Galapagos – Santa Cruz
16 April 2018
Photo: Galapagos Land Tortoise
Thursday 12th April, we motored out of Puerto Villamil at 06:15 and continued motoring until we had the anchor down in Academy Bay, Santa Cruz at 13:35. What a difference, the bay is very busy with commercial cruising boats, yachts, water taxis and small boats. We deployed the stern anchor to enable us to sit into the swell which enters the anchorage, most boats seem to have one out. Despite the swell the anchorage was quite comfortable.
Having completed the paperwork with our agent and organised with him to get fuel, it was time to go ashore and explore. Unlike San Christobal and Isabela, Santa Cruz was going to be more about getting the boat and ourselves ready for the Pacific crossing and not as much about the wildlife. The town is the busiest we have seen in the Galapagos, plenty of cafes, bars, souvenir shops and a reasonable supermarket that will allow us to restock with the staples.
For fresh produce, we were up bright and early on Saturday to go to the produce market a short taxi ride to the other side of town. The market was bigger than we were expecting, with plenty of stalls selling everything we wanted and more. We were finished and back on Dol at 07:00 for breakfast. Brian then did an oil change on the generator, changed the water pump and completed the engine checks. Saturday afternoon we were ashore again for a joint birthday party, Taj was 5yrs old and Hayley 12yrs old. Great fun with all the kids burning off excess energy followed by dinner ashore.
Sunday we walked to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Again this was very well done and we are learning the subtle differences in the land tortoise shell and body shapes as they have evolved on the different Galapagos Islands with their differing terrains. Although we have seen many rock iguanas, for the first time we saw them swimming and coming out onto the rocks, awesome. The centre first began with research into the land tortoises, several species of which are now extinct, including the most famous of them, the Pinos land tortoise. The last surviving one, “Lonesome George” died at the centre in 2012, he had lived there for the last 40yrs of his life, but despite efforts to get him to breed with close relatives, did not father any offspring. He is preserved at the centre.
The Galapagos stop has been simply amazing, words do not do it justice, but our photos will live with us for years to come. We are really pleased we made the effort to stop here, a unique place with an abundance of wildlife without equal in the oceans of the world.
A reasonable weather window is opening for us and we have contacted our agent to get the exit papers organised for a Tuesday departure, 17th April. This will be the longest passage we have done, 3000nm across the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands and should take us approximately 21 days.
Galapagos – Isla Isabela
16 April 2018
Photo: Rock Iguanas
Just on daybreak we passed close by Isla Tortuga, a sinking volcano. Most of the crater rim remains above the water however it is slowly sinking and will eventually disappear below the waves. A wonderful site in the early morning sun.
On arrival at Puerto Villamil, Thursday 5th April, we were greeted by our agent’s representative, James Hinkle and 2 port officials. They came aboard and again checked all the safety gear, took photographs and asked multiple health related questions, once finished we were free to explore the island.
The anchorage has a designated snorkel and kayak area but you are not permitted without a park guide, it is for the tourists! The seals are also not as prevalent and we can use our dinghy to get to shore, the new dinghy dock did have a few seals on the steps but nothing like San Christobal. We have not seen one on the back of a boat in this anchorage. There is a one off US$10 fee to use the dinghy dock but walking into town you can see the improvements that are being made to the roads and infrastructure. James, our agent’s representative, told us that this is partly as a result of the dinghy dock fees.
It is about a 15min walk into town where we had drinks at the Booby Trap bar. Across the road on the beach, a rock wall and lava rocks had dozens of rock iguanas, all climbing over one another as they basked in the sun. Isabela is not as populated as San Christobal, but we were surprised at the number of hotels, hostels, cafes and bars. The majority of the main road is filled with Tour Agents offering the tours to the volcanos, snorkeling and bike riding. The remainder of the stores that are not cafes seem to be bike, paddle board and snorkel hires.
