San Blas Sailing – Part 2

San Blas Sailing

Chichime sunset

We arrived at Chichime just before dusk,  navigated into the anchorage (which can be a little tricky), and dropped anchor in a sea of other sailboats.  We were not the only ones with this idea.  Tino (the previous owner of my Lagoon 380) has a thing for Cuba Libre’s (the liar’s drink), so we fixed one and started unwinding.  We broke out the pate, cheese and crackers.  Then we opened up a nice bottle of wine.

Not a bad life, this one.

Diving Again, Finally

Tino was more interested in showing me around than diving.  Which was smart – after all, it’s more important to learn the boat and the islands.  Then I can dive whenever.  But it had been too long since I’d been freediving.  So I insisted and we made our way outside of the reef to get lunch.

Getting over the reef was a challenge in the dinghy, with rough surf breaking.  We anchored in about 15 foot of water, and I dove down the anchor line and secured the anchor.  Done.  Time to dive.  The visibility and the reef structure was nice, but the fish were noticeably absent.  And the ones we found had clearly seen divers before.  Crafty buggers.

Our dive was cut short when I looked up and saw our dinghy loose, heading for the reef.  Luckily Tino made it to the dinghy before it was capsized and smashed on the reef – that would have made the trip pretty crappy.  Apparently when Tino tied the anchor to the anchor-line, he didn’t make a great knot and it came untied – leaving our anchor somewhere in the blue.  Close call.  Our diving for the day was over.

San Blas Sailing

San Blas sailing is phenomenal.  We had decent wind a couple of days – making 8 and even 9 knots at one point.  Averaging (again) a little less than half-windspeed.  I was beginning to feel comfortable trimming and adjusting the sails.  Anchoring wasn’t too difficult either, and having twin engines allowed me to move the catamaran in very tight spaces.

Sailing in San Blas

My boat, from the islands

At one point I wanted to get in behind a particularly nice island, but Tino was a little nervous about the entrance.  It was shallow and windy, with reef patches not on the charts.  But we have a shallow draft on the Lagoon 380, and it was sunny enough to figure out what was what.  We made it to the island easily, but we did have a close call on a sandy-bottom.  Not an emergency, and we didn’t scrape – but it raised the pucker-factor.

Sailing San Blas 3

Our little slice of paradise

I think it was worth it.

The Kuna

We visited the island pictured above (and you can see the two Kuna, if you look closely) and found a couple of Kuna making repairs on their canoe and cleaning the island.  I found a coconut and they helped us open it up.  That was a win.  A little coconut in pan-fried fish is a treat.  Tino spoke with them for a while, and I explored the island.  The only structure on it was a small thatched hut and a smoke-house, where the Kuna smoke fish with coconut husks.

Sailing San Blas Kuna Boat

A Kuna dugout

Cayo Hollandes

The next day we sailed through the islands to Cayo Hollandes. Tino has a favorite anchorage here that was occupied by a much larger Lagoon.  So we moved past and found a nearby anchorage.  This was, hands-down, my favorite of the spots we visited.

Sailing San Blas Kuna Catamaran

Stark contrast of cultures

I desperately wanted to freedive and spearfish a bit – as much to clear my head as to get dinner.  Luckily there was a small inshore reef right off our Port bow.  I wasted no time getting rigged to do some diving.  I was using some ancient spearguns with rotting rubber, make unknown.  The spearguns were Tino’s, as I brought a pole-spear, but I was worried about getting in range.  In hindsight, the polespear would have been better. The spearguns may have had a 4 foot range.

Freediving here felt great.  It always starts out with me not being able to dive very deep, but within an hour I was comfortably hitting 50 foot. Then 60.  I didn’t push much deeper as Tino was doing his own thing.  Again – not much fish life.  There were a few mackerels swimming around, but they’d seen divers before and I couldn’t get within range.  I ended up settling for a couple of monster lionfish, which I’d heard were good eating (though they have poisonous spines that must be removed).  Having done my part for the local ecosystem (lionfish are invasive and nothing eats them) – I got back onboard.  Cleaning the lionfish was a little tricky – but after cutting the spines off, I manage to get some nice, white fillets – which we promptly cooked for a late lunch.  And washed down with Atlas beer.

Not a bad life, this one.

Running Out of Rum

It was an emergency.  Nothing can kill a good day sailing, but not having a drink at sundown is serious business.  So we headed into town, if it can be called that, and picked up the necessities – a couple of tomatoes, a bottle of cheap rum (which, incidentally, wasn’t cheap at $12), and some more gas for the dinghy.

When we bought the tomatoes, there was bout $.50 leftover in change.  I left it with the girl running the counter, and you would have thought I gave her a $100 bill.  She beamed a big smile back at me.  I’ll never win any awards for most-charitable, but it felt good.  Tino said they never get tipped here, and remarked that we could have bought another Coke to replenish our dwindling supply of Cuba Libre making materials.  I think I’m comfortable with the sacrifice.

The “town” was interesting – all thatched roof huts.  Electricity was available, but sparse – rumor has it that it’s provided by the engine of a large boat that wrecked on the reefs.  I regret not taking pictures, but the reality of hauling a huge DSLR camera across the ocean to a “town” where they have nothing… Well, it just didn’t make sense.  Next time, I guess.

Eating Bonita

If you’re a fisherman in the States, you either a) throw Bonita back or b) use them for bait.  They are rumored to be poor eating, although a cousin of the tuna.  We hooked one while sailing San Blas (and trolling), and when I said I was going to throw it back – Tino gave me a dirty look.  So I removed some big fillets for our dinner.  I usually eat pelagic fish undercooked or raw, but Tino made a marinade from soy, vinegar, garlic, and oil for the fish to sit in.  An hour later he pulled the whole concoction (and the fish) in a pan and sautéed it.  I was skeptical, but willing to try.

It was delicious.  Absolutely fantastic.  Usually these types of fish (heavy, dark red meat) aren’t good cooked-through.  They get dry and almost inedible. This was an exception to the rule.  Fantastic.  Of course, a cold beer really helped.  I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Atlas (a local beer), but it’s really nice cold on a hot/humid day.  Its official; when sailing in San Blas – cold Atlas is a treat.

Not a bad life, this one.

Chichime Again

Our last day was spent sailing back West, to Chichime so that we could begin sailing to Puerto Lindo early the next morning.  We arrived before dusk and had the obligatory Cuba Libre.  I wasn’t sleepy so we stayed up late and talked, attempted to fish off the back of the boat, and drank. Another good bottle of wine was sacrificed.

Sailing San Blas Chichime

Chichime, sailboats, and sunsets

Shortly after sundown, the boats around us came alive.  A large blue monohull in front of us was smoking pot by the ton – much closer and we’d have had a contact high.  And then there were fires on the beach, some music, and some general rabble-rousing.  I was tempted to go, but Tino wasn’t too keen.  He let me know, disapprovingly, that any drug one might want could be found onshore when this crowd was here.  That didn’t deter me, but I was willing to oblige Tino.  Truth be told, I was a little worried that if I went ashore and had anything else to drink, I might not be fit to run the dinghy back to the mothership.  So we drank aboard, talked late, and slept soundly.

It was the end of my time sailing San Blas – but far from the end of my little adventure.

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