Los Grullos

After our friends left we moved to Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays. Together with Chichime, Banedup is one of the most crowded islands of the San Blas. In fact, it is a meeting place especially for the Italian cruisers who often organize parties on the beach. As you can imagine, this is not a very attractive place to be if you like quite and crystal clear waters.  The day after we sailed just a few miles to reach Los Grullos Cays, anchoring between Kuanidup and a small island nearby. We reached paradise!

Kuanidup – Los Grullos

We were here before, though we did not remember how beautiful these islets are, possibly because of different weather conditions. This time, with the sun shining all day long, the colors of the sea, coral reef and the beaches appear to be magic.

Pelican Island

We enjoyed great snorkeling around the smaller island under the controlling eyes of a crowd of resident pelicans.

The coral reef is extended and reach, and it is much less ruined than in the lesser Antilles. While underwater we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of thousands of tiny silver fishes, forming a moving cloud more than 10 meters long. We sketched a little shark that was likely waiting us to leave to start its easy lunch.

We are not fishing when underwater, however we do buy fish from the Kuna people who approach us with their canoes. The last purchase was a new (for us) fish, which is quite different to clean (in fact the fisherman did it for us!) and it tastes like chicken!

Budu (chicken fish)

We stopped here for a week, an unusually long interval for us to be in a place without sailing. We read on the Bauhaus Guide that a sailor called his boat Kuani after seeing the beauty of this island!

Full Moon at Kuanidup

Full Moon at Kuanidup

Sunset over Pelican Island

10 days in the San Blas with Marie-Helene and Thierry

On the 17th of February Marie-Helene and Thierry, a couple of long time friends from France joined us after an adventurous journey. The transfer from Panama City to Carti lasted about 3 hours going through dirty roads, including passages through the jungle; in Carti, a lancia was waiting to take them to our boat. As a matter of fact, till the day before this transfer was in question as the Kuna Congress decided to forbid any transfer from the mainland to sailboats. Fortunately, the agency that they hired was able to find a “circumvention” to the problem and we were extremely happy to see them pop-up around noon.

Marie-Helene and Thierry spent 10 days with us on board. We had wonderful time with them sailing and visiting some of the most scenic islands of the San Blas archipelago. In order to get an overview of the route, click here to consult the interactive map. We had a constantly sunny and pleasantly windy weather that allowed us to enjoy every single moment and appreciate the wonderful colors of the sea – that the photos that follow can barely reproduce!

On February 26th they left the 28-30 degree temperature range of this region to return to snowy Paris – we were very sorry to see them leaving!


Gemma and Marie-Helene

Sergio and Thierry

Venanzio, a mola (one of the rectangles in the picture) maker in Salardup – 17 February 2018

Myriadup, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018


Myriadup, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018


Cambombia, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018


Waisaladup, Green Island – 19 February 2018


Nargana – 20 February 2018


Bridge between Nargana and Corazon de Jesus – 20 February 2018

The crew in Nargana – 20 February 2018


Coco Bandero – 20 February 2018


BBQ Island, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018


BBQ Island, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018


The Pools, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018


Tiadup, Holandes Cays – 22 February 2018


Sand Islet / Kalugirdup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018


Sibadup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018


Miriadup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018


Uchutupu Dummat, Chichime – 24 February 2018

Uchutupu Dummat, Chichime – 24 February 2018

Provisioning in Chichime – 24 February 2018


Yansaladup, Eastern Lemmon Cays – 24 February 2018


Dog Island, Eastern Lemmon Cays – 25 February 2018


Tiadup, Lemmon Cays – 26 February 2018


Lunch together

“Mail in the bucket” (phone in a bucket brought to the top of the mast to get a better signal)



Cambombia and Nargana

On January 24th we headed toward the Naguargandup Cays, anchoring in front of Cambombia, the Eastern of the cays. This beautiful island is home to two very friendly Kuna families, who run a “restaurant” serving among other dishes, the “cambombia”, a shell very common and easy to source in this area.


At the restaurant we were not alone, since two groups of Italian with their clients joined our very long and only table. The dinner was accompanied by loud modern music which contrasted quite a bit with the very basic and natural environment. This somehow highlights the contrast between the simple life of the Kuna people who do not even use electric lights and the needs brought by the tourists.


We spent the following few days sailing between our favorites islands, all close by Cambombia. On January 31st we met Francesco and Maria (friends of Mirko – see earlier post) who joined us for dinner; we spent a pleasant evening, enjoying some social life that for us is quite scarce in this period!

