Our YachtBalvenie blog has been going a few years now. It captures our experiences around the world as we explore by sea in our 47ft sloop "Balvenie" (draft is nearly 2.5m). This blog is the summary of our Cruising Info for all the places we have visited since we started the blog (so it does not have the beginning of our adventure). I have collated the cruising info here together for those that just wish to print it off, without having all the photos and stories that accompany it. For our entire story and all the great photos see http://yachtbalvenie.blogspot.com/

As always please remember these were our experiences which may be entirely different to others. All care has been taken with this information, and as with any navigational aids should be treated as a guideline. If you are following in our wake, have fun out there and stay off the hard stuff!!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Galapagos Archipelago ..... June 2015

Cruising Info for San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela - June & July 2015

Pre arrival paperwork. ~ We decided to obtain an Autografo for our stay so applied for a 3 month, 3 island permit.  At this point we hadn’t totally researched it and did not understand that we were limited to the main port on our 3 islands, so in effect only 3 anchorages.  This is a real shame as the islands have so much more to offer, but not to us cruising yachts and that is just the way the rules are.  Yacht movements are very closely monitored and we believe that tour boats will report yachts that they see in unauthorised areas so best not try that.  If you do not apply for an Autografo you “should” be given a 21 day permit to stay, this is for one anchorage only is not extendable and you must NOT have the Galapagos as your next port of call on your exit papers from the previous port, i.e. it should be shown that it was NOT your intention to come here but circumstances have made a stop necessary enroute.  As we did not do the one island option we can not confirm the cost but believe it was around USD800 for our size (14 metres) plus exit zarpe of USD15.  The cost for our autografo was USD1345, extra charges detailed below, keep on paying ~ it’s worth it.  You must check in and out of each island, they are very strict and waiting for you!  We used the services of agent Bolivar Pesantes in San Cristobal, he came recommended by other friends and is listed on Noonsite, his contact is bolivar.pesantes@hotmail.com, we found him to be very professional and efficient but speaks limited English and translates via Google Translate so some emails are a little challenging to understand.  Bolivar appeared to be the “go to man” for any hiccups and seemed to be very well connected and able to solve most problems.  You should apply at least 6 weeks prior to arriving giving an approximate arrival date, your Autografo will be issued from this date so try and be as accurate as us sailors can be if you want your full 3 months there.  We emailed him 2 months prior saying we would like to apply for an autografo and gave our names, boat name with length and weight and approximate arrival date.  He then told us the fees and required PDF copies of our passports and ships papers and explained what else was required on arrival.  If you are like me and have no idea how to get a PDF file of your passport download a free copy of CutePDF off the internet, take photos then hit print and Cute PDF comes up as a print option, hit it and it makes a PDF file which you can then send to him as an attachment.  We emailed about 3 weeks later to make sure all was in hand and he emailed back a copy of our autografo, we also emailed him when we left Panama so he would be expecting us.

Passage from Panama City took 7 days and 23 hours, direct rhum line distance is 855 miles, distance we sailed was 1006 miles.  This was mid June.  This is NOT a downwind passage any time of the year.  We had light conditions for the beginning with wind coming straight from the Galapagos so we tacked off towards Ecuador for a day to get a better angle.  Conditions varied from dead calms to 25 knots in squalls, sea state from glassy to uncomfortable confused swell.  The current was pushing us north the whole time so that made the angle even harder.  We rounded the top of San Cristobal at dawn with a squadron of boobie birds resting on the pulpit, it was one of the most spectacular landfalls we have experienced and the sail in light winds down the west coast was one of the best sails ever in flat water & light winds with the water and skies oozing with wildlife, absolutely magical.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay), San Cristobal ~ 00 53.76S  089 36.79W  10metres Sand

CMap and Navionics charts were pretty accurate but there are a few reefs outside the entrance and some rather confusing markers.  I would not recommend a night arrival and you really don’t want to miss that west coast scenery but night time is possible, always with extreme caution.  There may or may not be several large tour boats at anchor and on moorings, some nights we had over 10, other nights none.  Stay on the port side or centre of the anchorage if possible, there are some big yellow buoys yachts can use in all three anchorages and they are free, we anchored.
Checking In ~ Water Taxis will come to you on arrival, just tell them the name of the agent you have engaged and it seems they contact him/her and they turn up and the check in process will begin.  As soon as we anchored skipper jumped overboard and checked our hull was still clean, it very important.  We found it all very straightforward, lots of officials and a diver to check the bottom, loads of forms to complete, cold drinks and plenty of cookies distributed, a cursory look below and it was all done.  Don’t know if we were lucky but it was all very easy and professional.  No extra charges (bribes).   We paid USD15 to Bolivar for our Exit Zarpe to go to Santa Cruz. 

Getting Ashore ~ The anchorage was a little rolly when we were there but not at all bad.  You can use your own dinghy but leaving it on the dock out of the way would be quite difficult and it would be overflowing with sea lions on your return.  You can also land at the beach depending on the swell and whether you could fit your dinghy between the sea lions.  We used water taxis, there are about 4 of them so you get to know them, its 1USD pp each way and we didn’t often go in more than once a day so economical and very convenient, they were careful of Balvenie  but when the swell was up you needed to be quick and nimble, we normally managed to wave or whistle one or they do listen on VHF (channel forgotten) just say “Taxi para ~your boat name~ copia?” and you will get a “se” back or 4 taxis heading for you at speed!  They don’t work too late after dark but there’s not much to keep you ashore at night.  Rubbish Bins at dock

Money ~  Galapagos uses US Dollars, do not plan on using a credit card anywhere, if it is accepted there will be a fee of up it 20%, there is at least one bank with ATM one block back from waterfront but try and bring plenty USD with you.  There are ATM’s on Santa Cruz but NOT Isabela.  USD are NOT easily accepted or changed in Marquesas, Tuamotus or Gambier so don’t have too much left over.
Communications ~ Now is the time so stop surfing the net!  Both data sim and wifi service are poor, it is still 2G.  We bought a Movistar Chip from one of the little grocery stores (ask for chip NOT sim) USD20 plus bought 2 x USD10 prepay “Tarjeta Prepago” scratch cards, instructions on leaflet with sim on how to set up data package, all in Spanish, to activate and top up think call *333 option 3 then I think you call *100# , pressing 3 gets you 7days USD5, 4 is 15 days USD10 and 5 is 30 days USD20, it’s cheap but it was ever so slow but better than nothing and did just work in all three anchorages.  The same sim can have money put on for voice too.   The Icecream Parlour by the dock was reputed to have ok wifi but was closed for a refurb while we were there.  We found a great cafe upstairs with sort of thatched overhanging roof and open terrace that the wifi was ok, sometimes good enough to skype if not busy, excellent cheap “menu del dia” lunches too and they would let us stay once they closed and leave wifi on for us.

Provisions/Fuel/Laundry ~   We organised with Bolivar to get fuel, you must pay the tourist price whether he gets it or you go yourself, and the gas station is a taxi ride away.  We got 30 gallons of Diesel and 2 1/2 gallons of petrol for USD135 and 4 huge water bottles USD14.  To get to the produce market turn right along the waterfront from the dock until the Tourist Office then head up inland about 6 small blocks, it’s on the corner when it levels out, plus more across road and other corner.  Best on Saturday morning but we found it ok any day, reasonable selection of fruit and vege, some refrigerated items, prices never as cheap as Panama but ok.  A couple of bakeries did variety of products, one was next block back and almost behind tourist office, the other right down the other end (past dock) on same street almost last corner before houses.  A few small mini-markets around, ok selection with prices about double Panama but you shouldn’t need anything!   A couple of laundries (not self service) cost USD7 for big bag, maybe $1.50 a kilo, they are under and by the cafe with the thatched roof.  We also had a couple of meals at the open sided corner restaurant with long bar, also on the road one back from the port and from memory on the corner if you walk straight up from the dock, normally full with tour groups lunch time, they do a “menu del dia” at lunch and at night a special plate of the house also which I forget what it was called but it was on the menu in small print, we spent $24 for dinner for the 2 of us with a juice and beer. 

Fun for Free ~  You can have hours of endless entertainment trying to keep the sea lions off your boat, jump overboard into the chilly waters and play with them, go ashore and avoid tripping over them – basically this is sea lion heaven and us mere mortals are simply passing through, THEY RULE!  We bought a laminated wildlife card from a touristy shop so we could tick off and identify everything we saw, it was very helpful and fun.  There are several hikes ashore you can do from the anchorage.  The Tourist Office as some brochures in Spanish/English with activities one side and a map on the other.  They have the brochures for all the islands, make sure you get the right ones as island name in small print!  We split the visit to the Interpretation Centre into two visits, there is so much excellent information it was a bit much in one go.  From there keep walking out to Punta Carola for the seabirds, marine iguanas and sea lions.  At the back exit in the centre there is a proper path that goes to the look out points and down to the small cove with steps down for swimming, plenty of sea lions and sometimes sharks.  We continued on the path after the top lookout to get to the distant beach but the path was very overgrown and we eventually turned back.  On another day pack a picnic lunch and hike out to La Loberia Beach, it’s about 40 minutes along the roads with no shade but the temperature isn’t bad for hiking.  When the road runs out at the water you head left, have a really good look at all those black rocks – they are littered with hundreds of iguanas!  Not far to the beach, its sheltered by a rocky outcrop which forms a barrier to the ocean but there were strong rips in there and a couple got pulled along the beach through the rocks some distance before they could get safely ashore so be careful.  Here is where you swim with more sea lions and giant turtles, when we say giant we mean giant, just great.  Don’t turn around from here!  Keep going to the end of the beach and there was a tiny sign indicating an ongoing hike, if you don’t find the sign carry on anyway, its not a proper paved path, but a trail across volcanic rock for about 30 minutes, don’t stand on the iguanas, then it climbs a little (odd sign or rock cairns making the way) up onto the cliff top, another 10 minutes, walk along through the cactus to the cliff edge, find a comfy rock and welcome to bird watching heaven, sit back and have your picnic lunch.  This was outstanding plus we saw surfing giant turtles below in the waves.
Paid Activities ~ There are mountain bikes for hire and the main road out of town has an separate excellent cycle path, best way would be hire a taxi to take you up then cycle all the way back down.  We didn’t do this but would have if we had stayed longer.  We hired a taxi for an day, it’s USD60 flat rate and they are pickup trucks so could fit a few in but there was just the 2 of us, they do a standard Island Tour run and was very flexible.  We visited the oldest tree, which was better than it sounds!, then onto the highlands were we hiked up to the top of El Junco a volcanic peak and round the lake in the crater, next drove down to the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre  (free entry) where we saw several giant tortoises lumbering around in their natural habitat and had our picnic lunch, then out to the lovely white sand beach of Puerto Chino, good bird spotting wetlands area on the walk there from the taxi.  We are not divers so did not go to Kicker Rock, those that did said it was exceptional.
Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay), Santa Cruz ~ 00 44.93S   090 18.53W  7metres Sand

