North from Panamá

 Home Up Belize



Back in the San Blas, now we are glad to report without lightning!  We're really here to wait for a while before we head off north.  We're waiting because it's still only October and the hurricane season doesn't formally close until 1st December.  If late season storms do develop, they tend to do so at this end of the Caribbean and this year is proving quite active.  Also, if we needed any additional incentive to wait, we're not insured against named storms until the hurricane season ends unless we stay below 12° 07'N and Providencia  our first practical landfall sits inconveniently at 13 and a bit° North.  We're also specifically waiting here in the San Blas because when we do get a window to depart we want to be as far east as possible to allow for the west setting current.

There are a lot of boats here who seem to be waiting.  Some, like us, waiting for a weather window to head north, some waiting to head west towards the Canal, some waiting for friends, relatives, wives to arrive.  But one thing we are all waiting for is vegetables!  The season hasn't really got started, so the regular stream of "veggie boats" coming up from Miramar to service the cruisers hasn't really got going yet.

Finally on 30th November (conveniently the last day of our insurance moratorium on heading north) a  decent looking weather window opens and we're off.  Phil & Nikki on Ajaya (a Prout catamaran) are just behind us and Mark and Amanda on Balvenie leave from Colón. 

Unfortunately, the wind doesn't seem to have read the forecast!  It builds and backs, then builds and backs some more.  Then the squalls start.  The log is full of reefing, tacking, rolling, etc.  We can't come close to holding the planned NW course and finally bite the bullet and put in a long tack east to give us the angle on Providencia.  Ajaya are having an even  worse time than us - this isn't the weather for cats.  But Balvenie who are a day behind us and further west are doing much better.  The weather we're experiencing seems to be quite local and they're having a pretty decent sail.  Don't you just hate that!

Day 4, 24 hours later than planned, we're closing Providencia, the wind has moderated and veered and is now behind the beam.  If we'd known that was going to happen, we wouldn't have needed to tack so far east.  Hurrah!  Still, it's now all very comfortable, the sun is out and we should be in before dark.  Nature hasn't quite finished with us though and as we round the bottom of the island we get hit by another horrible squall and end up motoring most of the last 5 miles into wind, sea and rain - right on the nose.  This delays us a bit, and the light is fading as we approach.  Fortunately, the channel into the anchorage is extremely well marked and, even in the less than ideal conditions, presents no problems and at 16.30 we drop anchor in the bay.  Ajaya are already here and Balvenie arrive in the small hours.  We've radioed them our track coordinates for the entrance, but it turns out that all the channel markers are lit so a night entry presents no problems.


Providencia and San Andres are two Colombian islands that, together with a few other rocky outcrops, lie just 100 miles off the coast of Nicaragua.  The two countries have a long running dispute over ownership and fishing rights so that there is a constant stream of Colombian naval vessels visiting islands and during our time there a visit from the Colombian President.  Additionally, for a long period of their history the islands were British, with the result that English is still the first language of the majority of the population.

We liked Providencia!  It's clean, safe and the people are charming and friendly.  It's how we imagine the Eastern Caribbean may have been back in the early 50s.  However, it may once have been British and the people may speak English, but the bureaucracy is 100% Colombian, which means that it's impossible to Clear-in without paying an agent and the only agent on the island is Mr Bush.  Now in spite of all the English heritage the islanders have adopted the Hispanic system of children taking the family names of both their mothers and their fathers and as we explored the island it seemed to us that maybe half the significant businesses on the island were owned by somebody Bush-something or somebody something-Bush.  It's a pretty small gene pool!


Like Providencia though we did, it's a pretty small place and really a stepping stone on the way north, so after a couple of weeks - on 16th December it was time to move on again.  We hauled the anchor and in company with Balvenie and Passport (with IB and Rebecca on board) motored a couple of miles north to Long Cay which would give us a head start the next morning for the trip towards Guanaja in the Bay Islands.  A rolly squally trip, with lots of reefing, but at least it was all behind the beam.  On day two Balvenie and ourselves made the decision to make a pit stop in the Vivorillos to get a proper night's sleep and continue on early the following morning, whilst Passport continued on to Guanaja without stopping.  The Vivorillos and the Hobbies are two small clusters of islets and reefs 40 miles off the NE corner of the Honduran coast just where we turned west to head for the Bay Islands.  There's nothing at either of them, but they are said to have spectacular diving, snorkelling and fishing.  We wouldn't find out as the weather forecast meant that if we didn't move straight on we might be pinned down in strong winds for weeks.  So first thing the following morning we and Balvenie were off, this time in company with Jerry & Nola on the Alaskan boat Moonsong  who we'd met before in the San Blas and who had also been anchored at the Vivorillos.  This route is something of a cruising motorway.  By lunchtime tomorrow we'd be in Guanaja.


