Sawadi’s Sourdough

Cut SourdoughBread

Ah yes Bread. What a wonderful concoction of ingredients mixed together with love and fire to yield some varying degree of fluffy soft goodness. There is nothing quite like biting into a warm piece fresh out of the oven slathered in butter and honey. Carrots and tomatoes might be healthier but they are no substitute, not even close.

The thing is our experience when traveling to remote places like Cuba (remote in it’s own way), Providencia and the San Blas is that good bread isn’t prevalent or easy to get. Sometimes it’s lack of ingredients (I saw ZERO flour in Cuba for sale) but the reason for lacking in the other places is a mystery. Fear not, when out sailing you are never far from a German flagged vessel and German’s know bread…along with sausage, chocolate and BEER! Sounds like a great place huh?

Since leaving I’ve been perfecting my Sweet White Bread recipe and it’s been hard to cook any other kind because it is oh so tasty. The only problem with it is that it’s a long process, roughly 3 hours from start to finish including mixing, kneading, two rises and the baking. So it’s good but definitely takes effort. Enter Stefan our lovely German friend on SV Sawadi we met here in the Swimming Pool over a love of spearfishing.
Stephan with Jack

One afternoon when Tate and Stefan returned to Sundowner with dinner I treated him with a thick slice of the warm buttered Sweet White Bread that I had been cooking and so our conversations concerning all things bread began. On the boat Stefan is a sourdough kind of man and he explained his process to me. I’ve always been scared of sourdough because it seemed complicated and time consuming with the starters and the multiple days it requires but actually the process of making 2 loaves of sourdough bread requires no kneading and takes less than a quarter of the time my Sweet White Bread takes and last a lot longer, for over a week instead of 3-4 days without getting moldy…

That is if you already have a starter of some sort. Stefan gave me half of his starter to begin with so this recipe will start assuming you already have a starter. Down below I’ll detail the process (also easy with minimal work) for making your own starter. See Wiki for more info on Sourdough Bread and Starters.

The starter is used in place of yeast in the recipe. Once you have one (made or given to you) it stays good for 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge and you can also freeze it. I put it in a tiny little jar I saved from some powdered chicken stock and it lives in our Engel. Yes, it lives. It’s like a little pet that only needs to be fed every 2-3 weeks to stay happy and healthy. We make 2 loaves of bread every week or so and the starter is fed during that process. More details below in the recipe.

Sawadi’s Sourdough Bread Recipe


  • Starter – maybe 2 tbsp
  • Sugar or Molasses – 3 tsp
  • Flour (white, rye, any kind really) – roughly 6 cups total
  • Water – 1.5 cups
  • Salt – 1 tbsp
  • Additives – seeds, nuts, dried fruit
  • 2 Days – 20 minutes total

Day 1 of 2 ~ 10 minutes
Sourdough is a two day process so start the day before you want bread. This is my starter, affectionately named Stefan. Once a week I pull him out of the fridge and put HALF (2 tbsp) in a large mixing bowl. (You don’t want to use all your starter in case something goes wrong. Think of the starter as a duplicating being, like yeast.)
Starter Stephan

Next add 3 tsp Sugar or Molasses, mix together. I added half Sugar-half Honey to our recent loaves.
Add Sugar

Then add up to 3 cups of Sifted Flour and up to 1.5 cups of Water. You should end up with a liquidity paste consistency. Slowly add Water or Flour until the consistency is reached. Beat in a way that aerates the paste for a couple of minutes.
Liquid Paste

Cover with cloth and let sit overnight. THAT’S IT.
Let Sit Covered

Check on the mixture later that night for bubbles and other “lively” activity. If you see none mix in another 1-2 tsp of Sugar or Molasses.
Bubbly Starter

Day 2 of 2 ~ 10 minutes
If mixture has bubbled nicely and looks alive mix gently and put 2 tbsp back into your original starter jar. This FEEDS THE STARTER and ensures it will be happy for the next 2-3 weeks.
Refilling Starter

Additives Step. Next add 1 tbsp Salt and approximately 3 more cups of sifted Flour until the consistency is that of liquid peanut butter. It should be thicker by quite a bit from the Day 1 liquidity paste but not as thick as regular kneaded bread. The mixture should still be able to fall off the spoon, but very very slowly. Add water and flour a LITTLE at a time until this consistency is reached.
Liquid Peanut Butter

Also add seeds, nuts and dried fruits at this step. I poured half the mixture into a greased bread pan and added dried raisans and cranberries to the other half.

