spacer.gif (79 bytes)
spacer.gif (79 bytes)
spacer.gif (79 bytes)
spacer.gif (79 bytes)
spacer.gif (79 bytes)
spacer.gif (79 bytes)

The Two Captains


November 25, 2000
Snug Harbor, between Apaitup & Kaymatar islands, San Blas
Latitude: 09-19.70N, Longitude: 078-15.10W

We have heard the San Blas Islands described as "the closest to the South Pacific you can get without actuallygoingthrough the canal." When we pulled into Snug Harbor, a group of four islands and two islets two days beforeThanksgiving, we felt the saying fit. Instead of a large humpy island like Piños, or crowded ones like Usutupu or Achutpu, or mainland bays like Mono, we had pools of deep blue water defined by shallow reefs glittering beneath the surface and palm-lined islets with sandy beaches. It was a sunny day with plenty of wind, (lets crank in those amps!), but the water was flat and the boat sat steady. Perrrrrrfection!

Snug Harbor got its name from New England schooner-men that used to sail here to trade for coconuts. To me this made a nice connection with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, which it looked like we'd be celebrating on our own as there wasn't another boat in sight. However, the next day Cathy & Bob of the Tayana 37 Briana sailed in to make good an earlier invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. We had, by the way, a delightful T-day dinner with them featuring the sailor's favorite micro-turkeys (Cornish hens!), stuffing, gravy, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, peas, and cornmeal herb bread. No one's locker gave forth either a can of cranberry sauce or of pumpkin for a pie, so for dessert we made do with Bob's special chocolate mousse and some champagne our friends on Sandi Lee had given me for my birthday. The cruising life calls for all sorts of sacrifices!

Our fleeting isolation has been whittled away day by day as more boats have found their way here. Some of them are not even from our cruising group! Imagine! Other boats! Of course, in the San Blas, no matter how far you may think you are from a town, it is not so far that the Kuna won't find you in their ulus (dugouts). Our first visitors were fishermen who sold us some small lobsters and our first crab. Then we were sold some coconuts. Then a mobile sahila came for our fees. Then "Mr. Brown" who took our burnable trash. Etc. Etc. Etc. Obviously it wasn't long before word got back to the town, and there began a steady stream of mola salespeople, initially the same fishermen and coconut tenders with their wives' offerings tucked in a plastic bag in the back of their shorts, then eventually ladies and kids.

The most unexpected mola salesmen we've had were Sean and Stu, two American teenagers doing six months in Playon Chico via AFS student exchange. They paddled out with their host "sisters", frankly admitted to being "used" by their host mothers in hopes of their English facilitating sales, and generally ate up a few hours of English conversation between the three boats that were then anchored here. Frankly, I suspect what they would really like to have eaten up were a couple of greasy American cheeseburgers! We did buy two molas, and we learned a lot from their "inside" perceptions.

One day we dinghied to town, stopping on the way at Iskartupu, a tiny green jewel of an island dedicated to a Kuna-run resort - "Sapibenega, The Kuna Lodge". We'd noticed it as we sailed by when they saluted us with a toot on a conch shell! A group had just left and they had a few days before the next, a group from Spain, and although things were definitely relaxed (the women in shorts and tank tops instead of traditional dress (Aha! Caught 'em!), they received us warmly and gave us a tour of the premises. We were quite impressed: each room in the traditionally-built cane and thatch huts has real beds as well as hammocks, modern bathroom facilities (including eco-friendly composting toilets) and 12-volt lighting for around $75 a night, all inclusive (except beer!) Activities include "presentations of Kuna dances and other cultural manifestations (?)", fishing, hiking into waterfalls, snorkeling at an offshore reef, and a chance to paddle round and even sail in your own dugout canoe! The four of us arranged to go back for dinner late that afternoon, and we enjoyed a nicely presented meal of lobster, coconut rice and plantain patties. Pepsi was included; beer was extra. It was not the $4 steal that we had in Ustupu, and frankly it was almost exactly the meal we'd cooked for ourselves the night before…but it is
always nice to be served! (Anybody who'd like information about The Kuna Lodge can contact Paliwitur Sapibe, Sapibenega, The Kuna Lodge, Playon Chico, Kuna Yala; Telephone 299 9116 in Panama!)

