San Blas’ Lady of The Sea

The sailboat “Woodenshoe” on way to East Lemons, San Blas, Panama

This post is also available in: Spanish

On-the-Water with Ilene Little

Susan Richter has lived aboard her 40ft sailboat Woodenshoe for 17 years, so if you want to know where to anchor your boat in the windy season in San Blas, or where to move your boat during the rainy season to escape the bugs, you ask her.

“I’m 74 and live most of the year in San Blas, which I find to be gorgeous and the people are friendly. I live at anchor, and I live alone, but not away from the support of a community of my indigenous neighbors and other boaters,” explains Richter.

“I’m out in the fresh air, I swim on a regular basis, and a group of us go snorkeling every day. I don’t have any desire to move back to land,” added Susan. She often sails or motor sails Woodenshoe alone, taking on crew when the occasion calls for an extra hand.

The sailboat “Woodenshoe” on way to East Lemons, San Blas, Panama

The sailboat “Woodenshoe” on way to East Lemons, San Blas, Panama.

With 17 years’ experience living a lifestyle others dream about, Richter has a lot of knowledge to share that can make cruising in San Blas safer and more enjoyable.

Cruising through San Blas:

During the windy months, she anchors down below the chain of islands called the Naguar Gandup. “It’s great down there because you don’t have bugs, you have a good, steady breeze, and reefs to snorkel,” says Richter.

“From now until the wind picks up in December, Yan Saladup is the place to be,” she said.


“Up until Eric Bauhaus wrote The Cruiser’s Guide to Panama, there were many places boats didn’t dare go, unless they had a shallow draft, and someone was up the mast giving directions to the helmsman.

Now, almost anybody with electronic charts can find their way in, but I still navigate with a GPS and plot my own courses,” explains Richter

“The only waypoints that I will ever use are printed in the Bauhaus’ guide. They are the only accurate charts,” said Susan.


Richter gets fresh fish from fishermen and fruit and vegetables from a boat that delivers them four times a week.

“I’ve been so fortunate; no health issues. I don’t wear a lot of clothes. I hang clothing out to dry on the lifelines, and rain gets the salt out of the clothing that eventually will dry. I have a boat cover that allows me to sit out comfortably in the cockpit, even in a strong rain. The cover also acts as a funnel, directing the wind right into the boat which cools you off. I’m never uncomfortable in San Blas,” said Richter.

“I read a lot, I enjoy sunsets, and I enjoy doing puzzles. I sit in the cockpit and I never ever feel claustrophobic because I have the whole world around me. Even though it’s a 40ft boat, I have all the space in the world, ” explained Richter.


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