Panama, Shelter Bay Marina – Off site seeing in the Big City

3-Shelter Bay Marina

The humans have stayed busy running the Sail Loft.  But all work and no play make them boring dog owners.  Do not get me wrong, as far as my doggy life style goes, all the jungle trails and  beaches surrounding Shelter Bay Marina are all I need in life and of course my Orient Pearl .

The humans did take a day off and joined in on the festivities surrounding the Grand Opening of the New wider Panama Canal passage that follows the older sections.


Despite having modern equipment at their disposal, these new MEGA locks took as long as the original canal to build.


But now the modern giant container and cruise ships can pass through the isthmus.  If you are interested in engineering, you should really look up information on how these new locks work.  It is really quite fascinating.

All this was fun and entertaining, but my humans really craved a little get away.  Some place with a little history and culture perhaps.  One place to find that is in Panama City.

So I sent them off on a little over night city break.

3-Panama City

Shelter Bay Marina is on the Caribbean Sea side of the Panama Canal, while Panama City is on the Pacific Ocean side.  It only takes between 11/2 to 2 hours to cross the entire country of Panama here.

3-Map of Shelter Bay marina to Panama City The humans dropped me off  with ‘willing’ neighbours and caught the Marina’s free weekly shuttle (Wednesdays) to Panama City.

The shuttle dropped them off at Albrook Mall.


Albrook Mall is not only the largest mall in both the Americas, but the transportation hub of Panama City.  You can get anywhere in Panama from here.

My humans had a ‘nose about’ and then caught the subway into the City proper.


Fast, clean and cheap (35cents) the subway beats trying to get around Panama Cities busy streets.  The humans were off to visit the Fish Market just two stops away.

3- fish market walk

Just a short walk from the subway stop you will find the bounty of the Pacific Ocean.

3- fish market hall

Looking down on only a small section of this thriving commercial market

3-fish market yfin tuna

Whole yellow finned tuna.  Yum!

3-fish market prawns

More than just fish, there is also a huge assortment of lobster, crabs, mussels, clams and, of course, prawns.  Yum, yum!

All this great sea food only wets your appetite.  You can dine at the restaurant on the top floor of the Fish Market or outside at the many kiosks that line the walkway between the market and the docks.

3-fish market boats at docks

Busy docks as fishing vessels unload their cargo.

3-fish market outdoor venders

The humans choose to sit outside and ‘people watch’.  If you choose the kiosks with the most locals seated at it, you can not go wrong.

3-cups of ceviche

You can get a full cooked meal, but the humans choose to slowly eat their way through the entire ceviche menu one cup at a time.  At $1.50 a beer and cups of ceviche starting at $1.50 it was a fun, delicious and economical way to while away the afternoon.

But then a walk was in order to work off all that food.

3-walk to view of city and docks

If you follow the waterfront Panama cities Old Town is only a 30 minute walk away.  Along the way you get great view over the water the skyscraper dominated city centre.

3-walk view to new city

On the other side of the peninsula here you also get a view over the water to the walled in Old Town.

3-walk view of old city

The humans picked a hotel right on the edge of the Old Town.

3-hotel-Casa Panama

Casa Panama is a lovely hotel, but the male human had an ulterior motive for choosing this hotel.  It is right beside a pub that brews its own fine selection of ales and stouts.  More on that later!

3-hotel tastefully decorated

Like most Spanish architecture of this era the hotel structure was dominated by a beautiful central courtyard.  But the high light of this hotel is the views from it’s roof top restaurant and bar.

3-hotel roof bar city view

From the roof you get fabulous views out towards the main city centre and also back into the old quarter.

3-hotel view to old city

So off the humans went to explore.

3-ot day rod iron balconies

Narrow streets, old buildings with rod iron balconies and little urban parks dominate this quarter of the city.  Local and tourist interest in the area has lead to major regeneration projects.

3-ot day - more balconies

Most of Old Town has been lovely restored, especially the churches.

3-ot day church exterior

3-ot day church interiors restored beautifully

The historical, cultural, religious and economical influence of the Panama Canal is evident everywhere.

3-ot day church canals role

But there is more to see than just history and architecture here.

3-ot day street art

There are lots of street art and galleries.  Restaurants and park side cafes.  Boutiques and souvenir vendors.  But where did the humans end up after their walk?  You guessed it!

3-pub interior

A little ‘parched’ they ended up at the pub trying out Panama’s version of a good pint.

3-pub with a pint

You can forgive them as it has been a few years since they had a sip of a fine ale.  They were entertained by the stories of an expat who had been based in Central America for a few years.  Lots of learn from those that had ‘been there done that’!

3-ot night streets busy

The streets of Old Town are even more ‘alive’ at night.  Even mid week.

3-ot night church lit up

Beautifully lit up, tourists and locals alike pile into this quarter of the city to enjoy the restaurants, jazz bars and cafes.

3-ot night hotels and barsThere are places to stay and eat in the Old Town to match any ones budget including a youth hostel and grocery stores.

3-ot night grocery stores

My humans returned to their little bit of luxury after feasting at an ‘all you can eat’ sushi bar.

