Sailing from Colombia to Panama
02.04.2012 - 09.04.2012 35 °C
2nd April 2012
It’s 5.30 in the afternoon. As the sun begins to drop I board Wildcard, the boat that will take me to Panama. It shares the same name as the boat I sailed around the Whitsunday Islands on, seven years ago. For the next five days, this boat is going to be home. There are eighteen of us on board, including three members of crew. The first thirty-six hours will be spent at sea, and I’ve heard some horror stories from other travellers about this part of the trip: terrible seasickness, five metre high waves, strained boats, on board sewage systems giving up and more. We have all been instructed to take seasickness tablets and as far as I can tell everyone has. The sun sets, we cast off, and head out into open water.
At sea, everything is calm, and after a while most of us drift off to bed. I wake early the next morning and realize the boat is rocking gently from side to side as we bob over the waves. I go up on deck with a bowl of cornflakes. In every direction, as far as I can see there is open water. I train my eyes on the horizon looking for dolphins. Slowly everyone gets up and joins me. The waves are gentle, rising and falling softly. It is an unusually calm sea, according to our captain. This is only the second time, in five years, that it has been this calm. We lounge around on deck and enjoy the sun.
The following morning I’m woken by the sound of the engine being switched off. I jump out of bed, check the cabin window, change quickly into swimwear and go up on deck. We have arrived at the San Blas islands. I stand on deck and survey the scene. A small island lies about fifty metres to my left. White sand surrounds a dense interior of palm trees. The island can not be more than a hundred metres in length. Debris from broken trees lines the shore, giving it character. Another island is fifty metres to my right. Here, the sand gently slopes away from the palm trees into the crystal blue waters. I look over the side of the boat. The water is transparent. I can see right to the bottom.
I hear a splash as the captain jumps overboard. He swims to shore and holds up an enormous starfish. I can’t wait any longer. I dive straight in and let the warm water envelop me. Daphne follows. We swim to shore and sit on the beach. We can’t believe how beautiful this place is. One by one, everyone else wakes and does the same.
We stay anchored here all day. The girls congregate on the beach for a yoga session whilst the boys play ball. We spend the day swimming, snorkeling and exploring the two islands. The matriarchal indigenous people of Panama – the Kuna, come by to say hello. The women bring bracelets and jewelry and the men bring fresh supplies of lobster, crab, fish and beer. Dinner that evening is a feast.
After an early morning swim and breakfast the next day, we set sail for another group of islands. On the way, we pass shipwrecks, islands with a single palm tree, and dolphins. There are more boats here, but the setting is just as beautiful. We are not here long when we are told that immigration has closed for Semana Santa (the week before Easter). That means we have three extra nights on the boat. The group takes the news with mixed feeling. Cabin fever is starting to set in amongst a few people.
That night we combine alcohol supplies, and start playing drinking games. We are laughing, singing and dancing when one of the other yachts hears the party and rows across to join us. As they climb aboard, a girl misses the step and falls into the sea. She pulls herself out but arrives sodden. The party is in full swing and resembles a nightclub scene. The white lights that hang around the canopy and the front of the boat illuminate us as we dance.
The following three days are spent doing more of the same: snorkeling over reefs and wrecks, swimming, diving from the front of the boat and sunbathing on beautiful islands. Every day without fail, as the sun begins to fade, two large rays come and patrol our boat. Drawn by the light, they swim backwards and forwards around the boat. Every now and then we see a darker, much faster shadow that forces all the fish to dart under the hull of our boat. We suspect it is a game fish or a shark.
The only thing that breaks the pattern is a rainstorm on day five. The skies gray over and the rains begin to pour. After five days at sea with only seawater to bath in, our skin is sticky with sea salt and our hair matted. The storm offers a welcome break. We stand up on deck with a collective bottle of shampoo and everyone lathers up. It is delightful.
Our final stop is immigration, an island with a single hut on it – the immigration office. First thing tomorrow, we’ll be stamped into Panama and set sail for the mainland.