Island paradise San Blas Islands with Captain Probst

23 January 2015

Escaping the hoards of yachts that descend on the Caribbean each season is no easy task, however head a little further out towards Central America and hundreds of islands await featuring unexplored wild beaches, native people and an abundance of sea life. Captain Steve Probst of the 73.60m motor yacht Naia knows all too well when he needs time to escape this is the place he heads to. Captain Probst has been living a life at sea for over 12 years now and has been the skipper of Naia for seven.

Boat International caught up with him to discuss his favourite spots for a yacht charter in Panama

There are a number of bays and anchorages where you can still find complete privacy

Why charter a yacht to the San Blas Islands?

Firstly, because it’s like a trip back in time. Secondly, it’s a large group of hundreds of islands in a relatively small area – they don’t cover a vast distance. And there are any number of bays and anchorages where you can find complete privacy or get away from the weather. Because the distances between the San Blas islands are not very long, you can do a morning and an evening in a different place.

Also, it’s a semi-autonomous region, where the Panamanian government allows the local indigenous people, the Kuna, to somewhat take care of their own affairs. They don’t allow a massive amount of tourism, fishing or scuba diving, hence the ocean is really alive with wildlife – it’s teeming with fish.

What are on-shore facilities like?

A lot of the islands are quite low-lying with many houses on stilts clustered quite tightly together. There is little tourism industry here so pretty basic accommodation – you’re more or less staying in people’s houses and I suppose they do sell a little food and drink but there’s not really anything in the way of bars or restaurants there – you need to go back to one of the big cities to re-supply.

We do beach barbecues where we take everything we need ashore to break things up a little as otherwise the only option is to eat on board.

You can find a little island with no-one living on it – totally deserted and set up a barbecue, cricket, volleyball on the beach – it’s great
Wash up on picture-perfect islands complete with powdery white sand and turquoise waters Shutterstock

How do you get supplies or meet guests in such a remote spot?

Because the Americans were in Panama and the San Blas Islands during the Second World War, there are rudimentary, but fairly frequent, concrete airstrips in the islands. So the way to get around is on a small plane – something like a twin otter that can cope with short runways. There is a daily service, but you could easily charter a whole plane to or from Panama City to bring in guests or supplies.

Is it busy – do you see other yachts around the San Blas Islands?

You won’t see many of the big boats here, most of the boats you’ll see are small private yachts – 30 or 40-footers, with just a couple of long term cruisers living on them.

And when you do come into an anchorage, all the locals come out in their dug-out canoes trying to sell you ‘Molas’ – these lovely woven tapestries – it’s like something from history… Of course they do have exposure to Western Culture, but many of them still go around in traditional gear.

Hundred's of islands dotted off the coast of Panama ripe for exploration Shutterstock

Any words of advice for first time charter guests?

We’ll bend over backwards to fulfil their expectations to the highest degree, but if we say we can’t do something – it’s really because we can’t. But I think it’s very important that they are honest about what they expect so we can fulfil those requirements. We’d rather be told they like or don’t like something, so we don’t end up inadvertently doing something wrong. I’d rather have a guest who’s very particular and gives us a great long list of likes/dislikes in advance of the charter because then we know what to expect. Then we can try to deliver as close as possible to that.

What make a good charter?

If you do your hours and your homework you can make a very nice luxury yacht charter. Ingredients of good charter holidays exist of hard work, good preparation, a good itinerary – are that you always need a stroke of luck. Sometimes – not often, but occasionally, the weather just does not play ball and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s frustrating for us, but sometimes you just can’t go to a selected location because the weather won’t allow you to.

The 73.60m motor yacht Naia offers accomodation for up to 12 guests

What should guests bring with them on a yacht charter?

We can supply just about everything, as long as we’re told about it beforehand. Perhaps they might like to bring a pair of clean, soft boat shoes if they don’t want to walk around the boat barefoot – we can supply them too, but they might like to bring ones they know fit them and go with their clothes.

Tell me about your crew and the atmosphere on motor yacht Naia?

My goal is to have a well-run boat where the people feel they are treated fairly. We do work hard because we want to maintain a high standard but I also want people to feel that it’s a happy crew when they come on board. I want them to feel safe and comfortable and know that we maintain and look after the boat to the highest standards of the industry. That’s my goal, as captain.

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