It seems an eternity ago that I happened across an old friend, completely unexpectedly. I was having a tough day, running around Cartagena, Colombia trying to get parts for Discovery, dripping sweat in the blistering humid heat. I sat down for a moment in the yacht club trying to plan my next move when in walked Francis Savage, who crewed for me for two seasons in the South Pacific a few years ago. We hadn’t seen or spoken to one another (Francis isn’t too keen on modern technology, such as email) since June, 2005 in Buenos Aires, me on my way to sail around Cape Horn, Francis on his way to becoming his own captain (I’d taught Francis how to sail). I guess we always knew that we’d see each other again, but it was a hell of a surprise.
The next day, after discovering our 40 hp motor had gone to the dogs and I’d arranged selling it for parts Francis saved my ass after I fell into the harbour in Cartagena in 40 feet of water- with our backup 6 hp Suzuki. I tried swimming with it, but it was a losing battle and I had to dump her. I got to the back of Discovery, screamed several obscenities, grabbed my mask and fins and took a line down to the bottom in search of the engine. The water in Cartagena harbour is disgusting- a filthy black muck swimming with fuel, trash, sewage and who knows what else. As I swam down through the muck in total darkness I thought I would have no chance of finding the motor. With my lungs burning and heart racing I finally found the motor and tied the line on. Nico and I hauled the motor up and then Francis and I took her completely apart, replaced all fluids, cleaned the carburetor, and got her running better than she was before my little “swim”.
The reason I bring up Francis is because after our last trip we ran into Francis again in the San Blas. He’s now sailing his own 32′ yacht solo which is currently without a motor, but this is a minor inconvenience to Francis- he also doesn’t have a fridge, computer, radar, autopilot or any number of the things found on most cruising boats these days. We’re living vastly different lives these days, but we both share a passion for the water, spear fishing and free diving whenever possible. Not since the last time we dove together in Vanuatu in 2004 have I spent so many enjoyable days in the water as we did this Christmas. Each day we’d head out to the outer reef in Chichimi Cays and usually bring back plenty to enjoy for lunch and dinner. Permit, Chubb, Parrotfish, Red Snapper, Trigger, Jacks- we kept Nico busy and my Mom and Jody’s parents well fed for a week.
The San Blas are ruled by the Kuna Indians. They are a fascinating people and culture. We’ve enjoyed our time here among the Kuna as well as anywhere we’ve been in the world. The women make and sell Molas, the men sail dugout canoes, the kids smile and play. Their lifestyle is relaxed and frankly, very enviable. Their homes are built strong and with totally sustainable materials. Decisions are always made with the greater good in mind, but with tradition reigning supreme. They have what they need, and are in want of little. Their waterfront property would be in the millions at home and yet they live here in harmony with each other without fences and walls.
And the kiting. There aren’t many beaches in the San Blas, but with Discovery we can get just about anywhere and just launch and land off the boat. The winds have been mostly strong and consistent other than a few days of rain and calms in between long stretches of trade conditions. It isn’t often Jody and I get to kite without the responsibility of rescuing others and running people around in the dinghy, but with only our parents and Nico on board we took advantage of the windy days and got some of our finest sessions of the expedition thus far.
Nico cheffed up an amazing Christmas Eve dinner for everyone, including Francis and his family, who joined us for the meal. Lobster bisque, stuffed crab, short ribs, chocolate sponge cake. After all the months of raving about Nico’s food, it was great to get our own family down to share in his exceptional creations.
On Christmas day, Nico and I dropped off the family members and Jody off at the El Porvenir airport- little more than a grass strip amongst a few palm trees and sailed 70 miles to Colon to re provision for the next trip. Colon is a stinking, filthy, crime ridden cess pool on the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. Needless to say, two days there were two days too many, but allowed us to clean the boat, buy enough food for the next couple weeks, take on fuel and propane and hit the road. It took all night to get back to the San Blas, bucking big seas and 20 knot winds for the majority of the trip. I let Nico sleep all night as I knew he’d need the rest with another trip beginning on the 29th. By the time we pulled into anchor at 0730 I was one tired puppy- it was a rough ride. The boat looked like we’d been through Vietnam.
Even after all these years at sea in tropical places, it still doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow, but this one was memorable to say the least.