Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Leg 4-2000 : Panama Canal; San Blas; Tortola, BVI

Leg 4 joining us at Pedro Miguel Boat Club , inside the canal.

Leaving Pedro Miguel Boat Club and going through the rest of the Canal


Peter Steering us thru Galliard Cut while our pilot enjoys a book on Alaska.

Narrow shortcut in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal.

The final lock chambers at Gatun. Heading north through the canal.

June 9, 2000 1430
18.07S, 70.22W Log: 36,266 Baro:
1016 Cabin Temp: 86F
Closehauled at 8.12 kts closehauled in 14kts SE winds,(NO JOKE!)
5 miles off Hispaniola Is.

Adventures to the Max!

We're now passing Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and hope to be anchored in a few hours. It seems weeks ago we left Panama's San Blas Islands, heading 1000 miles upwind against the trades to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Originally we planned on hugging the Columbian and Venezuelan coast, possibly as far east as the ABC islands before sailing north. We were soon dissuaded from this tactic by several people and David Jones' "Concise Guide to Caribbean Weather" book. Everyone said the passage along the coast would provide extremely strong headwinds accelerated by the 18,000' high Pico Cristobal Colon, the northernmost mountain of the Andes near the Columbia-Venezuela border.

Tom and Maureen on Tilly Whim, new friends we met in Panama from St. Croix, suggested going along the coast to Cartagena, Columbia, then sailing north close-hauled. They recommended it's best to gain easting to windward along the south coast of Haiti and Dominican Republic where the trades and currents are not as strong, possibly in the 15 knot instead of 20-30 knot range.

That's exactly what we've done, it's working. But aghhh, it's been a bash to windward in up to 39 knots with crossed, confused seas, sailing 1063 miles to cover 703 miles. Our crew who signed up for heavy weather are not disappointed!

I've found little information about facilities for yachts in the Dominican Republic. The Reeds Almanac says that Santo Domingo, the capital is a commercial harbor and recommends that yachts visit Club Nautico in the port of Boca Chica, 18 mi W of Santo Domingo. Today we talked with a woman on the SSB radio who had visited there last year and said that the people in the small fishing harbor were friendly but that we probably wouldn't see any yachts.

So that brings you up to date, except for our excellent adventures in Portobelo and the San Blas Islands!

Anchored off the Spanish Fort in Portobelo.

The 43 mile passage to Portobelo was easy and we ghosted under sail into the bay surrounded by lush green hills. We anchored in the lee of Fuerte San Fernando, built by the Spanish in 1650. Amazingly, the fort was cleared and visible with extensive fortifications and buildings spreading up the steep hillside. On two other slopes of the bay were other forts to protect the Spanish riches.

Minutes after our anchor hit the bottom we had the RIB in the water and hit the beach, exploring the huge fort in the golden light of late afternoon. The next day we dinghied to town and explored the 1630 restored counting house. Here all the gold and silver treasure from Columbia, Peru and Mexico was recorded before being shipped aboard galleons headed to Spain.
Many times pirates including Sir Frances Drake attacked the ships and the shoreside settlements, often leveling the forts with canon fire.

Our next stop was Nombre de Dios, a settlement that the Spaniards first started in 1519 but later abandoned in favor of Portobelo. It rained, the bay was muddy and we were glad to be underway the next morning for the San Blas. We used US chart 26066 from Colon to Portobelo, Nombre and toward the San Blas.

The San Blas have always fascinated me as a cruising destination. Ever since I was a little girl visiting fellow cruising boats who had Kuna Indian molas aboard I've been saving my pennies and looking forward to the chance to purchase my own.

Maureen and Tom from Tilly Whim had just spent several weeks cruising the San Blas Islands and asked us to take photos, care packages and school supplies to their Kuna friends. They marked our charts with anchorages that seemed difficult to thread into but reassured us that with good sunlight overhead we wouldn't have a problem.

We found that the latest US charts 26063 and 26065 fairly accurate but were lacking in close-up details. For anchoring details and excellent background on Panama "The Panama Guide" by Nancy & Tom Zydler is accurate and comprehensive, detailing several critical reefs not shown on the latest US charts.

