San Andres, Columbia to Bocas del Toro, Panama

We sailed off the hook after breakfast and buzzed past s/v Eva Marie as we departed San Andres. David and Victoria were on deck ready to wave farewell; they were anchored directly in our path and despite us shouting, “STARBOARD,” while coasting closer on a port tack they preferred to risk collision rather than hoist their anchor to get out of our way. It was all good fun as Brian sailed us around s/v Eva Marie and out the channel.

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Paul was eager to take the helm and expertly steered us through the channel. Shortly thereafter Brian set the auto pilot and we were cruising along in light winds under full sail with the main, genoa, and staysail.


“So this is cruising!?” Paul observed as we all sat, hands free, in the cockpit admiring the coastline of San Andres. Paul’s previous sail on Rode Trip was her delivery from Halifax, NS to Portsmouth, NH when we’d just bought her in 2010. On that trip, Brian and three crew members took turns hand steering during a 4-day passage. They were less than comfortable (strong winds, high seas, cold temperatures, no lee cloths on the bunks) and were learning a completely new boat on the fly. That delivery was Paul’s first and only offshore experience; this passage would prove to be a luxury cruise in comparison. Paul had been more familiar with lake racing; watching the competition, constantly trimming sails, hand steering, adjusting course to keep up with constantly shifting wind. With Paul aboard, our sails were perfectly trimmed (not that Brian’s trimming skills have dwindled, but certainly getting up and going to the foredeck to actually look at sail shape is above and beyond cruising expectations.)


Approximately 5-hours into our passage, we came upon the Albuquerque Cays. These two, small cays were completely surrounded by coral reefs. An excellent stop for snorkeling and spearfishing! We anchored Rode Trip in about 20-feet of water, dropped the dinghy, and grabbed our gear. Brian gave Paul a short tutorial on how to use the Hawaiian sling. I was on dinghy duty while the guys explored below the water. Paul is certified to scuba dive. He’s visited many reefs, but this was the first time that he was not observing the beauty of the coral and fishes. Paul was now on the hunt! Our survival at sea depended on whatever fascinating fish or lobster he could kill! Brian managed to spear two Spanish lobsters. They were so small compared to the lobsters in New England or the Bahamas that we looked at them as though they would hardly provide appetizer. Spanish lobsters grow to only 8-inches long. Back at the boat, Brian prepped fried rice and lobster for dinner while Paul and I readied the boat to get back underway.DCIM101GOPRO


During the nights, we each took a 4-hour shift; Brian started 8pm-12am, then I took 12am-4am, and Paul took 4am-8am. It was smooth sailing and we all had plenty of sleep. Paul seemed to think that the bunk with a lee cloth was much more comfortable than being packed in-between sails in the v-berth as was his first experience aboard Rode Trip. During the days, we tried to stay cool and Paul tried to stay out of the sun. Both of these tasks would have been much easier if Rode Trip had a dodger and/or bimini. But we don’t, so we sweated it out. Paul and I kept our eyes on the sea whenever outside, but we saw more garbage than sea creatures. We also spotted one very bloated, dead sea turtle floating on the surface and one massive water spout amidst some passing squalls. The guys set the fishing line often; we caught one barracuda and threw it back. Although Paul likened the passage to a camping trip, he did enjoy the food. Eggs and plantains for breakfast, fresh bread each day, homemade carrot with coconut milk soup, and homemade cookies for late-night fixes.DCIM101GOPRODCIM101GOPRO

Paul enlightened us with all of the current events and new technology that we’d been missing back in the states. He brought several gadgets with him and thought of various forms of data collection that he could do aboard Rode Trip. On day two, we did speed trials. Paul set the GPS on his android phone within clear view of the cockpit. Then, he focused on sail trip and steered course. The GPS displayed speed in kilometers per hour; despite his best efforts we didn’t increase beyond 10kph which is roughly 5 knots. Not too shabby for the Wetsnail in 10-12 knots of wind. The guys were quite happy with their performance!




We sighted land on our third day and Paul very nautically shouted, “Land ho!” Panama lay straight ahead!


Schools of fish were jumping and gulls were swooping very nearby, so rather than head straight for the entrance to Bocas del Toro the guys took advantage of this opportunity for some more deep sea fishing. Brian caught a tasty lunch! While I broiled the fish, Brian and Paul navigated us toward Bocas where we’d soon set the hook – our third country this year!



Buenas! Hola! Isla de Providencia!

