September 2009

September 1, 2009-- Secu di Coco, Palm Beach Anchorage, Aruba to Cartegena, Columnbia -- 383 nm

We had to move the boat over to Bacadera Harbour about 5 miles in order to check out. You must bring your vessel to the dock even though they don't bother to come over to your vessel so not sure what is the point. We tried to check out at the main commercial dock, but they told us because there was a commercial vessel already at the dock, we were not allowed to come in, so we kept going past the Renaissance Marina, past the private island and onto Bacadera Harbour. We checked out no problem, then at 1100 we left for Columbia.

There is a cruising guide that a vessel Pizzazz put together a few years ago which lists out four or five places to stop along the way, we couldn't decide whether we should stop or not, we kept changing our minds, in the end we did not stop. The 400 miles between Aruba to Cartegena are known for the worst weather conditions in the Caribbean and among the top five worst passages around the world so I just wanted to get to our destination for fear of getting stuck in some bad weather. We received advice from Chris Parker, our weather guru, he told us it was a "fairly reasonable" time to go. We also checked and it concurred with Chris Parker's forecast and showed the largest area of wind and wave to be about 30 miles offshore so we kept on the inside of that and weather forecast was spot on.

About 1 mile out, we saw dolphins who played off our bow for about 20 minutes, which was very cool and isn't that a good omen for a good passage? In the afternoon we caught our first Mahi Mahi (5 pounds) of the passage. We caught two more, but one got off the line. It was a beautiful night, calm with a full moon so visibility was great. It was a great test of our new AIS receiver, as we were able to know the name of every single ship in a 40 mile radius and know which way they were headed.

Good bye Aruba

Dolphins on our bow, a good passage it will be!


So many dophins

More wildlife

Mahi Mahi

The afternoon of the second day, the wind picked up and the waves started growing rather large. It stayed that way until noon the third day. At one point, the highest speed we reached was 15.9 knots surfing down a wave. The boat handled it beautifully, it was not out of control but we reefed in the genoa anyway. The waves calmed down by the third day and we were cruising through the outflow of the Magdelena River, the water was a murcky green colour, very strange to be sailing in. I went to roll in the genoa and pull out our "new to us" Code 0 sail when I realized that it had ripped at the foot! This was another purchase we made while in Aruba and it was the first time that we used it. Very disappointed. At 2330 we reefed down to try to slow the boat down as we didn't want to get there in the middle of the night, so we went only about three knots for two hours then we decided that the moon was bright enough that we could see enough to enter. I've read so much Don Street cruising guides: "DO NOT ENTER STRANGE HARBOURS AT NIGHT" won't stop playing in my head!

Spain, in the late 1600's spent 150 years fortifying Cartagena into the strongest fortified city in the world. To ward off attacks by sea, they build an underwater wall completely across the most direct entrance to the large outer harbour. This wall now has a small marked opening for small vessels. We entered through this cut at 0300. We were able to see fine with the full moon, the lighthouse and the lights from the city, we made our way around to Club Nautico and anchored by 0330. Good night.

Passage to Cartagena, Columbia

Sailing through green, murky water

We walked around the island of Manga where Club Nautico is, we found a restaurant that serves a Columbian lunch called almuerzo comida corriente or almuerzo ejecutiveo which is a two course meal starting with homemade soup followed by rice and beans, fried plantain, chicken, fish or meat, salad, and a fresh glass of juice. All of this for $3.00!! Yeah!

We walked across one of the bridges to a part of the city called Getsemani and up to one of the parks. We stopped at La Casa de la Cerveza, a chic spot set high atop the city’s walls. Stupendous views out toward Casillo de San Felipe.

Club Nautico. Club Nautico is known as the cruisers hangout and marina. The other marina in the vicinity is Club de Pesca, see above picture from the bridge. Right now Club Nautico is undergoing a massive renovation. The city has told them that they need to move 12 feet from the road towards the water. This means that they need to rip everything down and move it over!! What a mess. They are still in business, however there are no showers, no toilets (except two outhouses) and about 20 contruction workers busily hammering and pulling apart the place. The restaurant is gone, but the bar is still in operation so in desperation we can still get a beer. John, the dockmaster is very nice and very helpful. We checked in no problem by using Manfred at Club Nautico. The renovations are suppose to be completed by January 2010. I'm sure it will be very nice when it is all done.

