Fiu in Adriatic



San Blas Archipelago, Panama, June 16 - 23, 2004

Wed. 16 June 2004, 3 am – entering San Blas Archipelago

Still carried by the trade winds although only 15 nm from the San Blas Archipelago! Wind is still NE, 15 to 18 kn and we are making 7-8 kn. Humidity has increased from 70% to 88% - night is humid and warm, 28 oC.  Everything is damp from this humidity. We are also getting sore bottoms from the long watches in the cockpit so the cushions have been brought back out. Gybed from goose winging and sailing along the coast to enter Archipelago during the daylight – will try to enter a bit further north, close to Porvenir.

8 am – entering Archipelago de San Blas through the channel Canal Caobo – will probably spend a day behind the Cayo Holandes.

Weather – a bit cloudy and hazy, humidity high 88%, wind still good ~15 kn NE, goosewinging into the Canal Caobo.

Fiu in San Blas Kuna Village, San Blas

San Blas Archipelago

After an eventful entrance through the reefs (do we ever have uneventful entrances?) which we won’t tell our mothers about, we eventually found the entrance to the deep water channel rather than straight across the reefs, (see screen dumps above) and again after some disorientation managed to arrive at the anchorage behind the eastern part of the Caye Holandes. There is a shift on CMaps chart and the sketched charts in the Panama book are slightly incorrect and so the only way to find out where the deep water channel is was to get close up and personal with a reef and then with the depth sounder follow the 8-9 meter depth line until we hit deep water (rather than the reef). A risky but effective way of navigating.  We saw a boat up on the beach on one of the islands, and have been told that this was someone entering at night…..

Last week too we hear there was a strong seasonal blow and further down at Green Island they had 60knts and 3 boats ended up stranded.

Surprise, surprise, having seen so few boats in the past few weeks, and none during the crossing from Curacao, here in this bay there are 8-9 yachts!  

The swimming pool, East Holandes Cayes Traditional mode of transport, San Blas

Reggie from ‘New York’ just came over from his yacht to ask whether we have a special kind of medicine (Muscopan) for one of the other yachties who is suffering from kidney stones.  He’s been anchored here in this bay at the same spot since August last year! Another slow traveller, as most of the other boats we meet. Shades of Blue in Los Roques had been on the road for 15 years and another Dutch couple we met in Curacao also for the past 15 years and they said they were running out of ideas of where to go next.  Yesterday when we arrived here in Caye Holandes we spoke with Wolfgang from Contessa who had also been sailing here in San Blas for the past 3 years although he had at least moved his boat. 

We paid the 5 USD to a Kuna Indian for the right to be here in these cayes for a month. The receipt says ‘The United force of the six communities’ These Indians still live a very autonomous and traditional way of life, travelling around in dug out canoes which they call kayuka – obviously the same root as Eskimos kayak.

Thursday, June 17 - We changed time today – one hour back so there is now 7 hours difference between here and continental Europe.

Sailmail is back up and running and we received a fair amount of emails last night – 14 in total!

This morning is spent with Ivo writing (finishing?) his article for More and I am updating the log and Peter is reading. The hazy weather has cleared at bit and the awning has come up so a little later this afternoon we’ll go snorkelling and Ivo wants to go spear fishing to get us some dinner.

There are approximately 10 yachts in the bay, communication is done on Ch 72 and some cruisers are obviously quite at home in this bay. R is organising beach party every Mon evening – something we should not miss!

Fridge is still not working and we cannot preserve anything – even a bottle of syrup to make squash nearly exploded – the top came off like a champagne cork – through fermentation. However, Ivo received help from Isotherm guys giving him instructions how to connect the fridge without the malfunctioning Smart/Red Box – hope to fix it once the article is written and submitted!!

Ivo and Peter went snorkelling on the outer reef but the fish they saw were wary of them, obviously been hunted before! But did catch a parrot fish and a small bream for dinner. The current behind the outer reefs was extremely strong- difficult to swim against.