Pour or spoon the dough into greased bread or baking pans only HALF FULL. (Don’t overfill or the the dough will spill over the sides when doubling)

Put pans in oven and let sit undisturbed for 3-4 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. If you shake or move the bread too much during the rising it may deflate and not rise again. Our gimballed stove doesn’t seem to effect it.
In the oven

Once the dough has doubled in size turn the oven on (no preheating required) to 415F for 10 minutes then reduce to 400F for 20 mins before turning the heat off but letting the bread sit in the cooling oven another 15 mins later. This is my propane saving method. His recipe calls for 400F (roughly 200C) for 40 minutes.
Doubled in Oven

Remove from pans and let cool.
Finished Sourdough

Slice and enjoy! This bread has a wonderful springy texture, not too dense with a slight sour taste to it. We LOVE IT! The texture of this bread allows you to cut it thin and pan fry for little crustinis. It’s really nice to be able to bring fresh bread to cruiser get together. There is NEVER any left on the plate.
Cut SourdoughBread

Sawadi’s Raisin Starter Recipe

There are a number of things you can make a starter from with a similar method. Check online for more details.

Soak 1/4 cup dried raisans in 1 cup water and let sit uncovered and outside for 3-5 days (maybe with a light cloth but the you need the bacteria in the air to get to your mixture). When the liquid becomes “horrible and bubbly” strain the raisins out and save the liquid.

Add 1/2 tsp sugar and flour until you get a watery paste like consistency. The next day add a little more water and flour. That’s your starter. It should be bubbly at some point during this process and “look alive”. Keep this mixture (I keep 4 tbsp) in fridge and use half to make bread recipe detailed above.


Let time stand still

Tate always told me that it takes people about six months to a year to get into the “cruising” mindset. I scoffed at the idea, thinking for sure I’d be “in the groove” shortly after leaving…but he was right. We’ve been in the San Blas for roughly 25 days and it is here, anchored in the Swimming Pool in Holandes Cays that I have found my groove nearly 10 months since leaving. The issues we had during the first week are just all part of the story, and what a marvelous story it is.

We are anchored in 10 feet of beautiful crystal clear water with white sandy palm tree beaches scattered around. Since this is the wet season (slow season) there aren’t a lot of boats anchored here. Only about five give or take but all of them are AWESOME! In the busy season starting in December there are around 30…Let’s just say it’s peaceful here right now. No one bothers us and there is a wonderful feeling of freedom out here. I’m quite sure you could be naked all the time and no one would care.
BBQ Beach from Sundowner
Sundowner Swimming Pool

We share the anchorage with another boat from New Orleans (Gris Gris) and a boat from New York, both of whom have spent the majority of their time for the past 10 years anchored right here in the swimming pool. Other boats come and go but they are a mainstay and love it here. Imagine swimming everyday for the past 10 years in the ocean in the afternoon followed by sundowners in the mild tropical breeze with the constant sound of waves breaking on the reef. You can freely do that type of thing here.

Since we are quite a ways off the mainland there aren’t many Kuna here and there are no facilities really to speak of, including trash. Instead of upping anchor and going way back to the mainland to get rid of trash here we just burn it. About once a week the group of cruisers that are here meet up on the beach around 3pm and bring burnable trash. Everyone brings a food dish and my bread and oatmeal raisin cookies have been making the rounds. It’s so much fun to gather and sample different foods.
Group of Cruisers Holandes
Tate and Tom Beach

When you are away from regular grocery stores and restaurants for long periods home cooking becomes way more important. Your recipes naturally improve and you think of more creative ways to make what you have on board taste good. Also super important is the Veggie Boat. Oh yes, this Kuna boat brings provisions from Panama City (a whole day trip back and forth to San Blas) on their leaky boat 15 miles offshore to the Holandes Cays. Unfortunately the Veggie Boat doesn’t run much during the slow season but we must have brought some luck with us because it arrived a couple of days after we arrived here, the previous time being 3 months ago.

