Aha…Here is the rough passage we were told about! Our sail to the San Blas Islands, Panama and Hanging out in San Blas

Our Sail to San Blas Islands, Panama

“Woop, there it is!” Leaving out of Santa Marta, we experienced heavy winds, swells on our beam, and fast speeds. We started with a double-reefed main and our jib for the first 30 miles of our trip. It was rough and a bit precarious; we again hit 40 knots of wind but it was the seas on our beam that caused the most heartache. Finally, we were able to turn and experience the swells coming from downwind. That was a relief! Surprisingly, only Ariana got seasick, but it was bad enough this time that we had to give her a patch, which pretty much knocked her out for a day and a half. The poor girl made it down to her head and vomited all over everything in there.   Luckily, she had eaten strawberry yogurt prior to passage so clean-up was super-easy! (said with sarcasm)—hard, pink, crusted-over vomit. Another great sailing moment for the Gabiers!

The winds died down some after several hours so we decided to sail with our Gennaker, which is a large sail that is a cross between a genoa and a spinnaker. Well, when we put it up, we were on a broad reach, winds were light, and we were still making good speed. When we sail downwind with the gennaker, we have to take down the main sail, because the main sail blocks the wind and the gennaker luffs a lot and the main doesn’t buy us any additional speed.

As an aside, this was considered a racing leg with the ARC. Some legs they have a friendly competition among boats and prizes are awarded later on. You CAN motor, but that time motoring counts pretty heavily against you, so it is most beneficial to sail, regardless of the light wind conditions. The kids really wanted to try to “win” one of the racing passages, and we figured this was the one we had a shot at winning because the winds were generally heavy and coming at us from 60-120 degrees which are great points of sail for our boat—and it was only going to be a two night sail. So, when the winds died sufficiently (at one point, we were only making about 3-4 knots speed over ground), we had a family meeting and asked the kids if they still wanted to continue sailing, even if it meant arriving much later because of our poor speed. The consensus was “so what if we arrive later—let’s sail on!” So, we didn’t turn on the motors and sailed slowly for a while. Then, miraculously, the winds shifted to a beam reach, (which meant the wind was coming from our side), so we were able put the main sail back up without a luffing gennaker. And—the winds picked up… A LOT, and shifted more upwind (60 degrees off our bow). We actually ended up overpowered with our gennaker and our main sail up full (no reef), but there was no way at that point that we could bring in the gennaker safely, so eventually, two things happened: (1) the last night at 1 a.m., we blew out our gennaker. Yup. True. Our sail essentially exploded at 1 a.m. AND (2) our boat saw 18.2 knots speed over ground for a second. That’s a lot of speed for a 40-foot cruising catamaran—almost 21 miles per hour. Holy crap.   We were overpowered.

Anyway, after our gennaker was no longer usable, we put up our jib (the sail we wished we had had up beforehand), and sailed on. We arrived over the finish line before 4 a.m. and had to sail back and forth until dawn (because there was no way we were going to anchor in the coral-full San Blas Islands in the dark). The kids were shocked because before they went to bed they still thought we wouldn’t get in until about 11 a.m. because of light winds. How quickly things change!

San Blas Islands, Panama

Cruisers talk about their love of the San Blas Islands and I can understand why. There are about 350 islands and only about a seventh are inhabited. The people living in the islands are Kuna Indians who came down from the Darien Mountains long ago to reside in the area. Some of the San Blas Islands have only one family living on them, and other islands have a village of people. Our favorite was BBQ Island, which may or may not have a more formal name. The island had grass, a hut, a few picnic tables, lots of palm trees, and water volleyball. There was also a nice field for the kids and adults to get a game of stickball going. The man who lived there had a puppy and cold beer. What more can you ask for?

San Blas Islands, Panama



Kuna Indian in a dug-out canoe


One of the San Blas Islands


A beautiful San Blas beach


A Flamingo Tongue–viewed on coral while snorkeling


Dinghy ride with Widago and K1W1Beans


BBQ Island, San Blas Islands


A stickball game on BBQ Island


One of the uninhabited islands


Typical huts on a San Blas Island


The kids get along well–most of the time!


We did some snorkeling in the San Blas and that was also quite good. Ariana and Dan saw a few nurse sharks when they went, and the number of species of different fish was amazing!

Another island that was fantastic was Salardup. One family lived there and if you give them a heads-up, they will prepare dinner for you on their one big picnic table with folding chairs. Earlier in the day, he showed us the lobsters he had caught and would be serving to us, and then he killed them in front of us (which I could have done without because it is basically just chopping them up into pieces). He served it with white rice that had a bit of coconut milk in it for $7 each. We went out to eat with Ali and Guy from Widago and the very nice folks on Carango (Peter, Vicky, Richard and Tricia from Great Britain). We had a really nice evening. The only thing that wasn’t as great about this island was the little noseeums that would bite you. That’s why our kids and Widago’s three boys decided to stay on Widago for dinner and we just brought them back some lobster.

Our private dinner on Salardup, San Blas Islands, Panama with Widago and Carango


Dinner for someone!


I had a bit of an accident while in the San Blas. We went to Provenir to check in to Panama (after several days of already being there), and Dan finished the process and came back to pick me up so we could go in to meet Widago and K1W1 Beans for a beer. I was putting our passports and documents away and accidentally stepped on and rolled off of a boat hook that I left in our cockpit/companionway. My ankle twisted, I heard a snap sound, and thought for sure I had broken my ankle. It swelled up immediately and hurt like Chinese torture for a little while, so I couldn’t do anything but lie there and ice it. Peter and Vicky on Carango summarized it as: “so you fell over trying to get a beer?” In essence, I guess they’re right, but I never did get that beer!

Now it has been about a week, and my ankle still swells up during the day and hurts. I don’t know exactly what damage I did to it, and may never know because it’s not like I can get an x-ray or MRI at the drop of a hat! I haven’t let it stop me from doing things, but I definitely can’t run yet, which just stinks. The optimist in me thinks at least it’s not broken!