3-ot night view hotel

No late nights on the terrace for these two.  They had an early start in the morning to catch a very special train.

3-Panama Canal Railway

3- train entrance

Welcome to the Panama Canal Railway.  A train service that runs once a day from Panama City to Colon following the entire length of the Panama Canal.


This railway has become so popular with tourists that they have built a special ‘glass topped’ carnage.  Check it out!

3- entering train

3-train dinning car

3-train Cain and I

Not the most economical way to travel at $25 a ticket.  But it does include a breakfast snack box and coffees.

3-train snack box

And, short of traversing the canal yourself, you will not get better views.

3- train canal view

The train weaves in and out of the jungle, along the canal and over the giant flood plains of Lake Gatun in the centre.

3-train seating car

3-train picture postcard

They even have an ‘intermediate’ car where you can step outside for a breath of fresh air and unobstructed views.

3-train rounding corner

3-train flood plains

And that was it.

The humans caught a taxi ($3) to the Shelter Bay Marina free shuttle bus parked outside the grocery store in Colon, and travelled back to the Marina arriving at noon.

A short and sweet break, but perfectly ‘doable’ by any visiting yacht to Shelter Bay Marina before doing their canal transit to the Pacific.

The humans got their holiday, I got spoilt by the neighbor and we are all back to work again with smiles on our faces.


More later from your roving reporter.


Panama- Sail Loft at Shelter Bay Marina


Sorry its been a while since I updated the Blog. But you can see your roving reporter has made a full recovery from his ‘near death’ experience!!

The good news is that humans have taken over running the Sail Loft at Shelter Bay Marina.

Its been a very busy couple of weeks getting things organized and running smoothly.  There has been a great deal of interest and plenty of work coming through the door.

Clipper race boats

Shelter Bay Marina is the last opportunity for work to be completed on boats transiting the Panama Canal,  and heading out in the Pacific. They are often on a tight schedule and need a speedy, but quality service. If you face crossing the Pacific, you want to make sure your sails are up to the job.

The female human has been very busy meeting those deadlines and has had lots of positive feedback on price and quality.

Working away on a Spinnaker Repair.

Sail loft

Rescuing a completely ripped Genoa. Before Shot

CIMG5725 And the after shot. Fully repaired.


So it looks like we will be here awhile. You would think the female human would not want to get back into her pre-cruising business life. But Shelter Bay Marina offered a great opportunity for her to utilise her skills and years of experience to provide a great service to fellow cruisers and top up the cruising kitty. The Pacific and French Polynesia can wait…..just a little while.

Not too long now or I will loose my four ‘Sea Legs’!

Panama, Shelter Bay Marina – The Job Offer??

Sorry guys.

I kind of left you hanging there wondering how things went with the jobs at Shelter Bay Marina.


To tell you the honest truth we do not know any more than we did when we wrote you last.  Despite a lot of running a round, talks and a few sail repairs we know less about the job offer than before we left.


Lets just start at my FaceBook .


We left the harbor of Portobelo for the short trip to the mouth of the Panama Canal.

You know you are getting close when you are joined by hordes of anchored cargo ships awaiting their turn to transit to the Pacific Ocean.

1-Approach to Panama Canal

1-shipping close to channel

You weave your way through these and approach the giant break water that protects the mouth of the Panama Canal on this side.

The Marina is just inside and to the west (left) of the main opening in the breakwater.  Do not worry.  You can not miss the channel markers.

1-harbour breakwater and markers

Everything seems to be built to a grand scale here!

Once inside the breakwater you have all the docks of Colon City.  The major Panimanian port on the Caribbean side of the Canal.

Colon harbour front docks

And the entrance to the Panama Canal straight ahead.

1- Panama Canal entrance

To get to the Marina you ‘dodge’ west and follow the well buoyed break water.

1-marina bouyage

Give a shout on VHF channel 74 and the marina staff we give you directions to a berth and have some help to catch the lines inside.

We stopped off at the Marina entrance and paid a visit to the fuel barge.

And then headed over to the slip they assigned us.

1-marina berth

You would be proud of my humans.  They made it in without hitting anything.

1-boats in the Marina

So we made it safe and sound.


Before we started taking jobs at Shelter Bay Marina we had a quick celebration to have.  One of my humans got another year older.

1-Aprils Birthday

She was a bit to embarrassed to model her gifts.  But you all know I love a bit of ‘dress up’, so I did the honours.  I can not stand letting anyone else get all the attention.

1-Quinn modeling presents


Well the marina was not so sure on that.

Although we had been invited to come to the Marina to run the sail loft, it turns out they had already another couple doing the job.  They had to talk to them first.  But they were out of the country and on holiday at the moment.  Would we mind completing a few ‘out standing’ jobs’ until they got back and had time to sort it out?

So we did a few jobs in the interim.


This time it was me instead of the human.  And to keep up tradition in this family.  I did it in style.  I managed to collapse both my lungs and almost suffocate.  The fancy name for this is:

pneumothorax (pneumo- + thorax; plural pneumothoraces

Here is a link for you:

Of course I managed to show symptoms, that something was wrong, two days after running into a piece of rebar.  And on a bank holiday.  So, after surviving the night they rushed me off to the University Veterinarian Training Hospital in Panama City where they stabilized me in an oxygen rich tent.