This floating Walmart really is incredible. They have EGGS!, beer, wine, an assortment of vegetables, milk, fruit, cilantro and fresh chicken. Needless to say we bought a lot of everything. The prices are very reasonable as well with 5 bananas for $1, 5 huge Limes for $1 and 24 beers for $18. DELIVERED. To your boat in a remote paradise. Is this heaven on earth? Maybe. The local Kuna also come by on occasion with coconuts, bananas and key limes. No Scurvy here.
Bananas Coconuts

The weather is a bit fluky but we are getting the hang of it. Most days there is a slight breeze and a period of rain that dumps gallons upon gallons of water on top of Sundowner. We are getting quite good at catching rainwater and just the other day I caught about 20 gallons in 15 minutes as it ran off the canvas and white tarp we shade the boat with. I filtered this water with a clean towel and poured it into our water tanks with a giant red funnel. We plan to catch as much water as reasonable so that we don’t have to run the Rainman Watermaker for long, saving us gas and wear on the membrane (we still flush at least every week).

On other days however we could be hit with up to 60 knots of winds in the matter of minutes. Like a monster charging fast on the horizon to envelop your boat in darkness. As soon as any of the cruisers here see sight of one on the horizon, even if they are 10 miles away at another island group they get on the radio to give alert (VHF channel 72). Then there’s a mad dash of everyone on deck trying to remove all the loose canvas or other items that can blow away in the crazy wind.
Sundowner in Chocasona

The last one that came through actually blew a nice wool sock for fins off the boat while at the same time turning the boat around so that the anchor chain wrapped around the anchor and ended up pulling it loose where it drug on it’s back for quite a ways until we could reanchor. Yep reanchoring in a storm with other boats around makes for an exciting afternoon! These storms are so notable they even have a name. They are called Chocosanas. That’s Mr. Chocosana to you though.

There is a bit of lightning with all of the storms though we are told not nearly as much on the mainland.
Sundowner in Lightning

When it’s not raining and not windy it’s hot. Like really really hot. We rigged up our white tarp over the port side of the boat (gets the most sun) and that helped drop the temperature inside the boat from 95 degrees to just under 90 degrees. Those five degrees and preventing the sun from constantly beating on the cabin top have made a world of difference. It’s actually liveable. At night however it always cools off right at sunset and stays nice and mild throughout the night. But damn it’s hot during day.

Since the islands here have noseeums when there’s light winds and a thick brush there really isn’t a good place to go walking. In fact we haven’t walked more than 200 feet back and forth since we arrived. We do however beat the heat and the lack of land space by exploring the reefy waters surrounding the anchorage. Nearly everyday for hours Tate and I try different spots along the reef for underwater formations and fish. We’ve familiarized ourselves here with water ranging in depth from 1 to 40 feet but only freediving down at the most to 30 feet. Water temps seem to be in the high 80’s meaning NO WETSUIT is needed, it’s absolutely perfect for me but Tate would like it cooler.
TateSpearfishing San Blas

Everyone here spends some time in the water and most everyone spear or line fishes. There are lots of fish in these waters and while it’s tough to say which has better fishing, Providencia or San Blas Tate for sure is landing new and bigger species of fish. It is however more work here to actually get a fish. That’s probably a good thing. The other cruisers here have shown us a few good spots and we’ve found some of our own.
Dinghy Ride to Fish

The ocean bottom and reef formation are varied as there are shades of colors depending where you go. The sights are truly awe inspiring for me, though the photos NEVER do it justice. There are so many more I want to share but they’ll come in later posts.
TateSpearfishing San Blas
Tops of reef
Reef near the boat
SanBlasReef Formations

