Posts filed under 'Panama'
There were boats leaving Panama earlier than the one we ended up going on, but they were smaller and were all standard yacht designs (i.e. mono-hull). But on the 8th May there was a catamaran scheduled to depart on a 6 day cruise. It sounded perfect, and when we found out it was with one of the most experienced captains who ply’s the route we signed up immediately.
The day we left we were up well before the crack of dawn – a shuttle had been organised to pick us all up at 5AM. You can imagine the irritation involved in waking up at 4AM to pack and get ready, only for the shuttle to be an hour and a half late. We made good time on the roads though and a boat was waiting at the parking lot to transfer us out to what would be our home for the better part of the next week.
The African Queen was sitting waiting for us out in the bay at Carti. We didn’t know beforehand but it turned out it was a South African designed and made catamaran – bonus. She was an 8-man yacht, 12 meters in length and about 7 meters wide with a really awesome amount of space on board – 4 double rooms (two of which were en-suite, we managed to grab one of them), a large galley, a huge lounge/saloon with enough space for all 8 of us to sit around the table plus a nice area out back with another table and yet more seating. There was also a two-man kayak tied up on the deck up front and all the snorkelling and fishing gear you could need. In short: a perfect base for exploring the Caribbean!
Being a Sunday when we started the trip, Panama immigration offices were closed so we just sailed for a couple hours over to a nice protected bay near the passport office and dropped anchor for the rest of the day. We quickly had our snorkelling gear on and were in the water having a look around. First impressions: much more fish life and the reefs in much, much better state than anything we’d seen in Honduras, possibly on a par with the Belize reefs. Our captain was an Italian guy named Rudy, and before long he’d whipped up the first of many really tasty dishes for us. He wouldn’t let us lift a finger towards helping him, all we could do was sit down at the table and eat and then pass our plates over for seconds (and thirds and fourths…).
Because we’d all gotten up so early that morning, most of us spent the afternoon off in the land of nod, catching some ZZZ’s in a cool shady spot. But our captain had been having a busy afternoon getting word out among the local Kuna fishermen that we were after seafood. When we awoke we found he’d bought lobster, conch and fresh fish. And dinner that night was a feast – for starters we had pan fried conch with garlic and onion served with crackers and for mains we had the lobster with a spicy tomato sauce served on spaghetti.
The next day we headed off to the immigration office. It was on a small little island which scarily enough had an airstrip on it – though it was so small it couldn’t have been for anything much bigger than paper aeroplanes. Ok, it was a bit bigger than a table, but probably not much longer than a soccer field. Also on the island was a small hotel and a Kuna museum. The best was the air traffic control tower though – just a small glass box on the rough of the tallest building. Think putting a greenhouse on the roof of your garage. It took a while to get through immigration as the customs guys was off for early lunch (or hadn’t got back from the weekend or something like that) but once all our paperwork was in order we set sail again for our next nights stop, another sheltered anchorage nestled between several pristine islands.
Hails, Andrew the English dude and myself took the kayak out and hit a nearby island for some snorkelling. We found lots of cool stuff in the water, but best of all was the wreck of a yacht sitting in about 5 meters of water – obviously a casualty of last storm season. After that session, we paddled around another island before heading back to the boat. Somebody had mentioned having a bonfire to Rudy and he had gone off and spent a good deal of the afternoon chatting to some of the local Kuna people to organise a spot and to secure some firewood. We went over to help and ended up making a huge bonfire. Dinner was a deliciousÂ home madeÂ spaghetti carbonara, and then we were all climbing into the little dingy, rum and coke in hand and off to light our behemoth on the beach. Captain had brought over a couple litres of diesel to help kick start it and that got it going along nicely and we even ended up making a trip back to the boat that night for extra wine once the rum had finished.
The next morning had quite a slow start for obvious reasons, but a delicious scrambled egg breakfast quickly sorted us out. On our way over to the next day’s stop we let out the fishing lines off the back of the boat and on the way over caught a nice big fish for dinner. Pulling into the anchorage we noticed the water was super calm and clean. We could see turtles swimming a good 15-20 meters under the boat and when we jumped in for a refreshing dip we discovered there was a layer of colder water floating on the surface, evidence of a lot of recent heavy rain. After fish soup for lunch we got snorkelling and discovered a pristine piece of reef just next to the boat. Lots of squid, lobster, barracuda, conch and all the normal Caribbean reef fish and perfectly healthy corals. The onlyÂ weirdÂ thing was swimming through the two layers of water – if you stopped they would start mixing together and blur everything like the heat haze you get off a hot tar road in the middle of summer does.
As dusk was approaching Rudy approached us and said the weather looked perfect for heading out to do the open ocean crossing over to Cartagena now instead of waiting till the following morning and his reasoning seemed logical so we set sail at sunset for Colombia!
That night we took it in turns to do a 2 hour watch – we had autopilot steering the boat but needed a pair of eyes to keep a lookout for shipping which might get a bit close. The next day was pretty chilled, just sitting around reading. Even though the boat was bumping around quite a bit in the swells, Rudy managed to cook up a feast of fillets of fish baked with garlic, onion, green peppers and ginger along with roast potato and herb chunks. Then around 5pm one of the fishing roads hooked another fish. Tim (actually a pro skater back in his day and now a designer of skate parks around the world) was closest on hand and spent around 45 minutes bringing it in. Turned out it was a good sized Mahi-Mahi and that dinner would be fresh fish yet again! As the sun went down the wind changed direction slightly and it finally was from a direction we could use to sail with and so the motors were powered off and the sails hoisted. Under sail the African Queen was even faster than it was using the motors and we managed to get up to 8 knots which had us just about ramping off the waves we crossed. It was good fun, but it meant my turn on the night watch stretched out to several hours as we had a lot of sail trimming to do which really wakes you up, and then around 2AM when I was finally getting tired again and ready for bed the wind switched back and we had to take down the sails and switch back to the engines. That woke me up fully again and so I only got to sleep around 3AM. All good though, it was great fun and when I eventually got up the next morning we were not far from Cartagena. After breakfast of scrambled egg and left over Mahi-Mahi we were just offshore of the city and by midday we had finished tying up at the marina and our trip was over.
Well just about, Rudy was happy for us to spend one last night on the boat and he actually went off and bought amazing steaks for us for dinner. It ended up a nice little feast – lots of beers and wine, perfectly cooked steak and baby potatoes and salad on the side with a bowl of oreos for pudding. Andrew, Hails and I ended up dragging mattresses up onto the top deck and sleeping out under the shade cloth for the night as it was much cooler up there and the view of the city was pretty hard to beat.
What an awesome trip! We would highly highly recommend the San Blas islands up in Panama to anybody who is even remotely in the area, by far the best bit of the Caribbean we’ve come across. The guys at the hostel we stayed in in Panama city put together some awesome tours even if you don’t need to carry on down to Colombia, so there’s no excuse not to do it!
For the picasa gallery of the images, click here.
4 comments May 14, 2011
After several amazing days aboard the awesome catamaran African Queen, we’ve safely made our way through the San Blas Islands, across the open sea and into Cartagena in Colombia.
Thank you to all those people who encouraged us to do the trip, the San Blas Islands were by a very long way the best of the Caribbean we have experienced so far. Sailing into a protected bay in waters so clear and calm we could spot turtles swimming 15-20 meters under the boat as we peered from the trampoline up front will be one of the many great memories we’ve taken from the trip.
We’ll get a blog up with some photos once we’ve downloaded them all, expect it in the next couple of days. For now, we’re off to go explore the ancient walled city of Cartagena.
Add comment May 13, 2011