Travel Journey 11 | Kuna Yala

Travel Journey 11 | Kuna Yala  

1 december 2018 – 10 januari 2019

We leave from Aruba with the wind behind us and there is a trip of about 600 miles ahead. The gennaker bulges nicely with a light breeze and with the flat water under Aruba we have a good speed. Niels and I alternate each other in four-hour shifts and soon the sea starts to get a little bumpier. Fortunately we have baked a large load of pancakes and also pasta for two days so we don’t have to cook for now.

When we sail towards the second night my service starts. It is a turbulent sea and I am afraid that I might become seasick. Fortunately, this is not forthcoming and we still have a good course. It is dark outside and the windows are full of salt crystals of skipping waves. If I suddenly hear some sort of bang, it takes a while before I realize what is happening. The speed is falling and when I put my head around the window I see that our gennaker is missing. I yell at Niels who is sleeping in the back that our sail is missing and he jumps out of bed. Together we walk to the front of the ship, holding onto the sea railing because of the strong fluctuations now that we no longer have speed. The fall that the gennaker pulls into the mast appears broken and the 80 square meter sail is now hanging next to the ship. In order not to damage the sail, we bring it in quickly but carefully. Everything seems to have gone well and we put the wet salty sail in a bag. The rescue operation takes no more than fifteen minutes and when we roll out the breeding to get some speed again the peace has returned.


When we have more than 500 miles on it and we are sailing 100 miles off the coast above Barranquilla, Niels points to the chart plotter. What will ‘Discol Water’ mean? Niels asks. “I have no idea,” I say, “but I can imagine it.” Without paying too much attention to it, we sail towards the 4th night with a lovely breeze. Niels wakes me up in the middle of the night because my shift starts. “I’d better take your bread from the fridge,” he says. “And grab a bottle of water straight away and go to the toilet,” he adds. “You will be stuck behind the steering wheel for the next four hours, it is going very well”. Outside it is pitch dark and the wind has strengthened to a thick wind force 7 with peaks of 35 knots! We hear waves turn behind us and every now and then a wave comes into the boat from the side. Everything on board gets wet, including ourselves! The log shows a continuous speed of 9 knots with peaks of 15. The troubled sea and strong wind make Stef, our automatic pilot, unable to perform his work properly. The ship surfs off the waves and shoots one time to the left, the other to the right. We decide to reduce our services from four to three hours because it takes a lot of effort to keep the ship on course. Tired and wet, I crawl into bed after every shift.

When the sun rises the next morning we realize that it might have been better that it was so dark last night. Every now and then the waves look pretty threatening. The advantage of this strong wind is that we have traveled quite a few miles and the Kuna Yala (the San Blas Islands) are 80 miles away at the start of the day. We are almost there.

As we sail around the 365 islands of Kanu Yala, we notice how beautiful it is here. On the one hand the Caribbean Sea finds its last way here towards the reef, on the other hand we see the high contours of the mountains of Panama. An impassable jungle hides around the mountains, covered with a thick pack of clouds with a constant supply of rain. The contrast between the two is great and that makes sailing pretty special here. There is less wind here than in the rest of the Caribbean and the waves have almost disappeared thanks to the reef.

After roaming around for a few days we anchor just in front of the white sand of the “Holandes Cayes”. The next day we explore 1 of the islands called Banedup. After Niels and I snorkel for an hour on the hunt for lobsters, we explore the island. We walk around on the uninhabited island, which is as big as about 10 soccer fields. We walk barefoot over the snow-white sand under the overhanging palm trees. You would almost think that you were here alone in the world until you look at the tide line. The beach is literally covered with plastic over the entire length of the island, too much to clean up in an afternoon. The last part of the round island is very difficult to access and we cross a bit.

When we get back to the water we see a tree trunk floating where we had been snorkeling an hour ago. If the tree trunk suddenly moves against wind and current direction, we look a little better. It turns out not to be a tree trunk, but a crocodile about 2.5 meters long. Moments later his buddy also floats to the top and they float there with the two of them. We keep seeing the swimming for that afternoon and decide to go back to the boat.

Sergio comes along in his home-made canoe, made from 1 tree trunk. Sergio is the Saila of 1 of the islands, or the boss. To sit in the canoe are 2 sons of 8 and 10 years old. While we make his sons happy with coke, Niels shows Sergio our plastic project. We explain what we do in our best Spanish. He shares our concerns about the large quantities of plastic on these islands and we decide to hold a clean-up campaign the next morning.

