San Blas and Panama
13 March 2012 | San Blas
Well we did arrive safely into San Blas but gosh what a passage! Started off quite nicely, for the first two days Mike and I kept commenting on how consistent the winds were and comfortable the seas, both days we sailed over 200NM (favorable currents helped a lot), quite a feat and a first for Whippersnapper. The sleigh ride didn't last though and by the third day the seas were an uncomfortable mess. Twice I left windows open (it was hot and humid) only to get a breaking wave over the deck soaking cushions and bed sheets (not fun). By the fourth day we were experiencing a number of squalls, we had a couple in the low 30s which were great fun, pretty sure I saw 16.3kts on one surf but with the bravado came complacency when the next squall came instead of reefing down we excitedly left all canvas up, well this squall hit 40kts, we had a little broach and bent our whisker pole cleanly in half :( We did repair it (two hacksaws, a spare aluminum table leg and lots of rivets) but we really only used it briefly after that as the wind veered then increased to 40kts and unwilling to test our bush mechanics under those conditions we reached into San Blas under a partly furled genoa only. Bummer about the pole but otherwise we enjoyed our biggest two handed passage and we were pleased not to have to motor at all for nearly a 1000 miles!
San Blas is a very cool and remote archipelago on Panama's Caribbean coast, The Islands are officially part of Panama but inhabited only by the indigenous Kuna Indians who have been granted autonomy to govern themselves. It is said the Kuna Indian have best preserved their culture and traditions out of all the tribes in the Americas. It is not permitted, for example, to marry foreigners. The islands themselves are all very low lying patches of sand covered in palm trees, most not more than a few feet above sea level! They're surrounded by coral reefs and white sand so the snorkeling is excellent. Unfortunately for us though the weather was pretty drab, very grey, very windy and sometimes rain. We weren't really getting to see San Blas at its best but the pictures in our guide book are inspiring.
Navigating around the San Blas is truly terrifying, numerous wreaks on the reefs a sombre reminder to be careful, it's very unforgiving! Many a lagoon entrance is narrow and bordered by breaking waves and sharp coral reefs, combine that with a strong cross breeze and the pulse quickens somewhat. We discovered only after arriving that San Blas in not included in our main plotters electronic charts, we do have the Navionics charts on our iPad but we discovered they're far from accurate, islands are incorrectly positioned many reefs uncharted and far to few depth soundings. Fortunately our pilot guide book for the area is excellent (Panama Cruising Guide) so in a first for Whippersnapper we're navigating using paper! Each time we visit a new island we make a passage plan of waypoints and transfer these into our plotter to follow, some of the entrances require around 6 waypoints to navigate safely between the reefs. We always have one of us on the foredeck in Polaroid sunglasses which helps.
On the plus side though we've been eating lobster and calamari (squid) caught with our spear gun (you don't catch lobster so much as just spear them but using the gun is 100 times easier than trying to catch them by hand as we'd been trying previously). It's not quite lobster season here yet but we managed to find a few.
We've also made some new friends, Båten Anna a swedish yacht we first met in Bequia is here in San Blas too and we've been spending time on each others yachts, onboard are Eilliv, Emillie, Gustaf and Liselotte. Båten Anna is heading to Australia also (Eiliv and Emillie) so we look forward to seeing them along the way - especially because we've taught them Turbo Hearts (our favourite card game) and they're worthy opponents.
Right now we're sitting in Shelter Bay Marina awaiting our Panama Canal transit, it's currently estimated we'll go through this Saturday. We're especially excited about the canal and are even helping another yacht transit tomorrow so we can get some firsthand experience before transiting ourselves. We'll write again when our transit is confirmed, apparently you can watch us go through by webcam... riveting viewing I'm sure! It's amazing though really, we'll be in the Pacific... just one ocean to go until home.
Mike is getting very excited about his home club, Coolderry, being in the All-Ireland Hurling Final on Saturday (St Patrick's Day) and wishes his nephews and all the players best of luck!!!