Navigating Uncertainty: The Panama Dilemma

After bidding farewell to Hürzi and Chrigi, our next guest, Juli, arrived from Switzerland. Originally, we had planned to sail towards Acapulco with him, but as with most of a sailor’s plans, things didn’t go as expected.

After Hürzi and Chrigi had left, we spontaneously decided to stay at Marina La Cruz with Milagros for a couple of days. Fortunately, they had a spot for us, and we were able to move in the next morning. With our dinghy, we scouted the slip assigned to us so that we knew what to expect when entering the marina.

Marina Time

We switch the role of captain on every trip, and this time David was in charge of the docking maneuver. It was only his second time, but with the help of Pete and Jay on SV Mazu, he managed to dock Milagros without any problems. We used the marina time to give our boat a freshwater shower and welcome Juli aboard.

Hi Ron

While we were taking Hürzi and Chrigi to the taxi, we ran into Ron from SV Mar de Luz. We had met him months ago on our trip from Bahia Conception to Isla San Marcos over the radio and met him again in San Carlos when we prepared Milagros for the haul-in. It was nice to catch up on each other’s experiences over a delicious pizza.

Dinner with Ron & Ruby

A Problem

However, we were facing a significant dilemma. We needed to make a final decision about whether or not to sail to Panama. The distance to cover was still 1,700 nautical miles (approximately 3,200 km), and we had to reach Chiapas, which was around 1,000 nautical miles away, within six weeks to avoid the hurricane season. This was a tight schedule, especially considering that the winds were gradually shifting from north to south, making it less than ideal for motoring against southward winds. Besides, our sailing motivation seemed to have gone missing. Nevertheless, we had Juli onboard as crew for the next 20 days, who we could cover a part of the long stretch with. However, this also meant that we would have to bypass many beautiful destinations. So, the question remained: were we willing to undertake this expedition with a faulty propeller shaft?

Yes or no?

On the other hand, if we decided not to continue towards Panama, it would feel like a setback as we wouldn’t have made it out of Mexico. Additionally, we wouldn’t be able to sail in Panama with my sister Carmen, Iñaki, and their boat Anila as they plan to cross the Pacific next January. If we turned around now, we could only attempt the journey south again in October, which might make us arrive in Panama too late. Alternatively, we could rush the entire distance in 2-3 weeks, but that would mean missing out on all the beautiful places in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. The question remained: If we did turn back, where would we go? Should we stay in La Cruz or head to Mazatlán or back to San Carlos or Guaymas?

A decision had to be made

It was an overwhelming situation, with so many questions on our minds, and we just couldn’t make a decision. Our sailor friends, who were in a similar situation, compared us to an indecisive 15-year-old teenager. We discussed these questions with different people and searched within ourselves. After weeks of going back and forth, we realized that the idea of sailing to Panama didn’t feel right at the moment.

Something was holding us back from committing to the journey. Therefore, we made the difficult decision to turn around. Unfortunately, our decision didn’t bring our motivation back. We would have preferred to end the season right there and then and leave Milagros in La Cruz for the summer. However, since we still had our guest on board, we gathered our strength and began our journey north with Juli. We didn’t have a destination in mind, but we knew that the next airport was in Mazatlán, so we decided to sail there with him.


We made a stopover in Punta de Mita before sailing to Caleta de Cuevas, located around the corner from Chacala. Our boat was the only one in this small bay. However, due to the waves, we couldn’t land on the beach with the dinghy. I dropped off David and Juli just before the beach and picked them up after their exploration tour. Luckily, David caught a Mahi Mahi on the way, so we treated ourselves to fresh sashimi and poke bowls for dinner. The next day, we continued our journey to Chacala, a small beach paradise where we enjoyed sipping on margaritas. We also indulged in sushi made from the remaining part of the Mahi Mahi, which was simply delicious.

The Bay of Matanchen

Taking advantage of a favorable weather window, we set sail for Matanchen the next day. This large bay in front of San Blas was particularly remarkable for its shallow waters; even several nautical miles away from the shore, the depth barely reached 10 meters. Nonetheless, we made sure to anchor at a safe distance, as we had been warned by several sources about the pesky, almost invisible insects known as Jejenes (no-see-ums). These tiny bugs, only 1mm in size, could penetrate any net and their bites would itch for days. For our anchor beer, we indulged in a delicious Moitié-Moitié fondue that Juli had brought all the way from Switzerland.

An interesting anomaly

Over the next few days, we took the time to explore the charming village of San Blas. We anchored our dinghy near a beachfront restaurant, where one could rent a table for the day and order food and drinks. We were a bit puzzled as to why one had to pay for the table on top of food and drinks. But that seemed to be normal all along that beach.

Additionally, we encountered an interesting problem: the timezone on our phones seemed to be all over the place. At one point, each of our three phones displayed a different time. We soon realized that part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that Mexico had recently abolished daylight-saving time in most areas, but the internet hadn’t caught up yet. When we tried to check the time on Google, we found that even that was incorrect. It left us scratching our heads as to where the third time zone had come from.

Should we?

