After sleeping in late and enjoying one last morning of very comfortable accomodations, we packed up and headed out to the marina to meet our departing boat for the sea crossing from Colombia to Panama. Due to a lack of overland travel options between these two countries, sailing has become a popular method, and we were fortunate to find and secure passage as crew on the S/V Luka, a 56-foot sailboat in which the Captain Tom completed a solo-round-the-world trip in 2007-2008. We were comfortable that we were in good hands with Tom - after such a trip I'd imagine these 5 day sails were a walk in the park!
As we waited at the marina we started to meet our fellow passengers/crew members, which including us totaled 14 people and 1 dog - a good mixed group, although one that clearly slanted younger than Juli and I:
- 4 guys in their early/mid 20s from Switzerland
- 3 girls in their mid 20s from Argentina
- 2 sisters in their early 20s from Canada
- 4 ship's crewmembers: Captain Tom, his wife Bea, ship's mate Jerry, and second mate Wacek (a jack russell terrier)
Though for the ship's crew members this trip would be easy, they set our expectations right away that the first couple days would be tough for the rest of us, making it very clear that we should stock up on Dramamine and be ready for rough seas. Nobody in the group had done any open sea sailing, so we were all rookies.
After a couple hours of sitting around waiting for our passports to get their exit stamps from Colombia and getting baggage inspected for drugs, we began to board the boat - Juli and I were first to board and as there were only two double beds available in the boat we took the one that was in its own stateroom. Although the drawback was that the room also doubled as crew member access to the engine room (making it the warmest room on the boat), the advantage was that it was also the largest bed...the other double was really a joke for two people, and we felt bad for the sisters who ended up sharing it.
Overall Luka was a solid comfortable boat - we knew we wouldn't exactly be sporting our pashmina afghans and hanging with T-Pain, space on the interior was definitely at a premium but all the essentials were in place - kitchen, bathroom, salon, bed. What first caught our eye was the massive amount of fresh fruit stored in the pilot house and in the 'banana hammock' on the rear deck - we ended up eating lots of oranges and mangos from this cornucopia:
After everybody boarded and we completed a safety briefing and instructional sessions on how to use and flush the toilet using a hand pump, near sunset we raised anchor and began our sail out of Cartagena's gigantic harbor area.
Sleeping the first two nights was no easy task however, due to not only the motion but the stifling heat in the cabins - we couldn't crack the ceiling windows while sailing because water from large swells would occasionally wash over the deck. The sea sickness meds did have some sleep aids in there but overall it was a restless and sweaty couple of nights...a couple times I ended up just getting up, sitting at the map table and reading for a while, figuring I would make up the sleep later.
The entire second day was spent on the open sea, more rocking and rolling, during daylight we were able to go up on the aft deck for some fresh air, but there wasn't much to see besides blue water and blue skies.
Mercifully, by the morning of the third day we had completed the crossing of the sea and awoke in the much more tranquil waters of the San Blas Islands - an archipelago of 365 islands which is one of three autonomous regions of Panama controlled & governed by the indigenous Kuna people. Our reward for the rough sea crossing was three days of cruising, relaxing, and snorkeling around the islands before completing our journey to Panama.