1-Quinn before

The fussy stuff is lung tissue, or the lack of!

The initial x-rays were not good.  I had less than 1/4 lung capacity on one side and half on the other.  It took them all a few days to figure out it was caused by trauma to chest cavity.  As soon as they started to suck the extra air out of my thorax, my lungs could start to re-inflate again.

1-Quinn after

Back up to 80% lung capacity I was happy to be able to go home to the boat again.

1-marina facilities

It will be a few weeks before I will be chasing any balls.  And I will do my best to keep a better look out.


We are unsure at the moment.We will tell you what happens at the end of the week!

Panama, Portobelo – Topping up the cruising kitty

We love the cruising life.1-beach with Quinn

I love the beaches and swimming, while the humans love meeting new people, seeing new places and exploring below the waters surface.  There has always been a new adventure around every corner.

But unfortunately it takes money.

No mater how cheaply we try to live and eat the boat always takes up the majority of the budget. Major systems are always wearing out and maintenance is always required.  Unfortunately every time they put the word ‘marine’ before a product label they also add a few ‘zeros’ to the price tag.

So nothing comes cheap, especially when we rarely have an address to have it sent to.  Do not forget that most of Central America does not even have a postal system!

Send to:  Sailing Vessel Spirit of Argo,  anchored somewhere off the coast of Central America?

Chart of Panama with Portobela marked


So here we were anchored up in Portobelo stocking up to return to the San Blas Islands for a ‘at least’ a few more months when one of my humans spotted an employment opportunity.

Sail repairs

Not about to walk away from an opportunity to ‘top up the kitty’, of course she inquired if they might need an extra hand.   Casa Vela is a bar/restaurant on the waterfront with a sail loft in back.

Casa Vela view out to bay

Casa Vela run by Birgit and Ray

Picture of Ray and Birgit

The German owners Ray and Birgit were mad enough to hire her.   Ray runs the sail loft and Birgit runs the bar/restaurant.  You can guess where my other human hung out.

Every little bit helps towards affording to replace some worn out systems on the boat.  So the humans were happy to make a little extra money while Ray was happy to have some free time to work on his own boat.

Besides, Portobelo is not so bad.  It is a bit of a ‘run down’ town that needs a ‘bit’ of a clean up.  But there are good enough grocery shops, hardware stores, restaurants and bakeries.   Fresh fruit and veggy trucks visit most days and their is a cheap regular bus service to the next biggest town, Sabintas, where there is a large ‘American style’ grocery store.  Or Panama City if you really need something from the Capital.

Bus to grocery store

One of the colourful old school buses that plow the route along the Panamanian coast and Colon City.




Festival in town

Festival action in the town centre of Portobelo  (Opps,ignore the faulty time stamp)

Anchorage off of fort

Anchoring on the north side of the bay, off the fort, gives me a beach and trails to run about on.  It is also cleaner water for the humans to cool off with a swim after a long sweaty day in the sail loft.

NOW that the idea of perhaps WORKING during the summer had come up for the humans, they decided to research what WORK was available out there.

That is when they found an old advertisement for a sail maker at Shelter Bay Marina.

Shelter bay Marina map to

ShelterBayMap close up


Situated at the mouth of the Panama Canal they have a ‘captured market’ for boats needing work before passing through to the Pacific.

Remarkably they were still looking for someone to develop their canvas and sail loft.  Us ‘cruising lot’ do have a habit of ‘sailing off into the sunset’.  And that is exactly what the last few people running the place had done.

Shelter Bay were offer ‘quite a bit’ more pay,Shelter-Bay-Marina-in-PanamaPool at Shelter Bay Marina

but with that ‘quite a bit’ more ‘head aches’ and responsibility.  Did my humans really want that?  As nice as the Marina is, did they want to give up beaches. snorkeling and any chance of privacy?

Needless to say they needed to take some time to decide.

Unfortunately, just as my humans were trying to make a decision there was a  spree of thefts in Portobelo Harbour.  A French boat was robbed at gun point and Ray’s boat (owner of the sail loft) was broken into and the generator and some tools were taken.

All of a sudden things did not feel very secure remaining in Portobelo.  The humans felt it was time to leave.  Either back to the San Blas Islands or on to Shelter Bay.

With another 10 years before anyone on this boat sees a pension and expensive systems breaking down and work available, the logical choice was to try and see how things panned out in Shelter Bay Marina.  So the humans called up the Marina, accepted the job and gave a weeks notice to Ray at Casa Vela.

Since accepting the job, Portobelo Harbour has again become a safer anchorage.  This is primarily due to the persistence and efforts by Ray.   He traveled down to Colon police head quarters to complain about the situation here.  They set up daily patrols by the navy and arrested the group of thieves.  A thorough search retrieved the gun, the generator and a majority of the stolen goods.

Sunset in Portobelo Harbour

Our last few nights at anchor.  My humans will soon be joining the rest of you lot in full time employment.  At least we will not be needing any jumpers or catching the Go train!


