logo Mystic
Date: 05 Apr 2012 05:31:58
Title: Snorkel safari in San Blas

Lat 09:22.05N
Lon 079:57.02W

Buenas!
We're back from our 10 day jaunt to the beautiful San Blas islands, and now safely back in the comforts of the marina at Shelter Bay (or Shelter Pay as it is known amongst cruisers). We had a great trip and Mystic didn't cause us too many problems.

It's only a 14hr sail direct from Colon to the San Blas islands, but we decided to take our time and see some of the places in between. We were also having a new dodger made by a french dude, Alain, who works out of one of the villages along the way so we tied it in with that. After Portobello (last blog) we sailed a couple of hours north to an island called Isla Linton. It's meant to be the best anchorage in Panama...not sure i'd agree but some great reefs and we had an interesting afternoon snorkel while we were waiting for Alain to complete the first part of the dodger.

The next day we sailed the 8 hours journey to Chichime, one of the westernmost San Blas islands. We had good winds (albeit on the nose) all the way. Chichime really did live up to expectations - the San Blas are 360 tiny islands of textbook paradise, with one or two families on each island, living in huts made of palm leaves, surrounded by crystal clear water and beautiful reefs alive with fish, whilst palm trees dangle over the water. There is not much commercial tourism here (although apparently it is rapidly growing) and 99% of the tourists are cruisers. It's a bit of a yachty haven.

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On arrival we hadn't even dropped anchor before two wooden kayaks had parked alongside the boat, loaded with Molas for sale. Molas are hand paintings on square shaped material that look a bit like a cushion cover that needs to be sewn together. They're quite pretty but apparently they're meant to be sewn into clothing, which I didn't really get, so I parted with 10 for a little bag with a parrot painted on it. Perhaps not the chic-est handbag in my collection, but it did open a door to the guy joining us in our dinghy to go spear fishing whilst we snorkelled. There was a wreck of a sailing yacht very similar to Mystic actually, which had tried to enter at night about 10 years ago which was rather haunting to see! Raoul the spear fishing local caught a triggerfish and two angelfish for his family's dinner. Everyday he fishes. Everyday he eats nothing but fish and rice. He invited us to eat the fish he'd caught on the island that evening. We eagerly accepted but weren't sure what to expect - were we being invited into a Kuna family meal or was this just a rouse to get money out of us?? It turns out that they cooked the triggerfish for us to eat on the beach, on our own under the stars, which was cool and to be honest a bit of a relief as our Spanish is embarrassingly bad and I"m not sure how we would have felt inside a palm thatched hut with a family of tribal Kuna people!

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The next day we went to another island called Dog Island which has a wreck of a cargo ship in very shallow water which you can snorkel in and around, before continuing on to the next chain of islands called Islas Hollandes. These are the furthest from the mainland and hence the water is crystal clear. Really amazing colours in the shallows of the reef around the island. Archie decided we needed a bit more adventure and to try and get out to the ocean side of the reef...resulting in trying to snorkel in breaking waves whilst avoiding being swept onto the shallow reef. I didn't last very long at that. Living in Australia has given me an irrational fear of sharks, and as soon as the visibility was lost due to the swell, I was out of there!

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Another day, another reef, and another channel to navigate through to get to an out of the way spot. In the middle of this island group there is a few square kilometeres of nothing but reef with a few narrow channels between sections of the reef. Our guidebook told us there was a path through it all, and we took up the challenge to practise navigating by sight with the help of some waypoints in the gps. We anchored and had the most amazing swim in the shallow waters. We drove the dinghy towards the ocean side of the reef, and then got in the water and holding on to the dinghy, drifting down with the strong current, just watching the underwater world below us. We saw some amazing giant eagle rays swooping below us, barracuda, stingrays, and large numbers of colourful little fish, many I could still name from my time in Honduras in my gap year! With our heads submerged in the crystal clear water, watching the earth move below us as we drifted down the channels felt almost like we were flying. Very memorable. I then climbed to the top of the mast to absorb the stunning view of the reef around us.

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We spent the night in another beautiful anchorage aptly named "Swimming Pool" anchorage, before turning around and heading back towards Colon over the next couple of days. Unfortunately the wind crapped out fairly early on, and our fan belt was wearing dangerously thin with an ominous smell of burning in the air, so we were caught between a rock and a hard place - use the motor now and risk not having it for anchorages and the marina on the way home, or float until the wind came back, and actually go backwards because of the current? We even tried rigging up our spinnaker but no wind is no wind and we still weren't moving. I was having dramatic visions of being stuck at sea in the doldrums for days on end until we decided to try the engine. I kept waiting for the fan belt to snap but it never did. We stopped again at Isla Linton and Alain completed the installation of our dodger and our shade protection between the dodger and the bimini. Our dodgy fan belt held out for another day and we pulled into Shelter Bay last night, and today have met some more people heading across the Pacific. We're glad we got measured for the canal before we went to San Blas, as the wait time to go through for boats now is 2-3 weeks! It was 5 days before we left but apparently because of Easter there are less advisors wanting to work (each boat that goes through has to have an advisor on board). We were meant to be going through the canal tomorrow (Thursday) but have been pushed back to Saturday. We have found some line handlers who want to go through with us just for the experience so there will be 6 of us on board, plus the advisor so it will be fairly crowded!

My newly retired (whoop whoop!) Dad arrives on Sunday which is very exciting! Can't wait to see him after 7 months. We have also purchased a fold up bike today, and our new genoa has arrived so we're starting to feel like we're getting through the list of purchases. Archie has bought yet more fishing gear but still hasn't caught any fish...the pressure is mounting. We feel very lucky to be spending Aussie dollars!

Sorry if i've bored you all to tears with this lengthy update. More work to be done in the morning, albeit nicer and easier jobs as we get down the list.

Hope all's well back in Blighty and Aus. Send us your news!

Love A&J xx

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