I had to push the engines a little, just to keep us averaging 5 knots. With the wind in our face and a bit of current working against us, it made forward progress seem impossible.The good news is that the engines kept their end of the bargain – except for a fuel-related issue (fungus in the damn fuel tanks again). No issues to speak of, mechanically. We also made enough energy to keep a second freezer cool, which allowed us to have ice, more meat, and ice-cold beer (for when we finally drop that anchor – it’s always a dry passage).
Night motoring was easy. No wind, no sailing, and nothing but long rolling swells. Ana and I took shifts in the Captain’s Chair, I napped outside next to the cockpit. Des kept us fed and happy and was nothing if not a pleasure to be around. On passage we found that Des is our most serious fisherman, much moreso than me (or anybody else I’ve had onboard). We drank lots of French-pressed Colombian coffee. We trolled lines behind us and managed to pick up a Mahi, which we promptly made sushi out of. Fresh sushi while on passage is a hell of a treat. We had dolphins play up front and marveled at the deep blue of the ocean when the bottom is thousands of feet below you. That color blue is impossible to recreate. You can’t describe it. And it’s impossible to counterfeit.
With all of our attempts to use the wind only to have the wind pushing against us, we lost time. So rather than sail all the way across San Blas on our passage – I decided to cut our passage time a little and come into the Eastern end of San Blas while we had good light. The change in course cut our passage by 20 or so nautical miles. This gave us the chance to explore Cayos Raton, catch a good night’s sleep, and give the engines a break.
Approaching Cayos Raton we were greeted by schools of Bonito that played and chased bait at our bow. The water was over a thousand feet deep until we were nearly on top of the island. Then, suddenly, we were in a hundred feet of water. Then we talked through our route into the reef-strewn San Blas islands so everyone was on the same page. We went through our anchoring procedure in advance.
Then we decided that champagne was the only civilized way to celebrate the passage, and should be the last part of our anchoring procedure. And, lucky for us, we had a bottle chilling in the freezer.
When we came around the island, we saw a group of three other boats. We had neighbors. And it made the already small anchorage into a minuscule anchorage. It was difficult to find a place to drop anchor without putting NOMAD in somebody’s face. So we passed the marked anchorage and nosed into two or three holes – eventually finding a spot far away from the other yachts, and not close enough to the coral to be immediately dangerous.
As we were nosing around, one of our neighbors greeted us in their dinghy. A Canadian family. Then their cruising buddy came up and said hi. Then our neighbors left and we dropped anchor. Before I even turned off our electronics – our neighbors were back. They wanted info about Colombia, as they were headed to the place we were coming from. I invited them for a beer later, but before the sun left us I needed to see Cayos Raton underwater. From the charts, the underwater topography looked promising. These charts are from Eric Bahaus, who produces the only charts for Panama. His accuracy is impressive.
The girls tidied up and dropped the dinghy while I shut down all the systems and got our diving gear out. Twenty minutes later we were snorkeling around massive coral heads and I was missing my first fish in San Blas. After the girls had a chance to look around we met back at the dinghy and moved closer to the steep reef wall we had skirted on our way in. I knew it was a promising spot as soon as I saw it. The reef went from about 30 feet to about 100 feet in a steep dropoff, studded by large coral heads and pocked by caves perfect for hiding snapper.
I was lucky. On the first dive I caught sight of a small Dog Snapper at 30 feet. I dropped down from the surface and glided down the reef wall toward him. At 40 feet he stopped running down the wall and turned sideways – still well out of range. And so I sat on the reef wall and began systematically relaxing muscles, waiting for his curiosity to work in my favor. Like clockwork, the fish turned and approached me. One pass out of range. The next in range. Thunk. The fish was now doing circles below me as I pulled us both toward the surface. I was already planning my ceviche when I hit the surface. Do we have avacado? What about peppers? We really need more fresh cilantro.
At the dinghy, Des was waiting on me. Since she was inside, I didn’t just toss the fish/spear/speargun into the dinghy – opting instead to take the fish off of the spear first so that the mess of steel and fish spines didn’t injure anybody. That led to me the snapper going apeshit and escaping under a coral head and me letting out a long string of obscenities as I watched my hope of fresh ceviche disappear with my fish under a coral head. We searched, but a smaller snapper like that is nearly impossible to find in the spiderweb of caves in the coral.
My penance for losing a wounded fish is the end of my spearfishing for the day. This was no exception.
We went back to the mothership and I dropped the girls onboard as I went to check our anchor underwater. The anchor was far from set, but it was holding. We only had one night here and I had both engines to get me out of trouble should it come – so I decided we were OK and climbed back onboard to find our new Canadian and American neighbors onboard. They greeted me with a cold beer and I dried off as we exchanged information, swapped boat-maintenance headaches, and told stories. Good whiskey was poured over small globes of ice as we made small and large talk with people who would have been good friends if we all weren’t parting ways with the sunrise.
The champagne came back out.
All was right in the world.