Getting a 'Deliveroo by canoe' for Lu Heikell proves once again the lack of truth in the old myth that sailors exist solely on tinned food


Can we agree that it’s an old myth that sailors survive entirely on Fray Bentos pies and ‘pot mess’? Certainly on Skylax mealtimes are something to look forward to as both Rod and I love cooking. Ocean passages generally afford us lots of time to think about what we might be cooking – what needs using up or what we might fancy out of our comprehensive stocks.

As we don’t use a freezer, most of our meals are largely vegetarian, supplemented by the occasional tuna if we are lucky. When cruising around an area, though, it is wonderful to discover the local delicacies particular to where you are.

We had not long dropped the hook in one of the most idyllic anchorages I had ever seen – islets fringed with white sand beaches and palm trees and small wooden houses with dense forest further inland. We had arrived in the San Blas Islands, which lie roughly 70 miles west of Colon, on the Caribbean coast of Panama.

Navigation into the bay had been intense, with coral reefs offlying the islets and relatively inaccurate charts. But the sun was shining as we tidied up the boat and took in our new surroundings.

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Almost immediately a small flotilla of dugout canoes arrived at the stern, noisily filled with women and children; a welcoming party of the local Kuna Indians proffering their home-sewn molas for us to buy.
Molas are pieces of reverse applique embroidered into panels in vibrant patterns and colours which the women use to decorate their blouses.

They sell these panels to tourists, but they also make small pouches, glasses cases and small bags. Haggling and bartering is clearly expected, while the children hold out their hands calling for ‘bonbons’. It’s bedlam.
Rod dives down below to get some chocolate, while I attempt rudimentary bargaining with the women over a couple of molas.

Although I was unsure what I would do with them, the pieces were pretty, and not buying anything simply wasn’t an option. It was all good humoured, if boisterous, but I reckon I got a fair price in the end for my two molas. The flotilla disappeared as soon as they had arrived, paddling fast to another yacht which had just arrived. We settled back down after our noisy welcome and, as the sun set, thoughts turned, as they do, to food.

‘What’s for supper?’ mused Rod as we relaxed in the cockpit. Literally as he spoke, there was a gentle knock on the hull. We looked over the side to see another dugout canoe, this time singlehanded. Covering the bottom of the craft was a selection of seafood: lobsters and crabs wriggled around among conch and small fish. Evidently ‘supper’ had just arrived.

‘I’ll do this,’ said Rod, who had clearly been less than impressed by my earlier bartering skills and was eyeing up the lobsters. But instead of the animated chatter of the mola sellers, the man just waved his arm over the catch and said, ‘10 dollars’.

‘10 dollars is far too much for a lobster’, exclaimed Rod as he pointed at one of the crustaceans. He handed over a plastic bag to the fisherman, and countered decisively with, ‘Five dollars’. The fisherman began putting several smallish lobsters into the bag with a smile. At three, Rod gestured that that was enough, and he handed over $15 to the beaming fisherman.

It was around this time that the penny dropped – $10 had been his opening offer for the entire catch! Rod had single-handedly raised the price of shellfish in the San Blas by about 300%.

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