Adventure Sail to Panama


Isla Porvenir, San Blas Islands, Panama


October 15, 2007

Leaving Miramar, we turned east and followed the Atlantic coast of Panama towards Punta San Blas and the outlying islands of Kuna Yala.  We were heading for an island called Isla Porvenir, which is an official Panamanian Customs and Immigration check in location, but what makes it different is that it is run by the Kuna Indians, and as a result, it has a reputation for being a much friendlier and less bureaucratic place to check in – much better than Colon. We had hoped to get to Porvenir Monday afternoon in time to take care of the check in with the officials before they retired for the day, but our estimated time of arrival was past five ‘o clock local time.   As we approached, Mike got on the VHF radio and called Porvenir.  The Customs & Immigration officials answered on the radio and said they could accommodate us, but with overtime charges of $20.  No Problem Mon! 

We anchored next to Porvenir just past 5pm and Capt Mark hurried over in the dinghy to meet Eduardo.  Capt Mark was headed towards the town dock in the dinghy when a man from an anchored sailboat flagged him down.  Mark stopped over and the man introduced himself as Eduardo Lopez.  They both made way to the town dock and after filling out a ton of paperwork, Capt Mark had the 4 of us and Stray Cat checked in for 3 months!  Wahoo!!  We celebrated that night with a few rums and a great dinner.  It was wonderful to all be able to sleep through the night without having to stand watches and battle squalls and freighters.  The sleep didn’t last long however, as we had to make sure that we were awake to pick up Walter at 6:30am from the Porvenir airport.  

We were all up early the next day, Tuesday the 16th, preparing for Walter’s arrival.  We were having our morning coffee in the cockpit, when we heard an airplane flying above us.  We watched the pilot’s deft maneuvering as he landed the twin engine, high wing, turbo prop at the Porvenir airport.  Capt Mark sped over in the dinghy to greet Walter and he was back in about 15 minutes with no Walter.  We decided that Walter had missed his flight when we heard the familiar sound of engines overhead.  Another of the same kind of twin engine buzzed the anchorage and then landed.  Another plane!

This time, we thought, Walter must be aboard, so Capt. Mark, Mike and Kate dinked over to collect our new crew member.  Sure enough, we found him just as advertised, with his video camera, already filming the buildings and uniqueness of Porvenir.  And so we added Walter – a Russian who has lived in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but now works in NY and LA.  Walter is making a documentary film about the San Blas Islands, and Stray Cat and crew will be his transportation and production support team for the week or so that he is on board. 

And so, with a new member on board, Stray Cat raised anchor and began the next chapter in the Panama Adventure.  Just before we set sail a couple of local ladies in a Kuna canoe called a “cayuco” paddled out to Stray Cat and were showing us some items they had made. They had beaded jewelry that is traditional for the Kuna women to wear, a few shirts & carved coconuts, which were made into purses.  The women were beautiful and dressed in the traditional Kuna attire; one lady had gorgeous facial tattoos, which seemed rather tribal.  Another interesting thing is that in Kuna Yala it is a matriarchal society, so the women are the heads of the household.  We bought a few things from the Kuna women, took a few pictures and headed off to Wichub Huala.  We had made our first contact with the native Kuna people!  The Kuna people live on the islands of San Blas and have immunity to the Panmanian laws.  They have a very traditional culture with a few chiefs in each tribe and a congresso hut where the locals gather at least once a week to talk about any issues.  It is mandatory for all the people of the tribe to attend the meetings.  It is a very family oriented society and there are a few traditional Kuna Villages left, but most are turning to a more modern way of life.  It seemed to us that there were not many Kuna's between the ages of 20 and 40 on the island and we were told that many young people go to Panama when  they are old enough and some eventually will return to the Kuna way of life, but many stay in Panama.

Stray Cat Sailing!  Wow, that's a new concept!

Porvenir in the distance

Capt. Stuart on watch

The yellow flag of quarantine, you must fly it before checking in with Customs & Immigration

There were a couple of other boats in the anchorage

Porvenir is where the airport is, if you can believe that

Mike on the bow as we approach Porvenir

Capt Mark guiding us in, note the very green bananas from Jamaica Mon

See the reef where the waves are breaking


The palm trees and the seawall at Porvenir

The 2 story yellow building in the middle is the Museo de Kuna or Kuna Museum 

The building with the red roof is the Customs & Immigration building

Looks like a homebuilt trimaran from France, it was huge

Capt. Mark picked up Eduardo Lopez from the small monohull sailboat on the left

Isla Porvenir at dusk

The Panamanian Coast Guard pulled in during the night

The mainland

Wichub Huala in the distance

An Osprey feasting on some fish


The Kuna Museum


A Cayuco, or a dugout canoe with sails

A very small island right next to Wichub Huala

Yummy Fish!

Whaddayou lookin' at Willis??

Cayuco with an outboard!

La Vida Loca!

Nice Speedo!!

Seems to be the bathing suit of choice around here

Hauling up the crab or lobster pots

More local fishermen in cayucos, you can see they also have the sailing rig inside the cayuco, the mast is hanging over the bow

The Coast Guard was out for a photo shoot

Three very different vessels

You can see the hole drilled into the seat of the cayuco, that is where the mast would be placed to sail the boat.

The cayuco also has a long skulling type of stick that you can see inside of the boat, it is used to pole the boat in very shallow water

Kuna hut in Porvenir

Kuna Yala Producers of Molas

A local home

Capt Mark & Kate - We are official!  

The sign says Welcome to Caigirgordup (Kuna name for the island) and below that translates to - 

"I want the culture of my race to endure inside of the Universal frame"

Customs and Immigration Offices where we checked in

Stray Cat anchored in the distance

Kuna Yala in a cayuco

Kuna Yala mujeres, or mothers, in traditional dress

Our first encounter with Kuna Yala mujeres upclose and personal


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