Anchorage ~ When you look on the chart you can’t imagine why this is the main port, there appears to be very little (if any) wave/swell protection and limited wind cover.  That unfortunately is precisely how the anchorage is and we waited for a 1 – 2 metre swell forecast, down from 3 metres.  If you can fit into the tiny harbour area, with a stern anchor, it might be ok but even then there is so much local traffic buzzing around just the wave action from them alone is tiring.  We tucked out of the wind and managed to get just behind the tiny rocky natural breakwater but the swell and sea state was hideous plus we had a huge tour boat anchor just metres in front of us, their tender hitting our ancor chain when they swung.  Bolivar had arranged for the agent and port captain to come at 5pm and they arrived promptly and were gone in minutes, cost to agent normally USD15 but it was Sunday so extra USD15!  Water taxis are 60 cents pp here but not nearly as careful on approaching the boat and the swell does not help.  Got a couple of locked Wifi signals onboard and data sim worked slowly.  We really did not like this anchorage and therefore stayed only 2 nights.  Rubbish Bins on dock

Ashore ~ This is the hub of the Galapagos and most of the organised tours depart from here.  It is a bustling little town and had a touristy South American feel to it, nice place.  Good supermarket opposite wharf with excellent bakery area, sold Galapagos shopping bags for USD2, great for gifts or lugging back the groceries.  We visited the excellent Charles Darwin Centre (free), hiked on a couple of the paths, walked to the fresh produce market which was poorly stocked when we were there but should be good apparently.  The fish market  is great, mainly for the photos but bought fish and it was good too.  We then met our agent Irene as agreed and went by taxi with her to Immigration to check out,  cost to agent normally USD15 but it was public holiday in Ecuador for Popes visit so extra USD15!!!, plus USD15 to Immigration.  There is no Immigration on Isabela so that needs to be done here.  There is much to see and do from here (several free options) but life onboard Balvenie was very uncomfortable and we did not feel it safe to leave her.  Iit was a hard bash south to clear the coast before you can bear away to Isabela.

Puerto Villamil, Isabela ~ 00 57.91S   090 57.77W  4metres Yellow Mooring
Anchorage ~ 50 mile run across in brisk trades, we seriously doubted that it would be safe enough to enter with the following seas we had, but as we closed on the outer bay things did settle and we had an uneventful arrival.  The charts are NOT ACCURATE, (there is quite an offset) the port (red right returning) and starboard marks are out from charted positions, it was clear enough on visual daylight but this anchorage is NOT recommended for a night arrival.  Some tour boats anchor outside the protected area, there is some coverage from the swell probably better than Santa Cruz but inside the rocky sheltered area it was pretty comfortable although at high tide some waves come over.   We picked up the free yellow mooring buoy, the one furthest to the south but moved to anchor when the wind dropped and we started banging the buoy.  Anchorage depths best south of buoys but this does put you on entry/exit route (not too busy).  This is a delightful picturesque anchorage, full of sea and bird life, a magical place.  Yachtie movements within the anchorage are restricted, (must be on tour with guide) we managed getting close to the penguins and around a little more before we were turned back, snorkelling is a possibility but will be turned back too if they see you.   Passage to dingy dock across bay unobstructed at high tide but shoals at low tide so need to do a big loop to the south and around, watch the local boats.  There are few water taxis here, we used our dinghy and there is a floating dinghy dock that was being rebuilt while we were there, it is in behind the main wharf area.  Rubbish Bins at end of path from dinghy dock

Ashore ~ This is the Galapagos we came to find, sleepy little place, roads are sand, a few tourist shops, tour operators and restaurants and not much else.  The road into town was being paved so good if you have bikes, otherwise about a 15 minute walk.  Tour operator Rosedelco is on the left at the first fork, there is a bike hire just up on the right fork but bikes a bit iffy, sometimes they sold fruit outside.  Stay on left fork for town, 2 laundrys on left, we used the first USD13 for big bag, think 2nd was cheaper.  About 4 open air well presented restaurants (didn’t try) in a row then keep walking west on this main road, you will smell the bakery, didn’t seem to open until mid afternoon but had some yummy products, a little further a “quaint” open air cafe painted blue (name maybe Sol y Mer) has not bad wifi good very cheap “menu del dia” and tacos at lunch and great batidos (fruit drinks).  Keep going, mountain bike hire next USD3 an hour per bike, good bikes and have a good look inside store for random items of fresh produce (avocados on floor behind counter!)  We left our laptops here while out cycling twice with no problems.   Keep going to end of buildings, Pink Flamingo on beach front has happy hour with very loud music  and opposite is the Booby Trap Cafe with American Jim the Agent here in Isabela.  USD30 total for arrival, departure and port tax, no one came to the boat, he can also organise diesel and petrol, we only needed petrol it was USD4 a gallon.  The Booby Trap was the cruisers hangout for wifi (slow) and more western meals.  Heading back into town, turn left at end of plaza, good open air big restaurant on first corner up this side road, good set menus with choices for dinner around USD10 pp, went twice with big groups and very good (book if there is a group of you).  Further up here intersects with produce market on corner, hit and miss selection, Saturday morning should be best but look every time you are ashore.   For final produce provisioning there is Silvio Troya, he sometimes comes to the saturday market but doesn’t bring much (why??) go by taxi to “Finca Silvio Troya” about USD10 each way and taxi will come back for you, you need a couple of hours as go around choosing and picking to order, we spent just USD25 and got lots, however it did not keep as well as I had hoped.  We were told (after) that there is a German owned restaurant up here in the highlands near him and good to combine lunch then walk to him.

Fun for Free ~ Walk through the wetlands just past the Booby Trap to the Centro de Crianza Breeding Centre (free) and see baby giant tortoises just a couple of inches long to giant grandpas.  Carry on up the road a little way further to the big pond for pink flamingo spotting.  Hire bikes (not free but need mountain bikes not little folding ones), about 3 different days as lots to do.  The cycle trail out to the Wall of Tears runs parallel to the beach, we actually cycled on the hard sand on the beach which was great .  Do this trail on at least 2 days as there are so many nooks and crannies to discover and its good to do one of the beach/mangrove side trips (El Estero) late in the day when the birds are feeding, awesome.  Tortoises are in the wild out here, the look out is great and the Wall of Tears and surrounding area excellent, and stand where Sir David Attenborough showed the difference in 30 years of land movement at Tunel del Estero .  We tried to get a taxi to take us and the bikes up to the highlands so we could cycle back but had no luck, there are not many taxis here.  There is a wetlands trail just by the dinghy dock path that takes you to a swim platform were you can snorkel within the inner harbour area, visibility was poor and water cold but this is where the penguins live.

Paid Activities ~ We booked the Cabo Rosa & Tuneles de Lava Tour with Rosedelco Tours USD85pp, full day tour including very good lunch and they collected/dropped us at Balvenie.  This tour was excellent and their operation very professional, we snorkelled with enormous giant turtles, saw seahorses and sleeping white sharks, visited the lava tunnels, stopped to swim offshore with giant manta rays, it was superb and they could not have done more to exceed everyone's expectations, their boat handling skills were exceptional through some very large surf!  Sierra Negra Hike USD30 pp, full day guided hike including lunch, booked with another company as Rosedelco closed when we wanted to book.  Collected from wharf, drove to Highlands with English speaking guide, about 14 in our group and there were a few groups.  Sadly cloud cover over crater but clear other side, great views north, very muddy though and felt our guide was constantly rushing us, however excellent hike not difficult and had the weather been better the views would have been sensational, great value for money.

