Posts Tagged: ‘San Blas’

In the News!

September 4, 2013 Posted by Deb

Sail Magazine contacted us by email while we were underway from Honduras to Guatemala. They had read our blog and might want to put a little article in their new special Multihull Sailor issue. I thought that was pretty cool, but by now it seemed like such a long time ago. The magazine came out yesterday and we rushed to Barnes & Nobel to see if we had a mention. Pretty cool article in their “CAT PEOPLE” section.

CAT People

CAT People

The photos were taken by 1) a tour guide on top of a mountain in St. Kitts, 2)  by our friends John and Cyndi on Cynergy from a beautiful sunset in the San Blas islands, and 3) by Mike & Linda on Casa del Mar from Honduras’ best kept secret, Cayos Cochinos.

Multihull Sailor, special edition of Sail Magazine

Multihull Sailor, Special Issue of Sail Magazine


Exit from San Blas

December 31, 2012 Posted by Deb

What with our good engine down and our flakey engine doing all the work, we decided to do maximum sailing, minimum motoring to get out of the San Blas and to a diesel mechanic. Our first two early morning starts were a joke with 7–8 kts of wind and bigger than 8-foot swells coming in on the beam. The genaker flew well and we hardly dropped below 3.5 kts, well below where most would fire up the diesel and no faster than a nice walk. We bailed on day one and tucked into Porvenir (where we started) and just toughed it out on day two. Thankfully, the winds picked up. We pulled into Isla Grande at about 3:30 p.m. and celebrated ashore with fish fingers and fries. We did notice that most bars and restaurants were closed … probably the holidays.

That “Reggae Feeling”

The hazy run west along the sparsely populated coast of Panama was very Pandorish.

Pandora or Panama?

The charts are trash for this coast and there are offshore reefs to deal with every couple hours. We own the almost mandatory guidebook for Panama from Eric Bauhaus. We also had the results of someone’s effort to scan the charts in that guidebook and stitch them together as an electronic chart. We loaded these guidebook charts into our chart software and the results were amazing. They overlay the primary chart which is criminally inaccurate for Panama. The detailed charts take over when you zoom in with the mouse. We use the freeware program OpenCPN, and they have done a nice job.


We underachieved Portobello because the weather forecast for 12/30 and 12/31 called for increasing winds. Wind is fine unless you’re maneuvering into a slip with a one engine cat. We pulled the anchor out of the mud after only a one day whirlwind tour of Portobello but we did get to Captain Jacks. We may have to return.

Shelter Bay Marina, Panama

We spent about 15 minutes in the Panama Canal. Actually, we crossed it at the breakwater as we played dodgem with freighters.

Deb staged the boat in high winds (tough with one engine) outside the marina while I dinked in for a look at our slip. We recruited a Swiss volunteer line handler and communicated by charades. When I returned with the dink and our Swiss recruit, we short paintered the dink to the starboard hull, locked down the tilt (so Deb could hit reverse at high rpm) and Deb and the dink became our starboard engine. I slammed a rum coke and in we went.

No excitement other than the dock master changed his mind on the slip and we had all the lines and fenders on starboard and had to scramble a bit. There was no choice but to be perfect with the boat handling and we were. We’re back in the land of swimming pools, showers, garbage bins, laundry, shore power, and water from a hose. Oh … and groceries from a shelf instead of a dugout.

Random Shots of the San Blas

December 28, 2012 Posted by Deb

Deb the Diver

Deb the Diver

Chuck Doing Tom Hanks in Castaway

Chuck Doing Tom Hanks in Castaway

Neytiri in the Swimming Pool (Hollandes)

 Hiking Hollandes, Our Own Private Island

Hiking Hollandes, Our Own Private Island

Exploring by Dink

Exploring by Dink

 Kid’s Treasure Hunt on the Last Day of the Mayan Calendar

A Kid’s Treasure Hunt on the Last Day of the Mayan Calendar

Deb Going Native

Deb Going Native

Can You Anchor Any Closer?

Can You Anchor Any Closer?

Another Day in Paradise

Another Day in Paradise

Sundown With Approaching Squall

Sundown With Approaching Squall

Rio Sidra: Stupidity, Serendipity, and Snakes

December 26, 2012 Posted by Deb

We received an email invite from Bright Ayes (former Iowa State grad) to go on a hiking tour up the Rio Sidra. They were in Portobella and we stupidly assumed the hike was based out of there, not having read our guidebook. We declined because we had just arrived in the San Blas and there were islands to see. Imagine our surprise when we pulled into the Hollandes islands and Bright Ayes was anchored there. They were leaving in 30 minutes to go to Salardup and stage for the tour, along with Cynergy and Wildest Dream. We swallowed our embarrassment, un-declined their invitation, and were off for Salardup after only having the anchor down for 45 minutes and a quick lunch in the Hollandes.

Lisa the Tour Guide

Lisa the Kuna Transvestite

Lisa the Kuna Transvestite

Lisa is a Kuni tour guide and one of the few who has permission to take tours through the Rio Sidra. She is also a transvestite, a common occurrence (role) in the Kuni culture. She showed up at 8:00 am with her driver, Ina, and nine of us piled in.

Rio Sidra Ponga

Ina the Ponga Guide

Our destination was a waterfall named in Spanish for mermaid but the river itself had no name. We passed through her family cemetery. It is under a thatched roof so the graves do not wash away during the rainy season. It occupies much of her time and a significant part of her income goes to site maintenance.

