I was sad to leave behind Colombia and I’d grown rather enamoured with this vibrant city of Cartagena but it was time to set sail again this time in the direction of Panama but stopping en route to the idyllic islands of San Blas.
We woke at dawn to up anchor and realised we hadn’t taken the latest bag of rubbish ashore, so whilst los hombres got the deck ready for our next voyage, I rowed Snowy into the marina with the basura. It was a calm morning and there was hardly a ripple on the water. The sun had just risen and i could see it ascending through the high rises. From Snowy, I could here loud beating music coming from the shoreline, and periodic whoops and shouts. My initial thought was wow - there’s some energetic partygoers still up and dancing at 6am. I mean, this is Columbia after all ; ) and only two hours earlier I was woken by a party boat sliding past Tin Tin with dance music blaring out. But onshore, at a closer look I saw that this group of partygoers were infact up for their daily exercises and were taking part in a lively aerobic class. Looked like fun to me and was tempted to join. Must keep to the task at hand, though, the rubbish run...How glamorous I am? Must get back to Tin Tin before she sets sail without me!
The forecast has predicted winds of 30-40 knots for our passage. But its not until we are a good 10 miles from the coast of Colombia that they hit us, slowly at first but they soon pick up to 40 - 50 knots (storm force 10) this is going to be a rough ride! The swell gets bigger and soon waves are crashing over the aft with the occasional wave wiping out whoever is at the helm. After my watch which finishes at midday - I go below to make lunch for the crew. I try and wedge myself in the galley to stop me flying, I curse the fridge for being so difficult to find anything! I don’t think I’m very good at this after all! I come up through the hatch for some air and to deliver lunch. I take the rest of the afternoon to recover as i’ve become quite green. Its been a few days now of not sailing so my sea legs have left me and it may take a while to get them back. I retire to my cabin and sleep it off. I wake and Justin has made a lovely stir fry but my appetite has gone slightly and I think about how I’m going to get through the night - i’ve got to stay awake till midnight when my watch will end.
Just as I was thinking I need a distraction, we get a surprise visitor - a brown booby who had come to Tin Tin for a refuge as it must have been tired - miles away from land now. He looked young and balanced very skillfully on the side railing just by the cockpit - apparently undisturbed by our presence. He settled down for the night and tucked his head under his wing for a sleep. poor little fella he must have been tired. It amazed me that he could withstand these intense winds and wildly rocking Tin Tin and manage to rest. He stayed with us for about 6 hours as we transported him closer to Panama. I was thinking how lovely it would be if we could have a companion/ pet aboard who would stay with and keep us his home only leaving to catch fish daily. Sadly my hopes vanished as near to the end of my watch the biggest wave crashed into the cockpit, drenching me and knocking poor booby off his perch. Like me, he too must have had such a fright and the poor thing was in a dreamy sleep.. He tried desperately to land back on Tin Tin but without any luck - the winds were too strong by this point and there was now way he was going to land without being blown off again. He tried the boom first, but it swung violently and knocked him into the water, he recovered himself and tried the stern and managed to land on the solar panels but it was so slippy he slid right off and into the water again with a loud cry - I didn’t see him again after that and i felt quite tearful after my long watch, i had grown quite attached to this little chap and fear that he was injured. And i missed him as my companion.. its funny that because I was so tired I suppose and it had been quite a scary rough watch on my own, i had become emotional and the loss of Berty the booby had made me into a fervent sailor.
I will tell you another thing that I forgot to mention on that watch, the exact same wave that took out Berty, also washed our safety ring over the side with the attached Danboy. I had seen that it was attached by just one string and went astern, falling over a few times from the waves, and tried to save it. I was too late and I watched it float away, with the lit Danboy bobbing out of sight into the distance. This felt quite dramatic and imagined how horrific it would be if that was a person in there and I was losing them from sight, helpless. Obviously if it had really been ‘man-over-board’ I would have alerted the rest of the crew and set off the GPS MOB alarm. When I let Papa know in the morning his said we should have used that for MOB practice. It all happened so quickly - first boobie, then life buoy. I stayed astern a little in shock i guess, and it was so rough i could barely make it back in the cockpit. I thought it would be safest to wait until Uncle Mark came up on his shift which would be very shortly. I’d like to add so as not to alarm my close ones - I had made sure I was attached by my harness through all of this - so easy for a wave to take me over in this weather - in fact by rule I’m always attached when I’m alone on watch and always at night - I’d be stupid - the risk is too big without anyone to even see you go overboard. Just putting it out there for rested minds.
We arrive in the beautiful archipelago of Las Islas San Blas and wow is this paradise! We have to navigate carefully through these atolls as coral reefs surround the islands with only a few narrow passages that will allow you entrance, make a mistake and Tin Tin will be another of the many shipwrecks that have met there unfortunate demise in these turquoise waters. In fact there’s quite a history of ships meeting their tragic end here - and because these waters aren't that well chartered we don’t want to be one of them!We find our anchorage in the middle of three tiny islands. The water vis so clear and so blue, it doesn’t even look real - the islands have a perfect ring of white sand around them and tall coconut trees swaying in the wind. There are two other boats anchored in this spot. It’s funny how we are finding new neighbours all the time. We don’t have this paradise to ourselves it seems but I’m not complain this is.heaven.
