Snow Leopard
Mon 29 Mar 2010 14:58

Grand Cayman and San Blas islands, Panama

9:35.14N 78:42.35W


Grand Cayman

Two weeks in England, having medical checks (boring) and seeing friends and family (fun) were enough and flying back to Grand Cayman and to Snow Leopard was like coming home! A big thank you to Kate and Peter, Mike and Martine, and Bosh and Liz for looking after us in the UK. Once back in Cayman, a few glasses of white wine and a chat with Nicole sent us happy to bed on Snow Leopard.


The next few days were occupied with a mix of bottom cleaning (the boat’s), which had grown a veritable garden in our absence, and socialising. We were invited to The Cayman Sailing Club, a great barbeque with Judy, Cati and Adella (lovely to see them again having met up first in Grenada) and had splendid lunch and dinner with Candy and Simon in their beautiful house overlooking the North Sound. Thank you to you all for making us so welcome, but especially to Pam and Nicole. You were both simply wonderful and we will always have such great memories of you both and hope to meet up again soon.


Pam, plus three most important components – cigarette, G&T and phone!


Nicole, our delightful host on Grand Cayman


The sail from Grand Cayman to Isla Porvenir was 600 miles and took almost exactly 72 hours. There was a big swell on the beam combined with a cross sea on top, which made for a pretty uncomfortable trip with a great deal of banging and crashing.


The San Blas archipelago

We arrived in the San Blas archipelago and anchored in the lagoon by Chichime Island. Again, what a contrast to Grand Cayman. Tiny islands covered with palm trees with the only inhabitants being the local Kuna Indians, paddling around in the dugout canoes, ‘ulas’. This was more my image of the Pacific and like nowhere else in the Caribbean. The Kunas, an indigenous tribe, organised a quiet revolution against the Panamanian government some 25 years ago and now run their region, Kuna Yala as a semi autonomous state within Panama with their own rules and customs. They care passionately about their environment and are enormously proud of their land and unique culture which they defend strongly against any undue outside influence.


I hadn’t expected to see so many boats in the San Blas. We had 16 in the Chichime anchorage and over 20 in the east Holandes Cays. The other surprise was the length of time people spend here. We met Americans and Canadians who have spent up to 12 years in the San Blas, and in the East Lemmon Cays was an Italian community of 9 boats which all seemed to have spent many years in this area. Lovely as the islands are, they are all effectively the same tiny palm-tree covered islets with the occasional Kuna family living on a few of them. Undoubtedly one could continue to find new anchorages amongst the reefs and islands, but I’d get board very quickly.



The blue flag (RSYC this time) still flying high, in San Blas, Panama


Kuna islander starting construction of a new dugout


We have had a bit of a disaster – the fridge has packed up. It’s bad enough not being able to keep any meat or fish fresh, but what about cold beers and ice for the G&Ts?

We were about to set off for Colon, about 70 miles away, to find a fridge engineer when we heard from one Canadian yacht that there was a very goon Italian Fridge engineer living on his yacht currently about 4 miles away in East Lemmon Cays. We jumped in the dinghy and hammered across to see him, but only after putting in a couple of waypoints into the hand-held GPS so that we would not run into the reefs en route. Piero was not going anywhere and was happy to look at the fridge and to help deal with the problem, so we dinghied back to Snow Leopard in Chichime, up-anchored and drove round to anchor next to Piero in Lemmon Cays.


Piero, after the initial examination was not confident. No refrigerant gas and oil leaking from the pipes as well. He re-gassed the system and it started to immediately cool down, but as soon as he stopped the gas leaked away. We obviously had a big crack in the system which was going to require a new evaporator plate. A quick satellite call to Tony in the UK (he is joining us in a couple of weeks) and he is on the case getting the necessary replacement parts. So now we just have to live with no fridge for the next couple of weeks – it is amazing how quickly you can get used to warm beer. The San Blas islands are not the most convenient place to be without a fridge as there is really nowhere to buy fresh meat and you grab fruit and vegetables whenever they are available – sometimes from a passing Indian canoe or sometimes from one of the extraordinary villages that cover entire islands, with houses overlapping into the sea.


Carti Islands – overcrowding!



Local Ferry


Frigate bird


I am writing this at the ‘swimming pool’ anchorage in the eastern Holandes cays, whilst it is pouring with rain as it has been doing all day. So it rains in paradise - at least its warm rain.