Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tupbak (a/k/a Isla Pinos) up to Ustupu

November 8, 2007  Thursday
Tupbak, San Blas Islands, Panama (a/k/a Isla Pinos)
09.00.061N; 077.45.767W                 
Total distance traveled 172.24 NM from wall entry at Boca Grande, Cartagena de Indias

We exited the break of the underwater wall at Boca Grande and departed Cartagena de Indias at 0900 Monday morning, 5 November.  Plans were to sail straight across to Isla Pinos, a distance of approximately 150 NM.  Paul & Michelle on BLUEPRINT MATCH had left Cartagena on Saturday and were in Los Rosarios.  They planned to leave a bit later in the day headed for the same destination.  We planned to talk on the SSB along the way.  Turned out that we were within VHF range for the entire passage.  We had both waited until today because the winds were supposed to switch back to the normal NNE trades over the weekend, which would have meant this passage would be a downwind sail the entire trip.  As happens so often, reality and forecast did not match.  Winds were on our nose for almost the entire trip.

Another sailor had told us that there would be opposing current until we reached 9 degrees 15 minutes; and that there would be no current to affect us once we were down that low.  From the very beginning we did not make very good time; winds of only 10 knots at 210 degrees, and our course was 239; so it was going to be a motor-sail.  Soon the winds were 20 knots at 230 and our course was still 239, so we took in the mainsail and motored along.  Boat speed was 7.9 knots at 2000 rpm but SOG was only 5.9, so there was 2 knots opposing current at the beginning of this passage.  By 1440 (2:20 p.m. for you landlubbers), our SOG (speed over ground) was down to only 4.1 knots, meaning that the current was increasing.  So we changed course to 185 degrees (headed towards the San Bernardos Isla Tintapan) to try and get farther south and closer to 9 degrees 15 minutes in hopes of getting below the current.  By 1500 (3:00 p.m.) our SOG had increased to 6.1 knots under sail only.  Now, this was much better!

Sailing lasted less than 2 hours.  By this time we were at 09.36.6974N  076.24.9313W.  Boat speed was 7.35 knots at 2100 rpm but SOG was 5.8 knots.  We all hoped that the 20 knot winds on our nose would die down after dark.  Sure enough, by 2245 the winds were down to only 5 knots.  Boat speed was 7.25 and our SOG was 6.2 knots, so still had opposing current of about 1 knot.  Location was 09.36.6974N, 076.24.9313W.  Course 242 degrees.

BLUEPRINT MATCH was 4 miles off our port side by the time we were 15 miles from Isla Fuerte and we were both still motor sailing into the current.  They then sped up for some reason and were soon almost out of sight ahead.  BLUEPRINT is a Catana 431 catamaran and is normally a faster boat than our heavier monohull Amel.  But by 0200 we had caught up with them.  In fact, we were so close that Michelle radioed to ask if we planned to run over them.  So we lowered to 1600 rpm to slow down to 4.4 SOG.  I also changed our course slightly to starboard at 255 degrees.  By 0300 we were down to 09.26.072N, 076.46.140W and still slugging into over 1 ½ knots opposing current, but with no wind to hinder our progress.

At 0900 we were finally down to 9 degrees 15 minutes; that magic number where we had been emphatically assured that there would be no opposing current.  Wrong!!!  Boat speed was 8.15 knots at 2100 rpm and SOG only 6.40.  Wind was only 9 knots and was 61 degrees off our port side, so we were motor sailing without wind on our nose.  So that meant we were still experiencing 1 ¾ knots opposing current.  At 0920 the mountains of mainland Panama were clearly visible through the cloudy rain cells.  Destination in sight!

At 1030 and approximately 25 miles offshore, the current finally was down to only ½ knot against us.  I did not record the precise location that the current waned, but it was approximately 9 degrees 7 minutes.

