Return to San Blas
17 February 2018
Glyn and Laura, long time sailing friends from Milwaukee, joined us on Uproar in Colon. They were having quite a journey. They visited Bill and Judy (who sailed with us for the Great Lakes part of our journey) in the Bahamas, then flew directly to Colon for three weeks on Uproar. Lisa and I finished our official business, registering for the Panama Canal passage and applying for a French, long-stay visa for French Polynesia. With Glyn and Laura settled in, we headed back to San Blas.
It was far from an easy trip! Winds had picked up and were over 20 knots from the northeast, exactly the direction we were headed. First day was a motorboat ride to Portobelo, 22 miles driving into 6 to 8 foot seas! We made it and had an interesting walk around this quirky town. Portobelo was the first Spanish settlement that shipped gold and silver back to Spain in the early 1600s. It is heavily fortified but was still a favorite target for pirates, sacked and burned multiple times.
Day two was much the same but our course tipped a bit east. We motorsailed in strong winds and building seas. Perhaps some seas were over 10 feet. Miramar was listed as a possible anchorage in the guide book. It was just barely capable of accommodating Uproar. The entrance was surrounded by reefs and rocks. Tricky doesn't begin to describe the safe passage but once inside, all was quiet. We anchored Uproar near two rows of derelict fishing boats. Commercial vessels were using the narrow channel and shouted to us that we were in the way. We rowed lines to shore and to one of the fishing vessels until we were clear of the channel. But when tide went out, we were aground. The bottom was soft but I don't sleep that well when Uproar is not floating. Next morning we were able to use the anchors to kedge off the bottom with ease and go back to the rolling seas.
Day three was a bit longer but we were able to sail much of it. Perhaps we were getting used to the rough conditions. After three long days slogging to weather, we anchored in East Lemon Cays, San Blas. Ahhhhh! Uproar sat still at anchor in clear water and perfectly flat seas. OK, there were about 20 other boats in the anchorage but this took nothing away from the beauty. We stayed two days and snorkeled right off Uproar on some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have ever seen. Five islands surrounded the anchorage with sandy beaches and palm trees. There was even a small restaurant and a few huts with coolers of beer. Paradise at last!
Glyn and Laura took the passage in stride. It was worth it to visit San Blas. Venancio came by in his brother's boat to show Glyn and mostly Laura his molas. Laura, an artist herself, enjoyed seeing these needlework blouse panels. Venancio and his brother made themselves at home in Uproar's cockpit and showed Laura and Lisa about 100 molas. Venancio's brother, Idelfonzo, invited us to tour their traditional village on Mormake Tupu. The name means “mola making island.” I will write a separate blog about this tour. We were given real insight into the lives of Kunas on this tour.
Uproar took us to other idyllic, palm covered islands of Green Island, Coco Bandero, Gunboat Cay and back to East Lemon, Banderup. We did stop at Naragana, one of the more populated islands for some groceries and to visit again with Frederico and mi amigo, his son, Bastor. Bastor was sound asleep while he was waiting for his shorts to dry in the sun. He came out of his hut wrapped in a towel to say hello. We walked the bridge to the island of Corizon de Jesus and saw the boys stacking up barrels and boxes to re-install the basketball backboard they had fiberglassed back together.
The contrast between the inhabited islands and uninhabited islands couldn't be more stark. Inhabited islands are very crowded with palm huts and a few concrete buildings for schools, etc. There are only a few trees on these islands and sandy paths between huts. There is no grass or vegetation. Outhouses are just booths hanging over the water. Sad to say, garbage and trash goes right into the ocean too. One cruising friend pointed to a diaper floating by, “at least it was nicely folded.”
The inhabited islands are close to the mainland so inhabitants can paddle up the rivers for farming and hunting. Outer islands are usually not inhabited. They are the coconut farms. Glyn and I noticed that there were burned patches among the towering palms. We deduced that these burn patches were prepared to grow more palms, we saw coconuts covered with fronds sprouting new trees. These islands were devoid of any plant life other than coconut palms. Coconuts are very important to the commerce of the Kuna.
The 10 days in San Blas went by quickly. The ride back to Colon was the opposite of our slog to San Blas. Strong winds on the beam had Uproar rushing along for another visit to the quirky town of Portobelo the first day, then a broad reach for 22 miles back to Colon. At Colon we berthed at Shelter Bay Marina waiting for our canal transit.
Glyn and Laura know well that anyone who sails with us will be blogged about. I have a lot to say about them sailing with us and I have little to say about them sailing with us. Glyn and Laura just fit right in. The three weeks they spent with us flashed by. We had some great meals, played cards, drank some rum, played some music, swam, snorkeled, sailed and did it all over again. The weeks were filled with activities and new adventures, culminating in our Panama Canal transit. It was hard to say goodbye when they taxied away from the Balboa Yacht Club.