Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sailing trip aboard 'Gitana III' - Panama to Colombia!

We booked a sailing trip to Cartagena, through a guy named Guillem, who was staying at Luna's Castle in Panama City.  We sorta lucked out, because he approached us upon entry into the hostel, while we were looking at their bulletin board that had info on the boat trips to Colombia.  Super nice guy.  He showed us photos of the boat, told us all about it, and we spent 5 days hanging out with him at Luna's Castle, as we waited for the trip to start.

The boat was called "Gitana III," a 70' long Ketch rigged sailboat from France.  It was a beautiful boat, with a huge wooden deck up front, where we spent most of our time hanging out.

We were dropped off on a little shore just inland from the sea, and jumped on a small 'lancha' boat that took the 4 of us (Danica, James, Daniel and I) to the island of Porvenir.  Once on the island, Sarah, the 'missing' passenger was already there, and came the previous night with another boat.  Two more passengers were already aboard Gitana, Cami and Gonzalo, the Argentinians.  The 5 of us waited on Porvenir, near the shoreline, and all of a sudden spotted Gitana making her way through the sunset towards us.  An inflatable dingy was lowered down from her deck, and Guillem, with the help of a Yamaha outboard, came racing to pick us all up at the dock.

After meeting the Captain, Marc, and his parents, who were aboard for the ride, along with Marc's Colombian girlfriend and cook, and Coco, the 3 month old Parrot, we were briefed on the rules of the ship, and we set sail for the 1st of our stops in the beautiful San Blas Islands.

We anchored just at sunset, just offshore of a tiny little island with white sand beaches and tons of coconut palms.  There were a few huts scattered around it, housing the local Kuna tribes.  We woke up in the morning to an immensely hot Caribbean sun, illuminating the crystal blue sea in all its glory.  Everyone jumped off the boat, and into the sea, where we swam to shore to explore and bask in the San Blas sun.

The first 3 nights were spent in the San Blas Islands.  We made our way through them, passing more and more sailboats along the way, many of them with passengers traveling to Colombia as well, and some of them heading the opposite direction.

The second and third nights were also spend anchored in beautiful spots, and the third night, we were dinghied ashore for a bbq from Guillem and captain Marc.  We spent that day snorkeling (with the supplied equipment), and Guillem spent the day spearfishing the local reefs for dinner.  He ended up catching us some fresh fish, and the 2 of them cooked us up some chicken and seafood on the grill on one of the islands.  We waited hungrily on a table, accompanied by a couple bottles of Caribbean rum.  A local Kuna man came out of his hut, and James asked him nicely if we could by some beer from him...He said he was out, but would be happy to go in his canoe and fetch us some...We agreed, and he, and his tiny son, paddled into the night, across the sea to another island, where he picked us up a 12 pack of "Balboa."  Ice cold, they were, along with the fresh smell of fish from inside his styrofoam cooler.  We all enjoyed them nonetheless.

An hour later, James again asked if he wouldn't mind getting 12 more...Of course, he didn't mind, as we were paying him well for those distant cold ones...Finally, dinner was served, and we grubbed on a delicious barbequed meal, washed down by our cold Balboas in the night moon.  Unbelievable scenery and placement for this all, as you could imagine.  Once we were done with dinner, we were motored back out to the boat, and Danica and I decided to play a little concert on the deck.  We grabbed our guitars, and everyone sat around while we sang for an hour or so...

We suddenly heard a shrill scream coming from the island, and as we focused our attention in the direction, we realized that captain Marc's girlfriend had been left behind in the night...Sarah started laughing hysterically, then we all realized it was pretty damn funny.  Soon, Marc was in his dinghy, with the motor at full speed, heading back to the island to pick up the poor girl.

We spent the following morning swimming a little, before heading out to open ocean in the late afternoon.  Our next stop would be Cartagena, Colombia...South America!

Some words of advice to travelers looking to book a sailboat to Colombia:

Make sure to bring plenty of snacks, soft drinks, beer/wine, and whatever else you may think you'll need on a 5 day sailing journey.  Although our trip was great, it wasn't 5 star dining, so make sure to bring provisions as needed.  You can sometimes buy beers from the Kuna people, but it depends on what island you end up visiting.  Several boats do this trip back and forth to Colombia, and there is quite a competition.  Most boats charge around US $500.  Everything is included normally, except the transport to either Portobello, or Porvenir.  Ours was to Porvenir, and we ended up paying $25/per person for the SUV transport to a little port town on the Caribbean, and $10/per person for the lancha (motor boat ride to Porvenir).  After that, everything was included.  It's really nice that they take care of all your passport stuff as well.  You hand them your passports when you board the boat, and they take it to the neighboring island on their skiff to get your exit stamps from Panama.  Then, when you get into Cartagena, they take them to the Immigration office to get your entry stamps for Colombia.

We highly recommend doing this trip.  You get to Colombia safely, and you get to see and visit the San Blas Islands, which are like no other place on earth.

Gitana III, as she pulled into Porvenir


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