Astra Blog: San Blas round two 06/04/08 - 16/04/08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Fri 18 Apr 2008 20:26

Astra Blog: San Blas round two 06/04/08 – 16/04/08



Sunday 06/04


With no encouraging news coming from Agent Stanley, we decided to tear ourselves away from glorious Colón and have another shot at the San Blas Islands.  Along the way we stopped for lunch at Portobello, a beautiful anchorage with a ruined fortress, from where the Spanish took tons of gold to Spain.  With the sun falling we decided to press on to Isla Grande, an amazing little island where all the drug barons have their holiday homes, the plus side to this is that there is virtually no crime!


Monday 07/04


We weighed anchor bright and early in order to make the 50 or so miles back to the “Swimming Pool” in plenty of time for the traditional Pot Luck party.  In the end we only just made it in time, there were several delays as our fishing lures managed to successfully fool some large lumps of seaweed into taking the bait.  After a number of these false alarms we were finally rewarded with a real bite and Ash hauled a fish on board, after much deliberation Jeremy and George identified it as a “Little Tunny” (small member of the Tuna family); it was absolutely delicious.  The Pot Luck party was great fun as usual and Astra received a very warm welcome from the San Blasters.


Tuesday 08/04


We awoke to probably the hottest morning so far, the deck was already scorching by the time we had had our cereal that one could barely step on it.  There was nothing for it but to slip into marquee mode and up went the tent.  No sooner had the crew completed this task than the sky went black, the heavens opened and the temperature plummeted down to about 35C!  George celebrated by jumping in the sea until it was pointed out that swimming with an electrical storm overhead is not a good idea.  Luckily the weather sorted itself just in time for George and Ash to challenge the German San Blasters to a round of Boules on BBQ Island.


Wednesday 09/04


Normality was restored and with it the sweltering heat.  Most of the crew spent a lazy day snorkeling and playing Boules apart from Jeremy who singlehandedly read about 30 books on the Pacific!


Thursday 10/04


George seemed to lose the plot completely on Thursday morning.  He awoke early and swam all the way to BBQ Island and back; no mean feat as there is quite a current.  If the current hand proved too strong for him, his plan was to grab onto one of the anchored yachts before he drifted out to sea!? 


Just before lunch, John (a “Swimming Pool” resident) had promised to share a little of his fishing wisdom with us.  When he arrived on Astra and saw the confusion we had managed to create with bits of fishing gear everywhere, he realized that he was going to have to start more or less from scratch.  This turned into a 3 hour master class during which John very patiently showed us how to correctly load a reel, tie some specialist knots, rig and tune a large number of exotic lures and a number of techniques for catching and landing various fish.  After lunch we decided to consolidate our newly acquired skills with a practical session.  So John, Jeremy, Ash, George and some fishing gear were loaded into the tender and under Johns guidance headed off through a cut in the reef and into the open sea.  It was an exciting hour or so being tossed around on the Atlantic swell and although we went snorkeling and saw some huge groupers, they had obviously already had dinner as we were unable to tempt them to bite.  Undeterred we returned to the anchorage determined to have another go the following day.


That evening, John and Christine had dinner aboard Astra.  Sally had produced a mouth-watering curry and an enjoyable evening was had by all.  John and Christine imparted more invaluable information about fishing, provisioning and how to access some of the most spectacular anchorages in the area.


Friday 11/04


Things got very weird as both Sally and Jeremy joined in on George’s fitness regime and braving the sharks, rays and current all three plunged in and set off towards BBQ Island before breakfast.  Sally followed this up with one hours Yoga which is exceedingly popular amongst the San Blasters who congregate on the island every other morning to “stretch”.  George and Ash went “undercover” masquerading as two Boules players in order to obtain photographic evidence of the spectacle.


The remainder of the daylight hours were spent perusing the extensive literature on board covering the South Pacific.  Gradually out of the general confusion an itinerary began to take shape.  Ash and George celebrated by going fishing again…once more with no success!


