San Blas Navigation

Navigation in the San Blas

99% of the time on Itchy Foot we use Navionics charts for navigation, along with continual sanity checking from the depth sounder, eyeballs, and compass bearings. Before coming to the San Blas I was told that Navionics is not reliable and I should find and alternative source of charts. Most recommendations favoured ‘The Panama Cruising Guide’ by Eric Bauhaus and there were plenty of pirate copies of both his guide (pdf) and associated charts (kap files) to be found in Grenada and the ABC islands. When it became clear that we would actually be going to the San Blas and how important (and well written) his guides are, we decided to buy an original copy of the Panama Cruising Guide.

The next question became how to use the information in the book. Obviously we can the anchorage guides and figure out where we would like to go. In addition to that we had good advice from Blue Zulu and other cruisers who has passed before us as to their favourites (and importantly why!) The cruising guide also has waypoints which I can enter into my existing navigation software and just bounce from waypoint to waypoint. And as I mentioned before, someone has been kind enough to scan in all the charts from The Panama Cruising guide (4th edition) and turn them into KAP files which can be read by some charting applications.

What I really wanted was to have a plotter with the Bauhaus charts. The first and easier way to do this is with my Mac and OpenCPN which will talk to the GPS onboard Itchy Foot. OpenCPN will happily show the Bauhaus charts as well as CM93 charts which I already had installed as a backup. But I don’t like popping up and down the stairs to check the chart and didn’t want to put the laptop near the helm. So, I wanted an iPad solution (OpenCPN works on Android but not iPad). Next step was to get SEAiq Open which is navigation software for iPad which will read KAP files. Unfortunately the developer has disabled the ability to show CM93 charts (as they are pirated) but still, this allowed me to have Bauhaus charts at the helm and on two devices.

So far, and we’ve not been that far yet, the Navionics charts are almost useless. Both completely lacking features: islands, rocks, depths, to name but a few things that just don’t show up. Bauhaus is far better, but still not perfect. They seem to capture most of the features of the area and so far all the charted depths are accurate. However, it is far from perfect. The chart (7-66) we used to try (and failed) to enter Suledup is significantly different from actual GPS positions. The interesting thing is that if you read the book there is a warning on this chart that the lat/long grid is incorrect, but if you only used the KAP files you would get no such warning.

The entrance of Obaldia is accurate, as is the entrance to Puerto Perme and Isla Pinos. Puerto Escoses also seemed accurate. In all of the above cases the Navionics charts has significant errors. We’ll keep track over the coming weeks and update this post when we get to internet land, but already I would not consider cruising the eastern (I believe western is better) without Bauhaus charts.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all, family, friends, old and new – we miss you.

2017 was an unusual year for us, an entire year living on a boat in the sun. It has been an adventure and 2018 looks like it will be even more exciting as we move into the Pacific. Sadly also farther away from family.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld Lang syne?

For auld Lang syne my jo,
For auld Lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o kindness yet,
For auld Lang syne!

We will be drinking a cup for days of long ago!

Mia, Jon and Teo.

Currently in an anchorage all to ourselves at:
08 44.23N 077 32.69W

Check it out… a very special secluded spot.

Safe in Panama

If the first 24 had too much wind the second suffered from too little. Early in the morning the wind dropped and swung onto our nose. The forecast had hinted as such but we were eager to get out of Santa Mart while the going was good so we were prepared to accept a day of motoring as the price. We could have sailed to windward but the cost of Panama and the inaccuracy of the charts means you don’t want to make landfall at night if you can avoid it. So on went the motor and after and uneventful day and an even less eventful night we arrived in Obaldia around 10am.

Puerto Obaldia is the first Panama port, right on the border with Colombia and has a bit of a border town feel. The streets are paved with trash and the hold village has a scruffy kind of charm. The days of Colombia drugs violence have thankfully passed and the village feels safe enough with a strong coastguard presence.

After failing to flag down a passing fishing boat Teo and I dropped the dinghy into the water, put on the Outboard and headed into shore. After helping a group of locals launch their fishing boat they gave us directions to the immigration office. We were quickly informed that all members of the crew had to be present so back to Itchy Foot we headed to pickup Mia. Unfortunately the engine on the outboard would not start so we got a tow back to the boat. They then picked up Mia and dropped us back into the village.

Check-in timing:
Immigration: 10 minutes of filling in forms 30 minutes of waiting for the officer to type them into his computer. Customs / Port: 45 minutes of watching forms being filled in. Police: 10 minutes of discussing our plans and our time in Colombia.

We started the process at 11am and finished at 2pm. Then we needed to find a way back to Itchy Foot with a police inspection dude in tow. Unfortunately despite have two spare boats ready to go, the police weren’t interested in helping us get back to Itchy Foot. Long story short, we got back to Itchy Foot at 15:30, lifted anchor and got out of dodge. Puerto Perme was only 8 miles away and we wanted to arrive before dusk.

Shortly before sunset we had successfully navigated into this cute little bay and dropped anchor. Rewarded with a much needed beer and a quiet night onboard. Tomorrow we go explore.

