Skip to main content

An Adventurous Couple Chartering in the San Blas

Esli and Carolijn decided to spend a few weeks in the San Blas islands, a collection of 365 bounty-islands along the Caribbean coast of Panama. Before long, they found out they never wanted to leave.

Esli Bijker was 23 when he set sail from the Netherlands for a journey west on his Beneteau Oceanis 500 with no particular destination in mind. He crossed the Atlantic, and arrived in the Caribbean, where he was joined by Carolijn, his now wife. They had plans to cross the Panama Canal and head for the Pacific after about a year of cruising, but their trip was delayed when lightning struck the boat. The Beneteau would require many repairs before it would again be ready for a long journey. In the meantime, Esli and Carolijn decided to spend a few weeks in the San Blas islands, a collection of 365 bounty-islands along the Caribbean coast of Panama. Before long, they found out they never wanted to leave.

Over the past 10 years, Carolijn and Esli have created quite an attachment to the San Blas. They were married on one of the Islands, started offering crewed charter services on their yacht and eventually bought a guesthouse near the San Blas as a part-time home and tourist accommodation.

Carolijn holds a fascination with the Kuna Indians, the only inhabitants of the Island group, who still live in the traditions of their ancestors. They build houses and canoes with long-established craft and tailor colorful mola clothing with accessories. Their way of living off what the sea and palm-trees provide is the ultimate example of going back to nature.

Esli loves sailing the San Blas waters. They can be tricky because some reefs are still undocumented but after cruising the area for 10 years (with quite a few "scratches" here and there) he is confident he knows his way around. With 365 islands, 329 uninhabited, this paradise is never boring. There is always a new spot to discover. Since Esli is a great wave surf and kite-surf enthusiast, he keeps exploring the area in search of the perfect wave.

Esli and Carolijn were one of the first charterers in the San Blas Islands when they began. Back then San Blas was a very remote and undiscovered area. The only way to reach the Islands was by a small propeller plane that descended on a tiny landing strip on the Island of El Porvenir just twice a week. Although little has changed since then, Kuna Yala (the official name of the indigenous province) has become slightly more accessible with an every-day flight to Corazon the Jezus and a road going all the way up the shore of the area. Now more yachts offer charter services, even some crewed by Kuna captains and hostesses. But because the Kuna's don’t allow outsiders to own land in their province, the area is still far from exploited.

The adventurous couple created quite a network of yachtie friends in this area and together started a charter agency that provides charter services onboard private owned yachts for a real "yachtie-home-stay" experience. Since the area is almost impossible to sail without solid knowledge of the waters, bareboat charters are not an option. But the local charters make sure their guests experience all the highlights safely and with respect for the preserved nature.

For more information on the charter agency of Esli and Carolijn in the San Blas, visit www.oceantrips.com.

Related

Background-02

Notice to Mariners: A Blog from the SAIL Editors

As a teenager, I stumbled across a copy of Derek Lundy’s Godforsaken Sea in the back room of a used bookshop. I had never heard of the Vendée Globe and frankly found all the boat-speak in the first 50 pages a little difficult to get through. But Lundy’s storytelling and the draw ...read more

Screen-Shot-2022-01-13-at-9.26.59-AM2048x

VIDEO: Celestial Navigation Episode 2

Celestial navigation is an invaluable tool for all kinds of sailors. In episode two of the celestial navigation series, learn the basic elements of navigation and the sight reduction process using declination and GHA to determine the Geographic Position and navigate using a ...read more

Film-poster

Cruising: Year of the Sea Shanty

Along with other timeless pursuits, like baking sourdough and gardening, singing sea shanties surged back into popularity during the recent lockdown, thanks, in part, to the app TikTok and its “duet” feature, which allows singers from around the world create music together. By ...read more

Book-Cover-9780712353700

Book Review: Sailor Song

Sailor Song is the ultimate guide to the music of working sailors during the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes lyrics and sheet music for 50 of the most beloved sea songs with fascinating historical background on the adjoining page. Chapter introductions provide ...read more

Screen Shot 2022-01-12 at 10.42.33 AM

Race Update: RORC Transat

With the fleet leaders about halfway to Grenada, the 2022 RORC Transatlantic is shaking out to be a tactically interesting one. The race, now in its 8th edition, began on Saturday with 30 teams ranging from 70-foot catamarans to a 28-foot JPK 1010. Early in the race, light winds ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_1585

Experience: Fire Down Below

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, local racing had resumed with household crews only. My wife, though, while always up for a pleasure sail, was not up for this kind of thing, so, for the fifth time in what was any measure an unusual sailing season, I found myself singlehanding my ...read more

BestBoats2022-logo

Best Boats 2022

In case you hadn’t heard, the fall 2021 boat show season was one for the record books. If there was ever any doubt the sailing public still enjoys making its way to Newport, Rhode Island, or Annapolis, Maryland, to see the latest in boat design, those doubts were put to rest ...read more

01-LEAD-Dominique-David-2048x

Mulithull Show Coming to La Grande-Motte

After a year without boat shows, 2021 proved to be a blockbuster summer and fall for events around the globe, and the International Mulithull Show is looking to continue that trend in 2022. First held in 2010, the show, which takes place in La Grand-Motte, France, on the shores ...read more