Tate has been really busy getting us and the boats around us a variety of fish. Here aboard Sundowner we’ve been experimenting with new recipes and eating oh so very good. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity. We make note of the fish and our favorite recipes and refine our “hit list” which has about 5 fish that are acceptable to shoot. Right now these are Dog and Yellowtail Snappers, Barracuda, Bluestriped Jack (for sushi), and of course the ever elusive Grouper. There are BIG groupers out here, like 40 pounds big but they are so secretive and such good hiders. Maybe one day…

We ate this Dog Snapper pan fried in egg, flour and seasoning with a white wine butter sauce over a bed of rice. OMG was it good. We would have paid a lot of money at a restaurant for the same thing.
Tate with Dog Snapper

We deep fried this puppy and I have to say I think fried Barracuda is some of the best, if not THE best fried fish I’ve ever had. It’s just so so flaky and delicious. Just perfect. (No Ciguatera here!)
Tate with Barracuda

We cut up this monster Permit and added it to a fish soup. YUM! This meat is similar to tender chicken when cooked and is oh so fun to shoot.
Tate with Permit

While Tate is out landing the pescados I spend my time looking for Lobsters and Conch. We’ve had a few lobsters but this is our first conch. Tom on Gris Gris showed us how to get the meat out and it’s now sitting in the freezer waiting to be made into something.
Dani with Conch
Tom with Conch
Tate Conch

Life is so wonderful for us right now. We are falling in love all over again aided by the beauty of the water, beaches sun and stars. It’s still really hard to believe we actually made it here. That all of our hard work has finally paid off and we are getting to experience some of the most beautiful places on earth. Seeing the San Blas and spending a bit of time here has reinvigorated my desire to see the rest of the world. I don’t regret for a moment embarking.

I think we are finally getting >just< that far enough away from home to feel the distance and gain perspective. The world is a large, diverse and beautiful place. The Pacific is calling to us and after our time spent here around these islands we’ll make preparations to cross. But until then we are on island time. Seriously it’s hard to remember what day it is. Well who cares, let’s stay up and watch the moon rise over the reef on the horizon.

The Mola we got for Sundowner from the Master Mola maker Venancio. (He’s mentioned in Wikipedia) We freaking LOVE this thing!!
Mola from Venancio

“Bug Island” Holandes Cays
Palm Trees Holandes

Blood Moon and Lunar Eclipse – Holandes Cays, San Blas Panama Sept 2015
Blood Moon Holandes
Half Moon Eclipse

In the next instalment I’ll take you through an easy recipe a German taught me for sourdough bread, YUM!

Dark days in San Blas

For many months cruising and sailing and exploring has been absolutely grand. Days slip by effortlessly as we swim, sail, and generally have a good time. But then there are times… Like these… Alas, our beginnings in San Blas have not been all that we wished for and perhaps that is part of the problem. Low expectations with a good experience yields great fun. High expectations with bad experiences are doubly bad.

As a side note, this post is not about belly aching about our problems. Its just our life lived out loud here on our blog. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I figured I’d share some of the darker sides of cruising as they came along. This is one of them.

San Blas from the start was a bit of a trial. Charts here suck. They’re all off. Garmin, Navionics, CMAP, CM93, etc, they’re all wrong. Apparently the only “good” charts for this area are from some guy named Eric Bauhaus who sells his charts and his cruising guide for a reasonable 100 dollars. The problem is that the charts come in paper and electronic form but the electronic ones don’t work in our garmin chart plotter. They DO work on OpenCPN (But only version 3, not version 4)! So I had to install a SECOND version of OpenCPN on my PC to have easy access to the charts. Furthermore, they don’t work on my android running OpenCPN because only OpenCPN 4 runs on android. So to start with, I have to go down to paper chart navigation or use my PC below. Not the end of the world but it was a bother that I didn’t have to deal with before.

Navigation in San Blas is done by eye ball as much as by charts anyway. But to really get where we need to go I have to go below, review the charts, plot the course I want to take, write all the way points, turns, and angles down. Come up and enter the waypoints manually into the plotter. Put my list on my deck and take off. Then you have to navigate in day time and good light. There are wrecks… Everywhere. San Blas is like the boat graveyard. I think literally every island we’ve been to so far has had at least one wreck on the reef around it. Eye opening and this is the first time Dani and I have had to navigate in such dangerous waters. So one bug about coming here is NAVIGATION.