Our first anchorage was one of the trickier entrances we've attempted, past Chichime Cays and then off tiny Yansaladur Islet. Between the chart, Panama Guide and numerous trips to stand on the mast pulpits, we sorted our way into a gorgeous tropical anchorage with 360 degree protection and tiny, white sand beach, coconut-clad islets on three sides.

We barely had the dinghy launched and sun awning up before we spotted a canoe, its sail brilliant white against the turquoise lagoon, headed our way. This was just the beginning of what unfolded to be the Kuna Experience.

Kuna Indian's selling molas.

The Kuna's are fiercely independent and maintain their traditions and governing of their coastal and island region. About 40,000 Kuna live only 40 of the 400 small keys, the other islands have a small grass hut with a caretaker for the coconuts that the Kuna trade with Columbian trading schooners. About 10,000 Kuna live on the coast maintaining their village agricultural gardens and airstrips for lobster to Panama.

The arriving dugout canoe held three tiny women in Kuna dress, yellow and red head scarf, wrapped skirt and bright blouse with hand stitched molas either side. Their faces were painted with a black line down the middle and a gold ring through their nose. Strings of beads wrap their arms and legs to make them slim. These women had sailed several miles to try selling us molas, layers of fabric that are cut and stitched into basic designs. Prices range from $5 to $30 depending on the detailing and there is no room for bargaining until you purchase a few.

Molas and money went flying until we realized this was only the first canoe and several others dotted the horizon, all under sail toward Mahina Tiare, bearing more molas.

The following morning was rainy and not good for coral piloting so we concentrated on teaching our cruising skills and went ashore to the tiny island we were anchored off.

As soon as we landed, a small Kuna man introduced himself Thomas. I gave him a bag of rice (as we learned from Tom & Maureen was the proper protocol) and asked if we could walk around the island. He answered in English, "No problem, come back and we'll talk". After exploring the island, we returned to his little thatch hut where his wife had pinned some attractive molas to the doorway. Thomas explained that he and his wife and a young couple were here for one month to collect, harvest and guard the coconuts. The island was spotless, not a single fallen palm frond was to be seen.

Hiking though Kuna cornfields.

Out of the blue, Thomas said, "I've been to New York!" Turned out that he had just retired as the head of all Kuna Yala (the Kuna nation) and had made several trips to the US and Canada to meetings of indigenous peoples, as representatives of the Kuna. We weren't totally sure of this guy, but when we later went into the meeting houses and store in the villages, his photo was on every calendar and posters and the silas (village chiefs) told us that he was a very important person.

After enjoying a day of relative solitude we headed for the island of Maquina to visit Tom and Maureen friends. The Restrepo family made us welcome and first took us to the congresso where we presented a 2lb packet of rice and formally asked permission through an interpreter to use the anchorage and visit the village. The kindly old sila was swinging in a hammock (as was traditional) and each of our crew shook hands and thanked him on the way out of the congesso. I was the last to shake his hand and gave him some National Geographic magazines and he firmly held my hand, saying "Thank you, thank you", which appeared to be the extent of his English. The situation had the same feelings I have experienced in Fiji when presenting the village chief with a bundle of kava roots and asking for permission to visit. This is the essence of cruising for us. We later returned with boxes of school supplies purchased at Costco in Panama, for which the teachers in the one-roomed school were very grateful.

Kuna canoes in Sidra Village.

We strolled the densely populated island with grass huts and families living inches apart, the women proudly displaying their molas. Ildefonso, Tom & Maureen's friend had visited the boat earlier and had told the village to be ready for eight visitors who might be interested in molas. Ildefonso explained that the rainy season had started and all but a handful of cruising boats had left. We never saw a single non-Kuna person ashore in any of the villages.

Idelfonzo offered to show us up the river, first by dinghy, then by hiking and we went off in search of monkeys, squirrels, exotic birds and crocodiles. We weren't disappointed and enjoyed viewing the corn, rice and lime groves planted amongst the jungle.