Would I check in here again? Yes, but I would start the process first thing in the morning and make sure my dinghy engine works!

Colombia to Panama

The blog posts about Colombia will keep on coming in the next couple of weeks, but time and tide wait for no man and we’re off to Panama.

We’ve been in Santa Marta marina for way too long and the last coupe of weeks we’ve been stuck, waiting for the winds to die down to a reasonable blow. In the relative protection of the marina we have seen winds of over 40 knots, for those unfamiliar with wind speed, that is the speed when it starts to howl in the rigging.

The forecast started to look promising a few days ago so we got Itchy Foot and her crew ready to go. Lots of shopping and some boat jobs were required before we could leave to our next country, Panama. We woke in the morning to almost no wind at all so after paying and picking up our passports and official exit papers we left. We were just nosing out of the marina entrance when we brushed passed Totem, a cruising family we’re read about and exchanged messages with but without the chance to meet yet, maybe Panama.

Once we got out into the sea we were greeted with 25 knots of wind and 2-3m seas both of which were coming over the back quarter. When you wait two weeks for weather, you go when it’s safe not when it’s perfect. Definitely not perfect. We passed the outflow from the river Magdalena in the afternoon and the sea went from blue to brown, even the smell changed from salt to earth, and we were 12 miles from land. Over night was rocky and rolly, so we are all short on sleep but the sun is now up and the sea has calmed.

Half way to Panama and the San Blas islands where new adventures await.

Bon dia Bonaire!!

Written by Mia:

The obvious reason to love Bonaire is the WATER – the color, the crystal clear clarity, the amazing and abundant fish that live there and the perfect temperature. We simply cannot get enough of the water in this place! It was the first thing that grabbed our attention and I don’t think we were tied up to the mooring a full 5 minutes before Teo dropped the swim ladder, ripped his clothes off and jumped in. Our three day passage from Grenada was enjoyable and even though it was the longest we have done just the three of us, it was smooth and uneventful and we were grateful to arrive. The crew from Maple came out and met us by dinghy and directed us to the last vacant mooring and helped us get tied up. Teo was super excited and immediately made plans to visit his friends.

As we began to explore this place, we fell for it more and more. We love the Dutch vibe and the laid back island feel. We have eaten amazing food at Bobbyjan BBQ, empanadas at the upstairs lunch bar, devoured the ice cream, internet and air con for boat school at Luciano’s and Gio’s and enjoyed wandering through town which seems to have everything you could need, plus it also boasts cool land wildlife in the form of donkeys, iguanas and flamingos!  Bonaire have secured themselves as a diver’s paradise and that means respect for the sea and the creatures that make it their home, especially the coral. Bonaire rightfully protect their environment and have forbidden anchoring so all boats use the moorings provided. These moorings are in the center of town, albeit the sleepy one of Kralendijk. We spent lots of time on the boat and around it in the gorgeous water surrounding us and time just floated away. We loved watching the sailing school sail the little boats that resemble ducklings, and our breakfast entertainment often included the swim team practice or the water polo tournaments, complete with goals and whistles. And we met a lovely couple who are currently building a house here and we are envious. This would be an amazing place to retire…so we are hoping they share their experiences with us. Hanging out with them gave us some perspective on our lifestyle and some thought provoking chats which we always welcome.

We joined the crews of Maple and Element for a couple of days of car rental so we could explore this island properly. There is unfortunately no public transportation system so renting a car is the way forward. We visited the Washington Slagbaai national park. At the entrance to the park there is a hands on open-air museum which was perfect to give us a little insight to the island. And then we started on the longer of the two drives and it was incredible! We were impressed with all the cactus we saw, the proper ones that look like the ones from the cartoons which they even use to build fences, but they do this very carefully with special tools! We were all impressed with the rugged, lunar-like coral covered windward side with its blowholes, pounding surf and dramatic views. Everyone loved lunch at the dramatic beach with body surfing and shady coral overhangs. In the afternoon the highlight was the sighting of flamingos which really are as pink as the plastic ones you find in yards in Florida. They are awe inspiring creatures and we just stood and watched them, I would have stayed for hours. On the way back through Rincon, the other major town of the island, we stopped at a very cute distillery called Cadushy, where the owner creates small batches of yummy brews to honor all the Dutch Caribbean islands, and the royal couple even came to visit and gave a wink of approval. The guy behind this gem really loves what he does and he uses ingredients from the island, like cactus. We got to test taste them at their adorable bar. No car trip is complete without some provisioning and we stopped at the luxury that is Van den Tweel on the way home.