Saturday we went for a walk with Tracey and Megan, Raftkin, to the Arnaldo Tupiza Chamadian tortoise breeding centre. The centre is free to visit, we walked around looking at the amazing land tortoises and reading the story boards. We had heard a lot about the poisonous Manchineel tree in the Caribbean, it is a native of the Galapagos Islands and one of the few animals who can eat the apples from it are the land tortoises. The breeding centre releases the tortoises back into the wild when they are old enough to fend for themselves and their shells are hard enough to protect them from predators. The tortoises from each of the Galapagos Islands are unique to the island as they have evolved independently and it was interesting to see the differences in the shapes of their shells. From the breeding centre we walked 250m down the road to the nearby salt pond to look at the flamingos.
Monday was a big day. We were off the boat at 07:30 and along with Dave, Hailey - Raftkin, Peter, Lisa, Zenon, Mark and Ken - Pelizeno and Christian, Josie, Ella May and Taj – Shawnigan we hired bikes and set off to explore the island. We took taxis up to the volcano and then set off to cycle down, first stop Sucre’s cave. The road, or what passed for a road was loose metal with chips, a real challenge, especially on the downhill sections. Needless to say it was not long before Gail experienced gravel rash, no real harm done, back up and peddling to catch the others. Sucre’s Cave was formed from lava and the boys and children had a great time exploring, squeezing themselves through narrow paths to see how far they could get. Back on the bikes the road was a little easier, and it did not take long to reach the lookout, which gave a 360 degree view of the island and became the lunch stop. We then continued back down the hill on proper roads to the town for a welcome cold drink and ice cream. After the stop we then headed along the coast road trail, 7km to the Wall of Tears. Along the way we saw several wild land tortoises crossing the path or sitting along the side. They were more timid than the ones in the breeding centre and would hiss and pull their heads into their shell if you got too close. We wondered if that is where the expression “Pull your head in” comes from. It was great to see these large animals in their natural habitat. At the end of the trail was the Wall of Tears, a large dry stone wall built by prisoners from the Isabela Penitentiary Colony from 1946 – 59. The wall has no purpose and was a means of hard labour for the prisoners working in the searing heat. After the Wall of Tears it was back along the trail to the Iguana Bar for a welcome cold drink and a swim, where we were joined by Lucy, Xavier, Francis, Isabel and Katherine, La Cigale. The Iguana Bar has a slack line, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed walking along with assistance trying to outdo each other. The bikes were then returned and the day was finished off with pizza at a local restaurant before we all headed back to the boats for a well-earned night’s sleep.
Wednesday we had a walk around town, had dinner ashore with Tracey, Dave, Hayley and Megan, Raftkin, and spent time watching the pelicans feeding around the boats. The fish life in the anchorage is great and there are always fish of different sizes including dog fish and ones that look a bit like large mullet. We also watched the local supply boat unloading its cargo onto barges to take the goods ashore, including one new 4x4 car. Puerto Villamil is very shallow and any supply or larger ships have to anchor outside and use barges or small boats to get into the wharf.
It was time to leave Isabela for Santa Cruz, we contacted James, our agent, asking him if our exit Zarpe from Isabela could be ready for us to depart on Thursday morning.
Galapagos – San Christobal
16 April 2018
Photo: Seal at home on Dol’s stern
We departed the anchorage in Las Perlas at 06:00 Friday 23rd March for the 850+nm passage to the Galapagos Islands, a dream destination for us. We traveled in company with Raftkin and had email update skeds with Pelizeno, Badjca, Raftkin and La Cigale. The passage can be notorious for fickle winds so we had plenty of diesel on board, however the weather gods were kind to us and over the next 6 days we motored for less than 12 hrs. Our first waypoint was south at Malepo Island which we passed on Sunday morning, from here we hoped to start picking up the trade winds to take us west to the Galapagos Islands. Overall on the passage we had some awesome gennaker rides, the gennaker up all day doing 8-9 knots, plenty of dolphins playing in our bow wake, leaping Manta Rays and giant sea turtles. We crossed the Equator north to south at 12:32 on Wednesday 28th March, five and a half years since we crossed going south to north. All the kids on the other boats had been doing preparation for the Equator crossing celebrations and it was good to hear all their stories.
