All At Sea
|INTRO - Gavin McClurg is captain of Discovery, a 57-foot catamaran that becomes home to riders on the Best Odyssey, transporting them on remote expeditions, chasing wind and waves. This issue, they head back to a group of islands that time forgot
It’s taken twelve years to get here. That’s when I first learnt of San Blas. The stories I heard had faded, it's true, but never vanished. Twelve years ago you would have been hard pressed to find anyone telling a kitesurfing story and the stories told to me were not ones of raleys and F-16s; they were of clear, wa
Our mission is to pioneer the best places in the world to kite. That doesn’t just mean perfect flat water, or perfect winds, or perfect waves, it means finding all of the above - and
Much can change in twelve years, but after sailing some 75,000 miles - many of them in pursuit of places to kite - and sailing on every sea and ocean in the world, finally in December 2007 we crossed from Cartagena, Colombia into San Blas, Panama. I knew immediately the wait had been worth it. Incredibly, there were still no tourists, beyond a small fraternity of cruising boats all there for the same reason we were: to get away.
The San Blas archipelago and a long thin strip of mainland on Panama’s north coast are administered and controlled by the Kuna Yala. The 'Kuna' are a small (the second smallest race on earth) yet strong and compact people, with a fearsome reputation. Many organised groups have attempted to conquer them over the centuries without success. Finally, the Panamanian government decided enough was enough and gave them their own territory to rule as they wi
They are not without problems, however. The Kuna’s only significant export are coconuts. If, as scientists predict, sea levels continue to rise, their entire archipelago, consisting of over 400
In the afternoon the winds built and we sailed around to an island called Mordup - no more than a small chunk of
I headed off downwind and landed on another island, much larger, but no less spectacular. Some kids ran out to say hello and, because I was paying attention to them and not my kite, I was suddenly yanked ten feet up in the air, my face resting inches from the tree's trunk. I pulled my release and came down softly, my kite still languishing 50 feet above me, tangled in a palm tree. Before my breathing settled, a man in his fifties had scaled a 50 foot coconut tree and freed my kite while the family and I all shouted encouragement. Within minutes he had it down unharmed, all of us laughing playfully at me, the silly gringo.
That afternoon we brought a trainer kite back to the island to show the family what our addiction was all about. One little boy, no more than sixyears-old and 20 kilos, couldn’t get enough. He would grab the bar and launch himself through the shallow water, screaming with laughter. Another kiter joined the ranks. It was a poignant moment that I’ll never forget.
Many of us commented on what the family had here. At home this property would be worth millions: a white-sand beach, coconut trees swaying in the wind, a sea filled with fish and lobster right in front of your house. These Kuna families leave
We pondered these thoughts as we continued on through a group of islands called the Hollandes Cays. There we found kiting nirvana and a place we would revisit again and again, both on this trip and in the weeks to follow. The anchorage was protected from all sides. A barrier reef ran further than the eye could see, leaving a sandy, shallow flat water area to kite that was miles long. A thunderous offshore swell crashed day and night against the reef, sending great plumes of white water towards the heavens; an incredible backdrop for those prepared to ride its edge. For four days the trade winds blew, reaching nearly 30 knots at their strongest.
On our last day in the Hollandes Cays we joined some of our neighbours on other boats on 'Bar-BQue' island for… a barbeque. There was quite a crowd and, as everyone had enjoyed the kiting show of the past few days, we were each bombarded with questions about how to get started. 'How hard it is?' 'How much does it cost?' 'Can an old guy like me do this?' We realised how overwhelmingly lucky we were to be doing what we loved in a place like this.
As the sun was replaced by a blanket of stars someone noticed a bright comet slowly crossing the sky. It seemed to reflect what I was feeling: it took me twelve years to get here. The journey was worth it.
Follow Gavin and Jody on their expeditions at: www.offshoreodysseys.com
This article was taken from issue #43. Click here to find out more about it