Portobela is a very handy anchorage for stocking up.  What you can not find in the local shops you will find, only a short bus ride away, in ‘Rey’ supermarket in the town of Sabinitos.


All the busses have their destinations clearly painted on the front windshields.  They will pick you up anywhere along the main road if you wave your hand.  There is a shaded seating area in the central square in town, in front of (what everyone calls) the second Chineese market.  You wait on the shop side of the road for busses going in the direction of Sabinitos and Colon.

You pay when you exit the bus.  Try to have small bills or exact change.  The fair was $1.75/each way at the time of writing.  Buses seem pretty regular both ways.  We never waited longer than 15 minutes for a bus.  They do get very ‘packed’ at peak travelling times.

You pick up the return bus right outside the Rey supermarket.  The bus will have ‘Portobela’ clearly written across the front.  They are usually pretty full before they leave Colon, so expect to have to ‘squeeze’ in.  They emply on the way to Portobela, usually, but you do not want to be carrying many groceries.


You have two choices.

  1. You take the bus to Sabinitos and a taxi back with your groceries.  There is a queue of taxies waiting right outside Rey’s supermarket.  At the time of writing it was about $20 for the trip back to Portobela.
  2. You can pre-book a return taxi driver from Portobela who will wait for you, and hold your purchases from town, while you shop.  They know where the good automotive supply and hardware shops are.  You usually finish off at Rey supermarket last before returning to Portobela.  At the time of writing Tommy, fluent in English, (507-6765-4845) charged $30 for the round trip.


We are going to have to get used to saying goodbye to friends as they head on through the Canal to the Pacific.  That is what a majority of the boats that come to Panama have come here for.

CIMG5597Most of this crew we met in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala last hurricane season.

Gene and Bill (furthest to the left) are taking their boat (s/v Out of the Bag) through the canal with the help of friends Sue and Brian (s/v Sea Rose) and Becky and George (s/v C-Level).  Their friendly faces my be familiar to a few of you.

They stopped into Portobela to do a stock up and we were able to quickly catch up with them before they left.

Panama City and Farewell!!

Well the humans friend Steve, finally has to leave and head back home. I will miss his company. He was very good to play with and had a very comfortable lap for me to lounge on.

Steve’s flight was out of Panama City, so I sent the male human off to accompany him and explore the city, before his departure. They left Portobello taking the local bus to Colon. Then an express bus to Panama City. Total cost $6 each. The bus dropped them off at Los Andes shopping mall, but you can stay all the way to The Albrook Mall. Both malls were overwhelming to the male human who has not seen so many shops since the USA.

Panama City has very good subway system. It is one line that runs through the centre of the city. You buy a card for $2 and put credit on it. The boys put $3 credit on each and it lasted them two days travelling around the city,


They got to their hotel and had a quiet few beers and a good local Pizza. The next day they set off exploring.

First stop The Panama Canal. An engineering marvel linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was begun by the French in 1880, but financial troubles and diseases made the initiative fail. After its independence in 1903, Panama negotiated an agreement with the United States for the construction of the Canal, which the U.S. finished on 15th August 1914 and managed until 1999.

At noon on 31st December 1999, Panama took over full operation, administration and maintenance of the Canal in compliance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties negotiated with the United States in 1977.

You can visit the Canal by Land at The Miraflores Locks. The last locks before the Pacific Ocean. There is a visitor, with a very good museum and a great view of the locks. The easiest way to get there is to take the subway to Albrook Station and then a taxi. Taxi is about $8 for two. Entrance fee to museum and visitor centre is $15. A bit steep but worth it.

Steve outside Miraflores Locks

Unfortunately no ships were in the locks when they visited and the next was not scheduled to arrive until 3pm, so with limited time, they left to explore Panama City.

Miraflores Locks

Tug in Lock

Plaque Panama Canal

They headed off to the fish market

Fish Market


Cain at Fish Market

They had an excellent meal in the simple restaurant upstairs.


They then set off on foot and walking to the old town, Casco Viejo. On way they got great views of the new city and development. Reminiscent of a US City Skyline.Boats and City close up

Steve and Panama CityThe old town has a wall surrounding it.

City Wall

There are plenty of beautiful Spanish Colonial Style Buildings

Square Building

House with Palm Trees



Church and Statue

There are also some in need of restoration

old house

There are a few artists who are selling their works.

Reflecting on Paintings

Even a Kuna Stall.


The views of the new city from the old were great.

Cain on Wall

All this walking about got the boys thirsty. They were tempted to cool off in a courtyard pool they found.

Steve by pool

But instead they stopped at a BrewPub called La Rana Dorada and enjoyed a couple of pints of excellent English Style Pale Ale.

La Rana Dorada

Steve had to fly out the next day. Where did those 5 weeks go? He was great company and generous and hardworking crewmember. The male human is particularly upset that he is backing doing the dishes! Take care Steve we hope your return visit wont be too long

Steve from old city to new



Panama, Portobelo – Forts and farewells

We were a little concerned about coming to Portobelo.

