Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | January 30, 2013

New Years on the High Seas

N 9° 33.9′   W 78° 51.5′

Banedup, West Lemmons, Kuna Yala


Our spot at Ailigandi. There are many small Panamanian and Colombian trading boats traveling these waters day and night and we have seen the remnants of several along our path, like the one in the distance, sunk on a sandbar.

1/2 – The guidebook says that once inside the reefs the waters of the San Blas are smooth and calm. This clearly does not apply to the remote eastern section, at least not at this time of year. Maybe that is why another week has gone by with only one more cruising boat sighted.

The Captain was getting anxious to move after two nights at Ailigandi, a Kuna town that seemed more sophisticated than those of our prior stops. We visited over the New Years holiday and didn’t see much work activity going on. The occasional passers by in ulus said “hola” and even “hello”, and inquired where we were from, but no one stopped to offer produce or fish or molas.

Dress here seemed more contemporary with many women wearing slacks or shorts and t-shirts.  We saw a more varied population, with blacks among the lighter-skinned Kunas, and several young people with weight problems which seemed unusual.


Girls basketball was the highlight on New Years Eve and we saw several players sans sneakers which looked tough on the concrete court.

There were more concrete structures here including an official looking administration building and a hospital with outpatient clinic. The hospital was scary looking by our standards but seemed to be on the right track, offering radiology and lab services, pediatric vaccinations and education programs including handwashing, prevention of mosquito borne illnesses, breast cancer detection and the hazards of smoking.


Our healthcare friends back home will likely spot a few deviations from usual medical clinic standards. The doors and windows were wide open and no personnel in sight.

Dozens of TV antennae poked above the huts and electric wires were strung between rough looking poles fashioned from tree trunks, providing more lights than we had seen to date in a Kuna village. A super loud generator roared most of the night. We saw teenagers with cell phones and purchased a Digicel sim card here which offered hope of internet access through the weak signal. When we got back to the boat we found the card had expired and did not work.


A garbage stream floats from many of the Kuna villages and often contains the remnants of commercial products.

So we set out for Mono Island and the town of Tannaquetupu, advertised in the guidebook as a pleasant spot so calm that one could work on their mast. For our mast-less boat, a super smooth location where the spin cycle on the washer might function sounded appealing.

Weather and sea forecasting at this point consisted totally of grib file downloads via sat phone and while we had wind data, the sea data did not quite reach into this “hole” in the bottom of the Caribbean. We surmised that the seas would be no worse here than in the area we could view 50 miles to the north where the winter trade winds were now humming along, churning up big waves that would eventually roll down to our cruising zone. The forecast had peaked at 11 foot seas the day prior but we figured they would moderate a little here, and what the heck, we were only looking at a short passage outside the reef. We could tough it out for 30 minutes or so.

It was a memorable day as we encountered very steep waves, exacerbated by some shallow spots. We had to hang on to our flybridge seats as we bounced and rocked and rolled along. At one point we heard a bang of a cabinet opening and a crash in the galley. I had cleared the counters but for a short trip had not duct taped the cabinets (residue-free duct tape) which is needed for excessive forces since the latches aren’t the greatest. Too rough to get off the flybridge, I declared that the galley was probably destroyed and would be closed for the rest of this cruise. The Captain, more worried about his next meal than hitting a reef managed to make his way below to rescue the galley, leaving me at the helm to follow the waypoints that I hoped were accurate and watch for any uncharted reefs through the rolly mess.


Not our favorite kind of sea day . . .

We made our way into Mono Island and were delighted to find the tranquil spot as described. There were some strange looking posts and what looked like 2 blank signs on a reef behind us. At first we thought they were just shallow water marks but we motored around to check the other side and got our first taste of Kuna inhospitality. No anchoring allowed here and no visiting the area without a Kuna guide and permission from Kuna authorities. The stated reason was “you always visit our rivers and mountains without permission and due contribution”. There was a threat of confiscating property if the rule was violated. We guessed that prior visitors had done something taboo and and we subsequent visitors would take the punishment.


Mono Island Anchorage. It would be simpler for us if the Kuna nation would administer and communicate cruising regulations and permits as an entity instead of having each of the many villages set the rules. Ah, well. It’s their territory.

The town was a long dinghy ride, it was a holiday, and we were not sure what we might find if we could locate the appropriate officials. We got the feeling it wasn’t going to be a warm welcome like in the other Kuna villages, and no telling what the fee here might be. We debated trying the town anchorage for the night but it was a more open spot that did not look comfortable.

So back to the high seas it was for another hour bouncing along to Snug Harbor. We were going to have to make that anchorage work since we would not have time to travel farther before dark. The sunlight cooperated as we made our way into a scenic spot and it turned out to be even nicer than Mono Island. Success! We toasted the New Year with a meal of grouper (from the freezer) en papillote and humans and canines crashed after a tough travel day.

Refitting the galley with better latches and security for the countertop appliances will be on the improvements list after this adventure if there are to be future blue water cruises!

Snug Harbor anchorage. Snug it was!



  1. I love the pictures!

  2. Glad you guys made it safe, sound and Snug… looks like a beautiful spot!

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