San Blas and the Canal

January 8, 2002

We left Cartegena on Dec 20th after only 13 days in that great city and headed southwest towards Panama and the San Blas Islands. Had hoped to get started about noon but could not get the anchor to come up. Had to dive on it in the murk and finally discovered that Satori had hooked her anchor on a rather large sunken boat. The chain from the anchor had then managed to wrap around one of the deck cleats on that boat. We finally got it sorted out but were so late in leaving that we could not manage our hoped-for stop at the Roseario Island group off the coast of Cartegena.

The anchorage in Cartegena is so polluted that it is well known for growing barnacles on the bottom of the boats at record speed. The stop in the Rosearios was to be for the purpose of cleaning Satori's bottom and the prop. Our trip to the San Blas (200 nautical miles), therefore was very slow and took a record amount of fuel -- 75 gallons!

We arrived at Green Island on Saturday, Dec 22nd, and were delighted to see our Aussie friends from Flashdance once again. Preparations were already underway for Christmas Day with a potluck dinner on a small palm-studded island near the anchorage. This island was perfectly round and totally surrounded by beach with lovely white sand. Sounds romantic until one learns that a Kuna Indian came by claiming to own the island and wanted $50 from us for the privilege of using it. He said that his family had owned the island for many years which, of course, could not be confirmed. The Kunas used to be a very primitive group of indigenous people until cruisers and cruise ships discovered them and have made them relatively wealthy. The culture has changed now in some of the villages with TV antennae jutting out of every roof. One cannot blame them for their capitalistic ventures, but it still begs the question, "Weren't things better in the past?"

Christmas Eve found some of the cruisers starting their parties a little early. By sundown they were feeling no pain and started an anchorage party with a few of their dinghies. They went from boat to boat caroling and having a jolly time. At each boat they did their best to make the dinghy raft grow. Photo #1 shows them arriving at our boat. Although we had our evening planned, we joined them -- of course! It turned out to be a wonderful idea as we all met every single one of the 23 boats that had arrived to celebrate Christmas.

The next afternoon at 2 PM we set out for the island with all our goodies. Photo #2 shows the group after the big meal . Did we pay the Kuna for our use of the island? It turned out that he was very happy to receive an old used partial sail and second hand T Shirt from Flashdance. Everyone was happy. We enjoyed the crowded anchorage at Christmas but decided not to follow the pack to the next island group for New Year's. We figured that being in a crowded anchorage (40 boats ended up at the next Caye) while everyone was imbibing was not a very sound idea.

We pushed on towards the Canal Zone instead and arrived here on Friday, Jan 5th. Along the way we were visited a second time by a group of Kunas selling molas. The molas make up the most important part of the Kuna woman's clothing. In Photo #3 we hope that you can see her blouse with a mola in the front and one in the back. They are attached to a puffy sleeve arrangement and worn with a wrap-around skirt. These molas have become very popular with tourists and have become a great source of income for the Indians. They are all works of art - appliqui, reverse appliqui and embroidery -- that usually take several months to create.

We arrived in Colon, Panama, on the Caribbean side of the canal on Dec 5th. Cathy has found another boat here and we are very happy about that. It was our first experience with having crew and worked out very poorly for us. We learned a good lesson from that experience and will probably never take on a relative stranger again. We are in the process of checking in and beginning the paperwork that is required to transit the canal. It is costly and a little complicated as well. The hoped for schedule is to accompany a few other cruising boats through their transit to "learn the ropes". In this case that phrase is very appropriate as each boat in transit needs to have a captain and four line handlers, two on the bow and two on the stern. These folks handle the lines to control the boat's position as the boat is raised in the first half of the locks and lowered in the second. If you are interested in actually seeing some of this action, you can connect go to the website WE have been told that there is a page on that website with active cameras showing the boats and ships transiting.

We are hoping to complete our transit during the last half of the month. Keep your fingers crossed for us and we will be in touch again when we are safely on the Pacific side. Our best wishes to you all for a happy, safe and healthy New Year.

Jane and Sander aboard Satori