Another Blissful Week in the San Blas

Leaving Mamitupu was difficult. We followed our track that brought us carefully into the harbor, which made navigation easy, but our hearts were somewhere on the island still. The children, mothers, Pablo and the rest of the Kuna Coco men had all captured a piece of us. Jacinta raising her voice and almost shouting in Guna “I make so many friends and they always leave. They promise to come back and they never do!” while sitting in our cockpit, has left a permanent impression on my heart.

We hope to come back and maybe we will… But I didn’t make any promises…

Our French friends, Michel and Brigette, sail by on Malika
Our French friends, Michel and Brigette, sail by on Malika

We sailed a very challenging course through reefs to get to Snug Harbor again. We could have gone north of the whole area, which would have added only an hour to the trip, but the challenge was appropriate. It gave us something to concentrate on while we refocused our thoughts and built up the desire to cruise onward.

In Snug Harbor, we were greeted by Rally friends and two other cruising sailboats, which was a perfect welcome back to cruising with gringos. Quiet evenings back on Alembic, however, were full of conversations about our next venture away from the group and back into more Guna Yala (the land of the Guna Indians). Our next adventure would be deep into the Gulf of the San Blas, the islands furthest west of this archipelago. But first, a few more rally adventures.

We sailed back to Green Island for the Sunday Picnic organized by our intrepid leader of the rally, Suzanne. Arriving there to find the anchorage already packed with rally boats, kite surfing charter boats, and plenty of other cruisers, was disconcerting. There appeared to be no place left to drop anchor. Of course this wasn’t true, but we were frustrated as we dragged our anchor across the hard ocean floor a few places before we found a spot that was protected from the incessant wind, shallow enough for our length of anchor chain, and soft enough ground to dig our anchor in.

Unfortunately, we heard a bump in the night, though. Panic struck me awake in a flash. It’s amazing how you can be sound asleep one moment and running around deck the next. We probably only touched a small sand bump beneath our keel, but my thoughts jumped to Alembic getting stuck in the mud and no one able to pull us off. There is almost no tide to help us rise up, and no rescue boats like you see everywhere in the US and even in the Bahamas. Instead of running the engine and re-anchoring, we just shortened our anchor chain, pulling us closer to the anchor, which we knew was in 35 feet of water. We would reset the anchor in the morning when the sun was up.

Anchoring in the San Blas is challenging because many of the islands are very tiny and we all want to huddle behind these to be out of the wind. Reefs provide excellent blocks to keep the large Caribbean Sea swell out of the anchorage, but they also create hazards to go aground as so many of them are just below the surface. Finding a place to set the anchor is tricky because you don’t want to damage any coral with your anchor or your long chain, and many areas are very hard, almost like cement, which is useless for anchoring. You have to find soft sand, mud, or light grass in depths of 8 to 20 feet. The depths are so different from the Bahamas, which was generally all less than 20 feet. Here in the San Blas, you find the islands and reefs often have drop offs, going to well over 100 feet in a distance of only 20 feet! You have to set out five times as much chain length as your depth, to have a proper angle for holding your boat in place. Less than this can cause you to drag. Of course, you must add more in a lot of wind, and can use less for a quick lunch stop.

Once settled, we enjoyed the snorkeling, the beach party, and the general shenanigans of fellow cruisers at Green Island. We continued with bonfires to burn trash, and more excellent snorkeling at the Coco Bandero Cays the following day, and Cambombia the next.

From Cambombia, we sailed back east to Rio Azucar to buy water. Bill and I are conservative with water, using only 7 gallons per day, and could easily make it to Shelter Bay in ten days with what we had on board, but we thought topping off is easy, an adventure, and an extra precaution in case we, or someone else, may need more water. We use salt water to bathe, wash dishes, and clean the boat, giving all a fresh water rinse to wash away salt. Probably most of our fresh water is used for drinking, as we are always thirsty in this heat!

Four gerry jugs and four trips filled our water tanks
Four gerry jugs and four trips filled our water tanks

Rio Azucar was easy to sail to, but challenging to get water. When we arrived, there was a small Colombia freighter, delivering goods, at the only dock. We knew that they sometimes stayed tied up for hours, so we anchored nearby. As soon as we dropped anchor, we watched a catamaran arrive and tie right up to the freighter! We realized that the man shouting from shore when we arrived had been telling us to do this. Ah, live and learn. So, Bill rowed our dinghy four times to shore, filled our gerry jugs, and returned to Alembic to fill our tanks. Meanwhile, I wandered the island looking for fresh veggies, only finding eggs aboard the freighter. For $20 and a few hours of labor, our tanks were full, we had 30 eggs on board, and we set off west again.
Guna paddlers heading toward the dock.  See the 45 foot white catamaran, which dwarfs the blue freighter?
Guna paddlers heading toward the dock. See the 45 foot white catamaran, which dwarfs the blue freighter?

Leaving Rio Azucar, we headed for Salardup,
A water taxi shuttles people to rustic accommodations on shore at Salardup
A water taxi shuttles people to rustic accommodations on shore at Salardup
on the western end of the Naguargandup Cays, near Gorgidupdummat. Gotta love the names here in the San Blas! Tupu and dup mean island in Guna, while dummat means small. Gringos or other non-Gunas have renamed most of them (like Corazon de Jesus is really Akuanusatupu) which seems unjust, kinda like the renaming of immigrants as they cleared into Ellis Island. Just because we can’t pronounce it, doesn’t give us any right to change a name. There is history and love woven into every name.

After enjoying the splendid snorkeling at Salardup, we headed once more to a community of Gunas where cruisers rarely go. I’ll save this for my next post. It was too special to tag it to the bottom of this week’s report.

Ciao! (Everyone says this, Italians, Latinos, Gunas, and now me!)

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