Nargana and Corazon de Jesus

Nargana – Houses with bathrooms (on the left side of the photo)

One of the factors that influences our sailing route is the need to source provisions, especially fresh food such as vegetables and fruits. In this area there are sometimes Kuna people who bring by ulu (canoe) fish, lobsters, and sometimes even vegetables and fruit. However this happens on a “by chance” basis, so the alternative is to go to one of the few islands where you can find some basic shops. Nargana and Corazon de Jesus are two islands linked by a bridge where there are “several” shops selling “luxurious” items such as pasta, bread, and biscuits.

These islands also feature a laundry place where a lady washes clothes by hand using the river water brought by a basic but functional pipe system coming from the mainland. This water provisioning is quite unique in the area as fresh water typically is sourced from rain. This is why the Kuna huts are typically surrounded by plastic barrels.

Laundry at Nargana

In addition, Nargana is the only place where is kind of safe to leave the garbage (basura) that apparently is brought to the mainland. In all other islands the garbage is either burned (yes, including the plastic; it is considered the least of the damages to the environment by both Kuna and cruisers) or simply thrown into the sea. This is really a major problem for us and most sailors. We collect the garbage in different buckets depending on the material, as we are used to do at home, but here it is useless because there are no means (and a culture) to properly dispose the differentiated garbage.

Bridge between Nargana and Corazon de Jesus

Central park in Nargana

Back to Panama

On January 15th (actually the 16th at 3.00am) we got back to Panama, where we spent the following day making provisions for the next two months on board.

After a long bus ride to Panamarina, we finally got back on board of Zoe. We were quite anxious about the conditions of the boat since some of our friends had the unpleasant surprise of finding mold covering the whole interiors while leaving the boat unattended without a dehumidifier. Since we did the same even though only for one month, we were quite pleased to find out that everything was fine, even if on the edge. Some smell of mold was already slightly perceivable.

On January 18th we set sails toward the San Blas, even if we made a “technical” stop in Linton Bay to mount all the spares we purchased back in Italy, including some improvements for the desalinator, alarms for the bilge pump, and so on.

While at the anchor, we were patrolled by a small shark all day long. It look quite innocuous even if we did not test it first hand!


Linton Bay – Small shark

After a few days we sailed to Nuinudup, one of the Eastern Lemmon Cays, where we already anchored back in November.

Since our arrival in Panama, the weather was still fairly unstable, despite the start of the dry season. Quite often we experienced showers and anyhow we never had a whole sunny day. Nevertheless, the trade winds (Alisei) set in blowing constantly from NNE at 15/20 knots. That allowed us to always sail between islands without ever using the motor.


Los Grullos Cay

On January 23rd we started exploring new islands, beginning from Los Grullos, Gunboat Island, anchoring in the late afternoon in front of Isla Maquina, where we planned to attend the “Congreso”, or town hall, that is a gathering place for villagers most evenings. We were introduced to the Congreso by Venanzio, a transvestite, mola maker, who was the first Kuna person we met back in Chichime. He kindly instructed us about the proper dress code and accompanied us to the Congreso meeting. The “Saila” (the chief of the village) was already swinging in his hammock, the sign of power in the Congreso. He was accompanied by an “Argar”, an “interpreter” who applies the Saila’s wisdom to the current situation. In this case the Saila was giving a judgement for a case of aggression by two Kuna’s toward some tourists in the mainland. After one hour of long sacred songs, he emitted his sentence to send the aggressors in jail in Nargana.

Every village has a Congreso that is hosted in an oversized hut, with some hammocks in the center and wooden seats all around. Women sit most closely to the Saila. We noticed that many of the women, including Venanzio, were sewing molas with the support of a headlight while attending the session.

We realized that it is not rare to meet Kuna men who are transvestites. We were told that, due to the matrilinear character of the Kuna society, families without female descendants grow their last son as a female.


Isla Maquina


Child – Isla Maquina


Mini Super – Isla Maquina


School – Isla Maquina

On our way back to Panamarina

We left the Holandes Cays in search for internet connection since we were not able to communicate with our relatives since days. We sailed towards Cayo Bandero, another beautiful group of islands south east of the Holandes. Not finding signal, we continued going southeast toward Green Island, where we found a little paradise in front of the islet of Waisaladup. We found out later that Waisaladup is a day stop for tourists coming from the mainland by speed boat.



Utu (canoe) at Waisaladup

Utu (canoe) at Waisaladup


We were not alone, other boats were at the anchor taking advantage of the place. Among them we met a couple, a Canadian guy and an Italian woman, David and Daniela. We went together to make provisioning in Nargana (a populated island close by) by dinghy. They told us a little bit of their life story; they met in Tortola, BVIs, where she was working in a restaurant and he was chartering boats. After the passage of hurricane Irma that devastated the area, they decided to leave Tortola and to come to the San Blas in search for fortune.

