What do you do when you get an Argentine, an Israeli traveling with an Australian passport, an English women, a Canadian, an Italian, a Colombian and three Americans together? Why you sail to Colombia.
Part I–Booking a sailboat and actually leaving.
Booking a sailboat to sail from Panama to Colombia is hardly a straight forward business transaction, after all, this is Latin America. While in Panama City, I met people who had been waiting over two weeks to get a boat.
I started looking within 48 hours at Casco Viejo and soon met a French couple who said they were sailing in two days. I told them I would not be ready to leave so soon as I had just arrived. They then said it would probably be four days as they needed to get at least 10 passengers for their 70 footer. As day four approached, they informed me that they only had three people and were not sure when they would sail. I never saw them in the city again. Strike one!
I started talking with three guys (Evan, Chris and Chris) and a girl (Bonnie) with whom I had connected in Bocas and we decided to work together. Both hostels have boards with boat dates. As I was to find out, these are only plans and you really never have a commitment until you have sailed away. We talked to various skippers and their agents, finally finding a boat that needed only three more top sail. Bingo! We are ready. Later that day, we were informed that a wealthy family had chartered the boat and it was no longer available. Strike Two!
Getting a little discouraged I returned to my Hospedeja to find a note from Evan that he had definitely found a captain and we would move to the boat the following, Thursday evening. We would stay there two nights and then set sail Saturday night under a full moon. So we packed up and set off the next morning for Portobello on the north Panamanian coast.
Although only 80 kilometers or so, it was nonetheless an all day trip with a transfer in Colon, a rather nasty and dangerous city at the north end of the canal. Arriving in Portobello late in the afternoon, we met Humberto the skipper of the 42 foot Odyssey II. We inspected the boat and stowed our gear. Thursday and Friday evenings we went ashore to eat and bond, returning to the boat to sleep. Friday and Saturday were busy with getting the boat ready and trips back to Colon for provisions and ATM visits.
Saturday evening Humberto cooked a dinner of lobsters and crab legs and announced that the weather was rough and that we would leave at 5:00 a.m. Sunday instead. Now we have already spent two nights on the boat at anchor and talking to other travelers in town have heard some horror stories of drunken and drug- crazed captains, et cetera, and yes, some doubts are beginning to accumulate. However, at 5:00 a.m., we lift anchor and take off. Our first stop is the San Blas Islands, home of the Kuna Yala.