Ildefonso's Village and family home, San Blas.

Distributing school supplies to teachers in Ildefonso's village.

Amanda was molad out but found the beads a cheaper option and came away wrapped like a technicoloured mummy.

Adelia and her granddaughter hitch a ride on M.T. III. - Adelia displays her mola's for sale on the aft deck


Our last touch of paradise was the East Holandaise Cays, an idyllic group of islands, but the sad sight of an HR 42 from Gotenborg that was lost on the reef due to an error in navigation occupied our thoughts.

HR 42 on the coral. Hollandaise Cays, San Blas. - Amanda wading out to wrecked HR 42

But, now back to the present! We have only 14 miles to an anchorage where we'll wait for daylight to check out Boca Chica harbor. The lights in Santo Domingo are winking on in the distance - Amanda just made an outrageous Mediterranean lentil dinner, great tunes are playing and we're still zooming along at nearly 8 knots in light air and smooth water. Life is great!


June 15, 2000 1445
18.12N 64.39W Log: 36,675 8 to 8.4 kts, closehauled in 14-19

Tradewinds Sailing, Tortola Ahead!

Pusser's Landing. Soper's Hole Wharf, British Virgin Islands.

This is the sailing we dream of during our winter months off! Mahina Tiare in her element - closehauled with the wind 40 degrees off the bow, we've touched 8.4 knots and held 8 knots for hours, charging into impressive seas with spray flying in all directions.

Peter spent hours in the bow pulpit, spray flying right over him, grinning and whooping while Ed was standing on the boom, now Wayne is stretched across the aft deck. The sky is glorious blue with puffy tradewind clouds, the sea a brilliant turquoise and the rugged emerald outline of Tortola is on the bow, 8 miles ahead. This is the best sailing we've had in months! Any boat can slide along off the wind but to get 8.4 knots to windward into the trades takes attention to sail trim, good helmsmanship and a great design. We've that winning combination here!

Our stop at Dominican Republic was our shortest ever! After anchoring in the lee of the airport we showered on deck and planned on our first full night of sleep in over a week. Ed, Peter and I were standing on deck, still wet, when a particularly sharp roll sent Ed sliding! He and Peter said, "We
should just keep sailing, instead of rolling all night!" I thought the rest of the crew must surely be looking forward to a night's sleep, but they all agreed to an early departure for Puerto Rico.

By 0200 we had enough of the rolls so departed for Ponce (pon-SAY), Puerto Rico and motorsailed into 15-20kts for 31 hours, tacking into easterly trades, arriving 1100 hrs. We read that Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club had a great reputation for friendliness, which we heartily confirm!

Although they didn't have any available slips, they allowed us to tie to the new fuel dock and gave us temporary club membership. The moorage was $1 per foot per night, fuel at $1.50 per gallon was a deal, and the town was a shocker!

Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Ponce was founded in 1692 by the Spanish and by the impressive fountains, civic buildings, museums, art galleries and parks this town has been cared for. Every visitor to the town museum had a bi-lingual guide who proudly told the city's history. The yacht club was having a summer camp for 150 of the members children - what a good-looking, well-behaved bunch of kids! Across the water from the club was a huge new boardwalk and public park with live music and lots of little restaurants open on the weekend, plus a white sand beach.

Of interest to yachties was the new Wal-Mart and Sam's Club only 3 minutes from the club by taxi, plus every type of marine service imaginable, close to the harbor. Several of us decided that we would like to come back for a more extensive visit later.

Tuesday morning dawned with 25 knot winds and rough seas as another tropical wave weather system passed by. By late afternoon the wind started dropping so we set out on our last windward leg, 110 miles to St. Croix.

We hugged the south coast of Puerto Rico so close that at times we were in 30' of water, staying out of the rougher water offshore. We arrived off Christiansted by 1330 yesterday and were delighted to find dock space at St. Croix Marina which features a Travelift, dry storage, well-stocked marine store and small restaurant.

Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Danish influence in Christiansted was everywhere with many forts and historic buildings now part of the US National Park System. Ed and Peter rented a jeep and explored the far corners of this arid and mountainous island while the rest of us ventured into town and found some neat cafes for dinner.

We'd planned another night in St. Croix but this morning when Amanda and I were running we made it up to a hill with a great view to the north, the direction of Tortola.

The trades were kicking up - we could see a couple of sloops charging along, headed north and it seemed to good a day to waste dockside, so without any protest we put to sea.

What a day! Great winds, super sailing and now a spectacular anchorage; Little Harbor on Peter Island, 4.5 miles from Road Harbor. In 18-22 knots we tacked up Flanagan Passage into the bay and as soon as the anchor was down we all hit the water! Fan coral, brilliant parrot fish and white sand beaches - what more could we ask for?

Now in the morning we need to clear into the BVI's then put our heads down and power through Marine Weather, winch rebuilding and the last few topics on the teaching schedule. Hopefully we'll fit in some more gorgeous anchorages!

Roadtown, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Hey, what about our expedition members?

Mike "Mr. Chicken" Hudson, 53 from Arkansas and Florida recently sold his chicken business to Tyson. Now he is in the process of
trading his Island Packet 29 for a brand new IP 420 on which he plans on sailing to the Virgin Islands soon.

Peter Schmid, 34, whiz kid mathematics professor from Germany, teaching at U of W and NYU, totally in love with sailing and getting married this summer in France to a beautiful woman.

Wayne Campbell, 62, ex-Navy submarine commander from Pennsylvania who owns property on St. Thomas and is our local knowledge expert for these waters.

Ed "Mr. Rigger" Kish, 45 from Ojai, CA whose business handles overhead rigging for just about every event imaginable, all over the world. This guy has it rigged so his wife Sandy meets him in Tortola a couple days after the expedition and they take off on a week Moorings charter. Ed's considering trading up from his Crealock 37 to a HR 39.

Margaret Bowman, 54 and David Bowman are from "Winterpeg" Manitoba (so they call it). They are considering
career changes from MD and choir member to cruising sailors.
We had a fast and fun downwind sail from Little Harbor on Peter Island to Great Harbor on Jost Van Dyke, about 12 miles.

MTIII at anchor, Peter Island, B.V.I.'s
There we were able to clear customs (totally casual) and enjoy a wild night at Fozy's, a beachfront restaurant-bar famous for it's eccentric West Indian owner, Foxy who plays the guitar and makes up songs about everyone who walks in off the beach.

The Contented Calypsonian. Jost Van Dyke

Foxy at Foxy's Restaurant

There were 250 for his Friday night barbecue, with every seat in the house taken and plates piled high with mahi-mahi, ribs, steaks, lots of great salads and some great local music.

The following morning we headed north to Soper's Hole where we dropped Wayne off at the ferry dock, headed to St. Thomas to check out his land. None of us were ready for Road Town yet, so we had another lovely afternoon, evening and morning at Little Harbor again with lots of time for snorkeling and hiking.

On Sunday we had lots of wind and an exciting sail to Road Town, Tortola, capital of the BVI's. I had expected a much larger town and harbor, but was astounded by the number of charter boats in the Moorings largest base in the world.

Village Cay Marina ( in Road Town was impressive with 110v & 220v power and water ($.12 per gallon) to each of 106 slips, plus pool, dockside restaurant & bar, laundry, showers and 21 room hotel, all in the most convenient place in town with two supermarkets across the street. There were many empty slips and the cost was $.95 per foot per night.

Monday morning Peter and Ed helped me in a major effort of cleaning and waxing the entire hull from the dinghy. That afternoon Amanda and I got the first of five coats of varnish on and from Wednesday until Sunday morning, we enjoyed the quiet beauty of Little Harbor anchorage again. This is the type of anchorage we really enjoy between expeditions; sheltered, but with nice breezes for ventilation, great snorkeling in crystal-clear water, and the ability to see the lights of the town and island in the distance.

Ahh, the cruising life.

Sail on to Leg 5, 2000

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