Sailboats in Green Island

We decided to go back to the Holandes for a couple of days, visiting BBQ island before starting our trip back to Panamarina.

Leaving the Holandes Cays

Leaving the Holandes Cays

On December 10th we stopped in Nuinudup for the night and the day after, despite the nasty weather, we sailed 45 miles toward east and got by 5.00 pm to Isla Grande. We were afraid to enter Panamarina due to the fringing waves, so the day after we waited until 2pm, than we decided to cross the couple of miles that separated us from the marina entrance to find out it was not that bad!


From Isla Grande to Panamarina

As soon as we got to the mooring we met Mirko, our friend and mechanic from Rome who has his boat, Nikke, moored in the same marina. He spends the Christmas vacations sailing in the area. Actually he was the one who first mentioned this archipelago as a “place that you cannot miss”.

We spent a couple of days in Panamarina before heading to the airport in Panama on the 14th. Our flight back to Italy had a connection in Miami where we spent the day doing shopping (marine stuff, of course!) having a noticeable lunch (since a few months…) in a great place close to Fort Lauderdale. The terrible traffic prevent us to get to Miami Beach, but we got close by…



We will be back on January 15th, after a month spent celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve with parents and friends, jeopardizing completely our simple diet!

Holandes Cays

Akuadargana – Western Holandes Cays

We left the Eastern Lemmon Cays heading to the Holandes Cays, another group of islands still quite visited by sailors. We anchored in front of Akuadargana, close to a large, beautiful ketch owned by an Italian noble. This was one of the first time that an Italian boat among the ones we met would fly the Italian flag!

Italian ketch

Waisaladup – Western Holandes Cays

We spent the next few days exploring other islands part of the Holandes Cays (see map) discovering tiny islets made of a strip of sand and a few palms. We often wondered whether in ten years these islets will still be there or they will be submerged.

Miriadiadup – Central Holandes Cays

Gemma at Miriadiadup

Sand Islet – Central Holandes Cays

We landed on many of these islands; unfortunately some of them look much nicer from a distance as when you arrive you get badly impressed by the quantity of garbage that accumulates brought from the sea. The Kuna people make their best to keep their islands clean, periodically burning the garbage, but it looks like the quantity of plastic is becoming overwhelming. This is probably due to the fact that the San Blas are in a cul de sac of the Atlantic Ocean and easily become a point of collection of the floating objects transported by the currents.

Ukupsuit – Central Holandes Cays

We were surprised by the number of Italian crews traveling in this area, especially in the western San Blas. We found out that many of them can self sustain by chartering tourists. It seems to be a well established community where everyone helps each other. Some of the people we met leave in this area since years, and seem to enjoy this life style.

BBQ Island – Eastern Holandes Cays

Eastern Lemmon Cays

Dog Island

Dog Island

Dog Island is the first of the Eastern Lemmon Cays that you encounter coming from West. It is famous for the wreck that lies submerged a few meters from the beach. It is what remains of a cargo whose captain in the ’50s decided to beach due to an engine failure, to save the rum that was transporting.

2017-11-22 13.47.34 SM-G903F

Dog Island – on the left the emerged part of the sunk ship

Now it is a great snorkelling spot as coral and fishes colonized it. We spent quite sometime exploring the wreck as well as the small island nearby. We definitely recommend a visit to this place. We continued for about 20 minutes to anchor in front of Nuinudup, where we met a few Italian boats that were previously in Chichime. It seems like a small world…



The island of Nuinudup constituted a remarkable experience because… It was “no-see-’em” free! A very positive feature that we are realizing is not that common in this area…

We have seen this traditional canoes several times by now, but we will never stop being surprised and full of of appreciation for the Kuna people using them in place of more “modern” boats.

2017-11-23 13.01.16 Canon EOS 500D

Lemmon Cays (San Blas archipelago)


Tiadup - Lemmon Cays

Tiadup – Lemmon Cays

We woke up in between Miriadup, Naguarchirdup and Tiadup, a beatiful set of “dup”, “island” in Kuna language. The day was beautiful, sunny and with almost no wind. We then decided to take the opportunity to walk up the mast to try to repair the anchor light, that would not turn on. Gemma pulled up Sergio to the top of the mast, where he spent almost a hour hanging on the rope, deciding at the end to remove the whole lamp assembly and buy a new one when back in Rome.

