So we set sail from El Porvenir, Panamá to Cartagena, Colombia. The fact that the Darién Gap between Panamá and Colombia is an inhospitable and dangerous place to be riding a bike was the perfect excuse for us to load the bikes onto a boat and for James' brother Ed to join us for a holiday cruise across the Caribbean to the start of our next cycling leg in South America.
The eleven of us (Seamus is hiding!) who sailed together on the M/S Indpendence. A mix of nationalities and stories...we all rubbed along together very nicely. The boat has space for twenty four people but we were all grateful for it being less than half full.
Once we were on board for our five day journey, the captain also needed to take on supplies. Handily, the fruit and veg boat pulled up alongside the Independence and he did a little bit of shopping....
....and the fruit and veg men had their work cut out calculating the hefty bill.
Then it was time to visit the next shop. This time it was the lobster man who was selling his catch from a dugout canoe. Our captain Michel bought us a lobster feast for the first night on board.
We spent three days sailing in the San Blas, a collection of 378 islands just off the coast of Panamá. 49 of the islands are home to the indigenous Kuna tribe who make their living fishing and selling food and souvenirs to boats like ours....
...while the uninhabited islands are just cocunut trees and blinding white sand. Close your eyes and think of your typical "tropical island paradise"...yep, exactly. I felt like we'd stepped into the pages of a luxury travel brochure when we woke up each morning to scenes like this.
Unlike our luxurious 85ft yacht, the locals go for a more simple vehicle, a dugout canoe.
As the sun went down on our first night in the San Blas...
...we played cards, drank beer and looked forward to our lobster feast...
...where James got to dissect his dinner a little more intimately than he would have liked.
The days then took on a hypnotically laid back routine; spending our time basking in the sunshine and bathing in the pristine Caribbean: snorkelling, kayaking, eating and reading.
A little more activity on the evening of day two as we headed to one of the islands for a beach bbq. The more energetic of us dabbled with a spot of beach volleyball - Australian Mike showing us how it's done!
Having delicious grilled fish on the island, we could look back and admire our yacht from afar: the M/S Independence bobbing in the water as the sun goes down.
Dolphins came to visit on day three. Most of us watched from the boat but Mike and Seamus were lucky enough to be out on the kayak and gave chase for a close up view.
The dolphins beat a hasty retreat as black clouds started to gather; we could see a storm brewing and then someone spotted a tornado on the distant horizon. I half expected the captain to shout "batten down the hatches"! He wasn't quite so melodramatic but it was definitely time to move away from the San Blas and set sail for Colombia.
The storm never reached us and a calm day of open water sailing meant nothing more to do except read...
...and sleep. We weren't the only ones using the boat as a delivery service. In between snoozing on deck, Marcus kept close watch on his motorbike that he was shipping over to Colombia from Germany.
The rest of us had little to do as captain Michel took charge and navigated across the open water. It was a relief not to have to helplessly tackle ropes, sails and nautical language as we had done on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico back in December last year.
Despite being a sailing boat the wind wasn't right and we did the entire journey using the motor. Michel proclaimed this was the calmest crossing he had made in forty years - much to my relief; the sea sickness I was dreading never came.
When Michel cautiously offered us the chance to swim in open water, peppered with warnings of sharks and other beasties, we jumped at the chance to take a delicious dip in the vast ocean. Thankfully all eleven of us came back out in one piece. (Photo: Dean Murphy)
We made quick time sailing under the motor and as the sun went down on a full day spent in open water we were only a few hours from Cartagena, where we slept in the harbour.
The next morning, before we unloaded, there was just time for our quirky captain Michel to show Dean and the rest of a us a few essential self defence moves for survival in Colombia, and then we went our separate ways.
A final, gratuitous shot of the islands we fell in love with. The memorable boat journey was well worth the expense; blessed with fine weather, capable crew, good people, great food and exquisite scenery we couldn't have wished for a finer way to travel from one continent to the next.