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Sailing San Blas

The inhabitants from the San Blas Islands must necessarily get around on their “ulus” (Kuna word for canoe). As a result of this circumstance, they have achieved great skills when sailing San Blas on their patched-sail canoes. It is absolutely remarkable to see them sailing with these apparently precarious sails, but above everything, with the rudder they use to run the canoes.

The “ulus” are made from a one-piece trunk. First thing Kunas need to do, is pick up the right tree from the forest, cut it down, and after having cut the branches and hollowed out the log, a group of men carry it all the way down to the islands, where the hull shape is defined, following the traditional methods of canoebuilder ancestors.

canoe san blas

The canoe must be as symmetrical as possible, having identical bow and stern ends. They are relatively narrow and long, making it a fast boat when sailing or paddling. The Kuna have very simple tools to build their canoes, even the rudder has been replaced by a very elemental piece: the paddle. Rudder and paddle are the same on a Kuna “ulu”. The triangle-shaped paddle is also made of wood and is the main part of the canoe, used as a propellant in no wind or as a rudder when sailing, holding it with an arm against the hull.

No matter how many times you see them sailing among the San Blas Islands, you can’t stop watching the beauty and plainnes of these charming little silhouettes. Less is more when sailing San Blas on a Kuna canoe!

sailing san blas on a sailboat

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