Although the setting of the sailing cruise from Panama City to Cartagena via the San Blas Islands could not be beaten, the one thing the captain couldn’t control for us was the seas or the weather. To be fair, I’m sure he would have done if it had been possible.
We first set sail from Puerto Lindo in Panama at around 5pm on day one and sailed until midnight through fairly choppy waters with 3 foot swells. Those of us who didn’t have sea sick pills soon took up positions leaning over the railings while those of us that had popped pills essentially were rather zoned out / half asleep but avoided being sick or feeling too queazy. It was much better on deck than down below where you really realised how much the boat was rocking around and, without windows, there was no opportunity to fix your eyes on the horizon. I think everyone was pleased when they heard the anchor finally being dropped around 12 midnight. No more lurching.
After a few days cruising gently around the San Blas Islands, we began the big journey from the relative sheltered waters across the open Caribbean Sea to our final destination, Cartagena. Normally on these trips this crossing is done straight through and can easily take upwards of 30 hours without any stops. However, our captain told us that bad weather was closing in and so in fact we started off a little earlier than originally scheduled and therefore sailed for just over 24 hours before having a 10 to 12 hour stop before a further 8 hours or so of sailing.
And for us and our fellow passengers, none of whom had much sailing experience previously, what a 24 hours! Especially for our Swiss compatriots who seemed to suffer more than the rest of us (perhaps coming from a landlocked country they were immediately put at a disadvantage?). Although the captain told us that the swell was only just over 2 metres high, it felt like it was a lot higher and perhaps for the purposes of this blog, I should be reporting some sort of dramatic 5 metre swell (at least).
However, the real issue was the killer angle at which the boat was positioned throughout this whole 24 hour period of sailing. This made for a rather challenging time particularly when trying to use the bathroom especially when taking a shower (the water didn’t drain away as the holes were positioned in the centre of the bathroom floor and the angle of the boat meant it never got anywhere near that) or for using the toilet (I found that I sat down on the toilet with an extremely satisfying thump pleased to find the seat!) or even for brushing your teeth when you found yourself pinned against one wall of the bathroom no matter how hard you tried to centralise yourself.
Let’s just say that getting to sleep that night was also a highly interesting experience: being on the top bunk, I had the additional challenge of trying to get myself up to that level without falling backwards (this proved a bit easier when I waited to launch myself upwards in time with a surge in the boat’s motion) but then the real challenge was trying to stay in the bed without falling out: the rakish angle of the boat meant that I constantly felt like I was about to fall out pretty much all night long. It really was quite challenging to say the least and not my best night’s sleep it has to be said (when I awoke in the morning, I felt that I had gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson but had probably caught a bit more sleep that I thought).
It did mean however that I wasn’t looking forward to the next night of travel that much although to be fair this leg of the journey was in fact far smoother and before we knew it, dawn was breaking over Cartagena and we had arrived and completed our journey.
Post script: As I said before, because of the Darien Gap, it’s not possible to travel from Panama to Colombia by land. Well when the captain gave me back my passport, I felt like there was evidence of the Darien gap or equivalent in play here. Having been stamped out of Panama on the 13th December, we were then not stamped into Colombia until the 17th December: as I understood it we had in fact either been in Panamanian or Colombian waters throughout so I’m not quite sure how to explain away the intervening 4 day gap in no man’s land. Food for thought: is this where Lord Lucan has been hiding out all this time?