One reason our departure was delayed by one day from Cartagena is that, the day before, I remembered I needed the Garmin charts for Panama for my chart plotter. We had navigated into Cartagena by my iPad, but I sure wanted the charts on the chart plotter for Panama, if possible. Fortunately, they’re available for purchase in downloaded form. Simple enough, right? Things are never simple on a boat! After hour upon hour of trying to download them on the boat, on land in a restaurant, and even at our agent’s home… no success. So, it will be iPad and eyeball navigation until I get back to the states again. Fortunately, though, our clearance in and out of the country was a breeze with Manfred, a German gentleman who has been living in Cartagena for over 30 years.
On Saturday, we weighed anchor around 10:30 in the morning, pulling up chain and anchor caked with gooey, slimy mud. Our new windlass passed its first test with flying colors. We motored over to Club de Pesca where we had to wait our turn to pull into the fuel dock to top of the tanks. The gentleman at the club was kind enough to let us fill up our water tanks for free. We have been very impressed with the Colombian people. For the most part, they have been very helpful, pleasant, and kind. When all our tanks were full, we made our way out of the inner harbor, through the outer harbor, and out into the Southern Caribbean. After exiting the Boca Grande channel, we set our heading for 254°T, which would take us directly to San Blas, on the northeastern shores of Panama.
For most of the first afternoon and evening, we had winds at around 10 knots, primarily from the NNW, which enabled us to motorsail with one engine at a time. We were constantly passing near and around container ships up until midnight. Then, the ships went away, and so did the wind. The only hint of excitement during the night occurred on Cindy’s watch when a flying fish decided to jump into our cockpit. Despite her sudden surprise, she left it for me to clear off the next morning. By the time the sun had awakened from its nocturnal slumber, we had less than 2 knots of wind. The conditions would remain the same throughout the second day, with winds never reaching above 5 knots and the waves never reaching above 1 foot. It was a beautiful day on the water.
On Sunday, Beatitude resumed its role as an aviary. We were joined by one little fellow when we were approximately seventy miles from the nearest land. Although he took short flying expeditions before returning again a few minutes later, “Pajarito” (our name for our fine-feathered friend) remained with us all afternoon and settled in for the night somewhere inside the salon. We were also temporarily visited with two other small birds, but their stays were short-lived. Mid-afternoon, we were also pleasantly surprised to host a booby for a few minutes. He wasn’t quite as sociable as Pajarito, but nevertheless, it was nice having him aboard for a while.
Our efforts to remain cool in the heat of a windless afternoon on the Caribbean Sea were interrupted by the sudden sound of our drag-clicker on the port side rod and reel. As I scrambled over to the reel, suddenly our starboard side rail-mounted reel started clicking loudly as well. Two fish on at once! In the chaos that ensued, I”m happy to report that we at least landed one of the two tuna which had taken our lures. We likely had trolled through a school of tuna, resulting in the ensuing excitement. Tuna was the one species of fish that I had not caught — until today. We were rewarded with a nice yellowfin tuna for our efforts. A little later we also caught a small skipjack tuna, which we released to fight another day. It is unnecessary to tell you what we had for Sunday evening dinner. Mmmm.
The watches of the second night passed without event. In the early morning hours, two container ships passed approximately 12 miles to the north of us. Otherwise, it was just us and the sea. Cindy enjoys her night watches, as she feels she gets a lot of reading done that she would not do otherwise. I often simply stare out into the great beyond, or up into the vast dome of heaven, but on this night, the soundtrack was Bach’s Mass in B Minor. If you’ve never listened to Bach’s two-hour masterpiece while out on the ocean in the grandeur of God’s great creation, you’ve missed out. It was magnificent.
We had paced ourselves in order to arrive in the San Blas Islands when the sun is high in the sky. This was important so that we could see the many reefs which surround the islands. All electronic charts (paper charts, too, for that matter) are unreliable, so eyeball-navigation is absolutely necessary to avoid shipwreck. So, just as we planned, with a 4-knot/hour pace, we arrived in the islands at noon on Monday. When you think of a tropical paradise, it is the islands of Guna Yala (as the locals call them) that you have in mind. Cindy and I were both in tears as we dropped anchor in 33’ of water amidst small, white beach-fringed islands populated with clusters of coconut palms. It was (and remains) amazing! As if to make heaven on earth a little better, we had barely dropped anchor, when some of the Guna people sailed over in their “ulu” asking if we’d like to purchase some fish or lobster. I gratefully bought two lobster from them for a measly $10.00. We decided to have a lobster lunch immediately. It was perhaps the best meal we’ve ever eaten aboard Beatitude. Maybe the food was that good, or maybe the beauty which surrounded us was enhancing our reaction to the food. Regardless, it was marvelous. We spent the rest of the day in the water off the stern of Beatitude and sitting on the bow enjoying the cool breeze blowing across the Caribbean Sea. What a great passage, and what a great arrival!