The sea state from Linton to Porvenir in the San Blas was boat-thumping lumpy. The photograph below, taken by Yelle onboard JaJapami, shows just how lively the sea was. Often the sea would break over Lady Jane’s bow, sending water into the air and dumping it into the cockpit.
We were glad to arrive at our destination. Not only because it delivered a break from the lumpiness. Porvenir serves as the gateway to the San Blas islands, where there’s an island for every day of the year. And only 49 of them are inhabited.
By the time we arrived at Porvenir, the office issuing cruising permits for the San Blas islands had closed and we were told to come back the next day. So, with a bit of light left, we took a walk around the island, took some photographs on the airport runway – as you do. And we found a hotel bar where we stopped for a beer before heading back to our respective boats.
We returned the next morning to find the office open, and a few minutes later and $60 lighter, we had a permit for Lady Jane and us to cruise around the San Blas islands. Shortly after that, we lifted our anchor and motored towards Cayos Chichimie – a small island to the northeast of Porvenir.
Like all the San Blas islands, Chichimie is a stunner. Despite doubling as a retreat for holidaymakers who want to escape from it all, it is home to at least one family of Guna Yala Indians. And the native folks here are enterprising.
What seemed like a whole family of Guna Yala people came alongside Lady Jane in their huge dugout canoe to sell us Molas and bracelets. Within a few minutes, all of their stock had made it onboard and so had a couple of the women who were so small they managed to slip under Lady Jane’s solar panels.
Their timing wasn’t great, however, as Maria was in the shower. So I had to keep them occupied while Maria got dressed and was able to bring her negotiating skills upstairs. Then, after a lot of arm-waving and shoulder-shrugging, we settled on a mola and a bracelet, for $20.
That evening we joined the JaJapamis for dinner at a restaurant hut on the island. The menu was simple: lobster, fish and chicken. All of it fresh – including the chicken. The parrot wasn’t on the menu.
The Hot Tub
As lovely as Chichimie was, the anchorage is very exposed to the wind. And with the forecast promising even stronger winds, we thought it prudent to head off to somewhere more sheltered. So, the next morning, after a brief stop at Dog Island (too uncomfortable), we sailed northeast to Holandes Cays to an anchorage known as the Hot Tub – near Kalugirdup island. Here we met up again with the crews of A Capella of Belfast and Krabat.
The entrance to the Hot Tub anchorage is moderately tricky. Charts are not accurate here, and eyeball navigation is king. Many reefs and shoal areas aren’t on the charts, and many sailors have come to grief. This is possibly due to over-reliance on what they see on the chart plotter.
In good light, however, navigation isn’t a problem – the areas to avoid can clearly be seen. It isn’t exactly a relaxing experience though, and we were glad to be parked up.
Later that evening everyone got together onboard JaJapami for a larger reunion of our Atlantic Odyssey sailors. We have been on this journey together a long time – setting off across the Atlantic more or less together in November 2017.
On Saturday 9th February, we decided to head around the corner for a change of view and a beach. The unattractively named Bug Island anchorage delivered on that. And despite it being busy, we managed to get reasonably close to the island of Banedup where later that day we explored the uninhabited island, snorkelled around the shore and relaxed for a while at the barbecue area constructed out of palm trees and coconut palm fronds.
On Sunday 10th February, the wind took a turn for the breezier, so we decided to stay put.
Warning – this is not for the squeamish. And, as I don’t want this to sound like an extract from a horror story, I’ll try to avoid the gore.
We had just arrived onboard JaJapami to take them over to one of the islands on our dinghy when we heard a call over the radio. It was from Julian asking for assistance with a Guna Yala man who came over to A Capella of Belfast on his dugout canoe for help. The man had severely damaged his hand with a machete. But, as Julian’s command of Spanish is probably on a par with mine – he couldn’t communicate with him effectively enough to administer treatment. So, Julian brought the man and his companion, who we later found out was the saila (chief), over to JaJapami where at least two of the crew are fluent Spanish speakers.
The man had managed to stem the flow of blood with a rag, but it didn’t look clean. So, Jana removed the rag, cleaned the wound, put on a compression bandage and gave him some painkillers. But it seemed as though he had severed an artery, and that he almost certainly needed stitches. It was fortunate that he hadn’t severed his tendons.
Later, when we eventually got to the island, we found the man again, and Yana released the pressure on the wound to make sure that blood was flowing to his fingers, and changed the dressing.
There is no permanent medic on the island, which has no permanent inhabitants. The people work here on rotation before heading back to their own town. So, the only way of getting treatment is to go to one of the more populated islands near the mainland or to get the doctor to come here via a panga. But, as JaJapami planned to go to the connected islands of Corazón de Jesús and Narganá the next morning, they agreed to take the patient with them.
By way of gratitude (and I’m just an accidental tourist here – Jana is the star of the show), the saila gave each of us a drinking coconut. This might seem small in a western context, but it isn’t here. The gesture was heartfelt and very welcome.
The next morning, together with Yelle, I picked up the injured man and his companion, along with an array of fishing equipment, buckets, jerry cans, an axe – and ironically two machetes – to take him over to JaJapami. And as soon as he was made comfortable on a sofa and given some painkillers, he fell asleep.
To cut a long story shorter, the JaJapamis got the man to Corazón de Jesús and hospital. Then later found him walking around with a beaming smile on his face having received several stitches to the wound.
Corazón de Jesús and Narganá
On 13th February, our entire Atlantic Odyssey fleet of four boats headed off to Corazón de Jesús. We tied up next to JaJapami at the local dock, Krabat and A Capella of Belfast anchored just outside the small harbour entrance. And we all met later for dinner at a local restaurant.
Clearly, there isn’t much money around in Corazón de Jesús, but the electricity supply has facilitated a disproportionately large number of satellite TV dishes plugged into even larger TVs. The sanitation might be basic, but the audiovisual entertainment certainly isn’t.
Down the River
With rumours of crocodiles, monkeys and other exotic creatures to see, the next day we decided to go on a dinghy trip down the river. It wasn’t easy to see where the river entrance started – particularly as the Navionics charts are worse than useless here. So, we ended up dragging the dinghy over (what we thought was) the entrance.
After that, it was plain sailing for a few miles down the river until we again ran out of depth. We didn’t see any exotic animals, but the scenery was beautiful. We did see a number of local folks, many rowing their dugout canoes, going upriver so that they could fill out their buckets with fresh water from the river. Unlike Corazón de Jesús, not all of the islands have their own water supply. So it has to be done this way.
Confession time: I’ve lost track and can’t remember the names of many of the islands we visited or anchored near. But I can confidently say that we enjoyed every one of them. We spent time on the beach, ate lobster bought from the local fishermen, snorkelled on rich (and not so rich) reefs. And with the help of Yelle, and our Hookamax, we cleaned the underside of Lady Jane’s hull in preparation for going to the Galapagos next month.
The photographs below represent typical views of the San Blas islands. It really is a beautiful place to be, and I can understand why so many people spend months here. We were sad to leave, but with the Panama Canal crossing looming, we had to press on.