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Cabot's Log

San Blas Islands & Lots of Visitors

Posted: December 13, 1999

December 13, 1999

We arrived in the Coabas Channel near the Hollandes Cays after a fast trip from Puerto Rico. Good sailing the whole way with a couple of days of 30 knot winds. As usual CHEWINK handled it with few problems. What a month and a half! We left Newport on October 24 knowing that we had six people meeting us at the small airstrip on Diablo in the San Blas on December 20. Not a lot of time to spare, but we had good passages to Bermuda and from Bermuda to Virgin Gorda. Laurie and Bob Bynum were aboard for the trip from Newport. Bob's unflagging optimism certainly helped to get us to the Virgins. Then we met up with Lennie -- the hurricane that went the wrong way. We holed up in Village Cay Marina for two weeks out of our schedule as Lennie approached and would not go away. On the first good day we bolted out of Palmas in Puerto Rico and enjoyed a fast trip to the San Blas with our friend, Taylor Mudge, to help us. These islands are still one of the nicer areas to cruise with the low islands full of palm trees and surrounded by reefs with a background of mountains on the mainland only a few miles away. We prefer the rivers and hiking in the jungles, but the Kuna Indians and their culture were what made these islands so interesting.

December 16, 1999

The San Blas Islands are one of the most unique cruising grounds in the world, but this time we arrived to torrential rain for ten days. We managed to move around to some different anchorages, visit the Kunas, and enjoy a river or two, but all the while we were wondering what we were going to do when we would be eight on board and no sunshine. Nothing but rain since we arrived -- not just rain -- torrential rain. We navigated in the rain (not easy to do in the San Blas with their extensive reefs and poor charts) over to Green Island for a couple of days after holing up in the Lemon Cays. Wind was from all directions. Sometimes quite strong, but the anchorage was secure. We managed to run aground entering the anchorage in Green Island. With masthead line and anchors out, we were stuck fast until Taylor dove to the bottom and realized the rudder should be straightened. Off she came!

December 17, 1999

While stuck in the Lemon Cays we went ashore in the rain to offer some fresh brownies to the Kuna family living ashore. They were more interested in selling us molas. Always interesting with the Kunas around!

December 20, 1999

We arrived back in Diablo for Taylor to fly out and the kids to fly in (three friends and three sons). This is a small airstrip on a deserted island and it is hard to believe that plans made two months and 2000 miles in advance will succeed. Not only were we skeptical about all six arriving on schedule, it had been such terrible weather we were really worried about what we were going to do with eight people aboard. Of course, we have known all along that the rain was Taylor's fault.

December 21, 1999

Wonders never cease! All have arrived with bags; Taylor got off to Maine. The sun was out and wind was down; Taylor was at fault after all. He had been a great crew and we were going to miss him

January 13, 2000 -- The New Millenium!

Alex and Drew with their roommates, Tristan and Ian, (Zach and Jen flew out five days earlier.) left us in Diablo at 5:30 in the morning to fly to Panama City. It had been a great three weeks with a lot of hiking and diving. Somehow eight on board was not so bad. Sad to see them go, but we did a lot and Heidi and I could use a rest. The San Blas continue to be a great cruising area that is unique to the world. With six basketball players aboard we had several contests with the Kuna villages. They brought all their best players from neighboring islands, but with our average height over 6' (The Kunas must average about 5'4".), we eventually prevailed. The competition would get fierce so we learned to mix the teams to tone it down a bit. They really wanted to beat the young Americans. While being a lot of work, having six twenty year olds for three weeks was exciting. The talk and activities were uninhibited and it was easier to operate with them for the simple reason we didn't have to always be polite as you do with friends who are guests. Six friends on board for three weeks would be trying to say the least.

January 18, 2000

 Our Maine friends John Towers, Diana Simon, and Alvah Simon on ROGER HENRY arrived back from the Eastern San Blas. They have been together for several months and it was time for John to leave so he joined us for the leg to the canal where he could explore Panama on his own. They have done well to last this long together on a small boat and part friends. Alvah and Diana wrote NORTH TO THE NIGHT about their arctic winter adventures and tried to get permission to film some adventures in the jungle from the village chiefs. The chiefs were less than cooperative.

