Gunboat Island is a beautiful little island surrounded by reefs making it challenging to get to but worth the risk. We navigated through the reefs, using the Bauhaus charts with Matt at the helm and me at the bow. We were the only boat here, giving us a 360-degree view of the San Blas islands.
Not sure how Gunboat got its name, because we have not seen a gun boat south of St. Barths. But, none the less, it is a pretty little island with three small huts and one large communal hut. They do a tour excursions here where you can by a package that includes your ride to the island, your accommodations and 3 meals a day.
It was a peaceful and pleasant evening out on the lido deck as the sun set over our late lunch or early dinner of pulled pork pizza.
A strong storm passed through in the night causing Sugar Shack to do circles around her anchor. Matt was up and down most of the night ensuring we were not over the reefs. Lucky for us, we are the only ones here and were able to anchor smack in the middle of the anchorage away from the reefs that surround the Gunboat anchorage.
The next morning started out gloomy and overcast. The sun was playing hide and seek as we tried to dry everything out. We were greeted by two Kuna selling molas – unfortunately for them we had already bought one. But they were very nice, showed us their molas and jewelry, asked for candy and were on their way.
Certainly an island we will come back to as it is so picturesque.
Several days after our first visit to Carti, our new cruiser friends Louis on “Freya “and Kelly and Darin “Mischief” suggested we all go shopping to the same islands. We were intrigued because both of these boats have spent many seasons in Panama and know a lot about the region, islands, and Kuna. We explained our lack luster adventure and were assured we missed the store and the Kuna museum.
Matt and I had no plans for the next day as I had already completed my boat cleaning projects and packed for my trip back to the states so we quickly agreed to meet them in Carti. Sugar Shack pulled up anchor first, around 0930 with the hopes of making it a bit of a sail day. We had not been able to raise the full main in a while and were happy to see the winds at 30 degrees. It is a bit of a pinch, but we can do it.
We raised the main while at the anchorage, pulled up the anchor and were on our way. To our delight, we had 15 knots of wind, right at 30 degrees and were able to sail with full canvas. It would require us to tack several times, but we didn’t care, we were just happy to be sailing.
After the first tack, we headed further away from our waypoint, but with luck, we would be able to make our destination with only one more tack. As luck would have it, our wind died. It dropped form 15 down to 5 and when we made the tack we slowed to less than 1 knot. We tacked back to gain some speed and made another attempt to tack toward our goal. Slowly, we turned and were on our way, but at a painstaking 2-3 knots. We turned on the engines and left the sails up in search of a wind line.
Within 10 minutes, we were met with a fresh bout of wind pushing up toward 25-28 knots. Wowza, where did this come from? We shut the engines down, reefed the jib and enjoyed the ride. The wind did not last long, and we were soon forced to turn on the engines again. We would have loved to continue our sail, but we had to be in Carti before noon in order to meet our friends to find the market.
All of us anchored in the same general area and headed into Carti Sugdup. Matt and I had visited this island before, but as I mentioned earlier, we were not successful in finding the market or the Kuna Museum.
Our first mistake: Dinghy parking. On our first visit, we parked the dinghy behind the fuel dock where a few other pangas and dugouts were located. On our second visit, we parked at a regular dock, with a thatched roof and was much easier to access. Just as you exit the dock, there is a trash deposit, yeah! We have found that you have to be very judicious about where you leave your trash with the Kuna as they tend to dump it in the ocean. This place has a daily pick up where they take it to the mainland for disposal.
After we deposited our trash, we walked through a very well stocked market. It is not like HEB or even a mini-market at a gas station, but it had fresh fruits, veggies, and some meats.
Down a well-maintained dirt path, just past the “Congeso” is a small eatery called “Pango Rojo”. We were planning on eating lunch first, then visiting the Kuna museum, then coming back to get produce. Off to lunch.
Matt and I passed this restaurant on our first trip. We recognized it by the skulls hanging from a string at the entrance. Not sure what critter belonged to those skulls, but they appeared to be a source of pride and joy for the establishment.
Pango Rojo interior – lunch stop
We were seated, ordered beer, water, and food. Your choice was chicken or fish. Two of us ordered chicken and the rest ordered fish. It was about 1330 and excruciatingly hot inside. They had two fans but neither were on – when we asked to turn them on they said in “30 minutes the power will come on” So we waited, and waited in the heat, with no beverages. Evidently, they had to go out to the market and the “private store” to buy the beer. We grew tired of waiting and sent 2 boys out to get beer.
Of course, before they came back, our beer showed up. Which was fine, as we were so hot, we drank the first one rather quickly. As we continued to wait the power finally turned on and graced us with some air movement from the fans – yeah! But it took well over 90 minutes before our food was served and what a surprise that was.
The fish head was the first plate served to Louis. He happily dug in, completely not bothered by the face staring back at him.
Lunch for Louis – Fish Head
Slowly other plates were delivered and as it turned out, they served two fish to four people. Two people got heads and two people got tails.
Louis’s head and Matt’s tail – lunch
Let me tell you how glad I was that my chicken did not have a head, tail, or feet attached. I have to say though; the fish was rather tasty if you could get passed the looks of it and the fact that you had to pick your way around the bones and spine.