Some people said the place was horrible, mostly because of the thieving cruisers who anchored their sinking ships there. Others said the place was rather nice. Old forts, museums, a few  restaurants and easy access on the bus to a big grocery store.

We decided to give the place a look see. Steve had gotten very San Blasé about all the lovely desert islands so we thought a little history culture and civilization was in order.

a-near fort view of anchorage

To get to Portobelo is a simple day sail about 50nm down the coast. Unfortunately it was a rolly beam sea to start and everyone aboard, including me, was a little ‘green around the gills’ except of course our company Steve. And this was his first ‘biggish’ sea voyage. At least we were rewarded with some fishing luck finally.

a-fishing success

We anchored up in the harbour just off an old Spanish fort and were rewarded with the symphony of bird song and the roar of howler monkeys.

After a good night sleep we were off to explore the area. First stop was getting me ashore for a walk. The boys were entertained by the hill side Spanish fort here and the great views out over the harbour.

a-anchorage from new fort

Next stop for the humans was town.  a-arial view of town

A little small and a little run down it still had its high lights. The church of the Black Christ, the town fortifications, the museum. A couple of mini-marts, bakeries, bars and restaurants. What more do humans need?

a-fort and anchorage

After their hot and sweaty day looking about they headed back to the boat for our last meal aboard all together. The boys are off to Panama City tomorrow. Steve’s holiday has come and gone much too fast.




And what a fantastic trip it has been – from learning a whole bunch of new stuff to experiencing a part of the world I had never heard of, much less thought about visiting, prior to Cain and April sailing here. Thanks to them for all that they have shown me and for being gracious enough to host me for so long and affording me the chance to catch up properly with them after so long apart.

It would be impossible not to fall in love with the San Blas islands; genuinely they are picture postcard perfect. You sense that time may not, however, be either on their side or kind to them – development and modernization looms large. They are not easy to get too but they reward you for the effort many times over.

This journey now nears its end but, as is so often the case, as this one draws to its close another looms for me. Spirit of Argo’s will take them elsewhere and not, for the immediate future, on the same path – sail well, sail fair and sail safe.

Panama, San Blas Islands, Lemon and Chichime Cays – In search of an anchorage with no sand flees

3-mig bitesMany of you regular readers will remember that we left our visitor Steve escaping crocodiles and succumbing to the thousands of hungry mouths of the sand flies found on the islands of San Blas.
Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to find him an island where he would no longer be ‘eaten alive’.  We accepted entertaining Steve aboard the boat, but not his thousands of ‘little friends’ who had taken such a shine to him.  Poor Steve, we did initially fail him.  But you will see we did learn from our mistakes.

We left our anchorage in the Eastern Holandes Cays and initially made our way west to the Middle Holandes and anchored off the rarely visited reefs off Wichubuala Cay.



During his visit, Steve become became very good at snorkeling and kayaking and even went so far as to learn how to combine the two.

1-Wi anchorage

Reefs run the full length of the island offering great snorkeling opportunities.

1-steve on Win beach

We had been to Wichubuala Cay before and had no problems.  But the sand flies here could smell Steve coming a mile away. No sooner did the poor guy come ashore than every sand flee for miles was alerted to the possibility of a free lunch.

So we did not stay here long.

1-sailing along the way
The search for an island or cay without sand flies continued.

1-island along the way

With Steve’s present ‘midges magnetism’ I would not even want to bring him any where near an island with even a single tree on it.

1-island with no migges

Finally we found Steve an island with minimal chance of infestation. Welcome to the cay we fondly renamed Kuna-Henge.  Do not laugh.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

1-Kuna stone hendge and Quinn
We found this little gem in the Eastern Lemon Cays. We were warned ‘You do not want to go there, it is too touristy’. But we found the snorkeling very good. In fact, the best yet in the San Blas Islands if you want to see a wide range of fish.
Being in a touristy section of the San Blas Islands is not all bad.

1-boys off for a last snorkel

After some snorkeling in the Lemon Cays we moved over to the south side of the Chichime Cays.

1-Chichime Cain on beach

1-Steve at Chichime

This anchorage had two great advantages. First it put us in an easy launching position for a trip west down the coast to Portobello and second the island here has a Kuna bar, open to the wind to keep the midges away!

1-chichime beer

1-last chance to buy a molarMy humans could not resist heading in for an ice cold pint.  Not too much mates as we have got an early start and a long day tomorrow.

We leave the lovely San Blas Islands behind and head off to the Panamanian port town of Portobello.
Wish us luck!