Overview ~  Worth every cent of the Autografo, 3 weeks would have felt very rushed and then you could not chose your onward weather window as well.  This is an exceptional, unique, remote environment where tourism is heavily controlled.  We are extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to visit these incredible islands .  For our blog updates from the Galapagos with photos follow this link www.yachtbalvenie.blogspot.com/search/label/Galapagos

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Transiting the Panama Canal ..... June 2015

Background & Shelter Bay Marina~ We have already spent a hurricane season in the San Blas and mainland Panama in 2012, read that info here so this time we arrived in directly from Jamaica and went straight into Shelter Bay Marina.  Shelter Bays “off season” rates do not start until July so the marina was expensive, water is free, power is metered, wifi code is charged per device $11 per week and signal on the boats is pretty poor.  Depths throughout the marina vary considerably so let them know your draft.  Panama uses US Dollars.  There is a fuel dock but the fuel barge is not always there so check before you go around, current charge was $2.92 per US gallon, the fuel barge does not have petrol (gasoline).  Gas (butane) tanks can be taken by the marina to the filling depot, $37 for 9kg tanks this can take several days so organise straight away with the office, and they can also get petrol.  We did not haul there this time but did on our last visit and were very happy with how it all went, the same staff were there this time.  There is a small well stocked store sometimes with fresh produce, they also have phone sim cards (sometimes) useful to have to organise transit – cell signal is poor there, last time we had Digicel this time Movistar, neither great but both do internet packages too.  Good restaurant and bar and very cheap happy hour from 5 – 7pm except Sunday, self service laundry, cruiser lounge (air conditioned) upstairs with good library for book swap and there’s a big screen television with all the satellite channels.   The marina runs a shuttle bus weekdays to the Quattro Altos Shopping Centre, see timetable on outside of office door for times, best to put your name on it to book space as very limited in the busy season.  The Notice Board opposite the Marina Office has a wealth of information on it.  WARNING We blew up our microwave the first time we were in Shelter Bay and only managed to buy another 240v this year, unfortunately I forgot that our first one died here and our rather expensive 3 month new microwave met the same fate when I was microwaving flour to avoid weevils.  Would STRONGLY recommend you don’t use a microwave if plugged into shore power

Checking In ~  Last time we completed our check in at Porvenir in the San Blas which went smoothly and cost $319.70.   This time it wasn’t so straight forward.  Avoid checking into Colon if you can.  There is an office at Shelter Bay but honestly we don’t actually know what it is there for anymore.  We could not check in or out with them.  The staff speak no English and were not at all helpful, and we do speak some Spanish.  Anyway, we still needed to go into Colon to apply for a cruising permit and to visit Immigration.  You do not have to get a cruising permit or visa if you will be less than 3 days in Panama but it would be virtually impossible to have your transit organised that quickly, even if you use an agent.   So first you have to go to the Port Captains office for your Cruising Permit $185 (we are 14 metres) in downtown Colon, however it is in the wharf area with lots of armed police so about as safe as Colon gets.  To get here take the morning shuttle from the marina to Quattro Altos then a taxi, ask for Citibank at el Puerto, the drivers don’t know where the Port Captain is.  The Port Captains office is on the top floor of an unnamed white colonial building (crumbling down) with blue painted trim opposite the Citibank (where you pay for the canal transit).   Firstly he issues a piece of paper to take to Immigration (this took about 90 minutes to get and he wanted photocopies of everything imaginable), then we went to Immigration by taxi (everyone must be present) in the Colon 2000 (ask for Colon dos mil) shopping strip, the office was upstairs through a glass door above a Moneygram agency.  You must have the Cruising Permit or receipt, passport photos and copies of passports. We were only given 3 month visas at a cost of $100 pp plus $10 for something else, (we should get up to a year for that but we weren’t staying long so couldn’t be bothered querying it).  Then we taxied back to the Port Captain (taxis are between $2 and $3 everywhere around town) and waited about another 60 minutes to get our cruising permit, we were the only ones there ~ they just take their time!   Meanwhile while Skipper waited I went across to Citibank to pay for our transit.  We did not check out in Colon and you do not have to get a zarpe to transit the canal (the canal is international waters)  See Checking Out below.

Canal Transit Without an Agent ~ Everything was so straightforward that I can’t actually see what an agent would have made easier.  Visit www.yachtadina.co.uk to read everything you need to know, this info is from 2014 and the only update I have is that we phoned (507) 272 4202  to get our transit date instead of the one they mention.  First you fill out the couple of forms (PDF files on Adinas website) and email through to Transit Office, then call after a while.  It helps to have a local phone, (skype is unreliable) so you can call the offices, they all spoke good English.  Next is the Measurer, ours was very professional, once you have been measured you pay at Citibank (the one mentioned above), it is a special counter on the left when you enter, make sure you have completed the documents especially your bank details to get the bond returned.  The bond was credited to our New Zealand bank account about 18 days after our transit.  Our cost was $1,875.00USD  and our refunded bond was $891.00USD.  You must pay in USD Cash so start hitting the cash machines every time you leave the marina (no machine at marina) to stockpile, especially if you are moving on to the Galapagos.  We did all of this in the off season, maybe it would have been beneficial to have an agent in the busy season, we can’t comment on that, but we found it all very easy to do, a few forms to fill out and a trip to the bank to pay.

Line Handlers ~ We hadn’t been through the canal previously and didn’t get the chance before we transited as there we so few there so we paid for one professional line handler who had been recommended by several of our friends who used him this season.  Rick is just starting up in business for himself but has been working as a line handler for some time.  We got our lines and tyres through him, the lines were all brand new, the types all wrapped in new black plastic.  He also organised our Fumigation Certificate for $50.  He visited us a couple of times before the transit then arrived around 11.30am on transit day (transit time 5pm), just to check fenders and lines were all in correct positions then came back later in afternoon.  He did all the VHF liaising with Port and Canal Control and was an absolute asset onboard, can not recommend him highly enough, he told us what we needed to do every step of the way.  His contacts are ricklinehandlers@hotmail.com and phone (507)6427 3044 or 507 6573 3613, we found him quite hard to contact by phone as cell signals everywhere poor but he was very reliable.  He speaks very good English but with a strong Caribbean accent although he is Panamanian.  We paid him $280 which I think was only $30 for the lines and tyres (think we had 14 tyres), and $125 per day for his services, he was worth every cent and he works at least 2 full days including transport.  You must have 5 on board, (one each corner and skipper to drive) so there was the 2 of us, Rick and then we had a wonderful Dutch cruising couple who had put a sign on the Shelter Bay notice board looking line handle.  In addition you have the Canal Advisor, our first got on at “The Flats” and off after dinner and tying up in Gatun Lake around 9.30pm, our second arrived about 7am in Gatun Lake and was off around 11.30am by the Yacht Club in Panama City.   Both our Advisors were excellent, they both knew Rick and they worked well together, the Suez Canal Advisors should be sent here to learn a thing or two!  Footnote:  Line handler Tito also came highly recommended, his details are on the Adina notes, we met him at the Port Captain office, English very good and seemed very pleasant.

The Transit ~ Just a couple of notes, your line handlers stay onboard the night so just remember as you are filling up every available space onboard with food and drink for your Pacific Crossing that you need to fit 3 extra bodies on for a night!  Rick was happy to sleep in the cockpit.  You also need to feed everyone of course, I made a big pot of chilli for dinner just with rice and some flat corn tortillas, had lots of El Rey small bread rolls and fresh fruit.  For breakfast cereal, big fresh fruit salad, more bread rolls.  For lunch I had made a big quiche/pie sliced up with more bread rolls and fruit!  Snacks ~ El Rey do  packs of muffins in their bakery and sometimes banana loaves, I got both and just kept bringing out the food.  Cold water was most popular, got 12 pack big bottles but had soft drinks too & tea/coffee. 

Shopping ~ COLON:  the El Rey supermarket at Quattro Altos will take your shopping (and maybe you) back if you spend over $600, need to ask for it as soon as you arrive at supermarket, otherwise taxi back is around $20.  First choice of course is free shuttle if enough room.  It is not the greatest supermarket ever but there is not much they don’t have.  Produce and fresh meat vary hugely from day to day, it is best to go several days if you have the time, energy and money (they take all credit cards).  Stock up big time on drinks here, you will not get them as cheap until Langkawi in Malaysia although we have heard Samoa is not too bad, but French Poly and Galapagos both expensive for alcohol.   Check all dry goods for weevils and presume that you might get them even if you don’t see them when you buy them (an extr4a source of protein!)  Food staples prices comparable in Marquesas to Panama so no need to go too crazy.  Other stores in Quattro Altos include an small Abernathys Chanderly, several clothes/shoe shops with very cheap clothing ($2 flip flops make good give aways), about four banks with ATM machines and armed guards, and a pretty good department store called Madisons that has some quite nice things (homewares on top floor) good quality mens clothing and ghastly cheap perfumes, lipsticks and nail varnish around $2 for give aways/trade items.

Shopping ~ PANAMA CITY:  far superior in choice to Colon but if doing bulk purchases here it is so much harder to get everything back onboard the boat unless you are in the marina which is unlikely, I would recommend to do the bulk shopping in Colon and top up here.  The road that goes out to the marina and both anchorages has a half hourly bus service to All Brook Mall, a huge modern air con mall just like you would find at home, lots of label stores, food court, cinemas – all very normal, Super 99 Supermarket on ground floor.  By the time we got to Panama City we had seen the insides of more supermarkets in 4 months than the last 4 years so I had overdosed, all the lockers and bilges were bulging I had no need to look any further.   By the 2 anchorages is another Abernathys Chandlery, a few small restaurants and along by the marina is the Yanmar Agent for spares, we got fuel filters there for a good price and they had them in stock.   Past the marina is the cruise ship terminal/shopping area and there is a duty free store there, we didn’t go in so don’t know price comparison.

Checking Out ~  Walk along to the Cruise Ship area, past the duty free and into a two storey building with a handful of shops downstairs.  Go up the big wide stairway and turn left, think first door on left.  Think we got exit papers/zarpe here (note – not necessary to show in Galapagos or Marquesas), then on same floor but other direction was immigration, total cost $6.45 incl a couple of photocopies – they actually had a copy machine!  Even wished us a pleasant sail, much better experience than checking in.  At Your Own Risk, we know of the odd boat that did not check in to Panama because of the cost, you are not required to show any papers at all to the Canal.  We were only there 2 weeks so it was very expensive however read the notes on Noonsite about cruisers being imprisoned – your call!!!!! 

Anchorages ~ 
Gatun Lake     09 13.22N  79 52.49W   Rick and our advisor guided us to a huge unlit buoy in the dark and we attached on one side and our lock “buddy boat” came in on the other.  Rick worked out the lines for both the boats and we had a peaceful night.  Lovely spot when we could see it in the daylight and we had a quick freshwater dip before the crocodiles and our advisor arrived in the morning.  Movistar signal for data

Las Brisas     08 55.33N  79 31.92W   The anchorage at Las Playitas was very choppy with an onshore wind as we passed so we carried on around the point to the city side which felt better and was dead calm (until the wind changed!)  6m mid tide, lots of boat left to die here, dreadful dangerous dinghy landing on steps or as bad via rusty iron partly submerged dock which is no longer attached to land.  Maybe new one soon, who knows, but you do not want to be provisioning via here.  Movistar for data ok.  Dinghy access much better at Las Playitas but weekly charge around $35.