It is crucial to know the precise time in San Blas, as navigating up the river to enter the marina requires calm waters at high tide, just before it shifts to low tide. We pondered over the idea of spending a few nights in the marina with Milagros, or at least anchoring in the nearby mangroves. However, upon visiting the marina, we discovered that there were no available free spaces either inside or outside the marina.

A jungle tour

One of the highlights of our stay in San Blas was a jungle tour by panga. Rather than boarding at the usual tourist spot, we opted to embark downstream, allowing us to avoid the crowds and share the boat with only a small family. The three-hour guided tour took us through the river mouth and the mangrove swamps, culminating in a visit to the natural pool at La Tovara spring. Along the way, we spotted crocodiles up to 4 meters in length, turtles, and a variety of birds. Our driver had a remarkable ability to spot wildlife from afar, including an owl that camouflaged itself as a branch and was difficult to see.

Landscape changes

It was fascinating to observe how the landscape changed gradually during our jungle tour. At the beginning of our journey, we had to dodge hanging mangrove branches, as this part of the river was not as frequently traveled by tourists, and no one bothered to clear the obstacles. As we passed the tourist entry point, where dozens of fully loaded pangas started, we noticed that the mangroves were trimmed back and more manicured. As we continued on our journey, the saltwater content of the river gradually decreased, and the mangroves started to disappear, giving way to various trees, bushes, and palms.

Local specialties

At La Tovara spring, a crocodile farm and a wildlife rescue center was situated. In some enclosures, small crocodiles were piled on top of each other, giving us a chance to see these impressive creatures up close. There was also a fenced-off area in the river where visitors could swim without worrying about crocodiles. Naturally, Juli and David didn’t pass up this opportunity and took a refreshing swim. Later, we savored the traditional fish dish of the region, Pescado Zarandeado, cooked over a wood fire.

The Fortress

The fortress built in 1760 atop Cerro de Basilio in San Blas was a fascinating historical site we visited while waiting for a suitable weather window to sail further north. This fortress holds great importance as one of the most significant historical sites in the state of Nayarit. During colonial New Spain, it served as a naval base, and it became a battlefield during the War of Independence and the war against the United States.

The Temple

Next to the fortress, there is the “Templo de la Virgen del Rosario.” The Virgin of the Rosary was the patron saint of the Spanish navy and was highly revered in the city of Cadiz in Andalusia, the port from which ships traditionally sailed to New Spain. As San Blas was the most important Pacific port for the Spanish Crown, the veneration of “Señora del Rosario” was adopted. She was affectionately called “La Marinera” (The Sailor) and took care of the missionaries who explored the lands of Alta and Baja California, as well as the trade galleons coming from the Far East. We also visited the nearby cemetery and were impressed by the lovingly designed graves. Some had canopies with seating areas for proper visits to the deceased.

A Bit of Fun

For David and Juli, the highlight of our stay in San Blas was undoubtedly the jet skis. They rented two of these vehicles and explored the bay. It was similar to the dune buggy experience in Puerto Peñasco. If you’re not driving, they can be annoying. However, when you’re the one playing with them, it’s a lot of fun.

On a Collision Course

When the wind was finally in our favour, and we set sail towards Isla Isabel, known as the Galapagos of Mexico. On the way, we noticed an intriguing phenomenon in the water: a brown, foamy line separating dark water from blue water. It appeared that two distinct currents were converging there. Suddenly, David exclaimed that I should stop the boat and turn it around because there was a rock-like object ahead of us. Thankfully, it turned out to be a whale shark, calmly feeding in the current line. While a rock would have been startling, we certainly didn’t want to collide with a whale. The specimen wasn’t fully grown but still measured 7 meters in length, about half the length of our boat. We circled this majestic animal a few times, as it was the first whale shark we had ever seen in the wild.

Isla Isabel

As we sailed towards Isabel, we hoped there would be space for us to anchor this time, unlike our previous attempt where we had to move on due to limited space. Fortunately, luck was on our side, and we secured the best spot in a rare sandy patch. At daybreak the following morning, we took the dinghy to the beach and followed the well-marked trails.

The island was brimming with nesting blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds, their nests scattered across the ground and low trees due to the absence of natural predators. We were able to observe them up close, getting as close as 1-2 meters. Later in the afternoon, we went snorkeling around the large rocks on the east side of the island. It was my first time snorkeling this season, as it was too cold during the beginning of the season on the Baja side and the water was murky on the Mexican mainland.

Bye-bye, Juli

These moments at Isla Isabel considerably raised our sailing motivation. The serene, isolated anchorage with crystal-clear waters and hardly any boats was exactly what we liked and needed. There were no Pacific swells, no crowds on the beach, and no murky waters to deal with. Sadly, we only had 24 hours to revel in this paradise since Juli had a flight to catch. The next day, we sailed back to Mazatlán where we spent his last day exploring the city, attending a cozy cover rock concert, and partying on the beach for Easter Sunday.

Juli’s verdict

The abundance of wildlife, meeting wonderful people, playing settler of catan, and jet skiing all thrilled him. The only drawback was that he wished we had spent more time sailing on longer stretches. Overall, it was a highly successful sailing trip.

Did you enjoy this blog post? You can contribute to our beer kitty by clicking the button below. You can also become a monthly contributor by heading over to Patreon. Thanks a lot!

Read more

Leave a Reply