Club Nautico, getting a beer

Club Nautico, under construction

Club Nautico, under construction

Club Nautico, under construction

Club Nautico, under construction

One of the two things that we are finding the hardest is the water issue. There is no dock to go over and fill our water tanks, nor is there a water boat like in Margarita Island, nor are we able to use our watermaker as the water is too dirty and our watermaker is not working properly. So our last resort is to bring our two five gallon plastic water jugs with us everytime we go in the dingy and bring them back, pour them into the tanks. Our backs are not enjoying this activity.

The second thing is the heat. The humidity is 89% here!! It is so hot, that we are all sweating buckets by 8:00 in the morning. We have to be careful in the shower because of the water issue, after five showers there is not much left out of that five gallon jug! Our guide book says that it is so hot in Cartegena that beggars beg for lemonade instead of money!

Tending to our ripped sail

Tending to our ripped sail

Tending to our ripped sail

At 6:35 in the morning, it was calm, clear and we were anchored!!! I was sitting out in the cockpit and saw a fishing boat go by then all of a sudden bam! We were hit and it was a Columbian Navy boat, a blue pirogue with three guys in it. They skidded right into us amidships. They told us they had to go, they were chasing the fishing boat. At 7:00 they came back and they were trying to talk to us but they didn’t speak English. They kept saying excuse us, excuse us. Chris insisted that they bring back someone who speaks English so we could communicate properly. They brought back an officer from the navy ship. He was very polite, just like the other three guys, he told us they are very sorry, the guy who was driving the boat was not very experienced and they agreed to send someone over to fix it. It has now been over a week and they have not come to fix it. Chris dinghied over to the restriction zone to go and talk to them two times and both times they said they would send someone over tomorrow (menana). Not being able to speak Spanish is a definite handicap.

Damage to hull by the navy ship

Damage to hull by the navy ship

Boat that hit us at the dock

Cari turned five today. We skipped school and had a whole day of celebrations. After a breakfast of Bunny Pancakes with Strawberry Butter we headed over to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This is the greatest and strongest fortress ever build by the Spaniards in any of their colonies. The original fort was build in 1630 and was quite small then in 1762 it was enlarged. It was stormed numerous times, but never taken. A complex system of tunnels connected strategic points of the fortress to distribute provisions and to facilitate evacuation. The tunnels were constructed in such a way that sounds reverberated all the way along them, making it possible to hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy’s feet, and also making it easy for internal communication. The views were spectacular. We took a cab back to Club Nautico and had dinner and made a castle cake.

We hired a local carpenter to fix our teak deck. The part of our deck that is exposed to the sun and rain is starting to fall off. It doesn't look like that much area but boy what a big and messy job. Everyday is the same drill: at 8:00 a.m. we pick up the workers at the dock, we do school, drop off workers, go out for lunch, pick up workers, play computer games or a board game, drop off workers at 5:00 p.m., eat a small dinner and go to bed. I feel like a bit of a prisoner on the boat!!

While Tutti and his assistant were busily working away on our deck, Chris wasn't wasting anytime. He rebedded our arch, resealed all the sinks, installed our new Pactor modem and signed us up for sailmail so we will be able to send and receive email from the middle of ocean. Cartegena is known as a good place to get work done on your boat and Tutti did a great job on our deck. And believe me if Chris is happy with the work that someone else has done on our boat then that is a huge compliment!! After 10 days they are done!!! Yeah!

One day while the work was being done, we did need to get away and we went on a tour of the old town, a Unesco World Heritage Site. We gave the dingy to Tutti and walked downtown. We walked past the Muelle Turistico de los Pegasos, there are two statues of Pegasus on the bridge, this walkway bridges Getsemani with the old town. The old town is surrounded by Las Murallas, the thick walls built to protect it against enemies. Construction on the wall began towards the end of the 16th century after the attack by Francis Drake. It's unbelievable that they are still here. We walked through Boca del Puente, the main gateway to the inner walled town and over to the Cathedral. Work on the Cathedral began in 1575 but in 1586 it was partially destroyed by the attack by Francis Drake. Apart from the tower’s top, the church has basically preserved its original form. The kids loved the self guided tour where they got to have their own cell phone like apparatus.

After the Cathedral we walked over to the gold museum (Museo del Oro y Arqueologia) It has a great collection of gold and pottery of the Sinu (also known as Zenu) people, who inhabited the region of the present day regions of Bolivar, Cordoba, Sucre and northern Antioquia before the Spanish Conquest. And it was air conditioned! A note to future English tourists, you do not need to take a tour guide, we were accosted by a Tourisme fellow and followed him around even though he could not speak two words of English so we ended up pretending to listen to him all the while reading all the English posters for each display. Of course, we had to pay him at the end!

