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NEWS of 24/02/14

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Thetys back to sea , towards the San Blas

Bocas del Toro return

Back to Bocas del Toro in Panama after looooooooooooooooooooooong break in our journey. We must re- acclimate. With 30 °C night and day and no-see-ums always so stingy, it is seamlessly and effectively. But it's so good to be back on Thetys that rather well supported this pause, pampered by the staff of the Red Frog Marina. Anyway it will serve as a lesson: a boat, this is meant to be used!

We have a few loose ends before leaving, and we are very motivated so it does not drag on. The biggest job is the big food refueling, the one for the "3 months". Except that in Bocas del Toro, the largest mini-market does not reach the surface of a quarter of groceries home ... and our closets are empty : rice, pasta, juice, milk, drinks, canned fruits and vegetables , sugar and flour are required. Fortunately the "Chinese" guys who hold these bazaars are friendly and resourceful. 80% of our list is sent within the two largest. We just have to explore all other patiently looking for rare products that we would appreciate the true value : “compote” (apple sauce), basmati rice , Bolognese salsas from Italian brand validated by Bruno ... I have to bring myself to forget the chocolate (!), which does not exist here except in cocoa beans.
Shopping done, we must also push the four trolleys to the dock, fill the taxi boat that takes us back to the marina in fifteen minutes, all put down on the dock, load the bags into the boat, open all closets and compartments to find a place for every food, remove all containers that might harbor eggs critters unwelcome on a boat. After a tiring day (it's still hot), the provisioning is done for two months... I hope !

Latest topic: the weather window. Our next destination is the San Blas Islands (always Panama) , 200 miles east of Bocas , or about 36 hours of sailing . Yep, East, once will not hurt, in our world tour to the West. For this time "backwards", we must find a small window without too much wind, with minimal waves, and hope for the reverse current indicated by the charts. And probably squeeze a little teeth...

And some navigation...

Takeoff with a crosswind of ten small knots, a large current pushing , and a beautiful face swell but without short waves . None of this could bother Thetys, famous sailor, running 6 – 7kts full sail.
Until the sun goes down, where external visual cues disappear, when our stomachs are found a little bit facing their future night that promises still shaken well. Critical moment, since none of us is ready to go in the boat to cook. We are empty stomachs (since pancakes for breakfast) and shaked. The natural consequence does not wait... Then the night goes a little groping between wind monitoring , radar sounding regularly , sleep trying to make us forget this awkward position, and Thetys galloping alone as a grown-up, clearly comfortable in these conditions. At sunrise our stomachs are better but we are forceless, exhausted by these uncomfortable conditions. A few miles away, the Bay of Linton will do nicely for December 24, 2013 ! We anchored in the afternoon , greeted by howler monkeys from the nearby forest. A big plate of pasta at snack time and an early night will do our Eve this year : Merry Christmas!
It remains 40 miles to reach our goal , a matter of 6-7 hours. In early afternoon, we see the coconuts of the San Blas. Our first splash for far too long is a delight, the water is 29°C (no mistake !) , It smells holidays !

San Blas , never two without three ...

We are in San Blas for the 3rd time : 2009 with the first Thetys , in April 2013 after our Cuban holidays, and today. The playground is perfectly suited to the recovery of “all-around-the-world” life and we do not sulk our pleasure. Dozens of anchorages are available to us, which we adapt to the weather and desires. Crabs and lobsters await homemade mayonnaise. Big fishes that keep their distance with inexperienced harpoons have interest in learning to swim fast, the fisherman is back! As for my windsurf board, miles of coral reef draw exceptional spots, it will slide !

Fins, masks and snorkels resume service soon. The discerning eye of the fisherman marks the favorable corners, and despite a water charged enough, the progress of the Polynesian experience are quickly felt. Neighbors are happy for deliveries of large barracuda and snapper. However, it must deal with newcomers : Bruno crosses nurse sharks (also called sleeping sharks in French) almost every day, and even though they are supposed to be harmless, these long babies of 2- 3m remain impressive. Especially as some are insomniacs (for sleeping), I am experiencing falling nose to nose with a fine specimen who walks along a big coral patch just like me.
Eagle rays and stingrays have increased too, and it is not uncommon to see them jumping at 1m above the water, right next to the boat. The splashhh sounds preferably at sunset, when the pool where Thetys is anchored becomes like a mirror. Emotional sequence when one of them jumps to 2 meters ... over me during my daily water ride. Then small panic when his remora decided that I could be his new mother... electrical contact and Bruno (my hero of the day) comes to help me with the dinghy, even if there is only a few yards to go to jump on Thetys back steps.
The most significant aquatic encounter of this stay is undoubtedly that with dolphins. It has been several times that we come across, including during sailings between islands. When their wings wrinkle the surface of the water within 200 meters of Thetys anchorage, we jump in the dinghy with the hope to see them move underwater. Bruno drops me in their midst. They do not go fast, but a good shot of palm is necessary to get into their rhythm. It is probably time to cuddle, and I see them waving per couple (two or three) while others stand as bodyguards. They should measure within two meters, I just stay away, not wishing to check the legends on their debonair or player behaviour. I do not visibly weight! I fixed on my Go Pro the present, unreal and fleeting !