We arrived in Wreck Bay, San Christobal and had the anchor down at 07:30 the following day, to be greeted by the seals. They are everywhere, Pelizeno radioed to warn us to put fenders on our stern or the seals would take up residence very quickly. We emailed our agent, Bolivar Pesantes, with no reply so found a phone number for him, gave him a call and he promptly came out to the boat. He took our paperwork and informed us the officials would be out to the boat at 15:00 for the inspection, he took our garbage away with him. We had done preparation the day before and all our garbage was separated into the required recycle bins with signs stating not to throw garbage overboard. At 15:00, 7 officials arrived and the process began. A diver went under the boat to inspect the hull, it was given a big tick as being very clean. One guy went below with Brian to inspect the engine and equipment on board, one lady filled in all the immigration documentation, the Public Health doctor asked the health questions and the Bio Security guy looked at the fridge and freezer. Our fumigation certificate from Panama was accepted so we did not need to be fumigated. Within 25mins all was complete and we were legal and free to explore the island. All very easy.
It was then time to go ashore. You do not use your dinghy here as the seals will commandeer it, so it is water taxis at US$1 per person per trip. We shared a water taxi with Xavier, Lucy, Francis, Isabel and Katherine from La Cigale and met the others off Pelizeno and Raftkin ashore for dinner and drinks. Getting on and off the water taxis is interesting as the seals bask on the pontoon and there are plenty of them. To get them to move out of the way, clapping seems to work.
The following day, after dropping the laundry off, we all walked around to Punta Carola a sandy beach, along with Christian, Josie, Nina, Ella May and Taj from Shawnigan. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling with sea turtles and fish and walks around the beach to see the rock Iguanas.
Saturday we all piled into 4 taxi Utes to explore some of the island. Our first stop was the volcano, El Junco. The fresh water lake at the top is San Christobal’s water source, the only island in the Galapagos Archipelago that has a fresh water supply, all the other islands rely on desalination plants. At the crater top there are plenty of frigate birds who dip into the fresh water to remove the salt from their wings, it was amazing to watch. We walked around the rim of the crater taking in the great views of the island out to the coast on all sides.
From El Junco we continued onto the Jacinto Gordillo Tortoise Centre, the breeding centre for the giant land tortoises. The tortoises are bred at the centre and then released into the wild in the north of San Christobal at the age of about 5 years and only if they become ill or aged are they returned to Jacinto Gordillo. The centre also has older tortoises which are its breeding stock, these tortoises were huge, but apparently the really big tortoises are on Santa Cruz, can’t wait to see them. The island is trying to protect the giant land tortoises and entry to the north of the island is strictly controlled.
Next it was off to Porto Chino beach for a chance to cool off with a swim in the surf along with the seals. The beach is white sand with the black volcanic cliffs and rocks and the surf was great fun. It was then time for lunch before returning to town after a great day. It is hard to believe we have only been here 2 days.
Back at the boat a seal had managed to break through our anti seal barrier and was happily sunning him or herself on the back steps of Dol. Brian managed to persuade the seal back into the water and then reinforced the anti-seal barrier.
It is interesting to note how little humidity there is here even though we are near the equator, unlike Asia. It must have something to do with the lack of a big land mass nearby, the evenings and nights are also quite cool, great for sleeping. The cooling coming from the very cool current which flows west through the islands and is one of the major reasons for much of the wild life here, especially the cooler south equatorial current which has commenced way down in the southern ocean and come up the west coast of South America turning to the west at the Galapagos Islands.
Sunday we went for a walk to another of the beaches, or rather a bay surrounded by volcanic rock, but we had an awesome swim with the seals and sea turtles. At one point. Christian from Shawnigan took off his snorkel and a seal swam past and took it, the seal thought it was a great game as the guys tried to retrieve the snorkel, which did eventually happen. Back at the anchorage we noticed an increase in the number of organised tour boats, it must have something to do with Easter and the spring break for American schools as there were several school group tour parties snorkeling out at the beaches.
Monday, along with Pelizeno, Raftkin and La Cigale, we hired bikes and took taxis to El Junco and cycled back down to town. On the way down we stopped in El Progresso at the Tree House. This is a 300 year old tree that has a tree house at the top, accessed by a swing bridge and a ladder down to a room within the roots. The owners have placed rope swings, climbing walls, rope bridges and other adventure playground items around the area which the children and adults alike all enjoyed.
