After hauling the boat in Cartagena and getting Discovery ready for another year in the water, Nico and I spent a few days on maintenance items and provisioning, then on a perfectly calm hot morning departed for the San Blas. 5 hours out the winds came on like someone had thrown a switch and within minutes the sails were up and we were ripping towards Panama. We covered the 206 miles in 23 hours- not a bad run. We chose an anchorage near Porvenir to make it easy to pick up Jody early the next morning and were quickly visited by a few Kuna families in dugout canoes offering big smiles, Molas (intricate hand sewn handicrafts), lobster fish and crab. The crab are related to king crab- huge rock crab with big claws and a menacing look. Nico decided they would be dinner. I decided immediately I’d be liking the San Blas.
Jody arrived the next morning and we cruised over to the Lemon Cays, a group of small palm covered islands, which I’d soon learn were the make-up of most of the almost 400 islands in the group. The San Blas are ruled by the Kuna, a small statured indigenous people respected for their fierceness in battle. Luckily these days they wield fishing nets and spear guns instead of weapons, grow many kinds of fruit and veg on the mainland and leave most of their islands to swaying coconut palms. This will be our home for the next month, a place I’ve dreamt about for years.
We picked up our next group on Thursday, which included Dave Tyburski, a pro who resides in Maui and Hood River who we’ve been trying to get out to join us for some time. Everyone arrived at 0700 on Thursday into El Porvenir, little more than a few outbuildings and a grass strip. Needless to say everyone had big grins. I knew how they felt- I’d been sporting the same grin since our arrival.
That first day we had no wind, on the backside of a low that dumped a torrent of rain on us all night, but since then the winds have been strong and steady. In fact, they’ve been the strongest of the trip thus far. We even had the 7M out for a time, which hadn’t seen daylight since Best sent it to us months ago. We explored the Hollandes Cays from West to East. Three anchorages we had all to ourselves, beautiful spots all protected by a long barrier reef that made for excellent flat water conditions. On the east end of Hollandes is a popular anchorage called “Bar-b-que” island. It did have several other boats and as we’re usually quite shy of company, this spot was indeed spectacular so we settled in for a couple nights and gave the other cruisers a show of kiting I’m pretty sure most had never seen. The island itself is covered in a native grass and kept meticulously clean, compliments of one of the cruiser’s who’s made this area his home for the last 8 years!
Two Kuna also looked after the area who we befriended and taught how to fly a trainer kite, which they got quite a kick out of. We’ve found the trainer kite a great source of breaking the ice with the locals. Two days before I landed my kite on an island and while walking around to the windward side, being followed by a few little kids and their family I stupidly got a steering line caught in a palm and was suddenly yarded straight towards a trunk 10 feet off the ground as my kite dove into the trees. I yanked my quick release and came down softly but the kite and lines were well stuck way off the ground. Two of the older men scrambled up coconut trees like they were ladders and in no time I had all my gear back with no damage to anything but my ego.
A few of us then returned to their island with a bag of gifts to repay their kindness. We had a load of laughs with everyone as they each in turn learned to fly the trainer kite. One small boy, no more than 6 years old would grab it and laugh his head off as it dragged him down through the water. The Kuna are remarkable watermen and accomplished sailors. Their dug out canoes, complete with short masts and jib sail are expertly used to navigate between the mainland and the outer islands in all types of conditions.
No log would be complete without a mention of the incredible food Nico continues to create. It is no doubt the highlight of everyone’s trip and continues to boggle my mind with what he can come up with. As I’ve been somewhat successful with my spear gun and the locals always have plenty on offer, we’ve been enjoying roasted snapper, lobster bisque, stuffed crab, marlin and tuna ceviche, sashimi and sushi, along with the accompaniment of soups, fresh breads and salads which are never in short supply.
Yesterday the boys did a 5 mile down winder from the Hollandes Cays to the Coco Banderas Cays. For Shane and Kyle, it was their first down winder. For both Shane and his father, snorkeling was also a first and they both told me at one point that this trip was the most amazing adventure of their lives. When people tell me these things it helps put The Best Odyssey into perspective. A short while back we were on the hard in Colombia in a toxic dirt yard sanding and applying antifouling paint, changing zincs, getting filthy working in humid scorching heat. You forget in those situations that what we’re doing has an impact on all those involved in a way that will not soon be forgotten. Those few words made me realize that this expedition is worth all the ups and downs. When I look back it’s those comments and the smiles that I’ll remember, and not the time spent keeping Discovery underway.