The next morning we leave with a few small boats with the Kuna’s to an island full of plastic. We go to the island that was next to yesterday’s island, since we don’t want bitten children’s arms. We are armed with empty pockets and a few broad smiles on the beach of Tiadup. In total we are cleaning up for an hour and soon our bags are filled with colored pieces of plastic. In the afternoon we agreed to shred the plastic on one of the other islands and make it into a vase together. Kuna’s come from all over to look and talk about the recycling process. It is great to work so far from home with the people here. But there is so much plastic in it that what we do is just a drop in the ocean.

We are at an island that has been nicknamed the BBQ island. Such large fish are often caught here that they are too big for a family and they are thrown on the bbq on this island to share with other sailors. Niels, Wijnand and I also decide to go fishing with the dinghy. Between the reefs a channel has been formed through which we sail. The waves are high here and we swing in all directions. Soon Niels has a hold and he catches a nice snapper. Shortly thereafter I also get a bit and we catch another Spanish mackerel. The fish are indeed of a caliber that we cannot put in our freezer compartment and we invite two other Dutch boats to come and eat. While I am cleaning the fish on the swimming platform and throwing the fish scraps overboard I see a fin emerge above the water. When I stand up I see a dark shadow of about two meters that seems to be very interested in our catch. Within five minutes, four sharks will circle our boat. We hang the fish bones on a rope behind the ship and after a moment’s hesitation one of the sharks strikes. What a spectacle. The next day we have sharks swimming around the boat again and I decide to take my diving mask and snorkel and jump into the water. In the beginning this is a bit awkward and I flee into the dinghy when a shark approaches, but soon I know how to let go of that fear and I can see these beautiful animals under water.

Before we know it, it’s Christmas and our inflatable Santa with a disco light makes an impression on the back deck. Different Kuna’s in their self-made canoes come to see our beautiful Santa Claus. In the evening we eat again on board with Marlies and Wijnand from the Ocean Goose, Sonja and Hans from the Ikinoo, Lout and Marlene from the Rafiki and Shelley from the North Wind. These are the four Dutch boats that we travel a lot with. Again, self-caught fish is on the menu, this time barracuda. After dinner we enjoy the shark show again after we throw the fish overboard.

Boxing Day we set sail for the mainland. Two girlfriends from the Netherlands, Annick and Irene, come to celebrate New Year’s Eve on board. The Kuna’s have banned chartering with guests here and have therefore blocked the only road to this area. Fortunately we made some friends at the Kuna’s (money makes friends here) and we know how to draw up a plan to have Annick and Irene come on our ship. After a three-hour taxi ride in a 4×4 jeep through the jungle and another two-hour boat ride, the ladies get on board. Plan succeeded.

A few days later we plan a trip on the river with our dinghy. The Rio Dulce runs straight through the jungle and flows into the area where we are anchored. Already after 100 meters sailing we get stuck for the first time and we have to continue wading through the water. This promises something! Fortunately, the river soon becomes deeper and we can resume our journey. Kuna Indians sit squatting next to the river to wash their clothes and large boats, loaded with tons of fresh water, fly up and down the river at full speed. They know the shallows better than we do. The muddy water quickly changes into crystal clear water with high green crops on both sides. Birds chatter and lizards run across the water when they see us coming. Large parts of the river will not be visible from the sky through large overhanging trees and it smells of blossoms here. We sail on at a slow pace, paying attention to whether there are any fallen trees just below the surface of the water. Every now and then the river becomes shallower and we have to get out of the boat in order not to get aground. The idea that there are crocodiles in this area makes the ladies stay stoic in the boat. And we just lug around! If we can no longer continue sailing, a walk of a few hours and a refreshing swim in the river will follow. Then it’s time to go back again and just before dark we come back to our boat.


For New Year’s Eve we sail again to our favorite island: BBQ Island. A band seems to have been arranged and the fact that a cold can of Heineken only costs 1 dollar means that we will probably enjoy ourselves there. More than two hundred sailors have come to this island to celebrate New Year, where normally only one family lives. An exuberant party follows and we shoot off some of our emergency arrows that have passed the date. Half of the arrows do not go off and the other half falls despondently from the sky without opening an intended parachute. Fortunately we didn’t need it. When Niels and Lout suddenly stand on stage singing a moment later a person thunders over the entire stage with guitars, we know it’s time to go back to the boat.

The boat life suits the ladies well and before we know it is time to hoist the sails and sail towards Colon. We have a wonderful trip with dolphins around the boat several times and make a stopover on Linton Bay. When we arrive in Colon the next day, it is time for Annick and Irene to go home again. We give them an extra big hug, because it will be very difficult to visit us in the Pacific in the coming year.