We did not cruise any of the Pacific coast of Panama or the Las Perlas as we were so late in the season and wanted to head on to the Galapagos, maybe next time!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Belize – From South to North ….. Jan/Feb 2013

Passage to Belize

We checked out of Utila in Honduras and did an overnight sail in light easterlies the 82miles.  We went through the shallows on the south western corner of Utila in good light and do not recall seeing less than 5m.   We had very rolly and messy seas for most of the journey but it flattened out the closer we got to Belize.  We arrived just after dawn and entered via Sapodilla Pass. 


We used the Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexicos Caribbean Coast by Freya Rauscher, it is an old guide and ours wasn’t the latest edition but it is very comprehensive and the best available.  There is very little “life” on any of the cays, don’t plan on dinner and drinks ashore too often.  Because of our 8foot draft we did not go to the northern area (Cay Caulker etc) above Belize City, but it is more touristy.  There was very little phone coverage, no wifi accept for Placencia, internet cafe in Dangriga, ATM’s in Placencia and Dangriga.  We were in company with New Zealand yacht Bandit for nearly our entire stay in Belize.  We never felt unsafe at all and there were no reports of any problems when we were there but we do like visiting these remote places in company.  For weather info we listened daily to Chris Parker on the SSB, downloaded the GRIB files via our satphone and listened to the daily Northwest Caribbean Cruisers Net. 


Lime Cay     16 06.155N   88 16.636W

3.7m Rocky.  We just pulled around into this anchorage after our overnight passage to await better light to move a little further.

Nicholas Cay     16 06.997N   88 16.105W

6.6m grass and hard sand patches.  Beautiful island, sandy beach.  Caretaker lives ashore and many derelict damaged buildings from a resort that got wiped out in a Hurricane.  Nothing open now.  We dinghied over to adjacent Hunting Cay island to pay our Park Fees.  Paid USD10 each, think the actual fee may have only been BEL10 each which is USD5, who knows!  All very laid back and they reminded us to check in when we got to Placencia.  Good snorkelling.

Tom Owens Cay     16 11.248N   88 13.941W

6m dropped in sand, settled over weed.  Cmap charts show no entrance inside reef and reef slightly further east than it is.  Failed to spot shallow patch in middle of channel shown in guidebook.  Really do need good light for this entry and anchoring.  Plenty of room for the 2 of us but then 2 charter/tour cats came in and things got quite tight but they were in shallower water.  Type of backpackers/dive resort ashore, nothing fancy and no bar/cafe/internet but they made us welcome ashore for a walk around (takes nearly 3 minutes). No wifi

Placencia     16 30.550N     88 21.814W  (by adjacent island)

7.5m sand/mud.  Good sail up in lovely flat water from Tom Owen.  Charts accurate enough.  Anchored by island for first couple of nights as slight south westerlies sending swell in and flatter by island.  No wifi over here.  Placencia is the main town accessible on the Belize coast and is a popular anchorage.  It can get very rolly in southwest winds and would be ghastly in south winds but there are options close by to move to if you need.

Placencia     16 30.667N     88 21.958W  (off town)

6.5m mud.    Port of Entry  Checking in procedures were a bit of a challenge and advice on how to complete them varied immensely depending on who you spoke to.  Basically the facilities are not at Placencia, they are at Big Creek but you can not take the Big Boat there and those that went by dinghy were denied landing access.  It seems this is quite a fluid situation so check with others already there first.  To get to Big Creek (only Skipper need go) walk up main road to water taxi (on left by Hardware/Timber store),  they go to Independence at 10am or 12.30pm, BEL6 each way.  When off water taxi get car taxi to Big Creek, drivers know where to take you and will wait for you BEL25 return per person but this fare varied greatly.  Check in cost BEL160 for 2 of us on New Zealand Passports and included one month visa and 2 weeks cruising permit, general consensus was just get a couple of weeks and pay rest on checkout if charged. We checked out at Dangrira, see below under Garbutt Cay for details.  We had wifi with external aerial, Paradise Resort. its locked but go into bar for a drink and get code.  Didn’t eat there but meals didn’t look too inspiring.  The little shacky bar on stilts next to it is great and always busy, quite noisy with live music (but our sort of music) most nights but closes early.  Both these places have dinghy docks.  There is a laundry 7BEL behind these two bars, just walk inland and its on the corner right hand side of first block, downstairs in a 2 storey wooden house (there is a sign on the terrace)  it is very basic but its a washing machine!  There was another laundry but I never looked hard for it.  The main dinghy dock is a little further north behind some derelict piles, don’t go in too close as it shallows at low tide.  There was a big new wharf being built, the dinghy dock is before that.  This dock is basically at the bottom of the main street.  There is a gas station there but it was closed most of the time and an ATM.  Further up on the left is the first of the Chinese Groceries, there are two more (newer and slightly better) some walk up this street almost out of town. These two are worth the walk and had some things we hadn’t got in months.  Back down after Chinese No 1 there is a bike hire/souvenir place 6BEL half day worth taking for an afternoon.  On the right is the Above Ground Cafe, very good coffee and free wifi but not many seats.  Next along on the left is Greg’s Fruit &Veg, it is more expensive but the produce was much better, they also have lots of meat (best option in town for meat) and dairy products in their fridges and freezers that you don’t see but just ask, they are very helpful and the quality was very good.  There is another mobile vege truck further on the left next to the sports field, it came most days, quality of produce varied.  Just after this is a blue shack which has quite simply the best burritos ever tasted, they are only open for lunch – if you like Mexican do not miss this place (don’t think it had a name but has two lift up wooden windows and a couple of seats.)  Another much smaller mobile veg stall was a little further on the right, quality not great but had some different things.  We ate out at Omars (byo liquor), and the big place next to it (has free wifi) and across the street at Dawns.  Dawns was excellent and her hot chilli sauces to buy have a real zip.  There are more cafes and some great icecream shops, there are a couple of bakeries that you have to order in advance but one that you didn’t, can’t remember name but it was a locally owned (many places are foreign owned) place that had a few signs up (maybe called Johns), all the bakeries were on the footpath that runs adjacent to the beach, parallel to the main street.  There was a cellphone provider and we investigated getting a sim but they did not do prepay and also advised we would not have coverage once we left town so we did not pursue.  We loved Placencia, found it a laidback place where we felt safe, it is very small but has most of what you need, a real jewel. 

The following are in the order we visited them, it may look a little odd if you plot them but you are at the mercy of the weather more so here than in the rest of the Caribbean as the USA Winter Northerlies get this far south and affect the local weather.

North Long Cocoa Cay    16 33.645N     88 06.274W

3.5m find a sandy spot in between soft coral.  Caught a couple of Yellowtail Snapper enroute, yummy.  We intended to stop at Rendezvous Cay but with a couple of yachts already there we were unable to find shallow enough water to anchor.  We moved on the extra 3 miles.  Snorkelling ok but we had ben told it was excellent  but maybe didn’t find the right spot.

South Long Cocoa Cay     16 29.943N     88 12.664W

Dropped 8m settled 13m.  Quite hard to find a shallow spot.  Sand and hard coral.  1st day we snorkelled the top left shoreline and it was ok.  2nd day was lovely and flat so we went around the top and drift snorkelled nearly back to the boats (retracing much of the previous day).  It was outstanding, maybe the best we saw, loads of fish, a nurseshark, beautiful soft corals, excellent, don’t know why it was so much better than the first day but light was better and flatter seas.   We returned to Placencia from here to sit out another norther.

Sittee Point    16 48.179N     88 16.028W

4m mud.  Very good coverage from the north here.  Did dinghy excursion up the river trying to find the town, weather turned rainy and never made it.  Good bird spotting.  Left after one night but returned as conditions to rough to enter pass to get to Twin Cays

Twin Cays     16 49.663N     88 06.250W

4.5m mud.  Excellent all round coverage within mangroves.  Hard trip from pass through shallows, water very hard to read depths and with 2.5metre/8 foot draft we did not have much to spare , nurdled our way through and never touched the bottom but you do need calm conditions if deep draft.  Nice snug anchorage in the mangroves, heard there are crocodiles but never saw any in Belize.

Southwater Cay     16 49.068N     88 05.129W   &     16 48.928N     88 05.123W

6.6m/6m sand.  The 2 1/2miles from Twin Cays took us 1 1/4 hours, got down to 3.1m enroute, took it very very slow but it was worth it, absolute stunner of an island and lovely anchorage – paradise found.  National Park fee payable, 10BEL per person.  On our 2nd visit conditions were calm enough to take the dinghy outside and do a drift snorkel back through the pass.  It was excellent - saw schools of tarpon, a lionfish & lovely soft corals.

Tobacco Cay     16 54.093N    88 03.968W

5m find a sandy spot.  Had a lovely sail in the 4m shallows inside the reef up from Southwater Cay.  BEWARE in our guide book it showed a shoal going right across the entrance to the anchorage that you need to avoid, in the newer version this was not shown but IT IS STILL THERE.  So take your time and try to have light behind you.  There is life on Tobacco Cay, a small resort with a great little shacky beach bar for sundowners.  Think they may have done meals if you order in advance, no wifi.

Glovers Reef     16 42.985N     87 51W

6m sand.  A very lively exit from inside the reef at Tobacco Cay with plenty of water over the bow, but then pleasant sail 25 miles to Glovers.  Entrance was easy to see in good light.   Lovely anchorage, could snorkel straight off the boat.  Went ashore to sit on the beach for sundowners but caretaker asked us to leave, this is a private island. After much pleading and telling him we had sailed all the way from New Zealand he let the 6 of us stay without setting the dogs on us!  Dinghied around to neighbouring island with small resorts on it following day, very very quiet, more places where it would be necessary to prebook dinner if you wanted.  One place has sign for wifi but there was no one there, extremely laid back dive holiday place.  We didn’t venture further inside Glover reef as another Northerly was coming so we headed back to the mainland and entered through the wider channel at Southwater Cay and stayed there another night.

