Archive for August, 2009

Quote of the month: “You know, i could do with a break.. from Lobster” ( Isabelle)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2009 by issycf

Hard to believe, I know! But moderation in all things is good, as they say.

Although the seafood was wonderful, we really did need a break occassionaly. But it could be very hard to resist at times, especially when the Kuna fisherman is almost giving away his catch for a couple of dollars!

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Although it was great for us, it was not so great for the fishery. So we came we came up with a bit of a plan we call ‘buy-and-release’. We bought a turtle that we could not bear to kill and eat, for three dollars and waited until the fisherman had gone on his way. Then we both hopped in the water and released our turtle and watched as he happily swam away into the deep.

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We figured this way, the animal gets a second chance, the Kuna get to catch the same animal twice, or more, so the fishery could in effect double, as well as the Kuna income. That is, if the yachties want to fund it.


Holandes Cays (The San Blas)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2009 by issycf


First Mate on the Bow (on the way to Holandes)

There was some decent snorkeling to be done around the Holandes Cays. 

Sadly, we started to realise how extremely over-fished the whole of the San Blas is. Often the fishermen would have lobster, crab and turtle in the end of the day’s catch but no fish. After spending some time in Indonesia and finding the same situation there, it really hit home how over-fished the world’s waters are. In an effort to feed their families, the Kuna also catch pre-mature lobster. The legal length that a lobster can be to take it from the sea is a tail of four inches because by that stage they are able to reproduce, but the Kuna are (from necessity) plucking tiny lobsters from the sea and wiping out the breeding stock. We found quite a few lobster under rocks and logs while snorkeling but they were all too small to take. 


James starts the day with a swim in the ‘Swimming Pool’

I woke up from an afternoon snooze to hear the voices of our friends Gary and Linda outside. They had motored over in their dingy and were talking to James. I went out to see them and they invited us over for dinner in their anchorage which was called ‘The Swimming Pool’.

Now, there is something you should know about the San Blas. Basically, navigation can be a challenge at times because there are so many shoals and coral reefs. I think it would be close to impossible for any vessel bigger than Kuna canoes to navigate around the islands without an accurate map. Our guide map was about 10 years old yet quite trust worthy and although we could pretty much rely on that and our GPS, it was often  a good idea to have someone on the bow looking out for potential dangers. 

When we first entered the swimming pool, we didn’t have our map out and no-one was on the bow. We could see a number of boats in the anchorage but we couldn’t quite tell where the deep water channel was. As we were getting closer to Gary and Linda’s cat, our nose hit sand and we felt a jolt go through the boat. We had run aground! Luckily the sand was soft and James maneuvered our way out backwards and into the deep water. 


The dinner party, Linda sitting there in blue

That night we had a feast fit for kings of Linda’s cuban black beans, Gary’s day’s catch, Neils famous ginger carrots and Vicky’s to die for pumpkin pudding of which James had three helpings and finished off everybody’s left-overs! It was a great night listening to tales of pirates and cruising stories.

Chichime Cays (The San Blas)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 by issycf

After about 4 hours motoring against the wind, James and I arrived in the San Blas just before sundown. We anchored in the Chichime Cays between the islands Uchutupu Pippi and Uchutupu Dumat. The scenery was so idyllic, with turquoise waters and islands filled with coconut palms, like some picture city folk would have on their desk to remind them of where they will be going when they get some time off.

Almost as soon as we had anchored, some Kuna paddled out in their canoes to the boat selling lobster and Molas. We had a good feed of lobster and potatoes that night. In the morning a Kuna woman paddled out again selling traditional Kuna bread, which is flat and delicious. A Kuna family also came to the boat asking us for caramello, chocolate and if we could charge their cell phones. They are living these secluded, traditional lives but they have cell phones!

Kuna Fisherboy

Kuna Fisherboy

That day we set sail for the Eastern Holandes Cays. We had a good North- Westerly wind and nearly got all the way there on one tack.  As we came in to anchor, a Kuna man was holding up a pretty decent sized fish, calling out to us and laughing. I think he was pretty proud of his catch.

The San Blas

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 by issycf


Uchutupu Pippi

The San Blas is an archipelago of around 364 islands which stretches over 120 miles from Golfo de San Blas to Tiburon on the border of Colombia. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna, the indigenous people of Panama. They call the islands Kuna Yala, which means ‘Kuna Land’. The Kuna make their living fishing and selling Molas, which are their traditional embroideries. Coconut and lobster exports also provide income, there was a freighter called Medio Million which came to a port near the San Blas, each time to fill with half a million coconuts.

In 1925, after attacks from the Panamanians, the Kuna made an attack on the Panamanian government and killed many police officials. To prevent an extermination of the whole Kuna people, the U.S. government stepped in and through a series of negotiations persuaded the Panamanian government otherwise. Today the Kuna live independently of Panama with their own economic system and laws, the women still wearing their traditional dress of colourful beads around their arms and legs.


Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 by issycf

IMG_1508.JPGPortobelo Fort

James and I stocked up well on food and water before leaving Shelter Bay and heading to the San Blas. Our first anchorage along the way was Portobelo, which Christopher Columbus named when his ship sailed into the port in 1502. Later in the 16th century, Portobelo became a meeting point where merchants and delivery ships from Spain would barter on the gold plundered from the indigenous people of the Americas.  Apparently one third of the world’s gold passed through the small port.

No-wonder English sea captain and pirate Francis Drake saw fit to use the port as a place to rob Spanish merchantmen. When he died he was buried at sea in a lead coffin near a small island close to the entrance of Portobelo, now named ‘Isla Drake’.IMG_1525.JPG

We anchored in the port on Saturday night and went into town to take a look on Sunday, church day. All of the locals were seated in the sweltering heat, the fans in the church buzzing while the people listened to their pastor. When the procession ended, James and I went in to take a look at the Portobelo Black Christ, a life-size mannequin in a glass cabinet- unfortunately we didn’t get a very good photo of it but it looked like the Jesus you see in all the other churches, just black, and dressed a little more flamboyantly. The church was originally built in 1776 but had been burnt down and re-built many times due to the attacks Portobelo has suffered in the past.

We also took a look at Portobelo’s old fort, which must have been over four hundred years old. Seeing how big and well built the fort is, it was surprising to hear that British Admiral Vernon had managed to destroy it in 1739. It was great to stand there and imagine what it would have been like all those years ago.

After taking a walk through town, seeing the kids play soccer in the street and hearing Reggaeton pumping out of the humble concrete houses, we headed back to our dingy and rowed to the boat. Ready to do another leg of the journey towards the San Blas.               

-Posted by Isabelle

Arriving in Panama

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 by issycf

IMG_1450.JPG     I arrived in Panama after yet another gruelling flight and thanked god that I wouldn’t be flying home. If I see one more pair of aeroplane socks I think I’m going to cry. Even though I declared my Tim Tams at customs, the customs men didn’t want to see them, they ushered me through the arrivals gates. I saw James right away, he was looking for me. He was a lot browner and skinnier than the James I remembered from two months ago. Still as handsome as ever, holding a bunch of roses, he spotted me. It was good to see him! I soon realised that I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Actually, all I could say was ‘donde est a los banos?’ (Where is the bathroom)? In the taxi on the way to Shelter Bay Marina, after much asking on James’s part, the driver put on some Bachata music. It was a two-hour drive from the airport in Panama City to the Marina, which is close to panama’s other major city Colon. We were in the middle of a highway surrounded by dirt mounds and rainforest when we heard a loud ‘POP’. It was one of our rear tyres. The driver stopped the car and had a look. When I saw the look on his face, I knew we had a problem. He got in the car and started the engine up. He was trying to tell us why he didn’t want to stop and wait for help but I couldn’t quite work out what he was trying to say. His hand gestures were alarming to say the least, first he had his hands wrapped around his neck and looked as if he was chocking himself, then he put his hand to his head in the shape of a gun. IMG_1372 (Large) 

IMG_1386I looked to James for some clarity and he said that the driver was worried that if we stopped, bandits would come and kill us. Soon enough the hub of the wheel had cut through the floppy rubber of the tyre and was scraping along the gravel. I don’t think any of us had any idea what we were going to do. We were miles from any help…Or so we thought. As we rounded a bend we saw a truck, which had stopped on the side of the road for a pee break. They signalled to us that they had a spare tyre. We were saved! Finally we arrived at Shelter bay and I got my first real look at the beautiful, buoyant Dagmar! James had done a lot of work on her before I saw her. He had her in the water a day before I arrived. I soon found that he had already acquired a reputation around the marina. People who I met would say, “He sure is a hard worker” or “How is our hard worker going today?” The job he did was pretty amazing, especially considering he was out there sometimes all day in the 38-degree heat! James has not only worked hard but he has also done a fantastic job on the projects he has taken on, just take a look at the before and after shots of Dagmar’s mast!

-Posted by Isabelle

Getting Our Mast In

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 by issycf

Getting the mast back in the boat turned into quite a drama too

They had said that they could do it ‘no worries’ with the forklift. But that meant it lifting to its limit, from a high point beside the dock, and picking up the mast below it’s balance point.

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So they lifted, and manoeuvred, and lifted and still the mast was not upright and still had about two feet to raise to be able to get in the hole in the deck of the boat.

I don’t know how they managed it, but somehow they guided it into the opening and I rushed down in to the cabin to guide it the rest of the way.  Unfortunately, with the lack of height on the forklift, it was coming on on a bit of an angle and starting to scrape on a bulkhead besides where the mast goes. I yelled to stop, but the forklift operator didn’t get the relayed message in time and kept dropping it. I thought the mast was going to break through the bulkhead. I could see a disaster about to happen. Then much confused relaying of messages and the mast was straightened a bit, managed to not go through the bulkhead but as it dropped further it scraped all my lovely new paint off one side of the mast :(. But at least it was in now and the outside of the boat looked great!

-posted by James