We left Cartagena behind on the 28th of January. Motored out of the harbor over the submerged wall and left her in our wake along with our good friends. Had a last dinner with the Glabs, they too graciously loaded us up with goodies for our passage: cookies, peanut butter, champagne, ham and cheese (real, glorious, from-the-United-States cheese). We were all set up, and boy did the goodie basket end up coming in handy. Thanks guys!
Started our trip with two knots of wind astern and ended with twenty! Fickle mother nature! On the first night, we hid behind Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands just in front of a narrow water channel into the interior of the island. Snorkeled in choppy, cloudy water. The sea life left some wanting. We’ve been spoiled in the Bahamas. At least we were able to get in the water after being confined to land and the deck while in Cartagena’s yucky water.
Having picked up my Dad in Cartagena and my sister in the Bahamas, we were now sailing with four aboard, which is tight. One wants to be picky about one’s own boat and it’s hard not to get annoyed when finely dialed systems are messed up. That’s the cost of having family and friends aboard though. Which, of course, we wouldn’t change for the world.
Sailed from the Islas Rosario to another of Colombia’s Caribbean island chains, the Islas San Bernardo, for our next staging point for the Panamanian push. No wind in the morning meant we ran Wendy and Belinda for a few hours before the wind built enough to run a broad reach.
It’s the life of a sailor. The wind is never going the way you want, or as strong as you want. Once the wind came up we had flat seas and a lovely sail to San Bernardo’s Isla Tintipan. Anchored in the lee of the island and swam ashore to a coconut grove and a thatched palapa. We gave ourselves a day to snorkel and catch up on some sleep before our final 36-hour push to the San Blas.
When our alarms rang the following morning at 3:30 am (the day of our first wedding anniversary), all hands were up for our departure and we motored around the north side of Tintipan, hoping that in the dark we weren’t bearing down on reef. Although we had electronic and paper charts of the area, it’s a generally poorly charted locale.
Out in the open water in the growing swell we hoisted, or rather unfurled, our sails and put ourselves on the right course to Panama! Swapped watches throughout the day. Went back to our zombie-deckhand mode of slight sickness mixed with sleeplessness. The day came and went (Happy Anniversary my love!). We had to motor a few hours from lack of wind. The night returned as did the wind. It blew the lettuce right off our tacos as we ate dinner in the coming dark. No, it’s not a euphemism for anything. Maybe it could be. “Man, that really blows the lettuce off my taco!”
Somewhere in the banging sleepless night (and not in the good way), Dad spotted a ship on the horizon. It got closer and closer. Took bearings on it and found it to be slowly coming our way. Couldn’t raise him on the radio or AIS, so we jibed to get out of the way. Jibing around the back of the waves is way easier than tacking straight through the front of them, and we bravely ran in the opposite way of our mysterious ship. The lights seemed to be maintaining their distance from us, like he was moving at our speed. We sailed an hour out of our way, waiting for some sign that we’d cleared him. Turns out it was an oil platform and his nonexistent speed was close to our very-slow-sailboat speed. Zero is pretty close to five knots when you’re used to looking at big freighters going 20 knots. So, yup, we ran away from what turned out to be a stationary object. That’s embarrassing. Nonetheless, we continued on our rocky way to Panama.
The wind kicked up higher in the night and we deployed an anchor drogue which slowed us to six knots and kept us from slewing and surfing in the waves. Kind of an intense night. As the waves abated in the wake of the dark we found ourselves a few hours short to make it to Porvenir for the next night. Decided to turn into shore and anchor on Apaidup, Snug Harbor, just off the jungle-crusted Panamanian coast.
A Kuna man in a dugout canoe, an ulu, came up to our stern and chatted in Spanish with us for a while. He lived on Playon Grande and wanted to sell us Molas and fruit. We bought two hefty coconuts from him for one dollar each. His canoe streaked off to the nearest island with spear-like paddle flashing. He had a hand-scrawled anchor tattoo on his forehead. Pirate territory.
We woke the next day to strong winds. Exited Snug Harbor, an apt name which we thanked a good night’s sleep to. Dodged islands and shoals the whole way. The light wasn’t great, but the sailing was fun. Still managed to burn my skin in the overcast. Damn UV rays!
Pulled into the unwelcoming harbor at Porvenir. At least four wrecks dashed on the reefs reminded us of the uncharted nature of the San Blas. One boat was currently holding itself off a shoal with lines north of Channel Island as waves broke over it. Yikes. Our Garmin Blue charts were pretty worthless. We supposedly sailed through and on top of a couple islands. Glad to have The Panama Cruising Guide by Bauhaus. I know why it’s a standard now.
When we anchored the customary welcoming party of ulus came scooting over. We caved and bought four lobsters from one canoe, as we are happy to support the economy. Of course we couldn’t clear in at 4:15 pm as the office closed at 4:00. So we wait out the night. We’ll pay around $700 in total. $193 for Panaman cruising permit, $100 for Panaman Visas per person, and $100 for the Kuna. The excitement of raising a new flag never gets old. We’d arrived in Panama!