January 22, 2000

Historic Portobello is 20 miles from the entrance to the canal and 40 miles from the San Blas. This is a beautiful harbor at the end of the Camino Real, the road used by the Spanish to bring the gold from all over South America to be shipped to Spain in the 1500's. History also shows that this harbor has one the highest rainfalls in the world, a large factor of history in this area because malaria and other diseases would decimate the Spanish and English fleets if they stayed too long. Drake is buried just outside the harbor. Portobello is an excellent place to prepare for the canal transit by making the phone calls to set up the times for the necessary inspection. The objective is to arrive in Colon first thing Monday and meet the inspector as early as possible. If all goes well, the transit can be paid for (credit card at the bank) and the transit scheduled by the afternoon. Hopefully the transit can be accomplished by the end of the week. February, March, and April are the busiest months for transiting yachts, so an early or late transit is desirable.

January 24, 2000

The only way to accomplish the paper work for transiting the canal is to hire one of the experienced taxi drivers to walk you through the process. Why the canal authority makes it so complicated and then complains that yachts are a nuisance is beyond me, but not much has changed since our first transit in 1987. The Panamanians have inherited the archaic system and attitudes of the old American "zonies". The officials remind me of the book, ANIMAL FARM. The builders of the canal were amazing people, but after the culture of the "zone" set in, the caretakers were less than stellar with their bureaucracy and inability to grasp the trends and lead the way into the future. They let a lot of the wonderful infrastructure fall into disrepair and although the writing was on the wall concerning containers as the means of shipping, nothing was done to encourage the business for American concerns. Their only concern was to protect their way of life which insured that it was lost.

January 29, 2000

 We transited the canal, leaving at 5:00 am and taking the pilot on board in the harbor of Cristobal. The operator of the pilot boat forgot that we were not a big ship and clobbered us on the bow roller. It was an easy transit after that and we had a lot of fun with our Panamanian friends, Jorge and Isabelle, who helped as line handlers. It is clear that the easiest way to have line handlers is to hire the local men who are trained and take some pride in a safe transit. If something goes wrong, there is no language barrier and the shore line handlers jump a bit quicker. It is a great benefit to have Panamanians aboard when transiting as they are the first to address the problems that might be occurring. Our arrival at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club on Miraflores Lake was like old home week. Fresh water, good friends from our first time through, and a new group of cruisers. This is an ideal place to use as a base to see Panama.

May 15, 2000

We had left CHEWINK at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club until May when we returned after Alex and Drew's graduation from University of Vermont. Instead of a quick dash to the Marquesas, we had decided to stay in Panama and leave for the Marquesas in June. This allowed a trip back home and also gave us lots of time to explore Panama.

June 10, 2000

We turned around fifty miles out into the Gulf of Panama. Flat calm and fully loaded for several months we decided that we were not enthusiastic enough to take the next step. We simply wanted to be home. So back to PMBC and in three days we had the winter cover on and a plane ride back to Maine. The fresh water and secure conditions made this an ideal place to leave CHEWINK. We seem to be taking a bumpy road to the cruising life.

Where to now?

Previous Log Entry: Next Log Entry: Panama Canal -- Back and Forth!

Have questions or want to share experiences?

If you have questions about their voyaging, or would like to share similar experiences, email Cabot.

What is Cabot's Log?

The following log and pictures are from Cabot and Heidi aboard CHEWINK, their Lyman-Morse Seguin 49 which Cabot built in 1987 and has sailed more than 62,000 miles. The log follows them as they began their second circumnavigation in 2000 through their current adventures in the Caribbean.

Part VIII: Off Again!

Part VII: Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, Key West, Bahamas, Bermuda, Home

Maine or Bust!
Belize and the Keys

Part VI: New Zealand, Dockwise, Golfito and Rio Dulce

Back in New Zealand

Part V: New Zealand

New Zealand

Part III: Society Islands, Western Samoa, Tonga & Fiji

9/11 in Tonga

Part IV: Through the South Pacific to New Zealand

Part II: Marquesas and Tuamotus

Off to the Tuamotus

Part I: San Blas Islands to Galapagos

Perlas Islands

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