On Tuesday, October 18th, at 8:00 a.m., we weighed anchor and departed the “swimming pool” anchorage, retracing our track back out through the reefs surrounding the western Holandes Cays. We proceeded on a southwesterly heading for a small island sitting at the northern corner of a triangular atoll. The three-hour, fifteen nautical mile, trip passed quickly. I had both fishing lines in the water, but attracted no interest from our aquatic friends. Cindy sat out on the foredeck for most of the trip soaking up the warm October sun. As we neared our destination, the wind picked up, quite uncharacteristically for Panama based on the previous week’s observations. It was blowing 20-27 knots out of the SSW as we neared Gunboat Island. Not ideal conditions to attempt to anchor in a new location. A sand bar with coral runs along the entire western side of the triangle. According to our charts, around 9° 28.950′ N latitude, there is a section with deep enough water for us to make it easily through. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that obvious where it was by sight. We trusted the charts and noticed a slight darkening of the sand bar (signaling increased depth). We committed to cross and found nothing less than about 15 feet. Whew!
The 20+ knot winds were whipping up the waves as we negotiate the waters around the island. Gunboat Island is the only part of the atoll above water. There were reefs all around us. Just after I identified a suitable spot to drop anchor with 15-20 feet of water, the port engine started vibrating heavily. We were only about 20 yards from a reef to leeward, being pushed in that direction by the brisk wind, when this happened. Fortunately, it still seemed to function okay, so we quickly returned to the chosen spot to drop anchor and did so. It dug into the sandy bottom securely on the first attempt. After grabbing a quick bite for lunch, I jumped into the choppy water. My first task was to check the anchor. Given the present conditions and not knowing if or how much they might deteriorate, I wanted to make sure our anchor was buried… and it was. The next task was to check the port engine. I haven’t mentioned this yet in our account of our times in San Blas, but, sadly, there is an awful lot of garbage in the water and on the islands that we have visited. The spoilage of such natural beauty is tragic. On our inter-island passages, we’ve passed cans, diapers, bottles, plastic bags, and all sorts of other trash. I guess it was only a matter of time until one of these bags wrapped around my propeller, although its timing was most inopportune. I dove beneath the boat with my Leatherman knife, and cut away the reinforced plastic bag in a few seconds. The prop seemed secure and undamaged, so hopefully all would be well with the port engine.
The winds persisted throughout the day, although they moderated somewhat to the 15-20 knot range. Although, we were anchored in an atoll, there was little protection from the wind or the chop. So, we stayed on board the rest of the afternoon, watching movies, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and eating seared ahi tuna for dinner (thanks to our previous catch.) That night, we slept well despite the sloshy anchorage. Our ground tackle held well.
On Wednesday morning, we kayaked to shore. We walked around this small, picturesque tropical island in just a few minutes, enjoying the white sand, clear water, and palm trees as we went. We also met a Guna family, who are the only inhabitants of the island. They were friendly and welcoming. The guide books say this island is uninhabited, but they are clearly outdated. We’ve seen this with several other of the islands we’ve visited — and the pictures in the books do indeed show no habitations. It appears some of the Guna are exploring the entrepreneurial waters by turning a previously uninhabited island into a tourist destination for tours and overnight accommodations. Gunboat Island, besides being home to this Guna family, now hosts three Cabanas for rent for $85/night/person, including meals. There is a tire swing and volleyball net on the island as well. It’s a little sad, but understandable, I guess.
We spent a few minutes snorkeling around Gunboat Island by walking out from the beach. It wasn’t the best we’ve experienced, but Cindy did get to see her first octopus resting in some sea grass. Cindy was as uncomfortable as the octopus as we neared each other. He lazily remained in place, but swelled himself as to appear more menacing, as we finally swam away. Just two days before, Cindy had seen her first two large squid hovering above coral and pivoting in place to keep a cautious eye on us as we passed. She is getting a lot more comfortable in the water, and her fear of snorkeling is essentially vanquished. After swimming with the octopus, we returned to Beatitude for lunch before weighing anchor to depart for a new location.