Sailing to South America

Around ten years ago Emily sailed from Cartagena, Colombia to Panama with her aunt and uncle through the incredible San Blas Islands in the Kuna Yala district of Panama. It was an amazing experience. So when we started making plans for this Pan-Am journey and thinking about crossing the Darién Gap, we got excited about the possibility of crossing to South America by sailboat.

San Blas Islands.

San Blas Islands.

Tim and Emily both have quite a bit of sailing experience, but Hobie has almost none (despite the fact that he’s named after the Hobie Cat), so we were concerned at first about his well-being and whether or not we’d even be able to take him aboard. However, never having put him in a crate on an airplane before, we disliked that option even more. Through a bit of searching we found that other Pan-Am travelers with dogs have done the crossing via sailboat, many of them on the large, old, steel ship the M/S Independence. So as soon as Chimera was set to ship we booked our passage, and it turns out that Hobie got to sail for free.

We left Panama City at 5:30am in the back of a Jeep taxi and drove at breakneck speed down the highway, then along a very windy road to a mangrove swamp on the edge of a large bay. Then we loaded our backpacks and Hobie onto a small launch boat and cruised out to the Independence. We spent the next three and a half days living the dream – swimming through turquoise waters to tiny, palm-covered islands, filling our bellies with the great meals prepared onboard and at an island barbecue, lounging in the sun, drinking beer, singing songs around a bonfire, and chatting with new friends. We were delighted that Benedicte and Edison opted to join us onboard the Independence and spent many hours laughing and swapping tales with them.

Late on the third night we left the islands and headed out into the open water for the crossing to Cartagena. The captain of the Independence prides himself on the speed provided by his ship’s powerful engine, so the crossing took half the time of many other vessels. But that still meant over 32 hours of rocking and rolling in a large swell. Almost everyone on board was seasick and spent the day popping dramamine and trying not to move. We arrived in the calm waters of the Cartagena harbor in the wee hours of the morning, which found most of the passengers out on the deck, finally able to stand up without feeling nauseous and happily gazing at the shore. And just like that we had left Central America behind and arrived in the south.

Here is a photographic tour of our San Blas sailing adventure.

On the boat heading out to the Independence.

On the launch boat heading out through the marsh.

Our vessel, the MS Independence.

Our vessel, the M/S Independence.

Emily on the Independence.

Emily onboard with one of the Kuna island towns in the background.

This is how we spent most of our time onboard: soaking up the sun, drinking beer, and sharing travel tales.

This is how we spent most of our time onboard: soaking up the sun, drinking beer, and sharing travel tales.

Shipwreck on a shallow reef.

Shipwreck on a shallow reef.

Volleyball on our first island evening.

Volleyball on our first island evening.

Island life.

Island life.

Colorful old propane tank abandoned on one of the islands.

Rusty old propane tank abandoned on one of the islands.

The Independence anchored in the San Blas Islands.

The Independence anchored in the San Blas Islands.

Enjoying island life.

Enjoying island life.

Hobie loved every chance to go ashore.

Hobie loved every chance to go ashore.

Baywatch shot.

Baywatch shot.

Most of our time spent with Benedicte and Edison was filled with laughter and smiles.

Most of our time spent with Benedicte and Edison was filled with laughter and smiles.

The view from our first island dinner.

The view from our first island dinner.

San Blas Islands.

Islands sunset.

San Blas Islands.

San Blas Islands.

Swimming to the nearby island.

Swimming to the nearby island.

Rough life.

Rough life.

Kuna man in his canoe.

Kuna man in his canoe.

Island life.

Island life.

San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands

Hobie didn't mind being lifted onto a kayak and paddled to the closest island. He knew it meant that he would soon have dry land to run around and do his business on.

Hobie didn’t mind being lifted onto a kayak and paddled to the closest island. He knew it meant that he would soon have dry land to run around and do his business on.

Land ho!

Land ho!

Hobie was always so happy to go ashore, even in the kayak. But he knew when it was time to head back to the boat and never complained.

Hobie was always so happy to go ashore, even in the kayak. But he knew when it was time to head back to the boat and never complained.

Massive lobsters caught by the local Kuna fishermen.

Massive lobsters caught by the local Kuna fishermen.

Our lobster dinner in the Kuna canoe.

Our lobster dinner in the Kuna canoe.

Benedicte and Edison enjoying a sunset.

Benedicte and Edison enjoying a sunset.

Hobie and Armando are less than thrilled about boat life.

Hobie and Armando are less than thrilled about boat life.

Massive cargo ships in the Cartagena harbor in the wee hours of the morning.

Massive cargo ships in the Cartagena harbor in the wee hours of the morning.

Boca Grande, the newer part of Cartagena.

Boca Grande, the newer part of Cartagena.

A view across the harbor to the old city.

A view across the harbor to the old city.

Is Chimera in there?!?

Is Chimera in there?!?

Hobie was such a great trooper at sea, truly living up to his name. He even had a friend onboard, a cute little terrier name Armando, whose family were shipping their car on the same boat as Chimera. The captain was rather restrictive on where the dogs could be, so they mostly laid around on the deck or were tied up just inside one of the cabins, but when they got to go to the islands they were free and joyfully ran around like crazy. A couple of times we could put the dogs in the dingy and bring them to the islands with everyone else, but other times when were anchored near an island or two we had to get more inventive. When we were close enough we swam to shore with Hobie, who surprised and impressed us with both his courage and ability. Another time we had to put him on a small kayak and paddle ashore. During the open water crossing Hobie and Armando were pretty uncomfortable – holding their bladders for way too long, unsteady on their feet in the rocking and rolling, and confined to a small corner. But they didn’t complain.

When we finally reached the dock in Cartagena Hobie sniffed the ground with pleasure, lifted his leg on a tree, and told us with his expression that he may be named after a sailboat, but that doesn’t mean he’s a sailor dog and he would appreciate it if we stuck to dry land from now on.

3 thoughts on “Sailing to South America

  1. Joy et al have just arrived – we will be a big family group
    for dinner etc. Sorry your not here but what you are
    doing is much more exciting. Bethlehem Fair tomorrow.

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