Friday, June 18 - Left East Holandes Cays around 11.30 after having visited the small island Tiadup to meet the local coconut caretakers and view their “molas” which we bought a few of. They asked if we had water so when we left Ivo took Fiu across to the island and then went in the dinghy to bring the water.  Ivo also took several photos. We then had an uneventful motor down to Eastern Lemon Cays – about 8 miles in total where we anchored up. We were met by several Kuna Indian canoes from several of the small islets who came out to us to sell their molas again. We agreed with them that we would come across to their islands later in the afternoon and have a look and perhaps buy some.  Ivo and Peter went for a dive with speargun but the reefs are bare of coral and of fish. So we bought 3 small bonitos for 1USD

One family, one island Molas for sale at the village

Saturday, June19

11.30am  our usual time for departure – leaving the small group of Islands (Nuinudup) in Eastern Lemon Cays after an overnight stay here.  We need to sail up to Porvenir to the little airport in order to pick up our new crew member Lesley, an American girl from Texas.

However, during our stay in East lemon cays we had the chance to go visit three separate small islands and the Kuna Indians who live there for three months at a time tending the coconuts. One family lives on a tiny sand islet, with just one palm tree. Very nice people, including their dog, Lili. We bought molas from each group, so now have sufficient souvenirs from here. We also bought 10 langoustes plus 2 big crabs and two small octopus, all for 8 USD. We hung these overboard at the stern in a bucket whilst at our next anchorage at Porvenir but when we looked the next morning somehow one crab and several langoustes had managed to escape.

Kuna Indian women  in traditional dress  &  with albinos baby

The children of the village

While visiting these small islands we saw one albino baby, only 3 weeks old. Were able to take photos of the children and the women in their fine dresses and custumes and printed some to give as presents to them.

Peter ordered a conch shell to be pierced so that he can use it as a conch horn. The man making this for him arrived at the boat at 6.30 am so pleased was he to be able to deliver this to us (Peter paid for this beautiful shell conch horn US$ 5). However, we discovered that there were still a few pieces of conch inside, and eventually had to place the conch right back at the stern to avoid the stench over the following weeks.

Arrived to Porvenir at 13:00 immediately surrounded by 4 kayaks with ladies selling molas – we had to turn them down as we already have dozen.  We ran out of gas just when we arrived in Porvenir, so Peter and Ivo went into the village to see whether there was any way of obtaining gas. No way of replenishing existing bottles (we have 4 blue, typical Euro camping gas bottles). Ivo and Peter spend some time on the island trying to find the way to transfer gas from a big gas bottle to our small bottle but after a thorough search, all attempts failed, so we temporarily bought one of the big ones, Tropigas. 50 USD as deposit for the bottle and regulator (which the shopkeeper had to search for by knocking on few doors of his fellow villagers). This bottle is now installed in the cockpit behind the wheel. We’ll return the bottle before leaving the San Blas islands and obtain another one once in Colon. The only food we could obtain were a dozen eggs for 1.50 USD and some green bananas.

Picture taken to show gas bottle installation only, promise!

In the evening Ivo tried to fix the fridge – again. After writing an e-mail to the manufacturer, Danfoss/Isotherm we received a detailed reply on how to connect the fridge directly to the power without the ‘smart’ box which was ‘too smart to work in dump environment – some of the contacts got corroded and sensitive electronic components burned out). So after following detailed instructions how to connect the fridge/compressor Ivo was hopping that the fridge will finally work – and guess what. It did not! Surprise, surprise! This time, compressor worked well but the cooling water pump decided to play up with us – for a change! After many attempts and connecting the pump directly to the power, it did not want to move! What a day! After spending the whole afternoon troubleshooting the gas problem, now, Ivo got another blow!

And, to finish it all, some time around 10 pm the wind turned west for the first time during our stay and we had to scramble to move off quickly in order to not get grounded. The wind came up but never more than 25 knts , heavy rain and lots of lightening and thunder.   

Sunday June 20, 2004 - Lesley arrived on time (nearly) in the second plane of the day – just after 7am. The ladies selling molas were right back there early too making sure Lesley had a chance to buy something. We went into the village in the morning and bought some bread. No vegetables or fruit anywhere.