It was time to see San Christobal via the coastline. Along with Pelizeno and Tracey off Raftkin we took a 360 tour of the island. We left the bay at 07:30 and started with a snorkel at Kicker Rock. The rock is 3 rocks with one split off from the other two, we snorkeled with the current through the gap. Mark and Ken who were first in saw a school of Hammerhead sharks, quite happy to have missed that. We saw eagle rays, seals, one white tipped shark, huge schools of fish and sea turtles, amazing. Then it was around the side of the rock along the cliff face watching the fish feed and seeing the amazing coloured algae’s and plants on the rock. We swam through the second gap between the rocks and had a seal pup join us, playing in the swell. It was then back to the boat and around to a beach for a walk and snorkel.
On the way around we firstly encountered a huge gathering of sea turtles, hundreds of them congregating in an area of several hundred meters. Next it was a large pod of 100 or more dolphins coming alongside to play in the wake of the boat for 15 mins, wonderful to watch. On the beach a seal came into the bay and played in the shallow water, happily rolling around in the surf. The rocks had iguana, and in the sand dunes were tracks of turtles that had come ashore to lay their eggs, assumedly the sea turtles we had seen on our approach. From the beach we motored around to Punta Pitt, via some lava caves. Punta Pitt is a breeding area for the red and blue footed boobies. We also saw a frigate bird that must have been looking for a mate as it had its red chest blown out and on display. The lunch stop was at a beach that had a short walk to an inland lagoon. The lagoon is partially open to the sea. At high tide sharks, sea turtles, rays and fish get into the lagoon and are then trapped as the tide drops until the next high tide. From the shore we could see the sharks, rays and sea turtles, so it was on with the snorkel gear and off we went. Luckily we did not see any sharks, they are quite shy, but something did swim past quite fast in Gail’s peripheral vision, who knows it could have been a shark. We then came across the biggest sea turtle we have seen, it must have been over one and half metres in diameter. She was quite happy with us swimming along beside her, the large sea turtles are all female. It was then time to head back to the boats. This place continues to amaze us, something different everywhere you look.
Once back at Dol, we got everything ready, lifted the anchor and did a night sail in company with Raftkin and Pelizeno, across to Isla Isabela, 82nm away.
16 April 2018
Photo: Sloth, Punta Calebra
We found our way into La Playita Marina in the dark and tied up at approximately 21:15, there is a bit of surge on the docks but it is not too bad. After a quick tidy up we went on Pelizeno for dinner and drinks to celebrate the transit with Peter, Lisa and Martin.
The following day, 13th March, Brian concentrated on finding someone who knew about Iridium Go’s as we needed to get ours fixed. In the end we ordered a new one. He also finally managed to find someone who sold the right ATF for our gearbox, he has been looking everywhere for it in the Caribbean with no success. Wednesday was a big bulk shopping expedition for Gail in the morning with Peter, Lisa and Zenon while Brian did the oil change on the main engine gear box. The afternoon was spent with another trip to a different more upmarket supermarket, the Dol is now so loaded her waterline has been lowered. We used the local taxis to get to the shopping malls, not expensive and with the traffic congestion and erratic driving of the Panamanians it was a good option. There was always taxis available at the marina.
Thursday we tried the Hop on Hop off bus with Lisa and Zenon, not the best we have experienced but it did give us a feel for Panama City. There is a big contrast between the poorer areas of town and the flash high rise buildings and hotels of the new areas. Later in the afternoon Raftkin, Dave, Tracey, Hayley and Megan completed their canal transit and arrived in the marina. It was a celebratory dinner that evening with talk of our plans for cruising the Pacific and Brian acquiring a taste for Pina Colada.
The next few days were spent getting the boats ready for the crossing to the Galapagos Islands, refueling, including jerry cans for diesel and petrol, finalizing our Galapagos Autographe with our agent Bolivar, getting the Dol fumigated with a certificate and doing the last minute fresh fruit and vege shop.