Saturday 12/04


After another marathon swim to the island and back, the morning was spent trying to reach some decision as to what to do in the Galapagos.  Our agent had kindly emailed a list of the trips and dives which we might like to do.  As far as we can tell, it all looks fantastic.  Unfortunately, every dive seems to include a rather long list of hazardous marine life! 


After lunch, the whole gang along with John and Christine took the tenders out through a different cut in the reef and spent another afternoon bobbing around on the deep blue.  John caught a Horse-eyed Jack and then we all went snorkeling.  It was an exciting dip, we saw a large number of Southern Sting Rays and Spotted Eagle Rays (luckily Jeremy was not sporting is amazing trunks on this occasion) and a multitude of stunning reef fish.


Sunday 13/04


George continued with his swimming training and Sally went to her Yoga Class, while Jeremy and Ash got back to business with the arduous task of eating breakfast.  It was a fairly restful day after the exertions of the tender trip the previous day.  Just before sun down(ers) Sally, Jeremy, Ash and George all went on a sortie in the tender to try to photograph some reef fish.  Again we encountered a lot of very large rays some of which Ash managed to get pictures of while hurriedly swimming after them.  Jeremy spotted a nurse shark but by the time he had got Ash’s attention the sleepy chap had woken up and started swimming away rather faster than we could give chase.  All returned to the boat for Happy Hour and a spot of “Shit Head”.


Monday 14/04


Monday morning had been designated for hull cleaning and Astra’s scuba team managed it in record time.  Once they had recovered a bit and got their breath back, Jeremy suggested that they might like to do a full stock check in order that we would know what needed to go on the provisioning list on our return to Colón.  Unwittingly, they agreed to the task, not realizing that under the floorboards there were enough tinned meals to feed an army for 90 days.  About 3 exhausting hours later, having pulled the boat apart and sweated several bath loads the job was complete.  They were rewarded by being allowed to test one of the tinned meals “Chunky Chicken in Gravy” has never tasted so good!


To recover from the ordeal Ash and George went to try to find an agreeable nurse shark to take some pictures of – the things we do for the blog!?  We got shots of some more large rays but couldn’t find a nurse shark.  Just as we were giving up Ash spotted a large shadow and swam towards it (for some reason!?).  It circled and started to swim straight at him at which point he realised that it was enormous (7ft) with a big powerful body and definitely not a nurse shark!?  Its fins were sharper, it was silvery grey not brown and it was in fact a reef shark!  Anyway, Ash tried to take a picture that did not come out against the dark background.  At about 20ft it circled again and swam off.  George who did not realise what was going on saw Ash photographing what he assumed would be a nurse shark and started swimming determinedly after it!  Thankfully the shark was unimpressed by George’s wounded fish impression and left.  We figured that was probably enough excitement for one day!


Tuesday 15/04


After saying our final goodbyes to the San Blasters, we headed out of the “Swimming Pool” and set a course which took us along the edge of a drop-off (John said good for fishing) in the direction of the Eastern Lemon Cays (San Blas).  Just as we entered the rough water, the reel screamed and Ash wrestled a 3ft King Mackerel alongside.  George expertly gaffed the fish and flung it on board, unfortunately the fish came off the gaff and went sliding across the slippery deck in the direction of the open hatch above Sally’s bed where she happened to be having a snooze!  Ash and George dived after it and managed to avert a cataclysmic eruption by millimeters.  The fish is now safely in the freezer!


That evening we anchored behind a small island where a “wealthy” Kuna family lived.  They came out in a canoe and asked if we would charge their mobile, we obliged and they gave us two fish in return.


Wednesday 16/04


We awoke early and left Yansaldup and set sail for Shelter Bay Marina.  We slung out a couple of our choicest lures and it was not long before both reels went wild simultaneously.  Everybody rushed into action, George and Ash got the two fish alongside and Jeremy had is work cut out to get them both on deck.  About 40 minutes later we had to lovely Blackfin Tuna in the freezer.  So with a good dinner assured we motored into the Marina just in time for Happy Hour!