Naguarchirdup - Lemmon Cays

Naguarchirdup – Lemmon Cays

Tiadup from the top of the mast

Tiadup from the top of the mast

Zoe from the top of the mast

Zoe from the top of the mast

After this exercise, we enjoyed a tour by dinghy of the nearby islands, realizing how beautiful they are but also how many “no-see-’em” they host! Chagra, je-jen or no-see-’em (short for “you do not see them”) are different words that identify extremely small flies that byte and leave lots of very scratchy bubbles for about a week. The common repellents and mosquito nets are useless; the best defense is to escape as fast as possible when you realize you are becoming food for them. The problem is that there is no way to know in advance if the island is infested by these insects, as it depends on the wind and other variables obscure to us.


Kagandup - Lemmon Cays

Kagandup – Lemmon Cays

The following day we decided to leave heading towards the Eastern Lemmon Cays.

Carti Islands (San Blas archipelago)

We left Chichime to reach the Carti Islands, the only place nearby where we could buy some food and the gasoline for the “resurrected” outboard engine. In fact, we learned that it is highly recommended not to use gasoline mixed with oil that was stored for a long period (our summer time vacations), as it develops water!

Coiba - Carti Islands

Coiba – Carti Islands

Carti is a densely populated island, where we visited the Kuna Yala National museum… A one room collection of a few posters and photos illustrating the society and the history of the Kuna people since 1925, the year of their independence.

It was an experience to walk along the narrow streets of the village, with one house attached to the other, where even a small room could have not been fit any longer! With very few exceptions, the houses are huts made of cane, with the roof fabricated from palm leaves. The floor, slightly elevated, is compact sand. You can see several hammocks, as many as the people in the family.

Sugdup (from North) - Carti islands

Sugdup (from North) – Carti Islands

We stopped in a little restaurant, the Pargo Rojo, where we had fish, rice and fried plantanos (green bananas), a very common dish in the area. We were also able to source some fruit and vegetables in a small store, and finally left the island heading towards the Lemmon Cays, where we arrived after a hour and a half of motorsailing.

Sugdup – Carti Islands

Sugdup (from West) - Carti Islands

Sugdup (from West) – Carti Islands

Sugdup - Fuel Station

Sugdup – Fuel Station

Panama – San Blas

Dear friends, it is a long time since we last updated this blog. Many things have happened, including our “vacations” in Italy for the summer time. We promise that we will catch up with our adventures in these last few months.

shelter bay on the dry

Shelter Bay – on the dry

We resumed our sailing in November 10th heading towards the San Blas Islands starting from Shelter Bay Marina in Panama, where we had left Zoe while we were in Italy.

san blas map

The San Blas Archipelago

Though not well known by non-sailors, the San Blas archipelago is one of the most attractive cruising areas in the State of Panama. It consists of more than 300 islands of which only a few of them are inhabited by the Kuna people.

As a matter of fact, San Blas is the Spanish name for Kuna Yala, that means Kuna Nation. It is a matrilineal society with its own laws, rules and language (even though they communicate with foreigners in Spanish).

linton bay

Linton bay

Our first stop on the way to the San Blas was Linton Bay, a four hour sailing trip from Shelter Bay. Just to begin the season in a “proper” way, when we got there we realized that our outboard engine, a glorious 30 year old Mariner 15 HP, would not start. After a long diagnosis process were we took apart the engine several times, we had to find a mechanic, not an easy task. We we’re lucky to be addressed to “El Pelota”, who fixed it in a couple of hours! The best mechanic in the area!
One evening we decided to have dinner at a restaurant, and guess what – we met the crew of Auriga, one of the boats that made the Atlantic passage with us last year. It was a chance to exchange stories about our respective itineraries… In fact, we found out that we got to the same point travelling from Barbados in opposite directions!

cayo chichime

Cayo Chichime

On November 15th we set sails towards Chichime Cays, the first set of islands arriving to the San Blas from West. To our surprise we found dozens of sailboats at the anchor, a quite different image of the deserted location we had imagined. Even more surprisingly we realized that the most common language among the sailors was Italian! This said, the look and feel of these islands is fairly typical of the San Blas, being a stripe of white sand covered by palm trees (and in some cases, mangroves) with a couple of Kuna families inhabiting the island. In fact, our first encounter with the Kuna people was them coming to our boat to sell molas (see picture below) and fish from their ulu (canoe).



kuna selling molas

Kuna woman selling molas

Later we realized that the rest of the San Blas archipelago is much more wild and unexploited. Nevertheless, our nights were featured by a stingray that attracted by our torch light would come close to the boat and jump out of the water!