Well, the weather did stabilise in Coco Bandero Cays and we had a couple of lovely days there exploring the reefs.
We were visited by a Kuna tradesman in his dugout from whom we bought some fruit. He offered to take an order of groceries for delivery the following day and we almost snapped his hand off as we were running very low on provisions. Also, we seemed to have reached a dead end with our outboard motor (Nigel), and felt that little would be lost by asking him if he knew of anyone who could repair it. He was pretty enthusiastic and promised Nigel's safe return with the groceries 'tomorrow'. We watched Nigel get whisked away out of sight and wondered if we'd ever lay eyes on him again.
We were reassured by some of the other cruisers in the anchorage that he does a lot of trading in the area and wouldn't risk jeopardising this for our broken outboard (nice though he is!) Sure enough, he arrived the following day with all our groceries and Nigel nestling treacherously in the bow. Nigel, alas, had failed to be resuscitated, so we paid our man for his labour and said 'adios'. On closer inspection, however, Nigel seemed to have been reassembled in a rather haphazard fashion, with a few bits missing (screws and washers). Nick patched him up and made a last ditch effort to revive him which, against all the odds, worked! So maybe our Kuna friend had done some good after all. Nigel has been pretty reliable ever since though he still sounds very rough!
On Friday, we decided to make our way to the much talked about Eastern Hollandes Cays, renowned for their beauty and excellent snorkeling. It was a short, pleasant motor sail once again alongside 'Ouf' and we arrived in the afternoon and dropped anchor with 2 metres of crystal clear water under the keel. The anchorage itself is called 'the Swimming Pool' as it's a huge expanse of shallow turquoise water, protected from swell and current by the outer reef. As usual, there is a scattering of small islands in the vicinity. The snorkeling has been wonderful, although the spear fishing has been less successful. 'No Mercy' Nick has been showing more mercy than he would like and we haven't managed to catch a cold let alone an edible fish. Today could be the day!
There are about 20 yachts here, most of which are American, and it is customary to congregate once a week on the small island to the north of the anchorage for a 'pot luck' supper and a bonfire to burn all combustible rubbish as there is no rubbish collection within the islands. It's been good discipline for us to sort our rubbish and deal with it ourselves - it's not pleasant but it really makes you consider everything you discard. Aluminium cans can be collected and given to the Kuna, (who sell it for recycling), glass, tin cans and paper can be jettisoned when in deep water, and the rest is responsibly burned when possible. This we did last night, and it was lovely to meet our temporary neighbours around the bonfire.
Nick was reassured to learn that the fish are quite elusive here and difficult to spear, but, at the same time, fresh grouper and mackerel were on the 'pot luck' supper menu, so someone has had success! Spear fishing aside, the snorkeling has been wonderful here. While out on Sunday, we were delighted to see barracuda, trigger fish and a stunning eagle ray which humbled us with its grace and beauty. At one point, we ventured through a narrow channel in the reef, and were greeted by a 5 ft shark which was driven by curiosity to venture out of its lair. We beat a hasty retreat but were followed menacingly for a distance. The dinghy seemed quite far away! On inspection of our reference book, it appears it was a nurse shark 'harmless unless molested'!
Yesterday saw the best snorkeling I have enjoyed so far. We found a reef that was so varied and interesting, where you could swim over the top and get a bird's eye view of the coral, or easily find channels between the coral heads to explore. It was also very high (about 20 metres in places) and not surprisingly was teeming with life. I shan't write a list but briefly, here's what I saw (in the form of a list!!) and some of you I'm sure will have been wowed by them like I was. Firstly, a stingray, always a good start, then a beautiful, lugubrious yellow boxfish about 50cm long, the ubiquitous but nonetheless stunning parrot fish, angel fish, and squirrel fish, the (apparently, though I'll never know) tasty snappers and groupers, barracuda, jacks and trigger fish and, finally, six eagle rays - awesomely large and slow, and impervious to our interest. They are clearly on a higher plane! No sharks, though I had my eyes peeled, believe me!
So, we have one more day here in 'The Pool' and then we head to our last stop in the San Blas, Porvenir. More tales from there.