After check in at El Provenir, I realized the second problem. Heat. Its hot again. Everywhere else we’ve been has had nice temps, but not here. The weathers is all kinds of wonky. We have thunderstorms with overcast all day one day with the winds howling in the rigging and water sluicing off the deck, then the next its like the dead calm of a Louisiana Summer with the heat to match. Blazing full sun with no relief besides jumping in the water. And to rub salt in the wound, it was cloudy coming into El Provenir, but sunning during check in when I had to wear GASP, pants and a collar shirt and shoes. I haven’t worn shoes in months.

So we discovered these two bugs (weather and navigation) early. But so what? We hear they have propane, internet, and great beaches. On the run into San Blas we passed some island with like 10 boats anchored and thought, “Man, that looks like a cool hang out.” Also we were looking for some island called Elefante which was the propane source supposedly but in our charts nothing listed such an island that we could find. The 10 boat island was called Chichime so we headed there.

Chichime was beautiful in its own way.
Boat near waters edge with clouds
Overcast San Blas with Mountains in background
Kids in a Dug out Canoe

However, there were two small Kuna villages right next to one another and the anchorage was crowded with boats. Some nice, some not so nice. Some looked like they’d been there for a while. I was almost getting a Key West vibe off the place as people rode by in dingies with wide open throttles and nary a wave, nod, or smile on any face. No propane either. Regardless, we made the most of it. The Kuna there sold us some lobsters for 5 dollars per pound. Which is twice what I think I should have paid but the Kuna that sold it to me was so drunk he almost fell down getting the lobsters out and so I didn’t bargain. In retrospect, it was probably the ideal time to bargain. (As a side note, we started calling Chichime the drunk island because all the Kuna were lit at like 10am and there was a giant mountain of beer cans in the middle of the village.)
Tate buying Lobsters

One good thing about Chichime though was that we met up with Venancio. He is a Kuna who makes molas. He came aboard and showed us his many wares and we bargained and bought some. Dani was very excited as one of her dreams here was to find a mola. So now she has one which we hung in our boat. We really enjoy it.
Venancio with Molas

It really didn’t take us long to want to get out of Chichime. So we spoke with some Kunas who pointed out Elefante to us which on the chart is actually part of the “Lemon Cays” and headed out. When we got there, it was really weird. There were a few catamarans on mooring balls, no anchored boats, and a place they brought tourists that passed as a bar. Elefante itself looked pretty empty.

But undeterred, I rowed ashore with hope swelling in my heart that we’d finally find some propane.
Tate Rowing dinghy with Sundowner in background

There we found a really really small bar.
Painting at Elephante

And some French guy who told us they had a propane adapter but no propane. Thanks French guy. So I went across to the “bar island” and asked some local Kunas in my broken Spanish if we could get some propane. After much talk, I convinced them I wanted to buy a propane tank (Tropigas is the local brand), Yes, the entire tank, gas, tank, and all! Its expensive. 60 bucks and I gave them twenty to bring it to me. So 80 bucks for 25 pounds of propane, ouch.

With a commitment to stick it out until our Kuna returned (hopefully) with gas, we settled in. A sport fisher came by and anchored next to us. They had a dingy with folks on wake boards and we enjoyed watching them as we were treated to a beautiful sunset.
Charter Wakeboarding

Until THEY showed up. Who are they? Bugs. No-see-ums. In mass. Millions of them. The boat was covered, Dani was covered, everything was covered. We’d not gotten the screens out in some months. But after that, we have them in here almost continuously. Such a plague of bugs simply cannot be tolerated. Dani is consuming our Cortaid and Calimine lotion at an alarming rate and the poor baby has bites all over her. Even my feet had angry red welts. These bites last for a week! So there is another down side to San Blas in the rainy season, bugs. Literally. So bad we’ve remade no see um netting screens for all the hatches. Dani sewed a big bag like thing for the front hatch, we made a drop net for the compainionway, and the port lights are all screened now.

