It’s been a whirlwind around here. There was so much to do to get the boat set up to host, so many recipes to nail down, so much gear to square away. Just so much. That’s not even counting the endless hours spent online tweaking the website and the various other channels. But it happened – we got a last-minute charter request and so we were off to the races.
Catching Up in San Blas
Our first bit of time back in San Blas was spent catching back up. We have friends in various places, we need to get reacquainted with our launcha contacts, we need to get reacquainted with the drivers from Panama City, and I needed to get reacquainted with all the fish and where they’re hanging nowadays.
First up we finally caught up with the girls from One World, and that was cool. They were keen to check out a dolphin that had washed up ashore in the Coco Banderos – so we sailed there. Thus ensued the dolphin excavation, which I watched at a safe distance with a cold drink in hand.
Then we sailed back to the Swimming Pool to hang out with friends and do some diving. I grabbed a few fish for our friends and for the smoker. We did a dinner one night with our friends on Runner (thanks Deb and Reg!) and then we were invited (again) to another dinner in exchange for more of our smoked fish – but we had to decline as we got a last-minute charter request.
That request was welcome, but we weren’t expecting it on such short notice so it sent us into overdrive. There were so many small things that had to be done. So many. And then there was provisioning. And logistics. To top it all off we were having trouble with the Interwebs, so we worked another day in the Swimming Pool and then pulled anchor and moved off to Kuanidup (Los Grullos on the charts) and then dropped the hook there where it was back to scrubbing and organizing and prepping. We spent a couple of rolly nights there and then, suddenly, our guests were onboard.
It was a really fun couple from Canada, and we couldn’t have been luckier. That’s the thing about chartering – it’s a bit of a lottery on both sides: for the customer you’re never really sure about the captain, for the captain you’re never really sure about the customer. No worries, but it’s a thing – which is where me having an online presence probably helps the customer.
This couple owned two boats in Canada and he was into freediving, spearfishing and line fishing. So there was a good deal of understanding and there was plenty to talk about. This was their second catamaran charter here in San Blas and it was the first place in all their travels they came back to, which speaks to the beauty of San Blas. One of the first things they told us was the difference in experiences between our charter and the other boat – in food quality, personal attention, and level of activities. In addition we were cheaper. We take great pride in offering value, great food, and an unforgettable experience, so it was nice to hear them tell us over and over :)
After we had our guests onboard they went ashore and had a drink with some other visitors – enjoying the turquoise water and white sand beaches while I smoked a chicken onboard. Yes, we smoke food onboard. I have a smoker onboard. And it makes all the difference in the world. We ate a great lunch and then we were off, dragging a spread behind the boat and heading North to the outlying islands in search of clear water, easy snorkeling, and hopefully some big fish. We found all of that. But before we even got to that good stuff – we rolled a TON of fresh sushi and gorged ourselves on the freshest of the fresh sushi.
Now, there is no way I’m giving away spots or even areas – but let me say this. On our first dive the following day we found amazing coral, a beautiful ledge, and saw large Black Grouper and Cubera Snapper. OUR FIRST DIVE. I stuck a fish for ceviche and then we went back to the boat to prepare the ceviche and eat lunch. After lunch we headed to a nearby island where I know the local Kunas – there we looked at the molas and jewelry and picked up a few lobster for dinner.
Then we were off again – sailing to yet another uninhabited island chain. I’d been watching the weather, so I knew we were in for a Southern wind (which is opposite of what prevails) and with this knowledge we anchored in my new favorite anchorage. This place will remain a secret. I can describe it though – it’s white sand beaches lined with palm trees :) Of the three islands near this anchorage, two are completely uninhabited and the other is inhabited by one of our Kuna friends. On one of these islands I dropped Marissa and our guests off and they had a beach fire and had a very interesting conversation with our Kuna friend on the history of their culture and the way it’s changing. While they were having this conversation, I smoked a rack of ribs.
Yep, we smoke ribs for our charters. Damo – if you read this, I know you’re freaking out – the smoker is the bee’s knees. Jaco if you read this, thanks for the inspiration!
Our guests and Marissa came back for a rack of smoked ribs and we gorged ourselves and then retired – we had a full day of beach and diving the next day.
We woke up in the morning and decided we liked this anchorage too much to leave. There were huge fingers of reef that ran from 5M to 25M in depth, walls, shallow coral, and (as we found) the best fish were right under the boat. There were white sand beaches. And there was 360 degrees of protection. But what really tipped the scales – was that there was a huge Cubera Snapper living right under the catamaran. We could see him clearly on the bottom in 15M of water, he would come up in the water column and check out the boat and then drop back to the bottom.
First thing in the morning I worked with Jon (our guest) on his freediving and breathold. I took him through his first contraction on the bottom and we worked through lowering heartrate and then technique underwater. Then we went and dove the reef fingers outside of the anchorage and practiced what we’d just learned, and then we added some spearfishing technique to the mix. Of course, when we returned the Cubera Snapper was back under the boat.
We saw the fish for the rest of that day and the next morning, as he really was an excellent fish. Jon – our guest, took two shots at him over this time period – but this was a wary fish in clear water. And he was a big fish hanging at the bottom in 15M of water – meaning a good shot was a necessity. I decided not to shoot the fish – but I know where he lives and one of our charter guests will get another shot at him. Because Jon had his spearfishing in the morning while Marie (Jon’s g/f) spent the morning relaxing and playing games with Marissa – Jon owed Marie the afternoon, and they spent this exploring the other islands in our anchorage.
That night our guests cooked for us – a hot pan-fried fish fillet laid over a bed of rice covered in a mango chutney. Very, very tasty. And then we had a glass of wine, told some fish lies, and learned a little more about each other.
The next morning was our guest’s last – but they elected to have the 13:00 launcha pick them up rather than the 08:30 launcha pick them up so we had plenty of time for morning fun. We hung out and relaxed and talked over some fresh-ground coffee. Then about 10:30 Jon and I went for our last dive – our Cubera friend had been sighted that morning but failed to give us another shot at him. But after the dive, when we were coming back to the boat, I saw a Mutton Snapper under the boat. It was 15M or so in depth and they usually run – but I dove on him and (because he was harassing an octopus) he turned around and swam within range. I took a good holding shot and stuck him, but in the ensuing chaos he pulled himself free.
Jon saw this from the surface and was convinced the Mutton Snapper was still in the area – so we took turns diving and looking for it over the next half hour, our freediving practice earlier being key. Eventually I saw Jon line up and take a shot and then we had it – the world’s toughest Mutton Snapper was on the boat. Right at the buzzer. While Jon and Marie got their things together, we prepared lunch and cleaned the fish – then we ate and then the launcha was here. They were sad to leave and we were sad to see them go.
It’s great when clients turn into friends. The last thing they told us is that they were coming back, with friends :)