I want to jump in the water as soon as our anchors taken and i decided boldly to sim to the closest and smallest island. I haven’t, however, taken note of the state of the sea - there is a rapid current that is racing past Tin Tin - even if I swam my hardest, i wouldn’t be going anywhere!. I give in and go with the others in the dinghy where the trusty 2 stroke engine does its work to get us ashore, battling the current. As we approach the white sand beach, we are met by a small native man who greets us and tells us we can land but this is his island and we must pay $3. What else can we do, we oblige and come ashore. The men stand there not really knowing what to do with themselves, i however, am in paradise and take a tour of the island, filming this paradise. To walk the circumference takes about 10 minutes and I’m back to snowy. The men have finally settled into hammocks and realise that they just need to relax and take it easy.
I find a perfect stop on the beach and soak in some glorious sun while the gentle waves cool my feet. My head blissfully cool by the shade of the coconut tree, i drift into a luxurious snooze but not long after i’m warned that this is the most dangerous place to sit under, the tree is loaded with coconuts ready to drop and i’m in prime position for one to whack me on the head. It has been known to be death of some unfortunate souls. How foolish - I did know this but It had been the most heavenly spot that I’d ruled out any risk assessment! We meet the family, who live on the island and i watch the two young boys flying the kit they have made from plastic bags and sticks and a long bit of cloth to create the tail - it flies well and I’m impressed. I think how much richer these boys are making and finding joy in a kite they had created instead of sitting in front of playstation or a computer screen and getting square eyes. I see these boys later go out to fish. They may not have any money but they are richer in life.
We move onto the next set of Islands the next morning and venture through more treacherous coral reefs, hoping that we’d taken the right line… We see remnants of old ships wrecked on these reefs. There’s a ferry that didn’t make it and another yacht tipped on its side with the full force of the waves crashing over. I hope they managed to escape.
Here, the current isn’t as strong and I don’t hesitate to jump in with my snorkel gear on and swim ashore. first I go and have a look at the anchor to see if it had caught but it just lies there at the grassy bottom and hasn't taken purchase at all - I inform Papa who reverses Tin Tin and we hook to a rock - seems to have done the job. I navigate through the coral garden, with a few fish acquaintances on the way, I lose my nerve half way and start thinking of the big fish - apparently there’s a large ray and shark population - the jaws theme tune naturally comes into my head and I react, swimming faster and quickening my breath. Every dark shadow below, making my heartbeat quicken! I’m glad when I reach the beach. And i lie facedown on the sand like i’ve come from my own ship wreck and found land for the first time - it was quite a tiresome swim - not from the distance really but from my nerves - get a grip Em!
The island is dotted with a few backpackers that have made it over on a tourist boat and they have hitched up their tent for a few nights. there are also a few basic huts on the beach you can rent. I’m surprised to see though that the main holiday makers there look as if they are Panamanian. From the small tourist influx, its sad to see that the island is littered with rubbish. Such a beautiful place but polluted with waste.
These are incredibly beautiful islands, but the further in you get to the mainland, the more accessible it is to tourists and the boats that bring them over and the more spoilt they become. It makes us feel lucky that we are travelling this way as we are able to experience the unspoilt, almost untouched islands. I am saddened by the impact us humans have on this planet.
Tomorrow morning we sail to Colon at daybreak, it must be light enough to navigate through the reefs.
The coast of Panama is lush wish green jungle as we sail along it's coastline. By late afternoon we are entering into big shipping waters and we are reminded of what a significant entrance this is. Once you transit the canal you enter another Ocean and there is no going back. When we reach the breakwater at Colón we make a radio call to Port Control which seems to be regimental in its organisation. We have to wait for 3 big ships to exit before we were allowed entry. Here we dock in a well established Marina called Shelter Bay.
This seems to be the stopping point for boats who have to fix things up before making the transit. Some have been here for years and have made this their home with not much intention for moving through or onwards. There is a strange but lovely community here from all walks of life, I could almost write a book on their stories of adventures. We feel welcomed, there is a pool and yoga and I'm quite content to hang around here for a few days (it gets small on the boat!) The men however, seem quite restless although we have things to do - Tin Tin needs to be lifted out of the water for her bottom to be scrubbed and anti - fowled (the Galapagos are very strict about clean bottoms, especially no barnacles, quite rightly) We have a need for an electrician, the fridge needs a look over and she needs to be fumigated for the Galapagos.Oh and paperwork!! Relentless for poor Papa! It's nice to stop for a while but even I'm itching to get on now , the transit (intense line handling and sailing by Caiman crocs) and then the Galapagos awaits! It's getting closer now and I am excited beyond words!