I woke to the soft sounds of the lapping waves against the side of the yacht. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and climbed out the front hatch onto the bow. The sky was a combination of pink and red. An island lined with coconut trees blocked my view of sunrise. In the west the pink remnants of a distant morning thunderstorm looked more like a nuclear holocaust. The beauty was undeniable. I was anchored off one of the 365 Islands of San Blas in Panama. A destination I that had only existed in my dreams till now.
I boarded the 70 foot sailing vessel, Sovereign Grace in the Panamanian coastal port of Puerta Linda. I met the four crew and the other passengers while drinking a beer at the small shop at the marina. Our journey would take us from Panama to the Colombian port town of Cartagena. Several days sailing and several days visiting selected islands of the San Blas Archipelago.
It was mid afternoon when we set sail. My last day standing on the mainland of the North American continent was now gone. It was predicted to be rather mild seas for our journey. The horror stories of a vomit comet ride were unlikely. Nonetheless, I stocked up on seasickness medication. I have never been seasick in my life despite being on many vessels. Many years ago on a memorable dive trip, everyone was seasick except myself and the captain. Am I lucky or immune from seasickness.
My bunk was in the bow of the vessel. I shared with three other dudes. It had all the potential of being the rockiest part of the vessel but it was also the coolest. The large front hatch promised a constant flow of cool air, unless of course it was raining and we had to close the hatch. The bed was large and comfortable. My noisy companion was a small fan that promised to cool the tropical heat. Sleep came easy to me during the journey.
I was often the first to wake in the morning and spent time alone watching the sunrise and taking in the moment. There was always time for an afternoon siesta.
Traveling with a bicycle
My bicycle was secured to the mizzen mast and all my unneeded luggage was stored in the hold. Traveling with a bicycle opens up the whole world as a place to explore. Times when I need to rely on other methods of transport are usually the only time of frustration. There was no frustration, only certainty that I had chosen the correct boat.
There are several options of travelling between Panama and Colombia. I could have taken a cheaper option like flying between Panama City and Bogota. But many years of dreaming of visiting this area made it a complete no brainer for me. Sailing the San Blas Islands was my preferred option.
Sailing between islands
With 365 islands to choose from a cruising sailer with time on their hands could spend weeks or months island hopping. Our sailing trip to the San Blas Islands featured only a small handful of islands. Some inhabited, some not.
Our boat lay at anchor near a small deserted sandy caye. Devoid of vegetation except for small logs that have washed ashore. It took all of 30 seconds to walk around the island. To escape the tropical heat we lay in the water and talked about everything and nothing. Despite the remote location of being on a deserted island, there was still cell phone service. The modern world had not escaped us. Mores the pity.
Snorkelling San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands are part of one of the largest coral reefs in the world. Several of us put on snorkel masks and took a look at the reef system. Visibility was around 15 meters in places which is good enough to have a good look around.
Overall I must say I was left a little underwhelmed by the snorkelling. Dead and dying coral seemed to outnumber the living. The reason for this is not known to me, I would only be speculating to come up with a reason. Despite this I snorkelled on several occasions. I do miss my time in or near the ocean. I think I shall have to remedy this in the future.
Overall I must say I was left a little underwhelmed by the snorkelling. Dead and dying coral seemed to outnumber the living. The reason for this is not known to me, I would only be speculating to come up with a reason. Despite this I snorkelled on several occasions. I do miss my time in or near the ocean. I think I shall have to remedy this in the future. Maybe I should trade in my bicycle for a sailing yacht!
Beer and Rum
Rum is the drink of the sailing community. It is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Read any old journals of the salty sea dogs and many tails of their rum drinking. From Captain Cook to the Pirates of the Caribbean it is something of a tradition. Another tradition is the sundowner. The alcoholic drink while watching the sunset. On this vessel, sundown often started around lunch time.
The sailing trip does attract a slightly younger crowd that enjoys a drink. I don’t mind a drink and for me it was a great social trip. In fact, I wish it was longer so we could all spend more time together.
Things to know
There are many sailing vessels that take passengers between Panama and Colombia. Reading some of the reviews and online chatter about some of the operators would make you think twice about sailing.
I booked my trip direct with WildCard Sailing. They have two sailing vessels, the Sovereign Grace and Wild Card. With a good solid reputation and a big selling point for me was they also transport bicycles for free. For the overland bikers they also transport motorbikes. If you book with WildCardSailing.com directly and mention the booking code JF18 you will get a free bottle of rum! Cheers to Captain James.