Saturday we spent the morning at Allbrook mall, a huge shopping mall, primarily to find a new lens for our SLR camera. It was then back to the Dol to meet our Panama agent, Roy Bravo, who had all our documentation for clearing out of Panama and documentation we would need to clear into the Galapagos. Saturday evening we went into old Panama town with Lisa, Peter and Zenon, Pelizeno and Dave, Tracey, Hayley and Megan, Raftkin for dinner at CasoCasco. Drinks on the roof top terrace followed by dinner on the first floor which was international, each of the fours floor was a different cuisine. A great evening.
Sunday was a quiet day, Brian purchased a new toy in the morning and is now the proud owner of a paddle board. Mid-afternoon we visited Punta Calebra which is next door to the marina. Punta Calebra is run by the Smithsonian Institute and is a nature centre. Inside the park there are displays with sea turtles, frogs, coral and tropical fish. However the highlights for us where the giant iguana, he must have been over 2m long walking across the path having just caught something to eat, and the sloths hanging in the trees, awesome. That evening we all went to Balboa Yacht Club to clear out with immigration and to have dinner. Once again when we returned to La Playita marina in the dark, raccoons where walking around looking for food.
Monday it was time to leave La Playita, we had a nice gennaker sail for most of the 42 nm to the Las Perlas Islands, where we anchored at Isla Chapera. It is amazing the difference in the bird and sea life now we are in the Pacific compared to the Mediterranean and Caribbean. We saw dozens of what we called Pelican flying schools, groups of Pelicans flying in formation, there were also lots of birds working and boil ups, Pelizeno and Raftkin who were an hour behind us saw whales and dolphins, and all only 40nm from Panama City. Bring on the rest of the Pacific.
After a quiet night, Brian took his paddle board for a spin in the morning and then we motored down to Isla Canas for the night. There were plenty of jellyfish in the water which was not ideal for the children off Pelizeno and Raftkin who were hanging out for a swim, so we decided to move off the following morning to Canas Island. This anchorage was worse than Chapera, we think it is the king tides which is making water murky and bringing in so many jellyfish. However we had a lovely pot luck dinner evening on Pelizeno and moved a little further down the coast of Isla del Ray to Punta Gorda. This had a nice long golden sand beach and the water was clearer with not so many jellyfish, at least until the tide started to run again. The guys took advantage of the conditions and cleaned the hulls of the boats in preparation for our departure to the Galapagos. Brian used the “Dive No Tanks” system Pelizeno had and found it good. Hopefully our hull is now clean enough to get us into the Galapagos.
The children, including Isabel, Francis and Katherine from La Cigale, who had joined us, enjoyed the morning on the beach, burning of some of their endless energy. The following day Badjca arrived as again all the children were ashore and there was discussion going on between the skippers about leaving for the Galapagos later that day as a weather window appeared to have opened for us. In the end Pelizeno left at about 16:00 and the rest of us decided to leave the following morning.
12 March 2018
Photo: Entering Gatun Locks
We arrived at Shelter Bay Marina at midday Monday 5th March after seeing the most ships we have seen since the Malacca Straits in Singapore. The tankers and cargo ships anchored out and going in and out of the harbour and entrance for the Panama Canal. We met with our Panama Canal Agent, Roy Bravo, later the same day and were informed the measurers would be coming the following day.
Tuesday at 11:15 the official ACP Measurer arrived to measure Dol and fill in the forms to accept us for transit through the canal. It was then a waiting game for a transit slot to be allocated.
Wednesday, as Brian changed the exhaust elbow in the generator, Gail took the marina shopping bus to the supermarket for some supplies. The trip into Colon was interesting, first it was through a pot holed road that went through the mangroves/forest, and past abandoned homes and gated communities. It was then onto a car ferry across the river and into the shopping mall. By the time we arrived we only had an hour to get our groceries and be back on the bus for the return trip. If the bus was crowded going to the mall, by the time we all got on with our shopping it was very packed. The return trip went a different route, past the locks of the Panama Canal, our first look at what we will be going through soon.
Back in the marina we met Ross and Jo Blackman, Sojourn 11, another New Zealand boat and later in the day Adam Minoprio and his family came in on their NZ boat.
