Written by Kyle Hahn
Photos and captions by Kassandra Henning
February 8th-11th: Visit from friends
February 20th and 21st: Linehandled through the Panama Canal on a catamaran “Onotoa”
February 25th: Departed mainland Panama
February 26th – March 8th: San Blas and Colombian Islands
March 9th: Arrived in Cartagena, Colombia
Once we completed the rigging, the boys had some time to come visit us in Puerto Lindo. Enrique, Austin, and Enrique’s cousin Jose came out for 2 days. We enjoyed some meals at the local restaurant (Casa X), listened to Enrique play guitar on the boat, took a dinghy trip out to Isla Grande where we climbed the lighthouse, went swimming, hauled Austin up the mast, took a dinghy ride through the mangrove tunnel, visited the monkeys on Isla Linton, and watched Enrique play a show for all of the locals in Puerto Lindo.
After a busy 2 days, we returned to Panama City where we said our goodbyes to Austin. We also went to a show in Casco Viejo where our friends Enrique and Diego (of the band “Making Movies”) played at Onplog venue.
We still wanted to experience the canal before leaving Panama. We sailed Winnie ~25 miles SW to Colon, where we would hopefully find a boat transiting the canal which we could line handle on. It felt good to get Winnie heeled over again, now able to trust her rigging was secure. We first anchored on the east side of Colon harbor, off of Club Nautico with 4 other boats. It was quite industrial, with slow moving mammoths docking, unloading, and departing 24 hours a day. The wind was strong during the evening, but we were anchored in just 10 feet of water with plenty of chain out. From this anchorage, it was very easy to catch a $3 taxi to a major shopping center where we did some provisioning. The following day we motored across the busy harbor to Shelter Bay Marina, where most boats prepare and wait for their transit through the canal. It is required that each boat transiting the canal have 4 line handlers to assist the vessel through the locks. Upon arrival at Shelter Bay, we started asking around to see if any boats were going through that still needed line handlers. By the end of the day, due to some changes of plans, we found a boat that needed 2 crew to assist them! They were scheduled to transit the following afternoon, so the timing couldn’t have been better.
With Winnie docked at Shelter Bay, we hopped aboard the Austrian catamaran “Onotoa”. We would be transiting the locks tied up in a group with 2 other monohull sailboats, both Austrian as well. There are several ways which they organize recreational boats to go through the canal. Sometimes tied along a larger ship, sometimes tied along a lock wall, and other times center tied in the middle of the lock. Each boat carries 4, 125 foot lines to tie up with, as well as many fenders to protect the boats from the rough concrete walls, or other boats. For us, we would all be tied together, with a sailboat on each side of us in the center. The 2 other Austrian sailboats were “Esperanza” whom we met in Puerto Lindo and “Modesta”. We tied up before entering the locks, motored as a single unit through each lock, and then would break apart once the locks brought us up to Gatun Lake. It took us 2 days to complete the transit, spending the night on a mooring on Gatun Lake. Everything went smoothly, and we really enjoyed our experience seeing the canal, and having fun with all of the Austrians in our group. The only hiccup we had was our starboard engine having issues overheating, so we went through the first day with only one engine. Instead of getting overly stressed, our captain calmly made it through the first set of locks with one engine, and was able to diagnose and fix the problem that evening on Gatun Lake. The husband and wife (Sylvia and Helmut) who were cruising on Onotoa were headed across the South Pacific, and we have already heard news that they successfully made their crossing in 30 days from Panama to the Marquesas, covering 4190 nautical miles! Check out their blog at Onotoa.blogspot.com for details of their voyage, including more pics of the canal transit.
We returned to Puerto Linda. We said our goodbyes to our sailing friends and checked out of the country. February 25th we departed mainland Panama for the San Blas.
The San Blas Islands might be our favorite destination in the last year of cruising, so we were happy to be back and spend some more time there. After Chichime, we sailed with 1 reef in the main, in 20 knots of wind to the East Holandes. We anchored for the night off of BBQ Island, in what is nicknamed the “swimming pool” for the beautiful color of the water.