Garbutt Cay     16 58.168N     88 05.596W

12m muddy.  Caught 2 fish enroute.   Mangrove anchorage, good shelter and holding  Beach ashore looks lovely from a distance, not so nice up close.  Harry (the local mayor!) paddled out, nice bloke traded lobster which we really didn’t need but gave him some books, tiny rum and coke.    Next day we left Balvenie and the 4 of us went on Bandit to Dangriga to check out (our 1month was nearly up), there was an onshore wind which didn’t abate so Mark, Brenda and I went ashore in the dinghy while David drove Bandit around.  Very lively and wet entry and exit over bar on river in dinghy.  Tied dinghy to dock on left, walk up to bridge and turn left.  Supermarket on corner, fruit and veg stalls along road, Customs and Immigration along further on right, internet cafe almost opposite C&I.  Checking out quite quick but had to wait for staff to arrive.  Customs Fee BEL45 and Park Fee 15BEL, weren’t charged any more for Cruising Permit. 

Middle Long Cay     17 15.787N     88 05.539W

4.5m sandy mud.  Had a brisk sail up inside the reef.  Went snorkelling over the partially sunken wreck just to the south, lots of lobsters but they had too many places to hid.  Quite good snorkel but quite murky water and big barracuda lurking in the dark!

English Cay     17 19.750N     88 03.066W

3.5m sandy patch in coral.  Snorkel stop only, too exposed for overnight.  Snorkelled on outside off reef in very clear water.  Not a huge variety but thousands of fish and some we hadn’t seen before.  Definitely worth the short stop, and our last snorkelling for the season.

Bannister Brogue     17 26.450N     88 04.216W

4.2m sandy mud.  Total protection within mangroves, yes more strong winds to tuck up from.  There was a resort on one of the little neighbouring islands but we did not go ashore.

Robinson Island     17 21.637N     88 11.199W

11.5 m mud.  Moved here as much more room to swing for sitting out northers for a couple of days.  Nothing there but good protected anchorage.  Did a couple of fun dinghy excursions around the mangrove islands.

Turneffe Island – Cay Bokel     17 10.391N     87 53.798W

2.7m hard sand/coral …. then the tide went out!  Our worst night ever at anchor. Had intended to anchor on southwest tip of Turneffe but lee shore when we got there so entered through reef in poor fading light, guide book showed 9 feet inside we never really found it and had our worst ever night at anchor, aground for hours.  Wind shifted to southeast and got very bouncy over reef, finally got off and into slightly deeper water and left at first light.  Had hoped to go to Lighthouse Reef from here but southeast too strong.

Turneffe Island – Southwest Tip     17 10.333N     87 55.164W

4.2m  sandy spot.  No longer a lee shore so stopped here to gather our thoughts.  Decided to abort plans to go to Lighthouse Reef and made our way up Turneffes west coast heading for Mexico.

Turneffe Island – Midwest     17 14.267N     87 56.945W

7.5m  sandy spot, just kept nudging our way in, went over a couple of shallow patches.  Just an overnight stop. Had a good forecast to head north with easterlies so that was the finish of Belize. 

Heading to Mexico

Forecast was not correct and we were hard on the wind the entire way, Gulf Stream running with us giving us a couple of knots current but wind over GS gave us horrible seas.  Couldn’t take shelter on Mexican coast as lee shore and very shallow entrances to the couple of anchorages.  Considered stopping in lee of Chinchorro Bank but arrived at dawn and water flattened giving us false sense of improvement!!!  Carried on and anchored during the night at Cozumel, Mexico 

To read our full blog postings with photos of Belize click on this link  http://yachtbalvenie.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/Belize

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Honduras – Vivorillos, Guanaja, Roatan & Utila ….. Dec/Jan 2013

Vivorillos Cays   15 50.249N  83 18.290W  

7m sand with coral patches.  We had departed Low Cay north of Providencia (185 miles) at 9.30am the previous morning, had we known we would have been so close to making it in in daylight we would have left earlier.  We did however have a visual on the cays before sunset, the wind had died out after some lively squalls so we decided to try for a night arrival.  The lighthouse is no longer operational on the farthermost west island but there is an AIS signal transmitted advising there is an island there!   We do not have AIS so not much use to us, but our friends do and they picked up the signal.  We stayed west of the island in deep water then curved around and made our way very slowly in behind the shelter of the cays and reef.  The seabed was very uneven and we saw depths ranging between 4.5m to 8m.  There were no onshore lights just a couple of anchored yachts with lights which we saw and one with no lights that we did not see at all until the next morning – not good practice.  We had a peaceful night and left around 8.30am so did not go ashore.  Those that have stayed report a lovely spot to explore for a few days. No cell coverage.

Guanaja – Isla Bonacca   16 26.515N   85 53.432W

4.8m sand patch on edge of neighbouring small island.  Trip from Vivorillos (155 miles) took 25 hours so we timed our arrival through the outer reef system for a couple of hours after sunrise which gave us good enough light in clear skies.  There is no longer a lighthouse operational however there was a bright flashing white (like a strobe light) that showed over 30 miles out, at first we thought it was in the water but it is on top of the island, the distance made it difficult to tell.  There was also a constant bright white to the north of it also on the top of the island, visible same distance. (very easy to think they were fishing line markers but they never get any closer).  We entered south of Half Moon Cay, there is still a marker on the western edge of the reef to the west of it.  There is ample room to drop sails once through the first reef entrance behind this reef.  We went between Pond Cay and Bonacca with good light behind us and it was easy to see the couple of shoal patches.  Exiting on the eastern side of Bonacca was totally clear of shallow water.  Ashore  ~  We took the dinghy over about half way along the island there is a main dock with an indentation that we tied/locked to.  The Port Captains office was right there so we saw him first.  Then we had to go to Immigration, carry on past Port Captain to end of path and turn right, go almost to end (2nd to last), then you have to go back to Port Captain.  No charge for anything but we did hear of the odd cruiser being charged $US10 here and there.  All completed within about half an hour.  There is a bank with ATM machine almost on the junction.  Exchange rate December 2012 was approx 100Lempara = USD5.  Maximum with drawl was 4,000LEM.  On the path back to the Port Captain is the TIGO shop.  For onboard Internet we bought a simcard for 50LEM and a month data package which included 5GB for extra 500LEM, this worked very well for us including skype.  The lady set everything up for us, she was very helpful but basically didn’t say one word to us!  There were several small fruit and vegetable outlets and we timed it well as the produce boat arrived and had the best selection we have seen in a very long time.  A couple of ok supermarkets.  Its a small place – everything is easy to find, no roads just all footpaths.  We did not stay the night anchored here as it was very busy with local traffic.  There is a new fuel dock and we understand it also has water.  Prices unknown.

Guanaja – El Bight/Sandy Bay   16 27.256N   85 52.247W

9m mud.  We came around the eastern side of Dunbar Rock and saw about 3.8m least depth.  Quite a rocky looking bottom and water clear so we just went slow, once over the shallows there is plenty of water.  Most boats anchored a reasonable distance offshore to stay away from the bugs which weren’t TOO bad. Lovely anchorage, very calm water, peaceful and scenic.  Boats were standing by on VHF 72.  We did not see the piling in the anchorage noted in NW Caribbean Guide Book.  We stayed for Christmas, the Manati Lodge ashore serves good food and cheap drinks.  Good signal for phone/internet.  We did a great hike over the island to the northern coast, we went with a local cruiser who knew the way, good you certainly get lost otherwise but there were some shorter marked paths.  Wear long pants as there is a lot of cutting grass.  We had lunch on the northern coast other side at the Green Flash Restaurant and they bought us back to our dinghies by boat through the canal cut for 600LEM for the 5 of us (lunch extra about 120LEM pp).  Tried a few spots by dinghy for snorkelling, nothing good and lots of little jelly stringers.  When we left we sailed inside South West Cay and outside the other reefs, visibility was good and we saw no obstructions or uncharted shallows.

Roatan – French Cay Harbour   16 21.244N   86 26.699W 

9m sand/mud, some patches of grass.  We held fine but some boats dragged after sitting out gusts over 25knots for days.  Arrival with a brisk nor’easter behind you is a little difficult.  There is no lee from the land so seas do not flatten and there is really no room to tuck behind Big French Cay either to drop sails so its head to wind and a free salt water wash.  Then it really was quite hard to see the channel in, but 2 boats had gone in before us so we just headed slowly for the entrance waypoint in the NW Caribbean Guide at 16 20.85N 86 27.00W, then headed due north straight towards land and flat water, you then leave a wobbly looking pole to starboard and start turning right towards the two buoys which look white but are very faded green (port) and red (starboard), they are about the size of little dinghy fenders.  They are close to land and stay close until you are past the houses and docks.  Think the least depth we saw was just under 4m.  There are several reef shallows in the anchorage but it is a good sized and there were about 20 boats while we were there and could have taken more.  There is good coverage from the reef and land by can get choppy in high winds.  General calling channel 72Morning VHF Net channel 74 @ 9am.  There are 2 options for tying up, Brooksy Point which offers about 15 stern-to berths in a very protected pocket, they offer a range of services including laundry, wifi (not accessible in the anchorage) dive tank fills etc.  The other is Fantasy Island which can accommodate many boats side tied around the island.  They have fuel facilities, need to pre arrange.  We did not need to check in or out here but if you do it is necessary to get taxis to Coxens Hole. Ashore ~  Dinghy dock to walk to town/supermarket – go back out between the faded red and green buoys turn right and then turn left.  Veer over to the right and tie up between some shrimp boats on a very dodgy dock.  Lock it, there normally seems to be someone around, they appreciated the odd can of coke.  There is an excellent Eldon Supermarket, best we have seen since Santa Marta in Colombia except for meats which weren’t great.  There is an ATM in the supermarket.  Close by if you walk west down the main road past the Petrol Station on the corner there is a fish market (on left behind big fence, closed weekends), excellent inexpensive prawns and also in here is a Gourmet Food Distributor very good selection of goodies but pricey, they will deliver to Frenchys Restaurant in the anchorage.  Carrying on down this road a little further is Ace Hardware on the left, LPG Gas Refill Centre on the right (240LEM for 9kg while you wait) then either further an open air mall with some clothing shops, banks, coffee shops and another supermarket (not very good).   Mike at Brooksy Point organises and takes an island tour on Fridays from around 9.15am to 3.30pm, USD20 pp including dolphin show (yes we see plenty of dolphins but it was ok).  You stop at West Beach for lunch (not included), a good way to see the island and Mike is very informative.  Brooksy Point also organises a pizza night (pizza are bought in) they were excellent.  We had a special dinner at Frenchys one night, mid range prices – nice enough.

