San Blas Sailing *Videos*

I was super excited to set out on my San Blas sail. I had heard of this adventure last year, while making my Trans-Atlantic crossing. At the time, I decided to postpone the trip, so I could spend more time in Colombia. So that meant that I had been dreaming about sailing the San Blas islands for nearly a full year before I set off.

Were my expectations too high? Or did the San Blas live up to my dreams? Here’re the highlights and the low points of the sailing trip, as well as my final thoughts on the trip.

But first, a video introduction:

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Erin in San Blas

Rough Sailing

Delayed Start: I have to admit that the trip didn’t start out too well. We were delayed in the Cartagena marina for a full day because half the group couldn’t make the orientation meet up the day before we sailed, which meant that we couldn’t get our passports cleared at immigration in time.

So we arrived on at the marina on Friday morning at 10:00 am, but didn’t sail until Saturday morning at 6:00 am. This affected me the most since I had a flight to catch, and couldn’t make up the time on the back end of the sail. Bummer.

Sick Leave: Another unfortunate occurrence was that one of our boat mates came down with an ear infection. He didn’t want to take medicine to ward off the infection, so he got progressively worse and after two days, he insisted on returning to Panama City.

The problem, of course, what that we were in the middle of the ocean and we needed to pass through immigration as a group before anyone could get ashore. So instead of sailing around the outer islands, we headed straight to the immigration island and waited for 2 days for the passports to clear.

New Immigrant: Now usually you can clear immigration in an afternoon, but there was a new immigration person who was coming and he hadn’t yet arrived. So our boat, along with 3-4 others, simply waited for the new official to show up. The only alternative was to go to the main immigration office in Panama City and wade through the lines at that end. In the end, the Panama City office sent someone for the day out just to clear the backlog.

Smooth Sailing

So the trip was a whole bunch of “hurray up and wait,” which really isn’t so uncommon in this part of the world. And if you think about it, we got to wait in a pretty nice place. In truth, we were very fortunate on a number of fronts:

Good Weather: We had incredibly smooth sailing weather during the open sea portion of the trip. This meant that seasickness was kept to a minimum. We only had one encounter with a huge storm, and luckily we were in a fairly sheltered place and the captain was able to return in time to save the boat from crashing into another sailboat.

Once the danger had passed, we all celebrated by taking a group shower, using all the fresh rainwater to rinse off the saltwater and lather up our hair. Fun!

Wildlife Sightings: We saw dolphins twice, once the first day where they gave us a good long escort, and for a brief period our second morning. Here they are racing just ahead of our catamaran:

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: San Blas Dolphins

We also saw what we thought were humpback whales just off in the distance. We could see the sprays of a mother and her calf and then saw a postcard picture of her tale emerging out of the water as she dove deeper.

Almost as exciting as the whale and dolphin sightings was our sighting of Wilson, the deflated volleyball from Castaway. Who’d of thunk that we all spy the famous Wilson bobbing along on the waves?

Lobster Feast: The food on the boat was really good, especially considering that there were 14 of us on the boat and only 2 pans to cook with. And the highlight was definitely the lobster fest we had. Kuna fishermen came alongside and sold us 10 lobsters for $15 – the freshest seafood you could get! It was well worth piercing our fingertips trying to get at the tasty meat.

Island Hopping: The boat came with snorkeling equipment for everyone, a kayak, and a dingy that we could take to island hop. So we had plenty of ways to explore the sea life.

One morning I swam to the nearest island, walked around and then set off to a smaller island a short 20-minute swim offshore. On this wee island, I spent about an hour by myself, playing in the sand, searching for shells, and snorkeling the reef. Really, I not sure you could ask for anything more on an island adventure.

Here’s a shot of the island I swam to…it’s the little palm tree in the distance!








Ocean Reflections

While walking along a secluded stretch of sand, I reflected on my experience with the sailing trip, trying to weigh up the pros and cons of the trip. I asked myself a few pertinent questions:

  • Was the boat nice? Yes. The catamaran was very nice, with plenty of space for sleeping, hanging out in the sun and the shade. It had a large-screen TV, electricity to charge all gadgets, and the ability to take a fresh water shower.
  • Was the captain capable? Yes. We all felt that the captain knew how to sail. In fact, I thought one of his rules — no drinking on the open sea for anyone — was a particularly good one.
  • Were the San Blas islands beautiful? Yes. Undeniably these are some of the most beautiful and remote islands around.
  • Would you sail again? Maybe. The cost of the trip was high: $550 for the 5 nights / 6 days. Because of the unforeseen conditions (and there are always unexpected circumstances), it seemed like we were doing a lot of sitting around, albeit in a beautiful surroundings.

I guess in the end, what I really wanted was more time to sail and to explore the San Blas islands. But then that makes sense. We always want just one more day in paradise.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 29th, 2012 and is filed under South America.

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