Then sail past the Costa Arriba
To calm Portobello bay
To a beautiful spot just off the fort.
That´s all, regrettably, there is to tell
Of this special cruise. Tomorrow we´ll be
At Colon, preparing for the Canal.
San Blas Islands
These islands form an archipelago on the Panama´s Caribbean coast. The Panama cruising guide warns of the difficulties navigating this area with all its reefs, the varying degrees of precision with the charts and the latency or lag in the GPS. After studying the charts and using the chart plotter as a guide poloroid sunglasses to see the reefs are the best aids as you slowly enter these areas. The depth sounder is also a great help. The 2 chart plotters we used had us crossing the reef and anchoring on the island.
We arrive mid-morning to come into Isla Tigre to anchor on the south side of the island. It is very hot and humid so a swim in the crystal clear water is the first thing to do.
There is quite a regular local traffic on the water near our anchorage. This includes a young man coming by in his dugout canoe, or ulu to offer us fresh langouste. Unfortunately our largest pot can only hold a very small langouste and I don´t think I could handle us dealing with it on board. However we do buy a fresh cantelope and watermelon from some other men and they are delicious. Also some colourfully dressed women come by to offer us some molas. Some people who are sailing off to a nearby island in their ulu have a small, colourful sail up.
This island is not very large and is inhabited. In the late afternoon we enjoy walking around the western end of the island where we are anchored which has a lovely spit, white sandy beaches and coconut trees. During the afternoon children had been playing and swimming here. There is a light wooden fence at the end of this area before it becomes the village with the huts. We are hesitant to enter this area until an American family who are based here for a kayaking holiday inform us that the Kuna Indians who live here are very welcoming. It is very impressive to see how these people have kept their culture and traditions.
Coconuts are the main products for the Kuna economy. They also export lobsters, crabs and octopus. Luckily we read the Kuna people are upset if you take any coconuts, even those lying on the ground. We see a lot of these and probably would have thought we could just take one back to the boat.
The huts are very attractive, especially the roofs made from special palm leaves found in the jungle on the mainland. The women are keen to offer their molas to sell. They are dressed in brightly coloured molas themselves, with glass beads around their legs and arms and gold nose rings and earrings. The molas are the Panama´s most well known handcraft. They are beautifully appliqueéd using layers of different coloured cloth. They are made into shirts or to make cushions or wall hangings with using motifs of sea life or animals.
We are surprised to be informed there is a bar/restaurant here. We call in for a drink and meet the couple from the only other yacht anchored here. The French skipper has been sailing for 10 years and his Belgium partner for many years also. She is trying to return to life on the land but is finding she prefers this way of life.
Friday, 6th. April
Today we think we have sailed into paradise when we arrive at the Coco Bandero Cays. These islands are protected by a 4 mile reef and are beautiful. They are small, uninhabited islands with white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal clear, turquoise water to swim in. Snorkeling off the outer reef is a treat.
At this time of the year the days can be hazy but we are lucky to have a perfect hot, sunny day and the full moon at night
Again we are offered fresh langouste and when we dinghy out to a tiny island to snorkel we meet up with the couple we met the previous evening.
There is another chilling reminder of navigation problems here with a large ship up on a nearby reef.
Saturday 7th. April
This morning we wake up to torrential rain. Ross takes this opportunity to be out on deck scrubbing down the boat. We haven´t had a chance to do this previously since we returned to her. After the rain it is a good time to wipe over the stainless. Now Impulsive is sparkling.
Tracking up through the San Blas Islands we are only 10 to 15 n.miles off the Panama mainland coast with its high mountains on our port side. Often we see lightening and hear thunder in that direction. It often looks as if it is raining there but it is bright, sunny and hot out at the islands. Once outside the protection of the reefs we experience the slight swell of the Caribbean Sea.
We have a relaxed morning reading before setting off to the uninhabitated Hollande Cays. These islands are only 7 n.miles but is still challenging with the navigation.
This is a peaceful anchorage in 5 m. of water. We have an isolated spot with just a large cruiser nearby. They kindly give us an update on Passage weather, which is our preferred forecast when the Onsat. Mail is connected. The forecast is all clear except for a few showers of rain. Ross is trying to set up the Panama network on the sail mail to use in the meantime.
It is amazing that in such an isolated place we can call our family for Easter. It is a very clear reception on the satelite phone.
The Easter bunny didn´t come to Impulsive this morning! In fact we haven´t seen Easter eggs anywhere. Maybe it is too hot in these places and they would just.
After taking up the anchor we must have come up on a small sandbank even though the depth sounder shows the depth is O.K. After churning up lots of sand we are free.
Today we venture 12 miles westwards to Chichime Cays. To come in here we need to round a reef with yet another wreck on it, this time it is a yacht. This is another beautiful anchorage and we are thrilled to see another yacht here flying the Australian flag. This is the first Australian boat we have seen this season. We pass by their large catamaran on our way to swim near the reef. Glen, Chris and Ben bought this lovely boat in Gibralter and are taking 9 months to sail her back towards Australia where they hope to sell her. Glen and Ben did the same exercise 5 years ago.