Photo session of plane coming in to land How can we resist the Kuna women's charm?

So then we lifted anchor and went up to Chichime island for a lunch time dive and lunch and a quick look around. After that we motored on to Eastern Lemon cays to anchor in a different spot. The navigation was a bit difficult, difficult to see the reefs because the weather is so overcast and no wind.

Peter's island. Shall we leave him there? Kuna Indian family

Eventually found a nice spot. On our way there we passed a small islet with one palm tree so Peter swam across to it so we could take photos of him standing all alone on this desert island.

These ones did not manage to escape! Delicious meal using pliers & hammers!

When we got to Eastern Lemon Cayes Peter, Ivo and Lesley went for a dive – but again much less interesting than Los Roques. The fish are smaller and do not come close. Strong currents near the outer reef can make it quite difficult to swim there too. We had a nice dinner with all this lobster and crab – we had bought a few more after the first lot escaped. The weather was not good that night again, much rain and thunder and lightening.

Monday June 21, 2004 - In the morning the weather was completely calm, so the sea was like a mirror and this made it very difficult to navigate in between the reefs. Again Peter, Ivo and Lesley went snorkelling on the reef where Ivo caught a big grouper and a parrot fish which we later had for dinner. Several of the villagers came by at various times either to see if we wanted to buy anything, or see if we could give them something. Mr G wanted some gasoline for his outboard so Ivo gave him a few litres which was all we could spare. Another older man wanted a ride with us over to Holandes Cays so he came onboard and we tied his canoe to the stern for the trip.  

Kuna Indian hitching a ride Margo & others at the beach party

We managed to get to East Holandes Cays just in time for the beach party  -6pm – anchored in 3m on a sandy spot where all the other yachts are. Exchanged warm beers for cold ones with Wolfgang and then went to meet everyone on the beach. There was the Canadian electrician who also repairs fridges, Margo and Herb – from the Yacht Bokonon who would like us to look up their godson Jim McGinnis when we get to Australia. He sailed with Margo and Herb in December 2003 in San Blas – Porvenir to Chichime.

Margo gave recipe for fish escabeche  - fry small fish pieces lightly and separately prepare marinade of vinegar and oil and some onion and herbs which has cooked a little to gain flavour. Cool down a little then place fish pieces in this – make sure it is completely covered. Can last up to a month this way. She also recommended that anything cooked in pressure cooker just a little, and then left with lid on will last 24 hours. A bit like vacuum packed. Except sealed with steam. 

Ivo managed to get the fridge working again!!! So now we have both fridge and salt water pump in full working order.

Another older couple were there too – Americans on the yacht called Avion.  Reggie and his wife were there too – obviously in charge of the small island where a bonfire had been prepared to burn the garbage.

Tom from the Dutch boat was back on his boat, but not attending the party.  He was ok again – had gone to small local hospital where they sent him to Panama City to have the urinary tract widened so that the kidney stone could pass out completely. The coconut milk he had been drinking had done the trick passing it out of the kidneys. This private clinic charged him 3,500 USD but everything else was free. If he had been flown to Panama City in an emergency everything would have been free.

Lesley cooked the fish having prepared it in a marinade, cooked in the oven which was delicious. We had mashed potatoes with this.

Tuesday June 22, 04 - Wolfgang came over at breakfast time and gave us the names of the line handlers he knew. Eric ph: 689 34 21, Alex ph 649 43 19, Alfonso ph 605 25 70 

So we’ll check when we get to Colon. These guys will provide lines and tyres as required.

We then all went snorkelling as the weather for the first time was clear with blue skies and sunshine, since we had arrived in San Blas – this time Ivo did not catch a fish. We then left East Holandes cays (aka the swimming pool) just after 12 noon to head back to Porvenir to return the gas bottle. The intention is for us to sail overnight to Colon.

We have several fresh coconuts, so all we now need is someone to sharpen the machete and voila, we’ll have fresh coconut.

Wednesday, 23 June 2004, 1:30 am we leave the San Blas archipelago for Colon and the Panama Canal.

Back to Fiu Odyssey 2004 photo album

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