Anchorages are linked, almost a new one every 3-4 days. Salardup   elected "ideal anchorage" of San Blas in 2009 does not fail us, even if the water is really less clear than in our memories. Probably the weather effect. As for the snapper shoal which get the better of Bruno’s ear at the time, it apparently disappeared, despite a relentless search ...
On shore we find the Kuna Indians, owners of this entire region of Panama. On almost all islands are a hut, a family, a few fishermen with whom Bruno goes hunting. In return we share the harvest of the day with them, which is the opportunity to eat "Kuna" as grilled fish and coconut rice, bare feet in the sand.
The beautiful discovery is the anchorage between Ukupsuit and Kalugirdup (it can not be invented). Turquoise pool 1.80m deep, it must return the head when diving from Thetys back step, this translucent water reminds us of Bora Bora...
About meetings, Clown, Namaste, Aquablue and some others are the opportunity to cool aperitifs and beach barbecues .
Unfortunately San Blas have become very popular with charter boats, which change daily mooring place. Not a minute to lose, they put their anchor on specific Waypoint, and possibly less than 10m from us, which changes us a little from “around-the-world” style, less "stuck-tight" and more "I take the time". World is changing ...
Enjoying being back in the mood "around the world ", the chess tournament of San Blas is launched. It still ends with a 6-2 which Bruno will remember, anxiously awaiting his revenge in Belize !

After the sea, the "city" ...

Carti and Isla Tigre are two good opportunities to discover the "urban" Kuna way of life. Not get carried away, it's just small islands with a very high concentration of houses, sand alleys and some local governments’ places, which are the only concrete buildings : school, congresso (village council) , health center... The cabins, made   of wood and palm leaves, have one living room for the whole family , with a wood fire in a corner kitchen. They overflow on the sea through rickety pontoons after which there is the closets hut. Harvesting garbage does not exist, and their solution is to throw plastic bags into the sea... The coast is downwind a few miles away, we cannot imagine what a discharge it must be under the first trees of these huge tropical forests. However, in each village, women are twice daily required to sweep the streets of sand, and it is also all clean. But once you slip an eye between two huts ...

At Carti, lured by the smell, we landed unexpectedly at the only local baker, when he extracted a dozen of mini-sticks breads from his tiny old stove. Baker without bakery, we are at his home, where he worked under the watchful eye of his wife swinging in the hammock. The smell is overwhelming, and Bruno torpedoes two breads negotiating a short course . After the pizza dough in Cuba, skills expand. He took the opportunity to refine Illuminatio’s business plan (this is the name of our baker), determined to implement ... pizza in San Blas ! His delicious hot breads cost $0.10 , while the pizza for a little tomato and cheese in addition, could pay at least 65-75 cents. As for the many travel boats, they certainly appreciate the fresh bread refueling at anchorage. Our new friend has to organize with lanchas that run anchorages laden with fruits and vegetables ... A little one and we stayed to help him...

Thus ends our third stay in the San Blas.

The change in five years is tangible, led largely by the construction of the road to Carti. Now that Panama City is located within a few hours by bus, the paradise of San Blas becomes accessible to tourists, even for a single day.

The concept of new business is noticeable. Motor boats are plying these previously quiet anchorages, the price of lobster has gone from a beer to 5 or 10 dollars, depending on the client's head (or the size of the boat), and almost all the islands are inhabited and maintained, offering a meal or a few beers to passing visitors, or even camping !

Besides lobsters caught by the Kuna are becoming smaller, while Bruno does not hesitate to lecture them (in Spanish please) on the sustainability of natural resources. For example, we pay them and faint it in the water under their noses the ones that still need to learn swimming...
The archipelago is undoubtedly a paradise for around-the-world sailors. Each should find his dream anchorage !

Isla Tigre lies outside the conventional trip of all boats, since the island is on the South East coast of Panama that drives to Colombia. As soon as we put feet on land, Ferdinando (de Lesseps, a young man rather clever who knows the history of the Canal) takes us in charge. He speaks English and looks as "tourist guide". Kuna pure strain but new generation, fashionably dressed and wearing headphones, he learned English at the "university" in order to do this job. An alternative to the option chosen by his friends who go out fishing every day as their fathers and grandfathers did, equipped with a pair of patched fins.
Ferdinando accompanies us in our walk through the village. The island is a kind of huge terrain covered with large cabins quite similar to each other, it looks almost like "holidays resort". Kids are playing soccer (and marvel at the touch ball for Bruno they think as Ribery, true story) , the girls are simpering, grannies are selling molas, four old men are talking in the congresso. It is a national holiday, and all the huts proudly display a red flag for celebrating the gain of the revolution to continue the traditions Kuna against the advice of their Colombian neighbors.

The atmosphere is quiet, family, we feel that the visit of tourists raises no crowds, too rare to be synonymous with economic source. Bruno take the opportunity to lend a hand (and some equipment) to local fishermen , one of the young people with whom he had gone to hunt in Coco Bandero. Very different from anything we could live in San Blas until now, this stop is a good pick on the road to Colombia !
Our last Panamanian stop will be Snug Harbor, a pretty well protected anchorage near the coast. However, we avoid the splash in the stern of the boat, still in doubt of the presence of a crocodile loving sailormen...