On day two we explored windward beaches, with gorgeous coral and shells. To our delight there were more salt plains with more flamingos and so we lingered and took lots of photos. The nearby slave huts are still intact to remind us of the bleak history of the Caribbean in general and this island in particular. It’s an important part of the history and we have been touching on it in various places along the way. I felt I had to pinch myself as we ate a relaxing picnic lunch in the shade of a lighthouse. As we came around the corner we saw lots of different colored pools where they harvest salt and explored the area around the salt pier where the ships come to load salt. The whole area is a crazy rainbow of color, light and flying foam and there were giant salt crystals to harvest. Bonaire has 86 dive sites with 57 species of soft and stony coral and 350 species of fish, so no day out is complete without a peek under the sea. Many of these sites are delightful for both diving and snorkeling, and they are marked by rocks painted yellow with the name written in black. We dragged ourselves out of the sea and headed on a donkey search. We got lucky and on our way to the Donkey Sanctuary, we had our own up close donkey encounter on the side of the road. Looking into their eyes, it seems you can sense their calm and wise souls. We made one last stop for a swim in a huge, waist deep bay in a place that begs you to come back with a bbq and a lot of time. Bonaire had another great treat in store for us and two flamboyances (the perfect collective noun) of flamingos flew over. They look stunning with their black tipped feathers and distinctive black beaks. It was breathtaking!

We loved this place both on land and in the sea. One day we joined Maple to 1000 steps, a favorite dive site, where the snorkeling was incredible. The soft corals were gorgeous and we hung out with a baby turtle for a long time. Teo and I really enjoyed swimming in the divers’ bubbles which look gorgeous and tickle like a jacuzzi. And upon returning to our mooring I even got the chance breathe through a regulator which allowed me to stand on the bottom of the sea-what a peaceful, surreal experience! One day we took Itchy Foot to Klein Bonaire for the day. We sailed both ways and enjoyed a wonderful day of snorkeling and empanada lunch. We enjoyed the sailing for the sake of it and we returned with a Boat.lad of happy faces. Jon managed to check a few boat jobs off the list while Teo and I had the pleasure of joining Ad Astra on two occasions. They generously open their boat to a collection of people wanting to dive. These days were lovely to see new places to dive, meet people, and to share lunch or dinner together. It was fun to hang out with the divers and even though we were just snorkeling, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement as the prepare to descend. The sense of community in Bonaire is really lovely and it is a good thing we had a good reason to leave because otherwise it would have been hard to pry ourselves away.

Bonaire trip – day two.

Written by Jon:

Everyone was a bit sleepy today. Teo woke early as he was hungry for staying up too late, and then couldn’t get back to sleep. And Mia and I aren’t into a new sleep pattern yet, I suspect we’ll just get into a rhythm when we arrive, as is the way with short passages like this.

Other news, the sailing has been good today, enough wind and a nice downwind run for most of the last 24 hours. The only squall was earlier this morning and wasn’t much more than 20 knots of wind and some rain. We all had a lazy kind of day today, I tried a little fishing without luck, Mia was fixing clothes with needle and thread and Teo watched a bit of educational TV and listened to an audio book.

Just after dinner the wind died and we had to start e engine, so currently buzzing along on a calmish sea. We’ll see how long the wind is down for, according to one forecast it could be most of the night unfortunately.

Looking over my shoulder I can see the green starboard light of our buddy boat, also motoring tonight. Other than spotting the odd oil tanker on AIS some 40 miles away we’ve not seen any other boats. Which, given the neighborhood, we’re ok with.

That’s all for now.

Grenada to Bonaire – day one.

Written by Jon:

It was only a coupe of weeks ago that we realized this would be the longest passage we’ve done as a family of three. Everything to do with crossing the Atlantic we had at least one extra adult as crew. But we felt good about it and we’re looking forward to the three day trip.

Grenada to Bonaire is about 400 miles, and if you draw a straight line you end up passing right through the middle of some Venezuelan island – Los Roques. Having heard how lovely these island are we were very tempted to stop for a few days on the way to Bonaire. From the cruisers we know who have visited, despite Venezuela falling into dictatorship, these quiet little island far from the mainland are safe and welcoming. Then in the last few weeks I spoke to a cruiser friend who was stuck on the islands for a day or two as the navy wouldn’t grating them permission to leave. It would seem that all pleasure boat travel has been banned in the country and these cruisers were stuck in the confusion. They were allowed to leave I the end and no harm was done, but it left us feeling that we had missed our opportunity and should skip it for now.

Once we were more or less ready to leave we were lucky enough to find a buddy boat going the same way, a nice couple on a boat named Slowdown. And with a good weather window open until Saturday we decided to rush preparations and leave Tuesday noon. And after dealing with immigration and filling up with fuel we managed to leave more or less on time.

The wind was a little light until we got out of the shadow of Grenada but just before the sun set the conditions became good for sailing and are still nice as I write this shortly after midnight. The moon just came up, the sea is fairly flat and we have 10-12 knots of wind sailing dead downwind with a poled out genoa. This gives us and easy if slightly wobbly way. Mia is sleeping and Teo crawled into bed with her a couple of hours ago, he tries to keep pappa company but I managed to pursued him to go get cuddles from mamma.

I’ll wake Mia around 3am to rake over as I sleep until hopefully 8 or 9 in the morning, on sofa as it is very comfortable and within shouting distance if Mia wants help. At which point Mia will have a bite to eat then go crash out for a coupe of hours. I’ll usually get a coupe of hours nap in the afternoon too. And so it goes for the next three days!

No photos of share as we are sending this via Satellite phone. Sorry!