Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Colombian Coast

Following our decision of sailing the Colombian coast en route to Panama we first made a leg from Aruba to an anchorage under the protection of Cabo de la Vela, which means Cape of Sail and it really deserves its name. The anchorage was indeed protected but against the waves only. The wind here is not just a feature but a natural resource! Interestingly the Colombians don’t exploit it as we didn’t see any wind generators around. We arrived in the middle of the night and left just after sunset the same day but I can tell you that we had all the wind we wanted to cool ourselves off! All day we sustained a good 20 knots of wind held by our reliable anchor that didn’t bulge. Another interesting point is on our way to Cabo de la Vela we set a speed record on Chocobo with an average speed of 7.5 knots hence the reason we arrived at 4:00am! Normally we average more 5.5 to 6.0 knots especially when we are loaded like we are right now.

Our next stop was a place called Five Bays and like its name says it, it is five bays laying side by side a bit like the holes between the toes of a giant foot with 6 toes that would be standing on the coast of Colombia. We set the anchor on the second bay from the west between two of the toes very well protected from the waves and the outside wind by the surrounding hills covered by the Colombian forest. I say the outside wind because this bay appears to be quite an amazing place and this includes a set of very strong gusts inside the bay created the winds flowing between and over the hills and taking the form of whirls moving in all directions inside the bay especially during the night. The gusts in question can often reach up to 35 knots in less than a second and last about 3 seconds. We would stand on the deck with barely any wind then see the black ripples on the water, created by the whirl, moving toward us from the side. Uh-ho! Then, as if someone turned on a giant fan, the wind would hit us with full strength creating a noise from hell. Two or three seconds later it is gone and the boat, most of the time, didn’t have the time to move. Then 5 or 15 minutes later it would come again. The first night we were sure the anchor would drag and we would hit the rocky shore or die or something like that but amazingly the anchor seems to be set in the concrete and the boat never went anywhere during the many days we stayed here waiting for a proper weather window to keep moving. But these gusts from hell are not the only amazing things down here. During the day when the wind is very calm we would see tens of white butterflies flying not too far from the surface. At night the bay becomes an amazing phosphorescent bay with billions of small planktons glowing when the water is disturbed. When the wind gets especially strong in the middle of the night we would stand at the bow and watch that the anchor is holding fine. This is relatively easy since the entire chain and the two lines of the bridle are glowing bright as the boat moves in response to the wind change. One evening with no moon I went in the water with Danielle watching over me, she just doesn’t like swimming in the dark, and like we experienced in the phosphorescent bay in Puerto Rico my limbs would just start glowing of thousands of green bright little lights as I moved them through the water. This is an experience very difficult to describe as you have to live it to fully appreciate the enchantment of the scene. I felt like a swimming light fairy but with short hairs, an unshaved beard and hairy legs!

Finally after a week of waiting we got a proper weather window to move forward and we made a last stop in the town of Rodadero, which is mainly a tourist attraction for Colombians. A nice beach with hotels lined up like the giant guards of the local economy. Having a well garnished local supermarket was a blessing that gave us the chance to replenish our fruits and vegetables and to give us the chance to relax and walk on the beach with an actual crowd around us. Being in an isolated place such as five bays is nice but after a while it is always good to have people around especially when they are all in bikinis!
For those of you who read this blog regularly please take note that we are heading to the San Blas Islands and plan to stay there for about three weeks. Those islands are very wild and the Kuna Indians who live there are very traditional and we just don’t think that high speed internet is part of the ancient tradition! So, chances are that we won’t be able to post anything for a while but you will still be able to follow our position by clicking on the “Where we are” button. Again remember that the map on the side of the page is not updated until we have internet while we update the other with our HF Radio after every move.

Arrived in Colombia

We arrived in Colombia at 4 am on December 7, 2009 after an overnight sailing of 148nm from Aruba. With the current helping we set a new speed record on Chocobo with an average speed of 7.5 knots hence the reason we arrived at Cabo de la vela during the night. If you wonder what’s with the yellow flag, this is the flag representing the letter Q in the maritime flag alphabet. The Q flag represents the quarantine and must be hosted when entering a country until the customs and immigrations are cleared.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aruba and change of plans.

The Island of Aruba is a popular tourist stop and the day we went in Oranjestad we could see four large cruise ships at the docs of the main harbor. The capital city of Oranjestad is called by some; Las-Vegas on the Beach and as soon as we set foot on the main street we understood why. Hotels, casinos and tourist shopping markets are all over the main street that runs along the waterfront. However, we don’t have a large interest in that kind of activities anymore and we just spent one day ashore walking and shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. The rest of the week we just stayed quiet on the boat and relaxed waiting for the weather window to show up so we can continue our journey.
It seems that we now have a proper weather window to leave Aruba but unfortunately we won’t be able to stick to our original plans, which was to sail directly to the San Blas Islands in Panama. Instead we decided to follow the Colombian coast and either go to Cartegena or to cut directly to San Blas once we are far enough. To understand our decision you need to get your Atlas out and look at a map of Colombia. At the north- east end of the country there is a large peninsula that stretches into the Caribbean Sea called the Peninsula de la Guajira. In a nut shell the wind coming from the east hits this peninsula and the whole north part of Venezuela, which then creates a cape effect by accelerating the wind speed as the air is deflected by it. The result is a zone of almost permanent gale force winds on the west side of the peninsula making it very dangerous to cross. After talking with other sailors and reading on the subject we decided that it was safer to sail along the Colombian coast, even with its bad reputation, and stop at a couple of places instead of going through this offshore hell.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Arrived in Aruba

We arrived at the island of Aruba, which is part of the Netherland Antilles, on November 28th, 2009 after a smooth 55nm sail from Curacao. In Aruba we wait for our weather window to cross to the San Blas islands in Panama. According to the current weather forecasts it seems that we won’t have a good window for at least a week.