The Passage to Panamá: Part One
Our last step in South America was onto a small dock in Cartagena as we jumped into a little boat that ferried us out to a larger boat. That larger boat was Fritz The Cat, the most famous and reliable of the many private Colombia-to-Panamá sailing vessels. We had booked our trip a couple months in advance via a PayPal deposit. Captain Fritz, an animated old Austrian fellow, guaranteed that we would leave on time and arrive safely, as he has made the passage with a boat full of backpackers almost 100 times. This was a popular time of year and, since we were now on a schedule and had heard stories of travelers waiting for a week for boats to fill up, we were glad to have someone who cared about timely departures. On the boat with us were 16 other people: four boys from Australia with their two Brazilian girlfriends, a couple from Switzerland, a couple from Seattle, one old German man, two young German guys, one guy from Argentina, Captain Fritz, and the First Mate Jose who did all the cooking and anything else that could be considered work. This made for a rather full boat, but there were beds for everyone. We arrived on the boat at 11am and, due to the Colombian immigration taking its good old time, we didn’t leave port until after 2pm. While waiting we had a nice lunch of veggie spaghetti and feasted on the unlimited supply of fresh fruit (oranges, mangoes, bananas, pineapples….).
Finally we set sail. Or that is half sail-power and half motor. We cruised at about five knots with the autopilot set at 262 degrees. The total trip was just under 200 miles. After two hours the skyscrapers of Cartagena could still be seen on the horizon, but they soon faded away and all we were left with in the world was our boat and water 360 degrees around us. The sea was relatively calm but it was still hard to walk, especially below deck.
We relaxed under the shade of the front sail on strong netting that was stretched over the churning ocean. After the sun set we gazed at the stars that were bright and clear above us. We sailed toward Orion in the west, as he shot his arrows into the never ending sea.
For dinner the first night we had crepes that we were instructed to eat as follows “Take zie crepe and cover it vit sugar and lime zen pour some rum on top, as much as you vant.” We thought the crepes sounded strange eaten like this, and they were, but most the rest of the food was very good so we didn’t complain but ate more fruit!
With the boat moving throughout the night we were each assigned a night watch hour. “If you zie any lights come close you come and vake me up,” Fritz instructed. My shift was midnight until one and there was nothing to report except a bit of boredom and a slight wondering about the lack of pirates. Because we were on the move, air entered our cabin very nicely and we were able to sleep very well. On other nights we were not so lucky.
We woke in the morning to fresh-baked German brown bread, sliced tomatoes, cheese, onion, baloney, peanut butter and honey. Breakfast was the best meal of the day thanks to the amazing bread. We hadn’t had a good slice of heavy bread in months so we were pretty happy.
The day was long and without much to report. At noon we had lunch and just after dark was dinner. We went to bed before anyone could assign us with watch duty. It ended up being the Aussies on watch and their story was as follows:
“Well we were sitting here drinking heaps of rum, hay, and we see these lights go by ’bout 10 meters off the left side. We were like ‘whoa that boat is close, hay’. Turns out it was some sort of marker booey, woulda probably done heaps of damage.” Good on ya, mates!
Luckily (with no help from the Australians) we made it safely to our stopping place at around 2am. What we awoke to was utter paradise…