Shelter Bay to San Blas


We left Shelter Bay at 3 p.m. with a course towards the San Blas Islands. We didn’t think we were going to be able to leave, because earlier that morning we had turned on our chartplotter for other reasons and it worked fine for the first 2-3 minutes, whereupon it gave a “BEEP” and died. No resuscitation could bring it back. What a piece of shit! Ok – get out my electrical toolbag and get to work. First measure the voltage going into the damned plotter. Hmmm – not very much. Probably that damned power supply wire. Mario and I had soldered it on BVI and I had soldered it again on Antigua and it probably still wasn’t right. We had not been able to pull the plug apart and had to solder the wires back on a tiny strand of wire sticking out of the plug. Just not good enough. This time, I decided to use violence if necessary to get the plug apart. An hour later, the plug was (mostly) pulled apart and I could get I soldered properly. I grabbed the soldering gun from below and got to work.

Soldering in an open cockpit is not the best of working conditions. Firstly the wind is blowing so it is difficult to get the soldering iron hot enough to melt the solder. We put some pillows up to shelter against the wind and after a fair amount of effort and a lot of swearing (only from me – Vinni doesn’t swear unless something isn’t working for her), the power supply wire was ready. Remount it, and press the button – nada, nothing, shit.

That meant that the cockpit locker had to be emptied (there is a helluva lot of crap in that cockpit locker), then unscrew and pull off the inside wall of the locker and then I could get at the wiring. The chartplotter has a fuse mounted directly on the wire – naturally this fuse had blown. We have many different spare fuses on board – but – as you may have guessed – not this one. But we did have one that could work and I put it in.

Ok – so Carsten what are you bitching about – change the fuse, turn the damned thing on and forget about it.

Only it didn’t work and I was getting grey hairs (ok – all my hair is grey, but I was speaking figuratively – not literally). While I was busy moaning and bitching, Vinni said that we should remember that we had problems with the power supply on the radar and could that have anything to do with it? Even though I hate to admit that she is right in regards to something technical (my macho manliness being at stake) – well she was right. I disconnected the radar and the chartplotter started right up.

OK Vinni – I give you full credit.

But I was the one that pulled everything apart and soldered everything back together again, so I’ll take my small victories when I can………………………..

The weather report had said that we could expect 1.5 meter waves, but real life showed that they were lying (again) as soon as we exited the breakwater. No mercy here and the waves were at least 2 meters with 3 meter waves coming quite regularly, thank you. The winds, as usual when Vinni and Carsten go sailing, were right on our  nose and blowing 15-20 knots. Ah yes, the best laid plans of mice and men…….

Vinni, unfortunately, got seasick and she had to take a seasick pill. These pills make her very tired and drowsy and nauseous the first few hours. So our night consisted of broken sleep, and 2 ½ hour watches.

But we weren’t going very far – only about 80 nm from the canal to the Islands, but the first 20 nm we had to tack. For, all you non-nautical types, tacking means having to sail first to port at a 45 degree angle to the wind then to starboard at 45 degrees to the wind, which means that overall, you will sail 30nm to get 20nm ahead.

That’s no fun, especially if there are big waves (which we were sailing directly against) and you have to keep a wary eye on the ships that are at anchor, getting ready to anchor or weighing anchor or exiting the canal (there are close to 300 ships at anchor here).

We made it safely through the first 20nm and could then turn to starboard and get the wind and the waves in from the side – which made it all much, much more comfortable. We’d made better time than we thought, so already a 4 a.m. we were reefing down our sails to slow down so we wouldn’t get there before dawn.

Chichime island, our first stop in San Blas is a relatively straight forward entrance to the lagoon, but since we hadn’t tried it before, we decided discretion was the better part of valor and not attempt the entrance until it was well light and preferably with the sun at our backs so we could see any coral heads that might be lying in wait in the channel. The channel is narrow and turns, first to port, then starboard and then port again.

You do tend to get a bit nervous when you see a ship with the words “San Blas Ferry” painted on the side, lying hard up on the reef where it has obviously ground aground and wrecked.


we saw this from a distance when we got close to Chichime – the small boat in the foreground is a sailboat that ran aground there also

One would think that the skipper of the local ferry would know the reefs and channels out here like the backs of their hands?  Just to make sure that the adrenalin pumps a little bit faster – there is also a sailboat lying on the reef.

OK – so maybe we need to be a bit careful here.


yep – it was the San Blas ferry

We close on the channel (no buoys here!) that we can see on our chartplotter and naturally we need to sail between two reefs where we can see the waves breaking over them. The port side reef looks very close indeed (at least to me), even though our charts say we have good water here. Our echo says we have 5-6 meters. First we turn a bit to port then we turn to starboard right around the reef lurking there.


right through there then turn to starboard

Are we having fun yet?

Damned right we’re having fun!

Well, the reef to starboard is at least visible, or perhaps I should say parts of it are visible and ticking up out of the water, the rest is submerged and the water is boiling all around it. Just a smidgeon to port and Whoaa! Here we are – in the lagoon, 10 meters of water under us and now we just need to find a place to drop the hook. There are six other boats and lots of room.


Chichime viewed from outside the channel and reef

Vinni helms us to a suitable spot and I push “down” on the remote control and the anchor slides right out and down in the deep.


a real tropical island

Five minutes later the hook is down, dug in and we have set our “snubber”. Normally we would drink a beer to celebrate, but today we are both so tired that all we do is secure the boat and drop straight into our bunk.

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