Anyway, back to the story. Propane. Yes, the Kuna were true to their word and showed up the next bug bitten morning and sold me the Tropigas tank which I took to Elefante and gave to a Kuna dude to gravity fill my tank. French guy had disappeared. Well, the Kuna guy “Miguel”, rigs it all up but apparently has no flat head screw driver anywhere on his entire island to use to open the OPD overflow valve. So I have to row back out to the boat for it. Madness, no screwdrive. Madness…

Propane filling

Further madness was watching this process. Propane and ice going everywhere as it got started. I grabbed Dani and we backed far far away while Miguel sat there in a chair not three feet from it looking like all was right in the world. I think with the leakage we got about 20lbs of propane out of the 25lb container. And now we have a full tank again, and I have the Tropigas one I can exchange for a full for like 20 bucks. We also paid Miguel 5 dollars for risking his life, island, and peoples to fill our propane tank. Then we got the hell out of that bug ridden, propane explosion likely, tourist packed hole.

My sister Paige writes and asks, “I googled San Blas and there are over 360 islands, how do you decide which ones to visit?” Good question Paige. I have decided you don’t visit islands likely to blow up, eat you, or get you arrested. (We later found out that Chichime is a home for “backpacker” tourists and drugs are rampant.) We still had no Internet, but we heard on the radio and from our friends aboard Muoza that a boat from New Orleans was looking for us. Now where ever New Orleanians are must be at least sort of okay, right? We contacted them on the radio (SV Gris Gris) and found they were at an anchorage known as the “Swimming Pool” in the Holandes Cays. We’d heard of the place. Gris Gris said they’d have the Saints game on if we made it in time. Needed to red line the engine to blow the carbon out anyway right? Oh and charge the batteries after all the clouds.

So off we went and dropped anchor in 20 ft of crystal clear water with course sandy bottom. It truly does look like a “swimming pool”.
Dani in the water Swimming Pool

I started it off with a Saints game aboard Gris Gris. Then things started to get better. Until they got worse.

On the up side, this place is way WAY nicer. No explosions, drug lords, or crazy swarms of man eating bugs. We have lots of other NICE boats around us, we’ve met and hung out with them. The water is great for swimming and there aren’t Kuna everywhere (when there are, you feel like you’re intruding if you go to their beach – or sometimes they ask for money for it.) And many other good things, but first, lets get the rest of the “shit that goes wrong while cruising” out of the way.

So, we weren’t making much power. The batteries were going lower and lower. Many things are happening on a boat that affect the batteries. The sunlight (which its cloudy most of the time here). The fridge, which needed to be defrosted was running too much. We run fans all the time now, etc. But when in full blown sun we were only seeing 5 to 10 amps out of our solar panels I new something was wrong. Worse, there was an amperage fluctuation. I tracked it to the Duocharge controller which seems to have lost its mind. I haven’t tested it yet but I think its actually the starting battery has shorted itself. I disconnected the controller and we’ve been cranking the motor off the house bank. I’ll leave that for repair in Panama later.

Now… Since we were hurting for power I decided to put up two more solar panels I’d had tucked away. We installed them ontop of the bimini. While in this process I found that one of the factory installed MC4 connectors that came with the panels had cracked and one of our original 3 panels was putting out no power. Huh, no wonder it seemed low. No matter, now we’re up to 500 watts after that repair. And a brilliant 25 amps/ hr of power.

Until we get 0 amps of power. One morning I’m watching the battery monitor tell me I’m losing power while the sun is clearly shining down on us and so I start digging around. Then Dani says, “Tate! I smell something burning.” Oh shit. I dive into the engine room and see no smoke so I dive into the lazarette and sure enough a wire is burning up.
Melted wires

Turns out it was one of the VERY few original remaining pieces of wire that I didn’t replace. Shame on me, I am paying for it now. The 8AWG wire that runs from the solar controller to the solar panel junction box had apparently been connected with some weird terminal that melted itself.

