Sailing San Blas On Luka

After we watched this YouTube clip of three New Zealanders crossing the Darien Gap by bicycle in 1977, we agreed that sailing from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas islands was the way forward!

Pirates Of Portobelo

We decided to sail from Portobelo, which is easier to reach to by bicycle than Carti and, not to mention, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The history behind Portobelo is fascinating. It was the backdrop for the real life Pirates of the Caribbean. Modern Portebelo still exudes a pirate vibe and might seem a little rough at first glance, but after a few days we really warmed to the place.

Interesting Facts About Portobelo

  • Captain Henry Morgan (the privateer whose name appears on the popular dark rum sold around the world) conquered Portobelo in 1668 with 450 men. They had a two-week bender of rape, pillage and murder.
  • Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery at sea in 1596. Allegedly, he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay, still yet to be found.
  • Portobello Road in London was named after Portobelo, Panama

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These walls once served to defend the against the pirates.

The Sail Boat: ‘Luka’

We chose Luka, a 56 ft yacht that sails back and forth between Portobelo and Cartagena, Colombia. The trip involved three days sailing through the San Blas islands followed by a thirty hour stretch through open sea to Cartagena. Luka has the capacity to sleep up to 14 people including the crew. The price of $550 per person includes three meals a day, tea, coffee, an abundance of fresh fruit to snack on throughout the day plus quick noodles for the extra hungry; the food on this boat was of high quantity and exceptional quality. One morning they made scrambled eggs for 12 people using 50 eggs! Captain Bea had even imported jars of Vegemite!

In Polish 'Luka' is the place between being asleep and awake
In the Polish language, ‘Luka’ means the bridge leading from your real life to your dreams.

Bea is everything you want from a captain. She is authoritative, so you feel safe (this comes across nicely with her Polish accent) and she is easy to get along with. Her first mate is a very experienced sailor from Panama called Ulices. Her boat is kept in immaculate condition. It is one of only three boats registered as an official chartering sail boat for passengers.

Luka was built to last and this was tested by her late husband Tomek in 2008. Tomek circumnavigated the world on a solo, record-breaking mission sailing against the wind for 13 months with only the company of Wacek, their jack russell.

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Wacek, second in command on the Luka, fell in love with Lars’ greasy bike chain and wondered why no one wanted to pet him.

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Sunny’s hard work paid off when he caught a Pink Snapper. We enjoyed a delicious fish soup prepared by Bea.

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Our first glimpse of the San Blas islands on the first morning exceeded all our expectations.

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The Kuna fishermen plyed us with the catch of the day…

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Countless islands of varied sizes, some with only a few palm trees and boat wreckage.

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Beautiful island like these one contain only a few Kuna houses and quiet sandy beaches.

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The Maggie from Maine, USA – in a strange coincidence two passengers on our boat knew the owner from their recent travels in Maine!

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Everyone was ready to swim for shore…

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… but Bea and Ulices had some trading to take of first…

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Using his oar as a cutting board, the fisherman prepared a cooler full of fish.

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We couldn’t wait any longer; it was time to get on the islands.

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One of the many idyllic views from the San Blas beaches…

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… and another…

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Whilst sailing between islands, Jenny practiced some of her new songs for a new audience.

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the beautiful blue below…

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Yet another island with only a single Kuna house

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Stormy weather threatened…

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… but never actually arrived.

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A perfect chance to throw the disc around. Thanks, Lucas!

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We watched a moody sunset as three Kunas built a fire for a massive BBQ.

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We were fortunate that all the passengers of the Luka got along really well.

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Lexi (above) and Sunny discovered Josie as an abandoned puppy in Mexico and adopted her on their travels.

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Our travel partner, Wildcard, couldn’t keep up with our speed once we hit the open water.

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Sunny finally got a break from fishing duty.

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The islands drifted away behind us as we continued towards Cartegena.

What an experience! I doubt we will ever see islands more idylic, sand as white, or sea so crystal clear again. Don’t be cheap and go with the ferry; experience travel the way you are supposed to! It’s the journey to the destination that is the adventure!

Booking

We booked our trip with Captain Jacks hostel based in Portobelo. They offer one free night if you book with them. We stayed three nights because we arrived cautiously early. For $13 per night, we found the hostel over-priced compared to the standards and amenities of Luna’s Castle in Panama City (same price). However, the people watching at Captain Jacks and Portobello in general is quite interesting, so you will be entertained. If you don’t plan to stay the night then book directly with Captain Bea on her website SkipTheDarienGap.com.

Sailing With Bicycles

Boats taking bicycles free of charge: Luka, Anapa and One World

Bicycles $50: The Independence and The Stahlratte are popular choices if you want a bigger boat

Updated Feb 2015: I finally recorded the song I was writing on deck! Caribbean Dream

 

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