Jaime Sharp and Allison Carroll have just returned from a 13 day TRAK kayak expedition fully self supported; completing a 100 nautical mile journey around one of the most beautiful and untouched islands in Panama, Isla de Coiba.
Jan 26th 2012; from Jaime Sharp’s journal
“Getting in our boats to leave, we pushed out into the calm bay in the golden evening light, no one came to stop us. We were a bit nervous as despite a previous phone conversation were we were told we had permission to do the circumnavigation, over the last three days at the ranger station the head ranger (el Heffe) had kind of changed his tune. He had not yet said “no”, though he was also seeming to be concerned about our safety.” “It was 4pm there was two and a half hours or so till the sun set, we weren’t going far, just 2 nautical miles around the next headland, and looking back as we paddled off towards the western edge of Coiba Island, I expected someone to wave us back with a stern look…… no one appeared. We were on our way, and we still weren’t sure if we had permission or not to be doing what we were about to do, though that just made it all so much more exciting.”
I first came to this area 2 years ago when a friend of mine discovered it and started up a sea kayaking business that would take people out to the island of Coiba. So I came down to check it out. I quickly had the desire to paddle around the island, it seemed not many if any people had done it yet and I was intrigued. Now two years later, much planning, dreaming and running by the seat of my pants, the goal has been met, no hard task though…no simple one either. I was joined on the journey by Allison (Allie) Carroll, who had to this
date not paddled any multi-day journeys nor had she paddled much more than 6 nautical miles in a day, I had paddled bigger trips (distance and time) though for both of us this journey has become an iconic memory of wonder, adventure, challenge and amazement. Not only did we paddle around Isla de Coiba (Coiba Island) but we also paddled back to the mainland and the little town of Santa Catalina where we were based prior. At the end of the trip our longest day was 17 nautical miles our total distance was 100 nautical miles over a time frame of 13 days and is the longest journey I have made to date in my TRAK folding kayak. I will not claim this to be the first circumnavigation by sea kayak around Coiba Island, though I feel confident it is the first by folding kayak.
The trip began with us arriving on the island via boat, we had struck a good deal with my mate Mike at Fluid Adventures Panama to guide 3 of his clients for 3 days on Coiba. This deal got us a wage that paid for most of our food for the trip, it also got us free transport to the island and our park fees paid for. Coiba Island is a National Park and Marine Reserve and has a UNESCO World Heritage status. Previously a penal colony with a dark past, this tarnished past is actually what has kept the island in such an amazing state as no one dared come live on the island unless they were forced there by the law or by work (at the prison). This meant the forest has remained 90% intact and the wildlife never pressured. The 10% developed by the penal colony was farmed and built on to support the small amount of people forced to live on the island. This island jewel is considered the Galapagos island of Panama (and actually shares the same geological history with the Galapagos), the waters team with life, turtles, sharks, dolphins, huge schools of game fish, the
trees are alive with monkeys, scarlet macaws and lanced tailed manakins, while in the rivers and along the shoreline is found a healthy abundance of american crocodiles. This is truly a lost world of wild wonder.
The TRAK kayaks were perfect for this expedition, they were easy to transport, first via plane to Panama, then out to the island in their bags upon the boat. When set up they have fast efficient hull shape, great for surf landings and launches and easy to paddle for a beginner (Allie) and fun for a more advanced paddler (myself), and they have the ability to carry a good pay load; we carried enough food for 14 days, a small dutch oven, plus 18 liters of water per boat, a bunch of film gear, a laptop, along with all the standard required camping gear, and still had room for more. Fully loaded the TRAKs sit lower, though perform just as well, handling moderate sized surf (2-3 foot) with ease even when shared with a 6 foot crocodile and also put up with abuse like being dragged on the beaches, carried fully loaded by their handles and surfed on too smooth rocks. At the end of the trip the hulls surprisingly had barely a scratch on them, and the only things we had managed to break were a couple of hook clips for the bungee cords on the stern of Allie’s boat. I feel fully confident that I could self support myself out of a TRAK for 20 days, at some point I want to test this concept.
The trip was truly amazing, we camped on wild surf beaten beaches lined with coconut palms, and on the edge of beautiful lagoons with curious crocs; we caught fish using only a line, hook and a hermit crab, baked fresh bread on camp fires, paddled up estuarine rivers into giant mangrove forest that stood 40 feet above us and slid through sea arches along a sometimes cliff lined coast. We often awoke to stunning sunrises and ate dinner to sunsets just as gorgeous, we bathed naked in freshwater creeks or under our solar shower hanging from a tree and were daily amazed by the amount of sea life that passed under us as we paddled. We also dealt with beating heat from a relentless sun, sunburn, chaffing, the odd beach with swarms of bugs, the occasional scorpion, and hordes of hermit crabs that would eat anything you left unattended for too long; however the negatives barely touched on the amazing specialness of this trip. I will never forget this amazing place it has etched its name on my heart.
~ Jaime Sharp
The journey: Starting at the rangers station on Coiba Island we circumnavigated the island in a counter clockwise direction, then on completion paddled back to the mainland via an island chain, followed the coast east to return to Santa Catalina township. We would be self supported for a planned 12 days in a mostly very remote place.
Distance 100 nautical miles
Time 13 days