Croc Watch at Green Island

Kuna men sail a ulu in really calm waters

Kuna men sail a ulu in really calm waters

After our visit to Sin City and still sailing in the San Blas Islands, we found a fantastic spot to anchor behind aptly named Green Island. I felt a little bit bad since there was one other Australian flagged boat in this spot and my intuition was when they saw us coming they probably thought, “Rats! There goes our solitude”. Prior to our arrival they had the entire leeward side of the island all to themselves. Being nice neighbors we made sure we gave them plenty of space and privacy. The last thing they wanted to hear was our generator running in the evenings as we charge our house batteries and run the air conditioning to cool the boat down for the night.

One of the things I love about being in the outer San Blas Islands is the lack of mosquitoes. Even in the evening, with the open hatches making an effort to catch the slightest hint of any breeze we haven’t had bites. On the beach we get the occasional sand flea but on the boat things are good. The water is perfectly flat due to the lack of wind and we decided to catch a break from the heat and go for a long snorkel to the reef behind us.

Swimming with fins on is really effortless especially when there is no current and the water is calm. The visibility is not as good as other places we have visited in the San Blas. We are anchored in about 30 feet of water and I can’t quite see the bottom. Swimming toward the reef the grassy bottom starts to come into view as the depth decreases. Now we understand why we have seen so many turtles popping up for air. They like to eat grass and this area has plenty for them to munch. For the next couple of hours we swim up and down the reef. It is a little disappointing. Since we left Coco Bandero our expectation of underwater entertainment is high. The reality is, we don’t care about there not being much to look at since the cooling yields some much needed relief from the heat.

Swimming back towards Cream Puff we decided to keep swimming and walk about Green Island. We left our fins and mask on the beach once we landed and set out to explore. Unpopulated Green Island is dense with palm trees and there is a lush thick grass like groundcover making it easy to walk without shoes.  In fifteen minutes we have walked across the island and followed the beach back to our snorkel gear. On the eastern shore the water is shallow, just about 6-8” deep over a sandy bottom. Cindy stops to see large orange starfish. Then, another and another. About forty of them are dotted about. Of course, we don’t have the camera. The next day, they were all gone. Oh well, a picture is taken with our eyes and embedded into memory.

We notice the Aussie chap on the neighboring boat in the water. He is scraping growth off the bottom of the hull. It reminds me I should probably do the same. Since we are in warm shallow waters here, the plant life loves to attach itself and is thriving on our underside. It is easy to knock off but for some reason I often get an itchy skin rash that last for about 3 days after dealing with it and it has become a dreaded chore often postponed until our propeller is so fowled we begin to loose efficiency. I can feel the engine chug when the boat bottom is really dirty. I decide I will do it tomorrow and give the engine a break.

This is how the palm fronds look

This is how the palm fronds look

Kicking back in Cream Puff’s cockpit playing a game on the tablet I notice the lady on the neighboring boat in the water on a large float. She is taking an afternoon dip to escape the heat. I see what appears to be a large palm frond behind their boat. Palm fronds in the water are not uncommon. But then, I noticed the movement. Standing up to get a better look, I can see the tail of a crocodile gently swishing left to right moving the croc closer to the lady.  Yelling, “Crocodile” and pointing to the area behind the boat I see him, now out of the water, stand to look. Oh good, they see it now. He later tells me he thought I was excited by a floating piece of wood and didn’t think the crocodiles came out to the islands. They’re very common in the rivers of Panama.

Cindy hears the commotion. I ask her to grab the camera. It is at this point the crocodile goes under the water. This is the really scary part about crocs. Where the heck is it now? There are no bubbles.  The croc has gone stealth. The lady from the neighboring boat is still in the water but now hanging onto the back of the boat. What is she doing? Why is she still in the water? I yell over again, “There is a crocodile in the area!” Finally she gets onto the boat and pulls her float up. He stands on the side shrugging and communicating his disbelief.

All of us are now scanning the area looking for the croc to resurface. Finally we get a visual confirmation as we spot it in front of their boat. It must have swum very close to where she was. This is the first wild crocodile we have seen. We both agree one is enough.

The croc swims along the shoreline

The croc swims along the shoreline – looks a little like a palm frond, doesn’t it!

The next day it is hot, as usual. The water looks tempting. Our neighbors leave after thanking us for the warning. Being unusually optimistic I say to Cindy, “What are the chances we’ll see another crocodile?” I decide to use the hooka; a 60’ hose with a respirator attached to a SCUBA tank aboard Cream Puff enabling me to breathe while under the boat. For the next hour, I scrap growth from Cream Puff’s underside. Cindy is on deck keeping an eye on the surrounding waters, just in case. We have a croc plan. She will bang on the side of the boat with a plastic pipe if she sees anything suspicious. She’ll keep banging until I come up. Someone yelling above the water can’t be heard by someone under the water.  We test the pipe plan. I can hear the tapping. An underwater sound travels far underwater. I spend my time working my way along the keel with an ear open listening for any tapping. A few floating palm fronds keep Cindy alert.

I am finished and Cindy is hot. She wants to jump in. I agree to keep an eye out from the deck as I put away the gear. Cooling off, she spends the next half-hour in a float but staying close to the boat. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sitting on the back of the boat looking for crocodiles. We don’t see anymore and decide the sighting was an isolated incident. We take showers and are inside the boat when we hear a Kuna guy yelling from the island.

Popping up out of the cabin and spotting two Kuna fishermen on the beach I see they are pointing to our boat. It’s another darn crocodile. Who knows, it could be the same one but it’s sobering to see the croc so close to the boat. We were swimming just an hour ago in this same area. Would the crocodile have harmed us? I am not willing to be the bait to test that theory. I imagine it all depends on how hungry it is.

Time to move!





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