So the search for the ‘holy grail’ of San Blas islands that did not currently have an infestation of midges continued. And it appeared that this quest was answered when we did indeed stumble upon Kuna Henge. A small remote island that was uninhabited, had NO VEGETATION and NO STAGNANT WATER that should equate to NO BUGS. Nirvana for a man with more than 150 bites about his person.
What was even better was that the modern temple erected on this site looked worthy of a visit. So we headed over and as we approached it became clear that there was a sign erected here to greet us lowly pilgrims to this remote and surely most holy of places. What enlightenment would it afford us?
We got ever closer with due reverence (and a bottle of bug spray just in case) and hesitantly stepped forward to receive our future spiritual and moral guidance. What would these words of wisdom say? Would we be able to understand their true meaning? And the words said upon to us…


1-enlightenment (2)
And finally, with the beer once again running mysteriously running short, this is what a San Blas Ocado Home Delivery looks like….
1-visit by the veggy boat

The veggy boat visiting Spirit of Argo
TRUE DELIVERANCE in the form of a dug out, home made boat. Remember, if the answer is not beer you are probably asking the wrong question!
Onwards and upwards. Onto new adventures

Panama, San Blas Islands, Holandes Cays, Eastern Holandes – You know it is time to move on when:

Isn’t if funny how the smallest things can ruin your enjoyment of an anchorage.

We love this anchorage in the Eastern Holandes so much it takes a lot to make us move on.

We have put up with neighbours that like to skinny dip, charter boats with 15+ guests paddling by.  Also, straddled between two of the busiest anchorages in the Holandes, just a little bit of passing traffic.

None of this has ‘put us off’. We love having our own deserted island ‘usually’ to ourselves and a choice of reefs to snorkel and lovely views of sun rises and sun sets.


BUT you know it is time to leave an anchorage when…..

1) Your boat has become mistaken for a natural reef.

schooling-small-fishIt is true! Anchor in a spot long enough and passing shoals of fish will use the hull of the boat as shade and protection. It does not take long before you have a whole thriving colony living around your boat. At first it is entertaining. ‘Oh look at all the shoals of teaming tiny fish around the boat. Aren’t they pretty?’ But remember your food chains from high school science? Little fish attract bigger fish to feed on them.   Jacks and Cira came to chase our little shoaling fish around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey were particularly acrobatic in the mornings and evenings. Dinners became punctuated with loud splashes all around the boat that continued into the wee hours. Finally all this ‘hub bub’ attracted the big guys. Tarpin started schooling around the boat at night. Fishing rods came out of the water as these are the last thing anyone wants to catch. Still nothing that would make us move on YET.


2) But then you get some big time predators moving into the neighbourhood.

There are a few top predators in the San Blas Islands that take advantage of cruisers that stick to one anchorage for too long. These intelligent beasts have survived through the ice ages on their wits alone. They follow our routines and assess if there is any feeding advantages for them in our behavour. They are ‘ambush’ killers and one of their favorite snacks is domestic live stock and pets. Welcome to the salt water crocodiles of the San Blas Islands.

Happy to live in seclusion feeding on fish most of the time the sound of a barking dog is a tempting offer not easily ignored. These creatures are not restricted to any one island. They are great swimmers and will use this to their advantage to move from one feeding ground to the next. We watched in horror as a big one swam right by the back of the boat ‘checking out the menu’.

He continued swimming to the next island and we thought we had seen the last of him. But no. I will let Steve give you the full details in his VISITORS VIEW. But it appears this was just a rouge to give us the confidence to keep visiting our little deserted island and for him to organize his ambush.

You would think that would be enough to make anyone move, but not us. We were surrounded by a multitude of islands I could go walking on. As long as we did not follow a set routine and kept a look out, it was unlikely that the crocodile would sneak up on us again.

3-Palm islands

But it is the ‘little things’ that finally break you down.

3) When the ‘migges’ come a calling.

Migges, noseams and sand flies are just a few of the names given to these tiny, almost unseen flies that swarm and bite you on these islands. Like a mosquito, they usually come out and feed around dusk and are ‘put off’ by the wind. You are usually safe on open beaches well away from the bush.   You can go to the same beach a hundred times and it is lovely. But then, just the right conditions appear and, the place is swarming in migges. It is like a mass hatching or something. I, and some humans, are not bothered by their pesky bites. Unfortunately Steve is not one of us.

Time to change anchorages!


So you enjoy swimming in clear open water between these small tropical islands, and why not? The water is cooling, it keeps you reasonably fit and you get to stretch those ‘sea legs’ on land.

The sighting of the crocodile swimming past but away did not particularly bother me. I headed off much later in the day and swam a deep channel between the islands for about 30 minutes or so and then headed ashore. All good so far; the half weary eye for the croc across did not pick up anything too troubling. Not long after arriving it became clear that it was not the big stuff that was going to cause me the problems but the small stuff – the midges were swarming and enjoying the ‘fresh meat’. Barely able to see these small pests I was having no trouble feeling them as they settled into their freshly delivered ‘take away’. Not a time to hang about so I headed back intro the water but was a tad concerned by what I initially thought may be a couple of floating coconuts in the channel I would be taking to avoid getting cut up on the coral. I thought discretion may be the better part of valour and waited in the shallows as Cain kayaked over with Quinn. Cain arrived and his sharper eyes convinced him that this was a lurking crocodile – I was still not sure until the ‘coconuts’ started to track and follow the dog along the beach at a consistent 20′ out to sea. I was pretty sure, however, when a sudden surge meant the crocs tail came fully out of the water, raising its body up so that you could get a clear view of its 7′ length. And it was clearly tracking the dog; all very well as we could normally wait it out apart from the fact that I was getting eating alive and sitting in the shallows to use the water to keep the bugs off put you in striking range of the croc. It was like a tag team working on an opponent at a wrestling match. After waiting (or rather being sampled as part of the bug menu) for the best part of 45 minutes with the croc tracking our moves along the beach it became clear he would be able to outwait me – he clearly was comfortable out there and I was full of nip marks. So we got the dog aboard the kayak and tried to place him as best we could to ensure that a tip from the croc would not render him as the crocs snack, the midges having been sated by me as the first part of this native species buffet. As we paddled wide of the croc he again changed track and began to follow about 15′ behind the kayak. No worries if he stayed there – slightly more troubling when he chose to submerge and go out of view. It made for an increased tempo of paddling to get back to the boat pronto. Still the ultimate score was, thankfully, midges loads and the croc zero; though I am sure that at as much as we saviour delicacies such as corn fed chicken or sea grass lamb a chunk of free range, European, beer fed human may have slipped down rather nicely!