The town of Playon Chico was a bit disappointing. We had no warm reception of adults or children when we pulled up to the dock, perhaps because we didn't arrive in the big boat but snuck in by dinghy. Nobody guided us to a
sahila, but when Cathy expressed an interest in buying some "fruttab," a rather laconic teenager did end up taking us to a brand new cement building that looked much like a jail to us, but turned out to be a new "bank". The "bank's" three rooms were currently piled high with coconuts in one room, plantains in another, and green bananas in the third. The man in charge, a sahila-looking gentleman, was the only welcoming soul we encountered. He bonded right away with Don on the basis of two days in Indianapolis on what sounded like quite the tour of the US some years ago. He was happy to converse about his town, which is struggling between the old ways and the new. Playon Chico has two schools, a technological school and an agricultural school, but one negative aspect of this is that Playon Chico has salaried people who can buy food while others must get it the hard way. The hard way - subsistence agriculture and fishing - suffers at this time of year when the seas are up. This prevents the dugouts from fishing outside the barrier reefs. On the other hand, we learned from our AFS students that a McDonalds airplane flies into town twice a week to buy lobster for
McDonald's lobster rolls in Panama City! (Stu, the AFS student was trying to work up his nerve to beg them to bring him some burgers!) As we wandered our way back to the dock, we did find a pack of children to dog our steps, but these kids seemed to lack the sparkle we'd seen in Ustupu. However they have good memories, because they paddled out to find their buddy "Don"several days later!

Yesterday, as the swell began to lay down a bit, we went exploring by dinghy and snorkel hoping to find some reefs worthdiving. Outside were some complex coral reefs, but viz was still low and fish non-existent, so we left the scuba gearstowed! We did find a gorgeous lagoon behind the fourth, hidden-from-view island of the cluster. The shallow water coral there, filling up the space that would have made a gorgeous anchorage, was healthy and beautiful, but still no fish.

Speaking of food from the sea, we just bought three more crabs. I can't end this update without a little account of cooking our first crab. These are big guys, about 6-7" across the carapace, with 1-2 wicked looking claws (depending on what fate has befallen them). Our instructions told us to dismember them before cooking, but didn't mention how to kill them. We
ended up steaming him whole and dismembering later. Problem is getting him into the pot! Don dropped him into the steamer on his back, shoving the bigclaw in under the lid. The other legs stuck out motivating Don to reach for the camera. Before he could turn back, the protruding legs started ejecting one by one, flying across the stove, down in back, etc! Getting the meat out of the cooked body was his next challenge. Instructions said "separate the top carapace from the body", which didn't look likely to him, so, being a man, he made a few exploratory bashes on the chest plate instead with a tenderizing mallet, which got him nothing but a bunch of guts. Imagine his astonishment when he went back to the original plan and the carapace lifted right off! Lest anyone think I'm making sexist cracks with my "man" comment, let just confess right here and now that this girl was shirking all dismemberment activities as much as possible!

We are, however, making huge strides in our hunting and gathering. We have now moved on to haggling over price, and getting three-fers, and, by God, we'll dismember these guys first this time! On the other hand we did purchase some embarrassingly tiny lobsters that yielded meat about the size of a good-sized shrimp. We only hope we Mother Nature has forgiven us since we released several of our purchases back to the sea!

It will be hard to leave Snug Harbor. It is a peaceful sort of place with fisherman seining in the cool morning hours, blue herons cronking as they fly over in pairs, and egrets wading the beaches. It is, however, time to move on.


home | waypoints | logbook | reference shelf
chartering | engine room | galley | contact


Published at Burlington, VT