We made several more stops as we made our way east, including Rio Diablo, Isla Tigre, and Achutupu. As we got further east, the villages became more traditional, and we saw far less boats. We really enjoyed the more tranquilo vibe, and it was obvious that they didn’t see the tourism that the more often visited western San Blas islands received. We spent about 5 days anchored off of Achutupu, where we only saw one other cruiser on our last day. Aside from wanting to see some of the eastern San Blas islands, we also were making our way east and south to avoid the strong winds that commonly blow off of Colombia. By stopping through the islands until we made it south to a latitude of 9 degrees 10’, we would have a chance of sailing, and not having to bash into the easterly trades. The plan worked well, and once we had a good weather window, we made our eastbound crossing, covering about 140 miles to Isla San Bernardo, Colombia. From there, we stopped through some gorgeous Colombian islands before checking in to Cartagena.
The island of San Bernardo was calm and beautiful. We anchored in 10 feet of water, a short row from a lovely beach. The island had lots of little palm roofed hotels along the beach, but at least half of them seemed to be abandoned, and there were almost no tourists to be found. At the end of the day, we were preparing to take our evening bucket baths, when a suspicious little fishing boat with 5 guys showed up from mainland, and anchored a couple hundred meters from us. It interrupted our bath, but also spooked us, as they didn’t appear to be fishing. We found ourselves in the dangerous situation of being the only sailboat in an anchorage, in an unfamiliar location, without any means to call for help if anything were to happen. Most likely, it was just some guys hanging out, ending the day with some beers on a boat, but we wouldn’t sleep well in this anchorage. Just before nightfall, we decided it would be safer to just sail on, heading offshore where they would have difficulty tracking us in their little boat and small outboard. We spent the night slowly navigating through nearby reefs and islands, timing our arrival to Isla Grande, Colombia at daybreak.
Isla Grande is part of the Islas Rosario group of islands just 15 miles SW of Cartagena. Isla Grande was a nice island to visit, but the island lacks any source of fresh water. Almost all of their water has to be shipped from mainland during the dry season, which we were in. The island is too small for cars, but has lovely bike and walking trails all over. Also on the SE end, is a large resort with a big swimming pool. They let us tie our dinghy to their dock for free, and we spent some time hanging out in hammocks and swimming in the pool. Just to the west of Isla Grande is a very unique island with an open-sea oceanario and aquarium. They have many different species of fish, dolphins, crocodiles, turtles, and sharks. We enjoyed viewing such lovely animals, but it is always questionable when supporting the capture and containment of animals. The animals seemed adequately cared for, quality marine research being done, and were focused on educating the public on ocean stewardship and protection.
Around noon, we were finished with the aquarium and had to depart for Cartagena if we were to make it before dark. The first 10 miles we easily motor sailed, but as we approached Cartagena, the winds blew strong out of the NE, and the current was running against us at possibly 3 knots! We attempted different techniques of motor sailing near and offshore, but could only make 2 knots/hour progress against the wind and current, even with our engine running and sails up. It took us 3 hours to make the last 5 miles to the main entrance to Cartagena, but we did and all was well. We entered through the southern entrance of Boca Chica, past the Spanish forts on both sides, and north through the large bay, close to the historic Walled City. We anchored in 40 feet of water, amongst many other boats, just off of Club Nautico, in the Manga district. We stayed on Winnie until the following morning, when we would go ashore and check in to Colombia.
The next post will have to cover our time in Colombia, and our passage north to Jamaica, where we currently are. By the time we get home, we might finally catch up on blog posts!
What a great blog and inspiration! It was shared on the FB Alberg page. I have a 63′ Alberg as well that I charter out of Westbrook, CT. Great cruising boat as you are both proving! Safe travels.
Great times great pics amigos ! Safe travels salud !