We’d arrived! That was the easy part. Now, to get cleared into a foreign country and start getting acclimated to our new surroundings. Through previous research, by accessing and picking the brains of fellow cruisers, we anticipated a very laid-back clearance process at Providencia. We knew we had to get in touch with Mr. Bush…

Once anchored, we hailed Mr. Bush on the VHF and received a prompt response. This was a bonus, as we were cautioned that he does not always monitor the VHF. Mr. Bush told us he’d be waiting at his office; not yet accustomed to this island’s accent, we interpreted less than half of his directions. We put the dinghy into the water, put all of our documents into a dry bag secured in a backpack, and headed to the dock.


We easily located the dinghy dock at the northeast end of the anchorage beside the government dock. There did not seem to be concern for security, none of the visiting dinghies were locked. We tied the dink and turned east to walk through town.




This is the town of Santa Isabel. We peeked around a corner, which would soon become all too familiar, and Brian said, “This way…” All of the signage was in Spanish and we worried that we might walk past Mr. Bush’s office without knowing.


We’d begun to exit what seemed to be the center of Santa Isabel. “I’ll just ask someone,” I said. A very friendly woman who spoke English, took me by the hand and led me back up the street on the corner we’d bypassed. She pointed ahead and explained, “…see dat red roof, Mr. Bush is above dat.” We walked through town all the while using that red roof as a waypoint.



Brian spotted Mr. Bush’s sign on the second floor of the building directly across the street from the red roof.


Mr. Bush, Agencia Maritima, welcomed us into his office; as an agent, he facilitates the clearance process for all arriving and departing cruisers at Providencia. There was another cruising couple at the office, s/v Kokopeli, who had arrived the day prior. Mr. Bush requested our paperwork; boat documentation, crew list, and clearance papers (Zarpe) from the previous country. We did not have clearance papers from the Bahamas, which puzzled Mr. Bush. “No one ever come here from dare,” he told us. I explained that the Bahamas does not require we clear out, they do not necessarily provide a Zarpe unless we seek it. Mr. Bush remedied the situation by taking our Bahamas cruising permit and in addition he requested Brian write a statement detailing our arrival and departure dates from the Bahamas and stating that we do not have clearance papers because they are not required. Another cruising couple, s/v Eva Marie, arrived at the office and presented their papers as well. Mr. Bush explained that he is our liaison with the Columbian government and that he would provide us with Tourist Cards and Cruising Permits after submitting our information directly to Columbia. He had already coordinated with the officials at Providencia, and we all sat with Mr. Bush while we waited for the Port Captain and the Immigration Officer to arrive. Mr. Bush presented us with tourist information; a CD, a map, and some postcards. He and his assistant suggested sights worth seeing and restaurants to try. He asked how long we would be staying to which I responded, “How long can we stay?” Brian and I had thought about one month would suffice. Mr. Bush replied, “You can stay as long as you want, we are happy people here, nobody worries here.” The Port Captain arrived and completed paperwork pertaining to each of the three boats. The Immigration Officer arrived, took everyone’s passports, and departed. Mr. Bush assured us that our passports would be returned that day to his office at 3:00pm. He instructed us to pick up our passports that afternoon and then reconvene at his office on Sunday morning to complete the clearance process; it was Thursday so this was a drawn-out affair. In the meantime we could access the entire island.

Brian and I had some lunch back at the boat and then ventured into Santa Isabel once again to exchange money. The currency at Providencia is a Peso. The exchange rate is 2,000:1. All of the ATMs were out of order, so we did an exchange at the bank where we were able to show Brian’s driver license as ID since our passports were in the hands of Immigration. The bank would not change cash although the cashier told us that the grocery store would. We were able to use a Visa card to exchange so that we had Pesos until the ATMs were back in working order.

Our passports were returned to Mr. Bush’s office, just not at 3:00pm. Another cruiser, s/v Kelly Rae, whom had also arrived promptly at 3:00pm joined our group and we all got acquainted while we sat in Mr. Bush’s air conditioned store below the office and awaited Immigration’s arrival (sometime well after 4:00pm). We moved the “newly arrived cruisers” party just down the street afterwards. We stopped in the grocery store for cold, $1 beers and enjoyed refreshments while sitting in the park among new friends.

To complete this clearance process, we did reconvene at Mr. Bush’s office that Sunday. He faxed all of our paperwork to Columbia; we had to wait several days to actually obtain our Tourist Card and Cruising Permit. The grand total for clearance documents and Mr. Bush’s services was $150 USD. Well worth it! Mr. Bush has continued to be extremely helpful and hospitable throughout our stay at Providencia.