They invite us over for Easter dinner which is a wonderful feast starting with langouste and salad. We have a great time discussing experiences and what is ahead of us because they have done it before.
Monday, 9th. April
Glen kindly comes over to Impulsive to check out the auto-pilot problem. He is very competent with the electrical systems on the boat. He confirms what Ross thinks – that the hydraulic pump is broken. We are so grateful for this advice because we have a chance to organize a new one straight away and to have it fitted in Colon.
There are none of these pumps available in Colon or Panama City. We are very fortunate that our friend Rob who is joining us in Colon is not leaving Melbourne until early Friday morning. Mark Coates who is based in Sydney with Buizen yachts is able to organize one to be freighted down to Melbourne overnight so it will be there in time for Rob to bring it with him. We are very grateful to Rob because we have the spare B and G auto-pilot but to have to hand steer any of the long leg across the Pacific would be exhausting. Amazingly enough Mark suggested knocking the raymarine auto-pilot with a big screw driver handle and now it is going again, but we don´t know how long for so will change it.
We are enjoying the Chichime Cays so much we stay an extra night. We are having time for swimming, snorkeling, drawing and painting. Again the snorkeling here I lovely. A small lectric blue fish particularly caught our attention. It seemed it was showing off to us with its antics. The fish in this area seem very trusting and come close as you swim by.
Walking ashore on one of the very small islands we are invited to come back at 6.30 pm to join in the festivities for one of the girls on a nearby yacht´s 21st. birthday. We decide to stay on board and watch the fire and listen to the music and singing because earlier in the day we bought a langouste and thought it best to have it fresh. It was delicious.
Tuesday morning we up anchor early to track just a few miles s.east to Dog Island. This is a day anchorage only because it is not protected by an outer reef. Again care is needed with the navigation. This is pristine, beautiful small island with its main attraction being snorkeling around the wrecked freighter here. Apparently it had an uncontrollable leak so the captain deliberately ran it up towards the beach so they could save as much of the cargo as possible. The small coral growing on the ship´s sides looks wonderful in its autumnal colours and with the early morning sun shining through on it and the variety of fish here.
We have about an hour here with only the few Kunan Indians who live on the island before small motor boats arrive with other visitors. The Kunan women have some beautiful handicrafts.
We track across to Porvenir to check in and out of the San Blas Islands. The customs officer wants to charge US $200- which is a lot much more expensive than usual. Ross has organized to pay in Colon when we check in at Panama instead. It also may be due to the increase of transit fees at the Panama.
This is a pleasant anchorage so we will stay the night here. It is not safe to navigate these areas once the sun has set.
This tiny island is the hub of the San Blas islands with easy access to an airport and the Customs and Immigration offices stationed here. We are the only guests at the restaurant tonight, which is in a large kunan hut. Here we can see how well these are constructed. The people are very friendly with just a little English. There is just one dish available and that is “fish”. It is lightly fried and served with fresh salad and chips, and is delicious We sit at a seafront window where there is a lovely sea breeze and view over the ocean.
Our time in the San Blas islands has been a wonderful experience with the stunning scenery, lovely swimming and snorkeling. It has been interesting to learn about the Kunan Indians and to see how they have kept their traditions and culture. They are a strong people. They are small, serene and tranquil and self sufficient. They seem keen to educate their families.
Wednesday 11th. April
Today we are tracking 50 n.miles along the Panama coastline, the Costa Arriba section, or the upper coast, to Portobella. The coast has low lying greenery with the mountains of the San Blas in the background, still with large areas of undisturbed tropical forests. We average 6.5 kts. with the headsail up until towards the end of the trip the wind drops out so we are just motoring. It is a glorious day out on the ocean with the brilliant sunshine and blue waters.
Closer to our destination we begin to see cargo ships waiting to go through the canal and some that must have just come through.
Portobella is a very attractive anchorage. We anchor close to shore at the old fort. There is an upmarket resort nestled in here, from which we keep hearing loud roars like a lion. We discover later it is a very expensive resort and the noises we hear are from pumas.
Just on dusk we take the dinghy for a .5 n.mile ride into the town. The town seems dilapidated and run down with some old, elegant buildings from the days of the Spanish being here. eg the Renaissance style Custom´s House. This beautiful harbor was once one of the most important sites for transferring South and central American riches.
There are hundreds of yachts anchored here probably because it is only 18 miles from the Panama Canal and it offers great protection. We find it surprising there are only a few small restaurants here but are lucky to be told about Jack´s restaurant up the hill. The cuisine is excellent and we enjoy talking to Jack from New Jersey, who gave up a successful business life to sail around the world and then decided to live here. He has set up this restaurant and a hostel for back packers. He wants to help other travelers. He also runs charter trips to the San Blas Islands and now has a good rapport with the Hunan Indians on the 3 islands he visits. When they come to Portobello he puts them up and gives them board . They come 3 or 4 times a year to go into Colon.