Thursday morning, 8th March, we were notified of a Panama Canal transit date of 30th March, further out than we would have liked, but out of our control. Thursday night we checked emails at 21:15 and in came an email from our agent, Roy, saying 2 slots had become available for 11th March and would we be ready. We replied in the affirmative and he asked if Pelizeno would also be ready. We knocked on their hull and confirmed with them they were ready. All set, we were re-scheduled for Sunday. The following 2 days were busy getting last minute jobs completed and the boat prepared. Pelizeno were due to go later in the day than us so had a little more time. Saturday we attended the Pacific Puddle Jumpers 2018 seminar in the morning, the lines and fenders for the canal transit were delivered and in the afternoon at approximately 17:00 Pelizeno received a phone call asking if they could go in the morning with us. It appears you have to be very flexible and prepared if you want to get through the canal. We had a lovely evening with everyone, Raftkin, Sojourn 11, La Cigale and the Minoprio’s, Saturday night with dinner at the marina accompanied by the “bring your own instrument” band.
Sunday 11th March and we were up at 05:00 ready to receive line handlers and head out to the Flats Anchorage to pick up our Panama Canal Transit Advisor. In the cockpit we made sure our canal transit number was clearly displayed as this is what we would use when in contact with the Signal Station. We motored out of Shelter Bay Marina at 06:30 and anchored at the Flats anchorage, gave the line handlers, Omar, Allan and Daniel breakfast and waited for the Advisor. As it happened we had 2 Advisors, Hector who was in training but we were his last boat before graduation, and Roy his assessor. The Assessor is the equivalent of a pilot for small boats transiting the canal. They had the canal schedule for the day and knew which ship we would be following, which as it turned out was changed at the last minute. Again everything is fluid with the canal. We upped anchor and motored to the first of the three canal Gatun locks. Just before entering the lock we rafted up on the starboard side of Pelizeno in the middle and an Australian monohull on the port side. We would be going through the locks with a passenger ship, Wind Star, so after he had moved into the lock and connected to the locomotives that would hold it, we entered. The water depth went from 13.3m to 21.4m in 8 minutes, as we rose to the height of the next lock, behind us a large container ship was already waiting to enter the lock once we left. The signal was given, the dock lines were slackened and the lines were walked to the next lock were the process was repeated again for the second and third locks. At 11:30 approximately we exited the last of the Gatun Locks and were in Gatun Lake. The transit across the lake, about 19.4 miles, time for the line handlers to relax and lunch to be cooked and served. With large ships also transiting the lake, Hector was constantly asking Brian to speed up, slow down or alter course slightly as we negotiated our way across. Before the last set of locks is an area known as the Gaillard Cut, which when the large ships are transiting becomes a one way channel. Unfortunately for us, a 353m container ship was coming through from the Pacific side, which meant we had to slow down and in the end probably cost us 2hrs.
The Pacific Locks are slightly different as they go down not up for us, therefore the passenger ship was behind us. The 3 locks are also not joined, you first go through the Pedro Miguel lock, then remain rafted together to cross the Miraflores lake (only short) and then the last 2 locks are joined. By the time we transited through them it was dark but we were through and back in the Pacific, a major milestone completed for this year.
We enjoyed our day transiting the canal, the professional line handlers were friendly and competent, there was plenty of time when we were rafted to socialize with Pelizeno and take photos. Brian had to be vigilant on the helm and Gail had to make sure there was plenty of bottled water, food and snacks for everyone. We put up the large shade cover over the back deck which was much appreciated and everyone seemed to get along. The only downside for us is that our Iridium Go stopped working, so something to get fixed in Panama before we move on. The canal is very busy with the locks operating 24x7 and from what we saw, always with someone going through. Gatun Lake had a steady line of ships and smaller boats making their way across the lake. The Canal is the largest employer in Panama and a very popular workplace with most people working there until retirement.
May our Pacific adventures commence?