Cartagena is supposed to be the safest city in Columbia. There are some 2000 police officers patrolling the old city alone! They are everywhere you look, all different levels and types dressed in different uniforms, some with dogs, some with batons, some with guns. The harbour is covered as well, with Coast Guard and Navy patrol boats driving around the harbour 24/7, however precautions still must be taken. At least once a week a dingy is stolen in the middle of night if it is not locked to the mothership. Another unfortunate incident happened during happy hour one night. As all us cruisers were sharing a beer at Club Nautico, someone climbed aboard one of the boats in the anchorage, used the key which was hidden to open the door and stole several thousand dollars from a hidden spot in the boat. Never let your guard down.

The anchorage is starting to get busier, besides cruisers though, there is a whole group of boats that take backpackers from Columbia on a one way trip through the San Blas and drop them off in Colon, Panama or they travel the opposite way, taking a different group back to Cartagena. Some of these backpackers are on motorcycles and they seem to start their trip in Alaska and motorcycle down to South America.

There was a Russian ice skating show/ circus in town that had shows in the afternoon, so we hopped a cab over to the tents. It was a miracle that they were able to put on that show, it was a pretty watery ice rink! But it was a fun show for the kids with lots of magic.

We hired a local guy to clean the bottom of our boat of barnacles. He said that it shouldn’t be that bad after only 3 months of applying the new Seahawk 77 anti-fouling paint (in Grenada), looks like we might have a problem.

Took another trip to the Old City, we went to the Palacio de la Inquisicion. The haunting Palace of the Inquisition is one of the finest buildings in town. Heretics were denounced here, and the Holy Office would then instigate proceedings. The principal crimes were magic, witchcraft and blasphemy. About 800 folk were condemned to death and executed. The palace is today a museum which displays the Inquisitors gnarly instruments of torture a scary sight but the kids found it fascinating to see.

We went to Juan Valdez coffee shop. I had to see that after all those commercials we grew up with seeing Juan and his donkey picking all those coffee beans. Coffee is good and cheap in Columbia. We walked back part way along the wall which is very cool, I just kept telling the kids "Watch where you are going!!!"

To relieve us of the heat, we took a cab to Boca Grande to go the beach. The beach was good, it was dark, black sand but there was lots of waves and it was very shallow. However, the beach peddlars are very persistant! We spent the whole afternoon saying “No, gracias”. It worked for most of them but a massage therapist would not take nada for an answer. She started giving me a shoulder massage while I was sitting in my beach chair, and she kept repeating “Oh mucho stress!” So I relented and I was glad I did because for $20.00 (Canadian) both Chris and I got a full body massage right there on the beach. Other items that we have got a great deal on in Columbia have been dental work, manicures, pedicures and haircuts (for Andrea and I) and prescription drugs which you can buy over the counter here.

Chris took the kids rollerblading and he invited another boat in the harbour with a six year old boy on it who we have had a few playdates with. Turns out that the mother used to be a professional rollerskater in her previous life! So the kids were thrilled, she spent a few hours coaching them on how to do stops, turns and a few other things. You never know who you are going to meet out here!

We have met some local people and although we cannot speak Spanish very well at all, and most people here cannot speak English, they are very kind and generous. The kids and I were invited over to a local lady’s house because she has a daughter Andrea’s age, they played on the street with some other friends as they came over as well. They had a great time. Another cruiser organized a playdate for me with another local lady because she is trying to learn to speak English and she has two girls who are 6 and 7. So the kids and I went over to her condo overlooking the marina. The kids swam at their pool and watched some Spanish cartoons as we ate a pizza for dinner.

Chris finished the installation of our new sailmail account and pactor modem so now we will be able to email when we are at sea.

We wanted to go to the Naval museum but it when we got to the old city, it was closed because there is some type of election today. So we walked the wall instead through an area that we hadn’t seen yet, now we have circumnavigated the whole wall. We walked through a great bakery and a bunch of street vendors selling fresh squeezed limeade and deep fried bread and bread with cheese in it. Cheap eats.

We have also been fortunate to meet some very nice cruisers as well as locals. Marilyn on Dream Ketch'r, who we are anchored beside, came over as a special teacher one morning. She used to teach Kindergarten so she worked with Cari one morning. As well one afternoon she came over and babysat the kids so Chris and I could go out.