Utila – East Harbour   16 05.598N   86 53.866W

We had rather a lively sea state downwind from Roatan but the water does flatten considerably as you close on the harbour.  We only had our headsail out so didn’t need to turn to windward but it would have been ok.  The flashing light shown in the guide book is still there and operational but the stake shown at the entrance is not.  Again we headed for the entrance waypoint of 16 05.15N   86 54.10W and slowly and carefully made our way in.  A bearing of 020M lines you up with a white painted church steeple, there is now a large wooden yellow house in front of the church but you can still see the steeple.  It clouded over just as we arrived so we found spotting the deep water and sandy anchorage patches hard but there is loads of room and we anchored in 7m sand, good holding in over 30knot gusts.   Ashore ~ We took our dinghy into the dock at the Utila Lodge, it has no name water frontage but it is just to the right of the yellow house and church mentioned above and the dock normally has some white wooden chairs on it.  There is a dock inside the outer one and they were very receptive to us tying up there, it seemed safe day and night.  We didn’t eat there but had a few happy hour drinks.  Along their alleyway is a lady offering free Spanish lessons, need to pre book.  Across the road a bakery with good cinnamon buns, another bakery with good wholemeal bread on same side along to right maybe 5 minutes walk set back slightly.  We had lunch at Munchies very average and they have slow wifi.  Had dinner at El Picante Mexican, its the bright yellow and red wooden building waterfront, it was ok, think they have a dock too.  A few stores/mini markets scattered around town with varying quality of fresh produce, you really need to visit them all and pick through.  Bush’s general store has a slightly chilled room for veg and reasonable frozen meat selection.  They also have a petrol pump outside.   Our TIGO internet connection in our dongle worked very well at anchor.  Quite possibly the rudest staff member at Immigration we have ever come across, she was obviously not having a good day, only spoke Spanish and absolutely no attempt to go even the slightest bit slow. Port Captain is next door, go there next, they are both on the big ferry dock, there was no charge for checking out.  We had to get photocopies of something for Immigration and there is an internet/copy place set back in a garden also on the ferry dock..  Bank is on the corner by the ferry dock.  The Jade Seahorse is on the road inland from the Bank on the left a little way – its straight out of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and definitely worth a look.  Street food empanadas were cheap and tasty. 

We had planned to stop at the Water Cays on the western end of Utila enroute to Belize but there was too much swell and protection did not look to be adequate.  We did leave that way though, sailing over the shallows which was a touch heart stopping when the water got very clear.  Don't think we saw anything under 5m from memory.  


We enjoyed our stay in Honduras immensely, the wind howled through much more than we were expecting but that is part of life on a boat.  We didn't have any security issues and never felt unsafe, we locked the boat when we left it and set our alarm at night.  We locked the dinghy in Roatan and Bonacca.  We did however stick to the main anchorages so didn't get to experience as much of the Bay Islands as we originally intended.  They are more Caribbean than Central American, very laid back and most enjoyable - worth the stop for sure

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Colombia – Providencia ….. December 2012

Passage to Providencia

We ended up in Panama for the summer/hurricane season.  We had carefully watched the weather for this dead end corner of the Caribbean for many months and knew that there was a small window to get north from Panama, with the least amount of pain.  The hurricane season “officially” ends 01 Dec, many boats start heading north during November as there are sometimes westerly winds, although they are very fickle.  You also run the risk of a late season hurricane forming in the Western Caribbean, which is possible, and are left with no where to run.  The weather had been appalling in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon during November – days and days of rain – so we weren’t inspired to leave.  We finally pulled out 30 Nov and did a short sail east to Portobelo, this improves the angle ever so slightly for laying Providencia.  We had originally wanted to explore the Boco del Toros area of Panama but as it lies further west it tighten the angle even more for the trip to Providencia so we ended up missing it.   We left Portobelo 7.30am on December 01 and did a night arrival into Providencia on December 04 at 1.30am, it took us 66 hours to cover the 255 miles direct route, we put in several tacks, sailed hard on the wind every inch of the way in very light winds and moderate seas except for the occasional 25knot squall.  Friends that left a day before us had very squally conditions and uncomfortable seas, a yacht that left a week after us from Boco del Toros was dismasted.  This is definitely a passage to pick a good weather window for and to try and get done before the infamous Christmas Trades set in.  The other option is to try for a window across to Cartagena on the Colombian Mainland and then have more of a downwind passage to Providencia.  That stretch of water can get very lively when the trades are blowing and some very big seas are not unusual.

Entry into Providencia

Looking at the charts it shows miles of shallows, several markers that don’t appear to go anywhere and it is very confusing.  We did a night arrival and it was straightforward.  There is a lit sea buoy (shows on CMaps) at 13 24.00N 81 23 .71W, it flashes white.  Head to it keeping well offshore then you turn towards land down a wide entry channel (approx 143 mag, there were leading lights onshore but they were hard to pick out as they were the same yellowish colour as other lights nearby).  Coastal traders and the small Navy ship come in this channel, there are 3 red markers on starboard and 2 green markers on port.  One was not working on our arrival but it was repaired within two days.  The chart shows this channel going over a reef, it shallowed down to around 4 metres at this point.  At the last green marker (approx 13 22.61N 81 22.68W) turn left towards Santa Catalina (almost due north) try to stay left keeping out of the channel to the dock (used day and night).  This is around 3.5m – 4m and it holds this depth quite some distance in, so take it slowly and nudge in.  We anchored at 13 22.70N 81 22.50W in 3.5m thick mud.  Try to tuck up as far as you can, when the wind went to the North a slight swell did creep into the back of the anchorage.


At anchor 04 – 16 December 2012.  Call Bush Agency on VHF 16 on arrival.  Mr Bush (English speaking) seems to be the only local agent and it didn’t seem an option to side step him and try to check in independently.  There are several opinions of his service and costs on various sites, he is quite abrupt on the radio but well mannered, pleasant and helpful in person.  He will arrange a time to meet you on the dock to process your papers.  He asked for us to come in a couple of times during our stay but we didn’t until we wanted to arrange our departure, this didn’t create a problem.  You need to give him at least a days notice of departure.  No payment until you leave, we were charged USD140, Colombia is not a cheap place to check in and out of!  Take dinghy to the left of the big dock and tie up at long dock that runs across the front of the town square.  Town is right there, takes 10 minutes to see it all. Exchange rate Dec 2012 USD10 = COP16,500.  A few small supermarkets on road that runs inland slightly up the hill have reasonable provisions but poor fresh produce, most appeared dead on arrival ~ may well come from mainland on unrefrigerated trader.  Three supermarkets up here.  One on right will exchange USD, or there is an ATM at Bank on town square by dinghy dock.   Bakery on road up hill on right side has very good wholemeal bread.  A couple of small hardware stores also up here, and keep walking about 500metres for the small hospital on left.  Back down by the dinghy dock looking towards land on right side, ground floor old very handsome but rather dilapidated old wooden building there is a small kiosk that you can buy a Simcard or Chip as they call them for phone/internet.  The chip cost 19,000 (may get English or Spanish speaker) can buy credit here OR, go across road to Internet Cafe and very helpful English speaking lady activated it and sold the credit which was 20,000 for one weeks/1.5GB internet, daily was 3,500 and we when we activated for another day it gave us three days which was good as we also picked up the signal after we left when anchored up at Low Cay.  We did pick up an unlocked WIFI signal at anchor but it was very fluky.  Petrol/Diesel  Can take dinghy across to far right end of board walk, might need to paddle last part, tie up, walk along road maybe 150 metres to Gas Station or get while you have your mule.  Petrol was 10,000COP a gallon, didn’t need diesel but it was less.  Eating Out  A real lack of choice, Bamboo Hut has closed down, we had dinner ashore one night but it was very average.  All up Providencia was a great stopover, a very clean, well kept island with the islanders seemingly proud of their home ~ after Panama is was very refreshing.


Mule Hire  (has 4 wheels not 4 legs)  To see the island you either hire a mule (sort of a dune buggy) or a motorbike, we shared a mule its 100,000COP total so not cheap (our half 50,000)  includes fuel,  we got ours from Camila Rentals which was in a hardware store on road up hill just by bakery.  Loads of places had them for hire, all same price.  You can drive around the island in no time, but there are little side roads to explore, stunning South West Bay to linger over a very long lunch, photos to take and a few short walks to stretch the legs, or the big hike up to the summit.  Make sure you do the walk across “Lover Lane” bridge that joins Providencia and Santa Catalina, turn left and do the walk all the way out to Morgans Head.  Board Walk first, then steps up and down, then lovely well tended bush walk along coast to end, return same way, allow 3 hours with loads of time for stops and swim at Pirates Cove.  Then take the dinghy out to Morgans Head and snorkel all the way back to headland under the steps, saw fish we hadn’t seen before, a big eel, a yellow spotted ray, the most beautiful shell ever, some lovely corals and reasonable amount and mix of fish.  We did this most days as it was sheltered from the wind and a very pleasant way to get exercise. 

Other Anchorages

Anchoring before the last green cannel buoy just off the cute little beach on Santa Catalina before the main anchorage looked feasible, there was plenty of depth and would be a good option in stronger Northers, although when the wind was from the north there was a swell creeping in so maybe a little rolly.