San Blaas Islands, Panama
06 March 2018
Photo: Isla Morrodlib, (BBQ Island), East Hollandes Cays
After checking emails and a last visit to the supermarket to use up our Columbian Pesos, we did need what we bought, it was back to the Dol and to get her ready for an overnight passage to the San Blaas Islands, Panama. We had the anchor up and where motoring back out of the Cartagena Boca Grande entrance at 11:00, Saturday 10th February.
It was light breezes, so with a full main and Yankee we set sail. The passage was 159nm and took us almost exactly 24 hours, as we had the anchor down in 6m of water at Islas Pinos at 11:15 the following day. The trip was uneventful, we had dolphins come and play with us for half an hour or more, the sea state was slightly uncomfortable but not too bad and the maximum wind speed was 24 – 26 knots, which saw us put a reef in the main and Yankee.
Islas Pinos is a whale shaped island and the most easterly of the San Blaas Islands, is it considered an easy first entry island as it has no fringing reefs, getting out and onto the next anchorage may be more of a challenge. The anchorage was shallow and there was one other yacht, a Dutch couple, Rene and Brigit on Blue Spirit. After tidying the boat we were visited by one of the local Kuna Indians who spoke minimal English but eventually we understood he wanted the USA$10 fee to anchor for the duration of our stay. We paid and he gave us the receipt, this is something we will be used to by the time we leave the San Blaas. With the weather predicted to deteriorate in a few days we decided to move the following day 30nm to Mono Island.
Moving was a challenge as the area is unsurveyed and therefore the Navionics charts are inaccurate. The San Blaas consist of many small islands surrounded by numerous reefs, bombies and shoal areas. Luckily we have the Eric Bauhaus Panama Cruising Guide which has very good in-depth chartlets with information on the San Blaas, a must have publication for the area. He gives waypoint tracks from one anchorage to the next. We duly put these waypoints into the chart plotter ready for the trip. We set off through the gap in the reef at 07:15 the following day as there was good light and the first part of the trip was relatively free of hazards. The waypoints were double checked as we headed along them, the seas when outside the reefs were quite large but inside the reef the water was flat. It was interesting seeing the Kuna villages as we passed them, all very close to the water and surrounded by reefs. The Kuna Indians are very short and small in stature, we felt tall when talking to them.
We arrived at Mono Island just before midday, there were 2 Dutch boats in the anchorage with Blue Spirit following us would mean 3 Dutch yachts in the anchorage tonight. Again the local Kuna Indians came out to the boat to collect the anchoring fee and a dad with 4 small children in his dugout came past and watched us lower the outboard motor onto the dinghy and attempted to talk to us. This reminds us of Asia and Indonesia in particular.
Rob and Anamika, Charlie 11, came over and invited us for sundowners with Rene and Brigit, Blue Spirit and Jos and Herard, Mermaid. It was a good evening as we swapped stories and information of our travels so far and those to come. They are currently planning to visit New Zealand but not for a couple of years, so we may see them at home. The following day we took 3 dinghies and went up the Mono River half a mile up the coast. Along the river bank we saw many local ulu’s, dugout canoes, and also a few passed us taking the harvested bananas and coconuts out to the villages. There was plenty of bird life on the river, a few fish and we even saw some small brown and white monkeys in the trees. We used the outboard motors up the river but drifted back down using paddles, the silence broken only by the birds and monkeys, was great.
Time to move again, this time only 10nm to Snug Harbour. Again the wave action was high once outside the protection of the reefs as Dol and crew got tossed around. This time we had the Eric Bauhaus chartlets electronically, connected to Open CPN to guide us through to the anchorage, although we did double check using the waypoints we had transposed onto our chart plotter. Murphy’s Law, just as we had the anchor down in 13ms of water, the anchor winch started to fail, it is a long way to haul it up by hand. Hopefully Brian will be able to source the issue and fix it. With the help of Rob, Charlie 11 and Renee, Blue Spirit, Brian identified the anchor winch problem as a stuck brush. This was duly freed, all connections to the anchor winch cleaned and reassembled, and the anchor winch is now working beautifully. Later in the day we had a visit from a Kuna family selling bananas, coconuts, Kuna bread and molas. Molas are intricately sewn layers of material depicting birds, animals or sea creatures, some abstract, sewn by the Kuna women and are the most recognised craftwork of Panama. We bought a couple along with some bread and “chatted” to the family, they went away happy. Later in the day we had sundowners on Dol with Blue Spirit, Charlie 11 and Mermaid, another good evening.
