San Blas Islands to Shelter Bay, Panama

John & Susan Simpson
Mon 13 Mar 2023 22:47
We enjoyed six restful days in the San Blas Islands which gave us our first taste of the type of tropical island paradise we can expect in the Pacific Ocean.  Navigating amongst the islands is tricky because of the coral reefs that abound and we were careful to keep watch as we approached the island anchorages.  John enjoyed some wonderful wing foiling in the flat waters of the ’swimming pool’ anchorage between the islands of Banedup and Calubir, although even he found the varying depths of water a challenge and had to swerve to avoid grounding every now and again!

Wingfoiling in the swimming pool anchorage

Even though we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere we still ate well in restaurants ashore.  On one island ‘Ivan’ produced a beautiful three course meal of Conch Ceviche (delicious even for someone like me who doesn’t eat shellfish!), Braised Fish in a fruity sauce served with rice and vegetable salad, followed by Coconut and Mango cake.  How Ivan managed to produce such fantastic food from his bamboo hut on an island with no utilities I have no idea.

Beach volleyball on BBQ island

On BBQ island there was a beach volley ball net so a number of the crews from the World ARC Pacific fleet gathered to drink pre-dinner beers and play volley ball as the sun set.  Our meal was cooked for us in another bamboo hut along the beach as we played and as darkness fell we tucked into a hearty meal of barbecued Lobster, Octopus or Fish having worked up an appetite.

William and John on Chichime island

Our final anchorage was behind the island of Chichime, which was also home to a ‘resort’ of four or five wooden huts and a small bar/restaurant.  There is absolutely nothing on this tiny island except for the resort and the home of the family which runs it so if you’re looking for a holiday away from it all this would be an excellent choice.  To give you an idea of its size, walking the circumference of the island takes no more than 5 minutes.  It’s covered in palm trees, the beaches are soft white sand and the waters are crystal clear and ideal for snorkelling.  John was enjoying the snorkelling until some fellow swimmers told him they’d just seen a couple of sharks.  He didn’t see them himself to say what type they were, and they were probably harmless, but he didn’t stay long in the water after that.  

We left the San Blas Islands at 5.00 am on 9th March for the 78 mile voyage to Shelter Bay Marina in Panama.  This marina is at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Atlantic side and the World ARC Pacific fleet is gathered to prepare for our canal transit.  We enjoyed some lovely sailing during the morning once the sun had come up but the wind died away and we motored for most of the afternoon.  Shelter Bay is a nice marina with a few small shops, a laundry, a restaurant and a small swimming pool.  The marina is surrounded by rainforest and we can hear exotic birds and even howler monkeys calling from the trees.  It’s been great to catch up with our friends in the fleet again and we even hosted a 21st birthday party for Tom who is crewing on Walkabout.  

As I write this the first group of boats is making its way through the Panama Canal and is about to exit the locks at the Pacific Ocean end.  We will transit in the second group on 15-16th March.  The preparation has included an official measurer coming to confirm Casamara’s exact length, width and draft so that we can be registered and given the go ahead for the transit. We have also had the boat fumigated, one of the requirements to be able to enter the Galapagos islands once we are into the Pacific.  As this is one of the last places in which we’ll find supermarkets we have also done a massive food shop, trying to think of all the things we might possibly need as we cross the South Pacific.  

John with our ‘measurer’ who gave us the all clear for the Panama Canal

You might be interested to see us via webcam as we transit the Panama Canal.  We should be in the Gatun Lock on 15th March around 5.00pm (10pm UK time) and during the day on 16th March we will go through the Pedro Miguel locks and later the Miraflores locks(probably at about 3 or 4pm, 8 or 9pm UK time), emerging into the Pacific by the end of the afternoon.  The link to the webcam page is We go through the locks rafted together in groups of three boats and we will be on the outside edge of the fourth raft in the group. 

It feels unreal that we will soon be in the Pacific Ocean and about to explore a whole new world, but by the end of this week we will be in Panama City and next week will set off for the Galapagos Islands.  Sadly, whilst we were in the San Blas Islands, we heard that John’s ageing Mother had been taken ill and died.  Once we are in the Galapagos Islands we will fly back to the UK for her funeral so have been working hard to co-ordinate travel plans for that.  It was incredible to be able to be in contact with family and book flights online whilst in such a remote area.  The World can feel both vast and small in those circumstances!