From Isla de Providencia, Colombia to Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Miraj has sailed over 3000 miles from Virginia, through the Bahamas, to Jamaica, via la Isla de Providencia to Panama. Living on the boat and sailing has become normal and we have learned to adapt to new cultures, each with their own beauracracy, currency and social fabric.
Arriving to a new place is always thrilling. The quarantine flag hoisted on our starboard shroud we are usually bone tiered after a few days of night watches and bumpy conditions. The excitement carries us through the first day’s flurry of activities; visits from immigration, customs and at times the military, and lots of paperwork.
In Jamaica we smelled charcoal fires as we approached land, in Panama the air was hot and thick and screaming monkey’s welcomed us. In Isla de Providencia, Colombia, the Armada boarded us in an anchorage reminiscent of a postcard from the Pacific, and searched our lockers and bilges for contraband.
Once we are cleared in we take down the Q-flag and raise the country flag (making flags is my only artistic endeavor these days). The first few things on our agenda once we come ashore are to; take a shower, connect to the local cellphone system, grocery shop, do laundry and sample the local beer at the closest bar. In other words enjoying the pleasures and trappings of civilization.
After leaving Jamaica Easter day we arrived at Isla de Providencia ,72 hours later. Providencia, under Colombian dominion, is located a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Nicaragua. The passage was relaxing with light winds astern. The last 24 hours we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker and that night we glided through the dark at 6 knots under a star strewn sky. Those moments at sea are magic.
We arrived early in the morning and pulled in to a large bay in front of the town of San Isabella. The island is volcanic, surrounded by steep pointy peaks clad in rainforest. We found a good sandy spot and anchored in the midst of 10 sailboats.
Opposed to most islands in the Caribbean Providencia has taken control of their destiny and regulated population growth and development. The population of around 50000 souls has stayed the same for the past 30 years and there are no large hotels. As a result we found a quiet, pristine environment where things moved at a slower pace and the local population was noticeably happy and proud of their island.
Most memorable of our new acquaintances was Don Olivo, “the buccaneer from Mauritius” and his Colombian wife. Their seaside residence, an open A –frame building doubling as a restaurant, drew us in as we walked by one afternoon. Olivio, light skinned and blue eyed greeted us with combustible energy and shared some wild stories from his nomadic early life.
We hiked the highest peak on the island, the Peak, went to the Saturday local horse race on the South West beach, snorkeled and spent one day taking our dingy around the island. We got to know some of the locals and thoroughly enjoyed their company and stories.
After nine days we felt the call of Panama and set sail for our last passage this season. We had a blustery rolly beam reach that took 48 hours and we were happy to arrive at Shelter Bay Marina on April 14.
Shelter Bay is located outside Colon right at the entrance of the Panama Canal. There are about 200 boats docked, many waiting to transit the Canal. They are large seaworthy sailing vessels from all over the world, with thousands of sea miles under their keels. We never tire of walking the docks gazing at boats and hearing peoples’ stories. There is excitement and energy in the air as our fellow cruisers are preparing for the jump in to the Pacific Ocean and we are inspired to follow suit next season.
Our last stop this season is the San Blas Island, 70 miles south. It is a protected cruising ground belonging to the Kona tribe. We are provisioning for a month of out island sailing and are looking forward to explore a place we have heard about for years as one of the best places to cruise.