I rewired it, sort of…
New Wiring

I don’t have 8AWG terminals onboard so I used a 10AWG and snipped a few wires to make it fit. We’ll get some new ones soon. In the meantime I went ahead and disconnected 1 of the 5 solar panels bringing us down to 400watts. I figure that connector picked now to melt on us because it couldn’t handle the 500 watt load and so I am not going to tempt fate with my jerry rigged connector though I think it should be fine.

Whew, hows that for the cruising life!? But fear not, in the next instalment things get a lot better as Dani and I get back down to the hard business of having the time of our lives in paradise. But as you can see, there are sometimes these dark days that seem to pile up on you.

The thing is to not let it get you down. Keep that chin up, stay tough, soldier on. We’ve had fantastic experiences before and we’ll have them again (provided we don’t blow up). Stay tuned for the good things as we finally cook with reckless abandon again, Tate kills new and exotic aquatic life, Dani discovers the joy of baking, and we meet lots of new friends who take us to new underwater places.

Ciao for now!

Don’t hit the reef!

“I really should write in this thing more often, like now out at sea but damn how the boat rolls, it’s impossible…maybe we should buy a Catamaran” -excerpt from Dani’s diary Sept 7th 2015 Providencia to San Blas

One day before our Colombian visas expired we headed to Mr. Bush’s (Providencia’s agent)office to give our fingerprints to the nice Migration lady and formally check out. We then took our remaining Pesos and bought as much fried street food as we could eat and a bottle of scotch. For days we had been preparing Sundowner for the passage south to the San Blas Islands, Panama which included raiding the stores for staple items such as coffee and rum as well as cleaning the reef off the bottom of the hull and stowing the boat. Tate’s hand was healing nicely and we were ready for our next new adventure.

We had 270 miles mas or menos to sail and every indication that the winds would die off and be shifty for about half the trip. MANY times we had heard other cruisers say the winds lighten and you have to motor a bunch to get anywhere once you pass San Andres. This, like most weather predictions turned out to be incorrect. In fact we had GREAT wind literally all the way to Porvenir.

The winds started on the nose at 10-15 knots and eventually curved to the East for more a beam reach before moving even further around until we practically sailed downwind for the last 50 miles, right into the Porvenir area. We average about 5 knots for the whole trip and had to actively slow ourselves down so we wouldn’t arrived at night. Bright and early around 8am we turned the motor on and CAREFULLY navigated these treacherous waters.

The reef as you approach Porvenir is clearly visible by the many shipwrecks strewn about every so often. Just this year alone we’ve heard of 10 people hitting the reefs, many catastrophically. There is reef EVERYWHERE and it goes very quickly from 60 feet deep to less than a foot. To add to the precariousness of these conditions most GPS charts are incorrect. Except of course that is the Eric Bauhaus charts. However we knew this coming in and had obtained copies of all the Bauhaus charts and waypoints. God Bless that man Eric and his spot on points. EVERYONE here in San Blas navigates using them. Regardless having the correct charts it was still a very stressful time as we ever so slowly inched our way near the Porvenir check in office.

It was clear right from the start that we weren’t in Kansas any more. Porvenir and the San Blas islands are just right off the mountainous mainland coast of Panama. Many scenes here involve palm trees blowing in the breeze in front of a back drop of tall hills. This area is home of the Kuna Indians and we could see them hard at work fishing and paddling in their dug out canoes from island to island. More history on them later.
Paddling Kuna in the background

One thing that struck us as soon as we pulled in was how searing HOT it is here. For the first time since leaving Louisiana we have found heat that is similar (in the sun without a breeze) though still not as hot as back home. I suppose this is to be expected during our descent to the equator. The boat inside was getting up to 95 degrees (sometimes more) and we were melting away. The desire to go swimming was greater than ever. But first things first we had to check in. This of course meant dressing up in far more clothes than either of us wear these days…Tate even wore a pair of pants and (gasp) shoes.
Dani at the check in Porvenir