We stayed 3 nights in Snug Harbour, then two sailed reached with 2 reefs in the main, 31 nm to Coco Banderos Cays. These Cays are a group of 4 small islands surrounded by reefs, there were 7 yachts, the most we have seen in any San Blaas anchorage. Again the breeze was up, we have not really had the weather to fully appreciate the San Blaas. We are currently in the dry season with the accelerated trade winds, maybe with the lighter winds in the rainy season, we could have done more snorkeling and exploring, but then you get more thunderstorms and reverse winds, it is all a compromise.
Sunday 18th February and we have finally found sun and flat water at the Hollandes Cays. We motored the 6nm from Coco Banderos Cays where it was cloudy, windy and overcast and it is like a different world. The extra distance from the mainland and the larger islands of the Hollandes Cays have us in a picture perfect location. The Hollandes Cays are approximately 7 miles of islands, sand cays and reefs, plenty to explore, time to relax, swim, watch the turtles, snorkel and chill. Some local fishermen called past the boat in their dugout with several lobster, crabs and fish. We treated ourselves to a lobster, he tasted wonderful bbq’d with a salad for dinner. This was the first of several such dinners over the following week, shared with Pelizeno and Raftkin.
Pelizeno, Peter, Lisa and Zenon, is another Kiwi boat were anchored in the bay and we haven’t seen them since the Balearic Islands a couple of years ago. We had sundowners with them and an Australian catamaran Raftkin, Dave, Tracey, Hailey and Megan. The next week was spent socialising, swimming, snorkeling and enjoying sundowners. We took the dinghies and explored the island cays and reefs, there was nice soft and hard corals, plenty of fish and lobster hiding under the bombies. On the Saturday late in the afternoon a crocodile was spotted off the beach on Bandeup Island, time to move on.
Sunday 25th February we sailed under Yankee the 7nm to the Western Hollandes Cays, and dropped the anchor off 2 small islands, picture postcard perfect. A snorkel to the reef in front of the boat revealed some of the best soft and hard corals and fish we have seen, it was like an aquarium. We spent an hour happily snorkeling around. The following morning we took the dinghies ashore and walked around, Lisa speaks fluent Spanish and therefore we were able to talk to the families who lived on the island and understand some of their lifestyle.
After returning to the boats and taking some water and food supplies ashore for the families, we upped anchor and motored 6nm to Lemmon Cays, smaller than Hollandes but busy. We seem to have caught up with all the cruising and tourist day boats who are also enjoying the wonderful reefs and islands Tuesday we took the dinghies to the outer reef for a snorkel, the inner reefs were disappointing, but the outer reef to quote Lisa “was like a tropical aquarium on steroids”. Most of the coral was hard corals unlike Western Hollandes which had more soft corals, but interesting with large schools of tropical fish of all shapes and sizes, we even spotted a small manta ray on the way back to the boats. The following day we moved 3nm to Chichime Cays. These cays where smaller again, just two islands but quite extensive reef, again flat water. The islands had the most holiday huts and tent campers we have seen so far and each morning we watched the locals raking the “Atlantic sea weed” off the beach just above the high tide mark, walking 50m down the beach and putting it back into the water.
Saturday 3 March we took advantage of a good sailing breeze and sailed 49nm to Isla Linton, dropping anchor at 15:15. There are roads, cars, trucks and a marina we have found civilization again. Overnight we heard the screeching from the howler monkeys in the forested areas around us, they make quite a noise. The next morning we took the dinghy into the marina and found Charlie 11 and Blue Spirit, they are staying here so we had a coffee and said our farewells till next time we meet. Later in the day we were joined again by Pelizeno and Raftkin who will be joining us in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon.
Monday 5th March we left Isla Linton and sailed, motored the 26nm to Shelter Bay Marina, Colon and start the process for the Panama Canal transit to the Pacific Ocean.