And finally, for all you folks who are getting peeved with pictures from paradise, remember everything has a price and here’s one to prove the point!

3-mig bites


Panama, San Blas Islands, Holandes Cays, Eastern Holandes – It is a hard life, but someone has to live it

2-sunrise and boat

Sunrise over the boats moored in the popular anchorage called the Swimming Pool in the Western Holandes Cays.

Of course my humans are being sarcastic about having a ‘hard time’.  The biggest hardship they have suffered is no internet for a day, running low on fresh fruit and veg and “worst of all’ running low on beer again.

If that is the worst they have to worry about, it really is not hard living!

1-boys debating the meaning of life on a beach

The boys discussing how they can conserve their meager beer supply.

The cruising community is so wonderful out here.  All the humans had to do was ask on the radio if anyone had anything to spare and ‘MAGIC’ they got loads of offers of help.  You would not find that in the Eastern Caribbean!


Me watching the humans run off and ‘mooch’ internet coupons off another boat.

So really, the only hardship the humans have is:


1-Off snorkelling

Off in search of the ‘elusive’ caves in the reef wall.

I know that ‘happy days’ and ‘having fun’ is boring to read about.  You want a little intrigue and controversy, don’t you?

Here is a little something to laugh at.

What happens when you spend too much time in the tropics?

1-Cain in blanket

Blankey at night when the thermometer dropped to 26*C and a breeze picked up!

Here are a few pictures of the Western Holandes area.

1-Cain and April on beach

Taking the humans for a walk.

1-Steve and second whale bone

With so many islands to explore you are bound to find something interesting.  We found this giant whale bone on Ogoppiriadup Cay.  Of course you have to get the ‘guest’ to pose beside it.  Doesn’t he look enthusiastic about that?

At first you do not succeed, make him pose again!

1-Steve and whale bones

More whale bones on display at BBQ island.  Steve all dressed up for the Easter Sunday pot luck.

With supplies running low the humans tried to get imaginative with what they had.  Some one told them fish head soup was good.

1a-fish head soup

But just when all was looking grim the ‘veggy’ boat showed up with fresh supplies.

1a-baskets full

They may call it the ‘veggy’ boat but he brings more than veggies from the mainland.  He also brings CERVEZA!


So the humans have been saved from near disaster.  So life is not so hard any more.

2-sun rise close up with swimming pool anchorage

Sun rise in the Western Holandes.  Get your rums out because you know the next photo will be the set for a SUNDOWNER.



Well while we continue to enjoy ‘San Blaze’ I could not help but notice that some folks take things far more seriously out here, especially on the radio system that keeps everyone in contact.

Every day, at a set time, there is a controlled broadcast between the boats that are in the area. They do ensure that there are no medical emergencies or any other issues that boats need assistance with – its how many  folks get things sorted and is really useful but it does bring forth some interesting and varied discussions.

The first that threw me was Mike announcing he was calling in ‘from the hot tub’ – that must be one hell of a boat I thought for him to be sat foaming in there; turns out the ‘hot tub’ is an area right next to the swimming pool near to where we currently are anchored.

Other ‘hot’ topics have included the following –

How to correctly burn and dispose of rubbish; not to purchase out of season shellfish from the locals; how to enforce the apparent local turtle fishing ban; how to behave correctly and in accordance with veggie boat etiquette and so the list goes on. I was curious about the veggie boat etiquette – apparently some people had displayed very ‘bad form’ in taking their dinghy to the boat rather than waiting for the boat to come to them and there was no shortage of radio traffic to very clearly put them right. Still, when your days this busy, woe betide any person who takes their pick of the tomatoes out of turn.

The latest discussion has just involved a surplus of purchased wine and how to ‘deal’ with this issue. Needless to say the crew of Spirit of Argo were able to offer some practical disposal advice! As they say in Turkey – sharife!!!