Hiking to the Falls

Marilyn Monroe Lip Flower

Neytiri on the Horizon

The Falls

We don’t jump off cliffs anymore. But if an old transvestite can do it, there’s a bit of pressure there and Deb jumped even with her new knee and some crowd encouragement.

After the Jump

Lunch at the Falls

Wet Deb and Betty

The Trip Back

Most waterfall hikes are out and back. Lisa took us back via the river after loading all nine backpacks on Ina. We walked, swam, jumped, and took water chutes for a very cool return trip. The jumping and chutes were a highlight. Lisa went first and there were usually no good options but to follow.

Hiking Down Rio Sidra

Sliding Down the River

Kicking Back after the Rio Sidra Hike


The Snake

We do anchor off real tropical islands … several hundred yards off usually and uninvited guests of the insect, spider, and bird kind are fairly common. Uninvited snakes are not common. John on Cynergy stood up from his morning coffee, turned around, and saw a longer than four foot boa lounging just behind where his head was. Kudos to him for very calmly asking on the VHF if anyone had any experience with large snakes. I thought he was joking at first. Not.

Cynery recruited a few Kunis from their homes on Salardup and they got the snake to leave, chased it ashore, and killed it. We heard that snakes are a problem for them. The offshoot is that we were invited to a Christmas party in their village (3 or 4 huts) with fish, lobster, chicken, beer, and rum.

Christmas 2012 in the San Blas

We don’t think the world ended, at least not by the winter solstice in the San Blas Islands. Of course, we wouldn’t find out for weeks anyway. Four boats re-appeared at the appointed time from four different directions and we celebrated Christmas Eve with several Kuni families on Salardup. We did a dozen rounds of bocce ball, drank both our wine and rum and bought a few from the Kuni’s. They hauled out a 12 volt battery and we had lighting, probably a luxury for them. The main course was fish, coconut rice, and vegetables for $5.00 a plate. We motored off in the dark and finished up the evening on Wildest Dream. Nice but we were all thinking of relatives and friends back home.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve Dinner


Weather Gods and a Broken Wire: Santa Marta, Columbia to Panama

December 8, 2012 Posted by Deb

We ordered a two-day special weather package from the weather guy, Chris Parker. Why … we were sailing into a body of water they call the Circle of Death, one of the five worst places to sail through on the planet. Most boats left Santa Marta bright and early in the morning with hopes of pulling into the San Blas islands 48 hours later with plenty of daylight to negotiate the reefs. On the final day before departure, we got an email telling us we should get out of Santa Marta in the late afternoon on that day. There was a 30 gusting 35 kt blow coming in the next day late with big seas and if we could get to N 11 and W 77 by the next evening we could miss the worst of it. The problem was that the winds would be a tad light as we needed to rack up miles. Chris Parker also gave us a line in the ocean to stay North and West of in order to play a one-knot current and gave us the center of an ocean vortex that we needed to play correctly as well. Nice stuff.

We ramped up the prep work and got out of there at 5:30 pm and the 160-mile race to N11 W77 in 24 hours was on. We made it with miles to spare and the entire trip was very comfortable in light winds and 3-foot seas. That one-knot current was also used by commercial traffic and we had a very active two days keeping our heads on a swivel for freighters. That’s where the broken wire story comes in. On the trip from Curacao, freighters kept sneaking up on us. Our AIS would not show them on the screen until they were within 3 km and our VHS had terrible range. We popped open the back panel and in the giant mess of wires, we found two that looked like they should be connected. We called in the Columbian expert, GeeJay; and he confirmed, went off and bought a plug, did some soldering, charged me $20,000 pesos ($10 US), I gave him $25,000, and problem solved. Little did we know how important that little fix would turn out to be.

We showed a few shots of near misses with freighters in a prior blog and that is one of my favorite nightmare scenarios. To date, we’ve always been able to see a hint of a port or starboard light or tell from the AIS display that they are going to miss us. We have only altered course for the odd small boat in our first year and a half. On our second day out, Cap Palmerson had our number. We couldn’t see them at 8 miles out due to the haze but the AIS had my 7 kts and Cap Palmerson’s 12.8 kts in the same chunk of ocean in a matter of minutes. At four miles we saw Cap Palmerson and there was little doubt. For the first time in 18 years I got on the VHF and hailed a freighter (by name for the first time since I had their data on AIS). Because a broken wire had been fixed, we saw them, they heard me and responded.

AIS Display

We heard from a woman captain “Vessel calling Cap Palmerson.

We said “This is the sailing vessel Neytiri off your bow. Do you have a visual on us?

She said “Stand by one” which means she didn’t have a clue we were out there.

She then said “Yes, I see you slightly to port” which is not a good place to be because we’re headed across their bow.

We asked “Would you like us to alter course.

She said “Stand by one” which means it was just dawning on them that we were going to hit.

She then said “Captain, what are your intentions.”

We said, “We will alter course 10 degrees to starboard.”

She said, “We will go 10 degrees to starboard as well.”

Cap Palmerson

Problem solved and we passed with plenty of room in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. We have wondered how that situation would have resolved itself if we hadn’t fixed a broken wire. The old fashion way of dodging freighters was definitely hairy and we have only received a response to a VHF hail to a commercial vessel once in our lives before this, and that was a cruise ship captain who talked to Deb in the middle of the night because he would rather have been in our boat.

Neytiri pulled into paradise at 3:30 in the afternoon, 46 hours and 320 miles after leaving Santa Marta. The winds were borderline light, the seas were calm, and the current was smoking.

Sunset in the San Blas Islands, Panama