San Blas Sail

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Flag of Panama  ,
Saturday, June 9, 2012

It was not without a hint of sadness that Don and I stepped off the South American continent to board a 36 foot catamaran, on which we would be sailing to Panama. Luckily Kel and Al were still with us for the journey, otherwise we might have cried like Vander at a DJ Tiesto jol when we said our farewell to the mainland. We had enjoyed one hell of a journey travelling through 8 countries, mostly by bus, but if this next leg of the adventure was just a glimpse of what Central America has to offer, we could certainly look forward to a few more extraordinary experiences in the coming months.

The yacht was owned and captained by a retiree called Vlad, but by the end of the trip all four of us were using our own unique nicknames for the captain, names that he probably wouldn't appreciate very much. Unfortunately he was a bit of a , but we'd rather not dwell on the solitary negative aspect of the trip. The journey started in the harbour of Cartagena where we boarded the yacht and waited with Captain Useless' new Jack Russell puppy (his name was Greishka, he was a good dog, no ugly names for him) while the captain himself returned to shore in order to pay someone to stamp our passports. Good start. We then watched the sunset, night fell and finally the captain returned to inform us that he is not licensed to transport tourists, so if we were stopped by the coast guard we should lie and say that we didn't pay for the journey. Great start. What was that about dwelling on the negative?

After successfully navigating through Cartagena harbour we set out into the Caribbean Sea for the 36-hour open ocean leg of the journey. The Caribbean Sea is certainly not regarded as being particularly treacherous, but nonetheless all four of us deliberately overdosed on seasickness tablets to prevent bringing up our exceptionally bland brown bread and processed cheese that was meticulously prepared for us for dinner. The night was restless to say the least and we all woke up early for some brown bread and processed cheese for breakfast (sprinkled with some more seasickness tablets of course). The wind had died overnight so Captain Stingy fired up one of two 9 horsepower engines and pushed the throttle to 10% above idle. At a blistering 4.5km per hour we tore across the Caribbean towards Panama. After a hearty lunch of brown bread and processed cheese we continued on our journey and by late afternoon our fortunes finally started to improve.

We watched a glorious Caribbean sunset from the front of the boat and then decided to chance our luck at some fishing. Captain Clueless informed us that no fish live in such deep water but by that stage we weren't interested in taking anything that he said very seriously. 15 minutes later one of our lines started screaming and after a brief tussle I landed a decent Barracuda. Expecting to be spoilt with good seafood for the next three days, we returned the Barracuda to the ocean, but in hindsight we definitely should have devoured that damn fish! We'll leave it to your imagination to work out what we ate for dinner that night. Clue: it's brown and tastes like nothing.

After another restless night we awoke before sunset in order to have another crack at some Barracuda. Just as the sun started to appear above the horizon we heard that glorious sound that every fisherman craves. I immediately grabbed the rod and tried to hand it to the Good Doc as this was his fish. For some bizarre reason he didn't want to take it, a decision that he soon regretted after witnessing the spectacular site of a sailfish launching into the air. A good fight ensued and eventually we brought the saily (about 20kg) alongside the boat. Captain Crazy wanted to gaff the thing but we thought that he was too small to kill and luckily he managed to flick his head one more time and lose the hook. Fortunately the Good Doc managed to take a few snaps of the fish otherwise I'd have the likes of John Lynch and Gus Ferguson on my back for not providing any proof of the catch!

Our fortunes had clearly improved significantly since our departure and a few hours later, when we arrived in the San Blas Archipelago, any grievances about Captain Cooked quickly evaporated. The islands were ridiculous. It was genuinely difficult to come to terms with how beautiful they really were. We've all seen postcards of the perfect island paradise but we never thought that they actually existed. I guess that this is another time when photos provide a far superior description of the scenery than words. It really was that amazing.

We spent three full days in San Blas where we indulged in all sorts of island activities. During the day we would swim, snorkel, explore the islands, pose while jumping off the boat, break coconuts for a laugh, catch fish using polony and then we'd do all of that again. At night we would lie at the front of the boat and count satellites and shooting stars. The loser had to take a shot of rum, but Kel was so bad at the game that we eventually had to let her off the hook after she had accumulated half a bottle's worth of shots. We all think that Kel is fantastic company after half a bottle of rum, but she's basically 30 years old, which is very old, so it's understandable that she wasn't too fond of the rum idea!

Each day we moved to a different island, each one no less picturesque than the next. The food for those three days was seriously disappointing and Captain Grumpface wasn't shy to berate us for the most ludicrous things, like using too much water, spilling soap when trying to help clean the dishes, putting too many beers in the fridge, not closing all the windows when we weren't in our cabins and even forcing Don to eat more plain rice. So that sounds pretty unpleasant, which it was, but all of that was still brushed aside (sometimes after a few strong words back to the skipper) when we returned our gaze to our surroundings. Before we embarked on the trip my brother Giorg told me that San Blas is the most beautiful place that he'd ever seen. He may be a crazy Italian that likes yoga, but it's impossible to fault him on that description. And he's seen a lot of places. No more travelling when that critter arrives though!

After 3 days in paradise with some awesome company (one obvious exception), we arrived in Portobelo, Panama where we had to wait for a few hours before disembarking as the captain was unaware that the immigration office was closed on weekends. Eventually the stamp man arrived and we stepped onto dry land. The trip was definitely plagued with an array of unfortunate incidents but it will still feature prominently in our lifetime highlights reel. Even the less enjoyable moments will still make for some entertaining talking points when we reminisce about the journey one day. A bad experience is always better than no experience. Except if that experience is being punched in the face by Mike Tyson. But Iron Mike can punch me in the face whenever he likes if I can spend the recovery time on one of the San Blas islands.
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Heather on

The whole trip looks amaaaaazing. Wa, how exciting hooking a sailfish. As you say, the proof is there, now let's hear who can match it.

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