All of the homes/huts are made using bamboo tied together with twine, ribbon, or material. It remarkable how are constructed.
Twine that holds the pieces of the Kuna house together
Now that we were all fed and had consumed several beers and water, we had to use the “facilities.” On most of the Kuna islands we have noticed that there is no running water. And most, if not all, have huts over the water which we learned were the “facilities.” So, this would be an adventure.
The “public bathrooms” are actually for everyone as the Kuna do not have restrooms in their homes. Down a small alleyway, across a very precarious walkway of wooden planks that were draped over logs (not attached), was a small hut. Being the chicken that I am, I let Kelly go first. As she returned, she said “don’t fall in” and I thought she meant on the way to the toilet.
Bridge to bathroom
I gingerly crossed the bridge and peered inside. Humph. There is no door, but as you go in further there is a small wall where you do your business behind.
Hmmmm…do I really need to go this bad? I knew I would need to do my thang over water, but I did not know the floor would be so slippery and unstable. In I went. Behind the little make shift wall, there are two small limbs that you place each foot, drop your drawers and do your thing. Thank goodness, I did not fall in!
Floor of the public bathroom
Off to the Carti Kuna museum. We actually found the museum, but the Kuna guide who spoke English was off island so we will have to come back another time.
Back to the market and the dock. The second mistake we made during our first trip to Carti Sugdup was that we didn’t ask where the “market” was and we did not go down each of the dirt paths. Had we walked all the way to the water on this one street that we stopped midway and turned around we would have found the market. None the less, they had great pineapple, papaya, apples, onions, green peppers, soda, bananas and a lot more. Since I was leaving the next day, we only did a small provision run.
The Carti Islandsare a small group of islands that are among the busiest and most densely populated islands in San Blas. There are four islands that make up the Carti Island chain: Tupile, Yandup, Sugdup, and Muladup.
While staying at the Eastern Lemon Cays, you can almost make out Carti and the mainland. Usually it’s hard to see with the clouds, rain, and weather. It is a 9-mile sail from the E. Lemon Cays to Carti (too far for the dinghy) but too close to put any amount of canvas up. Especially being that we had less than 5 knots of wind.
It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the water was smooth as glass, and the trip was short. From the distance of a few miles, you could see Carti Tupile and Carti Sugdup.
The first island you see is Carti Tupile on our approach to the island chain. We visited this island and did a quick walk around, but did not buy anything.
Carti Tupile Island
Carti Sugdup, is such a fun name. Sugar Shack was on Sugdup! This is a busy little island specializing in the sale of Guna Handcrafts and molas. They also have a make shift panga fueling station, very similar to a U.S. gas station on water. Many kids were running up and down and over this structure giggling along as they played. We were not certain where to park the dinghy so we selected a spot off to the side of the fueling station.
Carti Sugdup Island
Carti Muladup is the last island in the chain and is overflowing with huts and a large structure on the eastern side featuring a red roof. We did not make it ashore to this island
Carti Muladup Island.
As we advanced on the anchorage, the water turned to a ghoulish brown making us happy that we were not running the watermaker. We dropped the anchor and made our way to Carti Sugdup.
A small dirt path led to a semi closed gate that took you between two huts. We were not certain this was the “walkway”, but we proceeded onward. As it turned out, this is a road.
Matt on a street on Carti Sugdup
We came to a local market which was inside a man’s home. The owner added shelves for his products along the walls between his hammock (bed) and personal belongings. He was very friendly, spoke to us in Spanish and offered us bread for the next day. To our amazement, he had an uber fancy professional stand mixer which stood out like a sore thumb among his other belongings. We continued exploring, trying to keep track of landmarks as there were no signs to tell us how to get back to the dock. You sort of weave in and out of communities of huts, hoping you don’t intrude on their personal space. Many have no doors or windows and you just sort of look in as you pass by as they are almost always trying to sell something.
During our discovery, we passed by a small cafeteria and a beautiful nativity set.
Carti Sugdup Cafe
Life size nativity set in the center of the island.
We also met this really nice older gentleman who was working on wood carvings. He was so nice, but was very hard to understand as he only had a few teeth, spoke softly, and in Spanish. We caught every 4th or 5th word. But he was so very nice and invited us to his home to see his work.
Sweet Kuna man carving wood
We found our way back to the dinghy and set out for Carti Yandup. The Bauhaus guide book mentioned a “store” on Carti Yandup, so we headed there next. We were doing ok on general provisions, but we were out of bread and almost out of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Stepping onto Yandup, we were greeted with a few concrete buildings with green grass and a raked dirt path. The concrete buildings were a stark contrast to the huts made out of bamboo and palm fronds. We meandered our way through the village, peeking in a few huts and smiling. We determined we were both too shy to actually go into people’s homes to see what they had for sell. Our loss as we later found out.
BUMMER: Leaving Carti:
Didn’t find the market
No trash area
Kuna Museum closed
Feeling a little discouraged, we departed the Carti islands without any provisions and proceeded to Gun Boat Island for the night.