Not wanting to mess with the dinghy outboard just yet we decided to row, at least for now. We headed to the beach at Porvenir and to a building that looked inhabited. Upon walking up we asked a T-shirt and jeans guy if he knew where we could find the Port Captain, and as luck would have it, it was him. After his lunch break we headed to his office to formally check into Panama. Poor Tate in the meantime was soaking all of his fancy proper clothes.
San Blas Painting
Paiting by Kuna Porvenir

Check in went easier than expected and I guess our dressing up and acting civilized made a good impression on Migration and the Policia because they had no desire to search the boat. It was either the shoes or the heat, I suppose we’ll never know. Also most people here prefer to speak Spanish and know un poco Ingles, oh JOY for me. The cost for us with a 32 foot boat was roughly $360 for a boat visa, tourist visas, all good for un ano. Also in this cost is the Kuna Congresso fees of $20/per boat and $20/per person (per month), so $60 for us. Here is a list of what we did to check into Panama via Porvenir (Sept 2015). ASK FOR AND KEEP ALL RECEIPTS.

Checking into Panama via Porvenir

  1. Dress up a bit, we’ve read that long pants and actual shoes are desired in Panamanian government buildings
  2. Bring Passports and boat documentation to Port Captain’s office.
  3. See the Port Captain and pay $100 for a boat import visa that is good for one year. I think boats longer than ours are charged $196 dollars.
  4. Next see immigration and pay $100 each for Triplantes Tourist Visas that are good for one year. They don’t have the full “Tourist Visa Stamp” in Porvenir so it’s very important you keep the receipt they give you or you will have to pay for your visa again when you check out of the country.
  5. After that go see the Kuna Congresso people who want the $60/month as explained above.
  6. Smile and be nice to the Policia who may or may not search your boat.

Earlier in the day while waiting for the Port Captain to finish his lunch we were greeted by a very nice Kuna named Nestor (sp?). He was quite informative about the islands and enjoyable since he spoke English and Spanish and to our great delight he invited us over to his island (whose name I couldn’t spell or remember to save my life…something like WichiWallaDupSip) for a tour and dinner at his casa. How exciting!

We changed into more sane attire and Tate rowed us the LONG way over to Nestor’s hut on the water and he showed us around.
Portaboat next to Kuna Dugouts

The little village on this island was incredible. It housed about 500 Kuna (mostly kids) in a maze of bamboo huts with dirt floors. There was a school and also a town center building called the “Congresso House” where the official business of the village takes place, everyday we are told. We’ve been told that the average Kuna family has four kids, and after seeing the amount running around I would say that’s probably accurate.
Entrance to Kuna Hut
Center of the village
Congresso Building
Kuna Children
Kuna girl with skirt
Kids by a boat near Porvenir
Tate and a village puppy
Kuna Woman walking around

The Kuna women and I do Laundry the same way.
Kuna Village Clothes

After a few beers at the local “hang out bar place” Nestor took us around with him while he went to three different shops for rice, chicken and some other stuff. In one of these shops we bought a Digicel and +Movil Sim Card, with supposedly no data on them. We wanted to buy some kind of data place for them but the communication barrier was too great and after 20 minutes of “No entiendo” we were in no better shape so we opted to buy the sim cards anyway, hoping later to add data (which worked out well btw).

Eventually we made the one minute walk back to Nestor’s place and waited inside one of the huts on hammocks while the food was prepared in another hut. There were no drinks available but we had what remained from the “bar”. By this time we were hungry and really looking forward to some fresh chicken, rice and beans. Nestor didn’t disappoint and brought out the plates and we dug in. There may have been only 2 small pieces of chicken and 3 cups of rice, but the rice was good and the bit of canned pork and beans truly brought the dish together.
Inside a Kuna Hut

We bought an official(designed in 1925)”Kuna Flag” from a lady there and I rowed us home, happy to get some exercise after our journey down here.
Kuna Children

Our flirtation with that populated island quickly came to a close as we headed out the next day in search of Propane and the internet. Porvenir was a pretty place but didn’t quite have the feel of reckless abandon we were searching for, but we could have never guessed just what was in store for us in the days to come but we would soon find out!