Low Cay - There are not too many places on the CMap charts it notes “Good Anchorage”, but inside the reef to the east of the lighthouse at Low Cay it does so we decided to spend one night there on our journey to Honduras.  We anchored at 13 31.147N 81 20.085W in 10m on a sandy patch.  The reef is not as solid as we would have hoped and there was alot of water coming over and through gaps in the reef.  We were there in light easterlies and didn’t think much of it.  Snorkelling was ok but very choppy and hard work.  Still had phone coverage good enough for internet.

To read our full blog postings about the journey to and from Providencia and our time there click here for our other blog

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

San Blas Islands (Kuna Yala) - Panama ….. April - June 2012

Background – We decided to do what is known in these parts as the “National Geographic” tour of the San Blas Islands in the autonomous region of Panama known as Kuna Yala.  Most cruisers potter around in the western San Blas in an area covering about 15 miles of palm tree islands with cute sandy beaches, waters every colour of blue, good snorkelling and very few villages.  We sailed overnight from Colombia and decided to come in to the chain much further east at Isla Pinos and make our way west, exploring all on offer on the way.  Even though the San Blas are part of Panama and just a few metres in some places off the mainland coast they are a world away.  Imagine you are going to a remote tropical island group in the South Pacific.

Weather - We planned our visit for the end of the trade wind season but before the rainy season, arriving 26 April and leaving 04 June 2012.  In the main we had light and variable winds…pottering around under motor in glassy seas which made the anchorages idyllic. Yachts transiting the canal  in March/April and moving through this area during the trade wind season may have a more lively experience. However, it sure has rained and the thunder and lightening was spectacular. On several occasions it lasted many hours and had us cowering below expecting the worst at any moment. We have experienced monsoon seasons elsewhere around the world but nothing compares with the lightening we have seen in this region so far, bearing in mind the rainy season has just started !!. The moral is… if you visit in the rainy season to avoid the Caribbean hurricane season - and there are many many yachts doing this - make sure you have deep pockets or are insured for lightening strikes!!!.     

Reference Material – We purchased The Panama Cruising Guide – 4th edition by Eric Bauhaus at Budget Marine in Curacao.  At nearly $100 USD it is the most expensive guide we have ever purchased, however it is an exceptional guide and has been worth every cent .  DO NOT think about doing the route we did without it as the beginning of our cruise was in unsurveyed waters, the cruising guide was our bible with spot on waypoints, charts and aerial photos.  We were given an electronic copy of the charts from the book to run with Open CPN towards the end of our stay in the San Blas, if you can find these online to download then do it, they are great and except for a couple of minor discrepancies we found them superb and easy to use on Open CPN (we had never used Open CPN before but did already have it downloaded on our laptop and now quite like it).  There is the Panama Connections Cruisers Net daily on SSB radio frequency 8107 at 8.30am local time.  As our SSB died the day we left Santa Marta (we hope to get it fixed in Panama City) we have not partaken in the net but it is an excellent source of local knowledge, some cruisers have been in these parts for years..

Provisioning – If you spend as long as we did then you need to do a MAJOR provision before you leave wherever you are leaving from.  I don’t like to spell it out because if you are reading this you are probably experienced at provisioning but lets say 6 weeks ……… that’s 42 days, say one packet of muesli lasts 5 days (not on Balvenie) that’s 9 packets of muesli, we use a litre of milk a day - 42 litres of milk!, a couple of beers each a day - eek 84 cans of beer, don't forget the flour and yeast for the bread …. and so on.  I’m experienced – I didn’t bring enough.   Basically other than getting random fruit and vegetables (if you are lucky) you should bring absolutely everything you will need to get you to at least Portobello or Colon.  Also remember the bugs, especially if the trade winds aren’t howling – bring plenty of bug spray, personal repellent and mosquito coils with you (we haven’t had mosquitoes but have had no-see-ums).  There is a ban on commercial fishing for April and May so cruisers are asked not to purchase fish, crabs or lobsters off the locals during this breeding season, although we saw several buying lobster.  I will note below what was available (if anything) where applicable.  There was a cruiser that offered a service of provisioning in Panama and bringing it to the boat in the Western San Blas, he added 30% but your shopping with your receipt got delivered in a chilled environment right to the boat.  Sadly he recently passed away but there is some talk that someone is taking over the business – but don’t count on it. 

Phones/Internet/Money -  Phone - There are a few cell phone towers, they seem to get hit regularly by lightening – or that is the general excuse for them not working.  On the seldom occasion we did have coverage we were able to use our international Gymsim simcard however Panama is in the 2nd highest rate zone in the world and it was very expensive.  Our satphone was actually cheaper per minute.  Internet – learnt to do without!  Supposed to be available at the school in Nargana but not when we tried.  Available via plugin at the small shacky bar (no power or lighting) on Naguarchirdup in the West Lemmon Cays, worked at random when we were there, but when it did work it was good enough to skype. Cost USD3.00 per hour.  Some boats that had come the other way had a Digicel sim (sim/chip US$3 one month internet US$14.95) that they had enabled data packages on and either used dongles or tethered their phones, however signal at best was very poor and they were even having problems getting a good enough signal to do text only emails (while climbing the mast to get a better signal!).  Money -  Panama uses American Dollars.  Get these in Grenada at a bank or out of the money machines in Bonaire or Curacao and maybe Aruba (money machines in Colombia did not dispense USD,) and bring small denominations, as many one dollars a you can.  We arrived with USD780.00, as I write this we are anchored at Isla Linton, one anchorage away from Portobello which has an ATM (we hope), we only have $9 left, so have spent around $770 from 26 April until 08 June.  We had to pay to anchor in a few places, bought food and alcohol whenever we could, got a few molas, went out for dinner once and spent most of it on officialdom.

Checking In – We checked in at Porvenir, this is almost as far west as you can go in the San Blas, but there is nowhere before this that can process yachts arriving.  Our “zarpe” (exit paper) from Colombia was dated 18 April and we checked in 30 May, this didn’t appear to be a problem.  The cost of visas seem to change daily, Ours (on our European Union passports) were USD50 each and we don’t actually know if they are for 6 months or a year, we forgot to ask and it doesn’t say on them.  There was also a $10 fee for something, maybe for taking our thumb prints!  Then we moved to the Port Captain – our cruising permit for one year was USD193.00 valid for all Panamanian waters, and he issued a new zarpe to get us to Portobello which cost USD16.70.  So all up it was welcome to Panama and bye bye to USD319.70, and no going out to dinner that night or buying just one more mola!  

Wildlife -  Firstly the bugs – bearing in mind the trades had stopped blowing we had very little wind to keep the bugs away.  When we got any sort of breeze, just 3 or 4 knots was enough, we would normally be bug free.  We had no problems at all with mosquitoes, heard only one during our stay.  No-see-ums were a problem, especially for Mark, they just love him.  They really are tiny and you don’t see them but you feel the bite and they last about 4 days.  We tried all the preventions we read about – applying baby oil, personal bug spray, fly spray, burning mozzie coils which all helped, but we still get bitten on occasion.  We expected the outer islands to be better, some were, some weren’t.  We generally managed to keep them out of the boat at night by spraying before bedtime, and we doubled up the netting on our mozzie nets.  Flies came out in some places, as did big dragonflies and moths the size of small birds - they all came and went.  In the water we often got stingy bites, we don’t know what from. Crocodiles, now you don’t want to get bitten by one of those!  We didn’t see any, don’t know anyone who has seen any, asked locals swimming up rivers and at mangroves edges and they all said “no problem”.  We jumped overboard everywhere (except downstream of the villages with outhouses!), when it was murky we got out quickly


Isla Pinos     08 59.790N     77 45.440W
7.5m off sandy beach and before sandspit and village.  This was a little further south than the suggested anchorage in the guide but the winds were almost Nor’west and this had better shelter.  We decided to make landfall here from Colombia as it has no outlying reef to navigate, so made for a safe easy landfall.  Ulu (dugout canoe) came out to collect US$10 anchoring fee, receipt given.  Cellphone tower on island but there was no signal.  Took dinghy to dock at village for a look around, small not much there.  Managed to buy some fruit off David our unofficial tour guide.  Swam here.  Flat water.

Ustupu     09 07.748N   77 55.765W
5.9m thick mud between village and mainland in some very murky waters.  US$15 anchoring fee, didn’t have change for $20 but told us he would wait ashore for us at 4pm with change, when we went in he was there with our $5.  Quite an amazing town really,  it is the largest in San Blas with over two thousand inhabitants, (looked like 75% under 18) all in thatched huts built inches apart from each other – very cosy!  Felt extremely overpopulated.  There were waterways running through it all, outhouses built over them.  A few small stores but didn’t look to be much.  Made welcome ashore but no photos (just a few sneaky with no people in them).  A small bar/restaurant but no beer.  Cellphone tower but again no signal.  Airstrip.  Bad No-see-ums.  No swimming here.  Flat water. 

Achutupu     09 11.547N   77 59.299W
5.6m thick mud, found some much shallower mud before this – whoops!  Having just done the village experience we gave this one a miss.  We went to Dolphin Island Resort on Uagitupu which had no food, drink or guests but we stretched our legs.  In Lonely Planet the little huts here go for around US$150 a night, no wonder they were empty.  Supposed to be quite good stores on Achutupu.  Again there was a cellphone tower, signal came and went at random.  Did not swim here.  Flat water.

Five Palm Island     09 17.530N   78.07.332W
8.5m sandy patch.  Just a short stop to visit postage stamp sized island, surrounded by clear waters.  Cute island on leeward side, plastic dumping centre on windward.  Had quick snorkel, swim and shore excursion.  Too rolly to stay overnight.  Found an uncharted 3m patch between here and Mono Island.