We arrived at the waypoint to enter anchorage at 1400.  Waypoint is 08.59.2000N,  077.44,6888W.  Distance traveled to this point was 170.8 NM.  It was exceptionally calm for the entire passage; none of the rough seas we had been warned about.  Just wish we had experienced the winds from the forecasted direction; then it would have been a perfect passage.  BLUEPRINT MATCH decided to head toward another tiny island called Isla Iguana.  Isla Iguana normally has breaking water all around it and is too rough because it is so exposed to the sea, but it was absolutely dead calm when we arrived in this area so they decided to try it.  Turned out to be a wise choice as they said it was a picture perfect beach with coconut palms along the shore.  Their kids needed some beach time after the passage.

Bill and I dropped anchor at 1500 at 09.00.061N, 077.45l.767W.  Took us a whole hour to travel 1.44 miles!  Depth under our keel got down to 1.8 feet at one point.   Depth under the keel is 4.4 feet where we are anchored.  Bottom is grassy over light mud and sand mixture.  It is totally flat calm; like being in a lagoon.  We are anchored behind Isla Pinos, which is really named Tupbak. 

Tupbak means whale in the Kuna language.  This island looks like a whale from a distance and has been used as a landmark by sailors for centuries.  In 1571 Sir Francis Drake anchored here and planned his attack on Nombre de Dios from this bay.  Privateers and pirates often used this well-protected anchorage.  We were greeted by a man named Peres in an ulu (dugout canoe) shortly after we anchored.  Peres speaks some English.  He came back the next day and asked us to give him some sandpaper, which we did.  No one else has come out to ask for anything or to try to sell us anything, but Peres asked us both times he visited our boat if we planned to visit the village and when and if we planned to buy any molas.  I don’t think this island sees many visiting boats.  The village appears very poor.

An official from the village also came out in his ulu the next day and requested $8 USD as an anchoring fee.  This fee goes to the village kitty.  His cheeks were painted with bright red circles. The thatched-hut village is off our port side, right on the water’s edge.  We have not gone ashore and probably won’t since it is raining today.  When weather is nice and sunny later today we will move onward to another island.  It is very nice here and we probably should go ashore and spend some money to help the local economy, but we just aren’t motivated to get out in the rain.  The people are quiet with a calm demeanor.  The men paddle around in their tiny ulus and fish with hand line.  The children play in the water in late afternoon.  I cannot believe how easily they lift themselves out of the water and into an ulu, while another boy is standing up in that ulu!  Seems like that canoe would tip over.  But they do this over and over again so they can dive back into the water.  I have seen only 3 women along the shore, but there must be more because the village looks fairly large.  Unfortunately, we are anchored too far from shore to take any photos.

Later…..we motored through the cut in the reef on the northwest side of Tupbak.  Then proceeded to motor up to Ustupu, which is the largest village in all of the San Blas Islands.   The waypoints provided in Eric Bauhaus’ guide to cruising Panama have been dead-on accurate so far.  We are anchored up behind the island of Ustupu.  We put the dinghy in the water and tried to explore up the Sugandi Tiwar river on the mainland.  It is almost spitting distance between the mainland and Ustupu island.  The river is supposed to be marked by wrecks of giant trees washed down during the great flood of 1925 which forced the village to move from the mainland to the island of Ustupu.  We went way up the channel but never found the Sugandi Tiwar river.  Apparently the mouth of the river is so overgrown with mangroves that you must know exactly where to look to maneuver your way through the mangroves to get into the actual river.  We gave up and turned back and meandered around the edge of the village at Ustupu instead.  Little kids came to the water edge and waved and yelled “hola” to us.  One woman motioned that she had molas to sell, but since we did not bring any money we called back to her that we would return “manana” for her molas.

The guide book says that villagers here do not come out to visit yachts.  But since we did not immediately go into the village and visit the sahila, he came out in an ulu and greeted us.  His name is Luis and speaks English fairly well.  We paid the $8 fee for permission to go anywhere in his waters and to visit anywhere in the village.  Luis said that we were the first yacht to visit the village in four months and that they were all excited to see us.  Hope they are that excited because we don’t plan to spend THAT much money in Ustupu.  Luis said he will show us around tomorrow.  Bill understood Luis to say that he will introduce us to the chief tomorrow, but our guide book says that Luis is the chief.  We are a bit confused, as usual.

We can upload this log via satellite phone connection, but unfortunately we cannot upload photos until we have an Internet connection.

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