San Blas Islands

This Ain’t the South Pacific?

How to feel like you’re in Tahiti without actually having to go there.

By Capt. Bill Pike — July 2003

 More of this Feature

• Part 1: San Blas
• Part 2: San Blas
• Part 3: San Blas
• San Blas Photo Gallery

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• Nordhavn

We were idling about in the shallows off the old Panama Canal Yacht Club in Colon a couple of years ago, when Capt. Brian Saunders made an intriguing suggestion. We’d completed our transit of the canal some days ahead of schedule, and it was clear I’d gotten the answer to the question I’d come down to Panama with—under local control the canal was indeed operating as efficiently and safely as it had when the United States owned it. In fact, I was already writing a story to that effect in my mind, a story that would soon appear in the pages of Power & Motoryacht (“El Nuevo Canal,” July 2000).

“So since we’ve got all this extra time,” Saunders concluded, “I say we spend it in the San Blas Islands. Things around here look a little rough-and-ready!”

Now at the time about all I knew of the San Blas Islands was that the San Blas Indians lived there, or to be more precise, the Kuna Yala Indians. I remembered them—small, attractive, and usually fitted out with bright, colorful costumes and gold nose rings and earrings—from my trips through the canal during the 1980’s while working on oceangoing tugs. As a matter of fact, I used to see the Kunas selling beads and baskets around the yacht club, which was a highly prized drinking establishment back then, with a floor that sloped dramatically toward the docks, a challenging feature for patrons who tarried long at the bar. Saunders was right about Colon, too. It hadn’t improved much over the past 20 years. “Yeah...yeah, let’s go,” I agreed, always hot in the heels for adventure.

So go we did, hanging a right as we exited the jetties at Cristobal instead of heading north towards Florida, which was Saunder’s original plan, once photographer Dave Shuler and I had debarked for the airport. The conveyance we were sporting around in was a beauty, by the way—a Nordhavn 57, freshly restocked with groceries in Panama City by Saunders, who is a Nordhavn representative, and freshly refueled there as well. She rode the seas sweetly enough going down the coast to Portobello, a strange little spot where we now planned to overnight. Even a couple of days in the islands would be great, I theorized, and there was a small airport charted at Isla Porvenir, from which I could fly back to Panama City in time to catch my flight.

Next page > Part 2: The ladies spoke some English and smiled a lot. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4

This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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