Mono Island     09 16.376N   78 07.518W
4.5m mud.  Anchored between island and mangroves, not as protected as it reads in the guide unless you got very close to island.  Big wooden signs in water apparently said “No Anchoring allowed” but we didn’t actually read them, just told by other cruisers later.  Nothing there except for a few no-see-ums. Quick swim off beach.  No roll but slight chop in the afternoon, 

Snug Harbour – Mamaraga     09 19.580N   78 15.269W
13m mud.  We went north east past all the islands and shallows then turned back south to enter.  We could not visually see the 2m shallows.  The passes through the islands further east were not clear either (we approached just after midday but it was cloudy).  When we explored by dinghy there DID NOT appear to be enough water for a yacht between Yauala, Apaidup and Mamaraga.  Sat out 2 days torrential rain and some wicked thunder/lightening here, but lovely anchorage.  US$10 anchoring fee.  Dugout canoes came by selling fruit, veg, fish and kuna bread. Some had it onboard, some got delivered next day – some didn’t!  Nothing on immediate islands, but community with stores on Ukupseni (Playa Chico).  Another yacht dinghied down when Colombian trading boat came in there and got some diesel.  Great beach on Yauala for swimming, watch depth for dinghy through pass (its shallow but just do-able).  Also swam briefly off boat.  Flat water.  Turtles and dolphins in bay.

Isla Tigre and Farewell Islands
Firstly tried Isla Tigre.  Made it in through the reef entry but it was extremely hard to see (cloudy again and mid afternoon).  Anchorage was empty but there didn’t seem much room within the reef.  We moved on.  Carried on to Farewell Islands which shows only as a fair weather anchorage but conditions were benign.  Struggled to find shallow enough water with 360 degrees swinging room which we need in these light and variables.  Lovely looking island but we moved on.

Nargana     09 26.646N   78 34.975W 
6.5m definitely mud.   Came here twice.  We entered between Corazon de Jesus and Usdup Airstrip, straightforward entry.  The anchorage on the other side of the water pipe between the island and the mainland is much larger, supposed to have less bugs but it gets the generator noise 24/7 and is a longer dinghy ride.  This is the best provisioning in the San Blas, but don’t get your hopes up.  It is entirely dependant on what has come in as to what is available.  In the way of dry stuffs you could get basic provisions, no choice of brands etc and you will probably need to visit every little store to complete your purchases.  We managed to get cockroach spray (no flyspray or personal repellent but the cockroach spray works real well), mozzie coils, the last couple of boxes UHT milk, milk powder, cornflakes, canned tuna, fresh chicken (ask for it) lettuce, tomatoes, celery, bananas, pumpkin, onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and kuna bread (little dinner rolls- go very stale, very quickly).  The produce is not refrigerated and can look pretty sick when you buy it but does perk up once refrigerated.   From passing dugouts we bought mangoes, pineapple and avocado.  Internet is supposed to be available at the school, we tried 4 times without any luck.  Cellphone tower on the island, was out probably 80% of the time we were in range.  Diesel and petrol are said to be generally available but we didn’t need any.  We ate out at the cafe right on the end (there is only it and Nells – Nells was closed), just Chicken and Chips and cold beer, they had nothing else (not even coke) but it was cheap and tasty.  We tied up the dinghy at various spots along in front of the cafes and dinghy repair place.  There is a bank but no ATM.  We were not charged to anchor but some boats were.


Coco Bandero Cays     09 30.776N   78 36.967W  
8m sand  wow, it’s just beautiful, 4 small islands with white sandy beaches. Clean water, reasonably clean beaches.  Can walk around all the islands in minutes. Popular with the backpacking boats that do the Panama – Colombia run so can get a little noisy.  One island had caretaker family, rumour has it they may do meals sometimes.  They also came around selling wine, beer and soft drinks – wine 1 litre boxes US$4 eachExcellent snorkelling all around by dinghy or just off boat on reef at western end between outer two islands.   Very good protection from all quarters, flat water and wonderful swimming.  Ladies paddled out in ulus selling molasCellphone coverage if Nargana tower working and boat swinging the right way.  Do not pay the locals a $1 to dispose of your rubbish, we saw them paddle out with a huge bucket full of rubbish (mainly plastics) and tip it in the middle of the anchorage – most then washed up ashore!  Sort it all and have a rubbish bonfire every now and then.  Didn’t get charged here to anchor.

Green Island     09 28.829N   78 38.099W
9m sand.  Another lovely spot although water was quite murky and very hot, may be under water fresh spring.  Beach not as nice and lots of rubbish on windward side but you can walk all around the island.  Cellphone coverage if Nargana tower working.  Nothing ashore.  Swimming and snorkelling not so good as murky and lots of big stingrays.  Flat water.  Didn’t get charged here to anchor.

West Cocos     09 31.067N   78 38.838W
6m in sand off end of little Two Palm Island.  The recommended anchorage already had 3 catamarans in it so left little room for us between the bigger island and the breaking reefs, so we were more exposed.   Very good snorkelling around the little island, can snorkel right round it, a small wreck on outer side, good corals and some good fish, does get some surge.  Good swimming clear water. Did rubbish burn on Two Palm Island one sundowners.  Cellphone coverage on and off (getting further away from Nargana).  Charged US$10 just as we were lifting anchor to leave.  Slightly rolly but not too bad, would have been flat in with the cats.

East Holandes Cays – Swimming Pool     09 35.364N   78 40.480W  
This area is a popular “landfall” for boats coming straight from Colombia or further afield in the trade wind season, heading onto the Panama Canal.  There is a big break in the outer reef close by and you can do a big loop around the bottom of the reefs and islands to get into the lee and some flat water.  A recently wrecked yacht on one of the reef edges is a reminder that any landfall should be done in daylight, in good conditions and with a keen lookout.

2.6m sand with gin clear water.  We would normally not anchor in such shallow water when there is deeper water right there, but it was so beautiful we just couldn’t resist.  Stayed 10 nights.  Many choices for anchoring.  Frequent rays under the boat, the occasional shark, lots of starfish.  Amazing water activity at night – very noisy and lots of splashing.  Several surrounding islands, Banedup is known as Bug Island so didn’t venture ashore there.  BBQ Island at end has caretaker family, heard if you want to go ashore for sundowners, pot lucks etc you need to pay US$1.  We went ashore for walk around and swim off sandy beach, some backpacker boats despatch their customers here.  Very good snorkelling off northern end of BBQ Island on coral bommies, then further out from there to the inside of the outer reef.  We tired to get out to where there is a tunnel though the reef further west in then reef but tried unsuccessfully twice to find dinghy passage through the shallows.  Very poor cellphone coverage (using Nargana cell tower).  Charged US$10 for anchoring here, valid for one month.  Vege boats came twice while there with poor selection but not bad quality (they stop at all the other islands first) but better than nothing and kept us going.  Also had fresh chickens, some sausage and wine.  Very protected and flat but heard it can be too rolly with big swell over the reef (it’s a huge high and deep reef) in strong trades but can easily move 100 metres to better coverage.

East Lemmon Cays     09 33.791N   78 51.600W
8m sand.  Not much space when we arrived, little anchoring pockets with shallows around.  Snorkelling ok off reef at southern entrance, my blocked ears had reduced our snorkelling time significantly.   Several islands to swim or dinghy to.  A couple had people camping and lodging ashore and had small “bars”, very laid back.   Another vege boat visited us here, quite well stocked with produce and chicken, also wine and beer. We had no cellphone coverage but other boats did.  Flat water.

Porvenir     09 33.381N   78 56.898W
9m sand.  We didn’t intend to stay the night and probably would have gone further around the island to the west if we had.  Slightly rolly, could be very rolly.  The approach into here is a reasonably narrow entrance between the island outer reef and another reef on Sail rock.  Would not be advisable in a lively northeast wind and swell coming down the San Blas Channel, you can go right around them all though and anchor in the lee of the island group on the south side and dinghy through if necessary.  You would probably only come here to check in/out at Porvenir (see check in info right at top of posting) or get provisions at the adjacent islands.  Also airstrip, small hotel and restaurant on Porvenir   Cellphone coverage from tower on mainland but it wasn’t working either!  Nearby Wichubhuala had a main grocery store by the big concrete dock.  A very poor selection but I did get flour, yeast, milk powder, cornflakes and little else.  The only produce they had were pumpkins, the nearby bakery had no bread till after 2pm.  There looked to be a liquor store opposite the grocery.  I tried to get a Digicell Sim card from 3 places that had Digicell & phone posters up, they all only had recharge cards.

West Lemmon Cays     09 37.719N   78 54.028W
9m sand.  We came around the bottom of the reef in through the 2.5m shallow entrance between the islands as it was better light and flat water.  We can confirm that there is 2m shallow ledge between the two anchorages, it is spot on on the Bauhaus charts and quite hard to reverse off!!  However the Bauhaus depths in the rest of this side of anchorage showed much shallower than we had, it was over 20m in much of it and the shallows were only around the edges by the 3 islands.  There are many laid moorings in the other part of the anchorage, all occupied.  The snorkelling on the outside southern reef by Tiadup was very good and possibly saw the best, most varied and colourful corals during our time in the San Blas.  Not such a pretty anchorage, the main island of Naguarchirdup had a swampy spit that looked very unappealing at low tide but they have a shacky bar with 3 internet connections (only one was working), good enough to skype on. Internet US$3 per hour, beers and cokes US$1.50 each.  They have no power (so make sure laptop fully charged) and no lighting – its a daytime, head torch or type by Braille thing.  We managed to get our New Zealand 9kg LPG Gas bottle filled here, they decanted it and did it same day for US$16 – we think we were very lucky with our timing as believe it is not often available.  They also offer a panga (fast boat) service to Carti where you connect with a 4 wheel drive through to Panama City, (takes 3 hours) you need to stay the night in PC then can come back next day laden with provisions for another few weeks in paradise.  It’s an expensive option I believe but many cruisers seem to do it.  We exited through the deeper pass to the north and motored out into the Caribbean Sea – the end of the San Blas.

To read all our postings on our journey through the San Blas Islands complete with great photos go to http://www.yachtbalvenie.blogspot.com/ and click on the San Blas or Kuna Yala label on the left hand side bar
Another wrecked yacht lies abandoned on the inside reef in the Lemmons as a reminder to us all that in these waters you always must proceed with utmost caution.