Panama, San Blas Islands, Holandes Cays, Eastern Holandes – Feeling a little ‘San Blase’

[Sorry guys put we ran out of internet out here in the outer cays of the San Blas Islands. Until we get some more credit you will have to put up with just text messages via the miracle of Single Side Band radio]


We are anchored up in the Western end of the Holandes Cays. Just another anchorage off another beautiful deserted island. You may think we are over exaggerating but the islands and the waters of this area are PICTURE POSTCARD PERFECT. So much so you can easily get blasabout it. We have nick named the feeling ‘San Blas.
We had saved the ‘jewel’ of the San Blas Islands for the last section of Steve’s holidays. The group of cays, known as the Holandes Cays, is the furthest from the mainland giving it the cleanest water and the best snorkeling. We arrived just in time to enjoy an Easter Sunday potluck on one of the local islands.
Boating brings people together with a common interest ‘boats’. Cruisers come from a large diversity of countries and social/economic backgrounds that would normally divide them. But put us together and we can always find something to talk about and boating. Not so easy for poor Steve. I could see his ‘eyes glaze over’ as an Australian catamaran owner boasted about the ‘apparent angle to wind’ he can achieve. At least the food at the buffet was good.
The other thing these ‘get togethers’ of cruisers remind us is the age range of cruisers has really changed. Especially here in the Western Caribbean. For a lot of North Americans this is a cheap and easy cruising ground for the winter months. Easy day hops from island to island and economical yards to store their trusted ‘sea faring caravan’. This area has become the winter playground of a large number of retirees. No hurricanes, consistent trade winds, clear/clean water to snorkel and swim and short sailing distances. Who can blame them for dominating the area. With the new road in from Panama City I predict this area will be the next ‘Bahamas’. Another marina/storage yard has opened up a ‘day hop’ west of the area, bringing the choice up to 3 marinas you can leave your boat for the summer or stock up on supplies from the City. *It will not be long until you struggle to find an anchorage all to yourself.
As ‘popular with cruisers’ as the Holande Cays are we have came out here to get away from the Kuna populated islands along the coastline. We have found their fishing techniques have cleaned many reefs of the majority of fish and all the conch. With the recent acquisition of outboard motors, this has extended as far as the Coco Bandera Cays as well. On these Cays we were fortunate enough to see turtles, nurse sharks and have dolphins playing around the boat, but the reefs felt distinctly empty of any game fish. We watched as groups of fisherman came and worked together to net as many fish as they could off the very reefs we had come to snorkel and explore. It is the Kuna Indian’s home and one of their few sources of trade income and food, so it is difficult as ‘outsiders’ to pass judgment.
Developing a form of income from tourism has been difficult for the locals. Up until recently there was nothing for them to buy with the tourist dollar anyway. Each of the individual islands was controlled separately by chefs and there was little or no group organization. With the new road into the Carti area from Panama City all that has changed. Many islands have ‘given up’ traditional Kuna practices and Western values have moved in. The low cost of mobile phones and the availability of internet has linked the world to possibilities at your finger tips. But even so, getting organized and finding a way to ‘tax the tourist dollar’ and distribute the wealth has been difficult.
There has been the implementation of a monthly fee for tourists visiting the Kuna territory. $20/person/month. Steve was charged when you entered the boarders of the territory by car. We were charged when we first signed into the country. But with the majority of visitors to the islands coming by sea, it is difficult for them to collect this fee. Especially from cruisers who often believe that anchoring should be FREE. Many visitors do not check into the country of Panama when visiting these islands to avoid the fees. When Kuna officials do occasionally come out by boat to the outer cays to collect fees, like minded cruisers announce their locations, so other boats who can avoid them.
Some cruisers refuse to pay the fees because they do not see where the money is going. Cruisers see rubbish in the water, the loss of Kuna traditional ways and no benefit to themselves. I have no idea how the funds are allocated, but I see piles of rubbish and lobster heads (out of season) stacked at the back of islands left by cruisers. So I think there is some people being hypocritical. I have heard some of the money has been used to fulfill local requests for outboard engines. As water is the main form of transportation here I can see their desire for these. Opportunities to earn income transporting people, goods, and drinking water abound in the area. The ‘veggy’ boats, that the cruisers here in the Holandes so rely on, are just one example.
So maybe everything is not perfect in paradise, or maybe, things are so perfect we have to look for the imperfections?
Whichever it is we have to enjoy these beautiful islands while we can and not get ‘San Blas.


You can see how the area may well be starting a significant change. That may not be for the better for the environment or how we view it but is it for us to ask the local Kuna to struggle on with a traditional way of life that we simply would not endure?

The ‘firsts’ still continue for me. Old hat for you folks who have done the whole swimming with dolphins thing but to have dolphins circling around the boat picking off fish while I sat and enjoyed breakfast was another magical memory. Fantastic to observe at close hand the effortless, serene movements of these creatures – we are clearly in their environment.

The terminology still continues to occasionally vex me – a cruiser get together still means something else in my mind! The conversation is dominated by two differing types; those who enjoy the places the boat gets them to and those who seem to enjoy the sailing more than the places the boat lands them in. The conversations of the former are a whole lot more accessible than the latter.

‘Altering your draught with dagger boards’? A change of beer brought to you by a waiter with a certain style of tray? No – changing the depth of your boat to increase its speed with supplementary equipment apparently.