World ARC - Day 16 - 24th Jan – Arriving in the S an Blas Islands

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Mon 25 Jan 2016 15:48
09:34.9N 78:52.7W

World ARC - Day 16 - 24th Jan – Arriving in the San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are a huge group of 340 islands on Panamas Caribbean Coast, stretching some 150 miles along the Eastern part of the continental shelf.
Most are very small low lying humps of sand, with coconut palms on the top, surrounded in the front by reef.
Exactly like the cartoons with a washed up castaway on it.......queue the jokes.
The cartoons are wrong. The islands have a bunch of people on them, all with copious amounts of beer, and a group of yachts anchored behind, and dinghies with outboards pulled up on the back side.
Paradise for a week.

We had to get to the San Blas Islands rendezvous with the rest of the fleet for Sunday morning.
Having delayed the start by a day, and left them behind, Skipper Steve was sure the target was to get to the Islands for Sunday morning.
150 miles, 24 hours. 6 1/2 knots average for the day.
The wind backed to the north and strengthened. It grew from a lazy 10 to 12 knots, to a more serious 18 to 22 knots.
The main was reefed down, 1 1/2 slabs rolled around the boom. Two reefs put in the foresail.
The sailors amongst you will appreciate the difference between a downwind poled-out run, and a beam reach for a long period into a growing sea, with a 2 meter swell and waves coming at the side of the boat, and squalls from under the big cumulus nimbus clouds growing in the blue sky.
Nina was superb.
We felt like we were bowling along, the boat sliding along the back of the waves at 8 to 10 knots, then shuddering and dipping her shoulder as the odd crest would bang against the starboard beam, slowing her down to 4 knots up the back of the next wave until she sped up again. The sails held Nina upright against push of the wind on the side, stopping most of the roll as she went up and over the wave.
Time to adjust the sails. Hours of time.
The main was let off a bit, and the gibe preventer pulled on tight to stop the occasional bang of the boom as the waves overcame the speed of the wind.
The foresail was pulled a bit tighter than the tell-tails indicated perfect flow over the sail, This seemed to stop the occasional flap and bang as we went over the waves, and threw the power slightly back into the mainsail.
The boat became beautifully balanced, foresail and main combining to adjust the direction into the wind and waves, compensating for each shift in direction.
Nina was almost steering herself in a big sea and with some good wind.
The only downside was the occasional breaker that washed over the decks, soaking everything and everyone in the cockpit.

Steve got his head down for his 3.00 a.m. watch. Lynda was just handing over to Chris at 11.50. Lesley was still doing EVERY watch, as she found it impossible to go below.
We had been overtaken by a huge tanker on his way past us, going to Panama.
Another tanker had been coming towards us, 10 miles ahead, but had changed course to avoid our overtaking ship.
Suddenly past the ship ahead, it turned again, straight for us at 20 knots.
Chaser. Nearly 600ft long and 100ft wide. He was off our port bow. The AIS on the chart plotter giving all his details. Speed, distance, heading, Closest Point of Approach, time to CPA, etc. He would be hitting us in 16 minutes. On a night like this one, it was doubtful he could even make out our tricolour light on top of our mast.
Steve woke up to hear Lynda shouting him up on channel 16. "Chaser, Chaser, Chaser, this is sailing vessel Nina, over."
Lynda asked if he'd seen us.
He hadn't seen us. His reaction was to ask where we were! Wrong answer for us. Again we felt like a tortoise trying to cross the motorway.
Valuable minutes were ticking off. Difficult for us to move, as we were the stand-on vessel, and to change course may put us into a more dangerous situation. would he change course to port or starboard? We didn't mind which, as long as he made his mind up soon.
He suddenly announced. "I am changing course to port."
Huge audible sigh of relief. We announced we would also change course to port, to pass starboard side to starboard side.
Within minutes the huge tanker was sliding past us down our right side, the smell of oil and exhaust blowing over us, blocking the wind for some moments, then leaving us to suffer the wash as he had passed past us. Well done crew. Not much to him in the scheme of things, huge near miss for us, as we celebrated a job well done!

06.00 am. saw us approaching the channel into the Islands through the reef. Great planning and timing over a long distance.
We couldn't have come in at night anyway, and would have had to stand off, probably hove-to outside in the open sea.
Into the Blue had announced the day before over the radio net that the Raymarine charts bore little resemblance to the actual situation. Mark one eyeball navigation needed then!
Paw Paw was just 4 miles ahead of us. We watched as she put her sails away, and we did the same, then turned to follow her round behind the island of Chicheme, some two dozen yachts of every size and type anchored behind the beautiful San Blas island.
White sand, blue lagoon, protected by a reef on the Caribbean side, with an wrecked yacht on its side in front of the island as a reminder of the perils of a miscalculation on pilotage.

We came in towards the beach ahead, and Lynda did the bow dance, taking charge of the anchoring, pointing to where Steve should manouver, and finally, in 7 meters of sand, the hook was dropped, and 40 meters of chain played out.
We were anchored between about a dozen of the ARC boats that sailed away the day before us from Santa Marta. More ARC boats were coming across from the other islands surrounding us.
We were back with the fleet, amongst our friends again, ready for another party!
This time it was a pot luck lunch but drinks i.e. coconuts were to be provided, and the local chief was supplying beer at a minimal charge.
The San Blas Islands are populated by the Guna Indians, who control this part of Panama. They are accepting of visitors, but only if they do not settle on the islands, and prohibit inter-marrying.
The indigenous population are only allowed to marry amongst themselves which keeps the south American Indian features intact. They are small, only to be rivalled in tribal shortness by Pigmys
The simple life style in this paradise setting was charming and they seemed equally comfortable for us marauding yachties to share their corner of paradise.
After our pot luck lunch we were entertained by local men and woman dancing and playing pan pipes in colourful costumes.

Photos and video to follow...........