San Blas to Providencia

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 11 Dec 2012 16:57
We have arrived in Providencia, a Columbian outpost, our 16th host country since leaving the UK. We spent 9 months in total in Panama and it was time for a change. We left San Blas just as a mass of dark cloud laden with copious quantities of rain billowed in from the north-east to soak the nearby islands narrowly missing us as we motorsailed northwards. Pretty much what we had endured for the past few weeks really.  We never caught the islands at their very best.  But, it is a special place to visit with it's unique indigenous peoples.
6 fish in a bucket - our last catch in San Blas - mini 'Groupers'        You need bl**dy big moth balls to deter this 5" long monster
Providencia is very different. Part of Columbia despite being closer to Nicaragua. It and it's slightly larger sister San Andreas 30 miles to the south provide mainland Columbians the opportunity to visit these small outposts far out in the Caribbean. Providencia is quite unique, in that only 'Providencians' can live here. No 'Mainlanders' or San Andreans are allowed to set up homes or businesses on this very pretty 4 by 2 mile volcanically created lush green hilly island.  That arrangement is perhaps why these islanders are generally a happy bunch of souls numbering about 5000 give or take, although their hackles have been raised in recent weeks.This is due to a ruling by the International Court in the Hague on a claim by Nicaragua lodged in 2001 to be awarded these waters and islands. The Court ruled back in November after deliberating for just the odd 11 years that the Islands could stay with Columbia (makes sense), but Nicaragua's territorial waters would now extend out to 81 degrees west instead of 82 west thus encompassing valuable fishing grounds used by the locals here. The Colombians are extremely unhappy about it. War, thankfully, is not on the cards but there's a lot of political posturing going on.
To explain these events the Columbian President Santos paid a personal visit to the island last week to explain how he could be so careless as to lose 56,000 square kilometres of ocean brimming with fish, lobster and conch.  For our part we now have to sail through Nicaraguan waters on leaving Columbia rather than in Columbian waters. Hopefully, there will be no issues for cruising yachts transiting through these islands which are a useful staging post on the route from the Bay Islands of Honduras to Panama and visa versa.
So, back to our trip north from Panama. It wasn't the best of voyages because it proved not to be such a good weather window. From exiting through the Holandes Cays Channel in San Blas all the way to Providencia some 280 miles away we were hard on the wind.  At times 20 plus knots of wind crossed the deck which for this elderly catamaran, with it's low bridge deck clearance above the water, meant a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride, especially early in the voyage when the seas were short and confused. The reason for the close wind angle was not only due to the direction of the wind at the time but because we knew we would incur westerly going currents further north along with backing winds. So we desperately sought to keep well to the east of our rhumb line to Providencia. The most we managed was 11 miles of additional easting from a line drawn between San Blas and Providencia which was better than nothing but not ideal.
Rainbow at dawn - more squalls & a 'washing machine' sea (never looks that rough in photos!)                      
Early views of Providencia and, on arrival, the neighbouring island of Santa Catalina
So it was grin and bear it. We suffered no breakages (that we know of!) despite the bone jarring wave trains that hit us every 4-5 seconds, like sailing over a corrugated iron roof.  Unfortunately, we arrived in Providencia with only one engine providing drive. This issue was self inflicted by our illustrious 'Skip' as, having just taken over a watch, managed to put the boat in 'irons' having pinched up too close to the wind. The result was that the boat stopped when it hit the next wave and then, as catamarans are prone to do, proceeded to sail backwards running directly over the 50 meters of fishing line and lure we had been trailing behind us. The next action sealed the fate of the starboard saildrive. He unlocked the propeller to take it out of gear in order to start the engine to get us round through the wind again.The propeller was now spinning due to the boat's backward progress - most of the 50 meters of line was consequently wound round the propeller. At which point it could not go into gear. The engine was subsequently useless as a propulsion unit until we could find smooth water to dive on the hull to unwind the line. That proved to be when we arrived at our destination. The line could be clearly seen leading from the reel, round the outboard motor on the dinghy, under the starboard rudder and back across to the port side rudder where the yellow lure was visible just itching to wind itself round the other drive leg given the chance!
Follow the fishing line as it leaves the reel, detours around the outboard engine leg and under the starboard stern to the saildrive leg and propeller - idiot!
Still, with no damage done we salvaged all the line and the lure and the engine subsequently started without a problem. Phew! We then contacted Mr Bush the resident Customs Agent in order to arrange our entry into Providencia so that we could then spend a few days recuperating from the tiring voyage before starting to enjoy this attractive island.
Our view from the anchorage towards the island's main port .......the 'Admiral' propping up the floating bridge linking Providencia with tiny Santa Catalina Island