The Bay Islands - principally Guanaja, Roatan and Utila - lie about 20 miles north of the Honduran coast.  They do actually belong to Honduras, but bear the indelible stamp of the British Empire.  English the first language of these  islanders too, though because of the proximity to Honduras there are a fair proportion of Spanish speakers from the mainland, particularly on Roatan. 

Guanaja is charming, but at first sight a little odd.  The island is about 9 miles long and 3 wide, but almost all of the population are crammed onto a small islet on the south coast, barely 1/4 of a mile long.  And the reason for this oddity? Bugs!  Guanaja is home to a particularly vicious variety of no-see-ums.  Small enough to come through any mosquito net there is absolutely no escaping them and they seem invulnerable to even the most toxic repellents and insecticides.


Bugs aside, Guanaja is another charming place.  There are no roads on the islet (actually no roads on the island either), just a maze of paths and alleys squeezing between the clustered buildings.   We Clear-in with immigration, but the Port Captain has gone to lunch.  Seems like a good idea, we'll do the same.  We walk the main "street" and find what looks like the most likely place - "Do you have food?" they do, but as there's no sign of any bottles on the shelves we also ask "Do you have beer?"  They do not.  But the lady is happy to take us into the street and point us towards a place that does have beer.  "And do they sell food?".  "I don't think so."  We check, they don't.  We try another bar.  They don't either, but the owner knows somewhere where we can both eat and drink in the same location.  Ahha!  He stops someone who happens to be passing the front of his bar and this person takes us to the eat and drink place.  He does more than that he introduces us to the owner and then goes into the kitchen to find the waiter and makes sure that he knows that we want to eat AND drink. 
We think this must be the only eat AND drink place on the islet, because there are a group of expats sitting around a pair of tables on the patio and a Dutch lady calls us over and makes room for us.  And that's how we found out about the Christmas party!

There's a small expat community here.  Many of them ex-cruisers who discovered Guanaja on their way through and then either stayed or returned later.  The grand Christmas Pot Luck is to be held at restaurant Manati, at the head of the bay where we will be anchored as soon as we've done our duty with the Port Captain.  The local expats with proper kitchens will provide the traditional Christmas staples and the cruisers will contribute the trimmings. 

And a splendid spread it was  turkeys, hams, meat loaves, smoked Mahi Mahi (well it may not be traditional where you come from, but............), etc, etc.  It's a week of festivities spread over a couple of islands.  Lindy's Birthday on the 29th finds us in Frenchy's 44 in French Cay harbour, Roatan with Mark & Amanda and then it's New Year aboard Balvenie with Brenda & David of Bandit as well. 


Over the first week or so at French Cay we dragged and re-anchored three times in the soft mud of the bay, so - with confidence at rock bottom (sic) - and a forecast for several days of strong winds we slunk into the marina and moored in the lee of Fantasy Island.  A faulty generator and outboard also incentified us to tie-up to a dock.   Over the next several days, listening to other boats on the morning radio net talking about 36knot wind whilst we were only registering single figures made us feel very happy with that decision and we were soon to be joined behind the island by a number of other boats. 


Our only problem moored here was the monkeys nicking things.  Though we got off relatively lightly - we caught them in the midst of unloading all of the onions from our string bag hanging at the back of the boat so as to get to the tempting (for a monkey) green bananas below.  They took some convincing, but we finally got them off the boat.  They regularly removed balls from the pool tables in the bar apparently.  They'd had the ash trays from the power boat ahead of us the previous night and the flip flops from the small yacht moored in front of them.  So we're looking for a group of cigarette smoking monkeys, wearing flip flops and with a pool table in their tree.  Can't understand why they haven't been caught already!

Well whilst Roatan is bigger that either Guanaja or Providencia and is a good place to reprovision it hasn't really got enough going on for us to want to spend more than a couple of weeks there.  So once the wind and seas reduced and we had a reasonable forecast we headed off once more, this time NW to Belize.



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Last updated 18th March 2018