Monday, 13 March 2017

Guest Blog - Ben Stocks writes

Cartagena to Panama City - Feb 26 to Mar 6

Annemie van Berckel, Sara and Ben Stocks crewing

Six weeks into their adventure, Charles and Nicky were well when we met them. Both were nut brown and glowing with health, with Charles's strappy sandals revealing a new relaxed outlook on life.

Cartagena is cool.  Built inside a fort, the old city has small streets lined with balconies and bouganvillea.  At night it is packed with bars, clubs and youth.  By day it is mostly cafes and street vendors.
Sextant mishaps
 Sara quickly scored the tourist trifecta of Panama hat, 100% genuine Raybans, and a colourful woven bag, leaving time for a quick debrief with Nick and Alexia Bell who were leaving Calliope after a wonderful passage from Bonaire,  Their reports were of blue water sailing, yellowfin tuna sashimi, and the AIS switched off for fear of Venezuelan pirates.

Leaving Cartagena after a long and liquid lunch, we had a short shake-down sails to Islas Rosario, anchoring there for the night before the 160NM passage to San Blas.  This turned out to be an uncomfortable 24 hours of 3 metre seas, and winds gusting to 33 knots.  The crew did little actual crewing, but Charles and Nicky were unperturbed,  Indeed Charles found time to practise his navigation with his sextant placing us, somewhat disconcertingly, 3 degrees south of the equator, when the GPS had us 10 degrees north.  Long discomfort was rewarded with dolphins off the bow at dawn and picture book islands by breakfast:
Cocos Banderos islands, San Blas

The San Blas are spectacular.  We island-hopped: Coco Banderos, Holandes Cays, Lemmon Cays, Sugardup and Isla Linton.  All were beautiful: palm trees, white sand, turquoise sea and the distant boom of surf on the reef.  A few are inhabited, most are not.  The Guna Yala people do not allow fishing or the harvesting of coconuts, but will sell lobsters, fish or embroidered molas.  We dined on red snapper, watched eagle rays gliding in the shallows and snorkelled.  Between islands trade winds made for excellent sailing and cool nights on board.  Entirely delightful.


Some things didn't go as planned.  Doc van B was called back into Lemmon Cays to stitch an Aussie Oyster foot.  Ordered into the water to scrub the antifouling, some of the crew (Annemie & Ben) were more diligent than others (Sara).  The ice-maker broke, and we ran out of wine.  Every morning Annemie studied the books, guides and charts to announce a plan which Charles would quietly ignore.  There was much laughter and never a cross word.


The final passage into Shelter Bay at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal was one of lumpy seas and a 25kn following wind.  Shipping lanes are clearly marked but the size, number and speed of the container vessels at the entrance to the canal breakwater is impressive.  We left the Oyster fleet preparing to be measured and fitted out with new warps before crossing the continent.  Calliope heads to the Pacific with a clean bottom; Charles and Nicky head off for some R&R in the Panama rainforest and this happy crew heads home.
Venancio - the greatest salesman








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