Saturday, September 29, 2007

Maria, Maria, Maria

September 23, 2007  Sunday

Tonight a pot luck dinner was held in the Club Nautico clubhouse/bar/restaurant.  They put out a large grill, tongs and flatware with napkins.  Each person/couple brings their own meat/fish/chicken to grill and a dish to share with everyone else in attendance.  You are expected to purchase beverages from the bar, although you are allowed to bring a bottle of wine if you want because the bar does not sell wine.  Wine is expensive in Colombia for some reason.

I spent most of the evening talking with a German couple who have been cruising for 15 years.  They told me a lot about cruising in the Med, very little of which information was positive --- expensive, way over crowded, expensive, difficult officials in some countries, expensive, too many regulations, expensive, contrary winds or no winds at all; and, oh, did I mention that it is very expensive.  In their opinions the only places to visit in the Med in a cruising yacht are Turkey and Tunisia.  They also told me that Croatia charges $600 USD cruising permit, whether you visit for one week or a year.  Croatia also charges a fee even when you anchor.  This couple did not visit Croatia because the fees were too expensive.  Also, FWIW, I learned that today diesel costs equivalent of $8 USD per gallon in Turkey.  Uh, yeah….. it really does sound expensive in the Med.

Tonight I talked with my friend Barbara back in Texas.  She has recently discovered Skype.  I am not a Chatty Cathy on the phone (that is more Bill’s department) and I rarely call anyone, but it was nice to hear Barbara’s voice and catch up on what’s going on.  Her grandson Jake certainly has quite the Texas accent. 

A diver cleaned the barnacles off our prop today and also off our lines tied underwater to the cable mooring system.  A pilot from the boatyard is scheduled to arrive about 8 a.m. so we can get to the travel lift during high tide because the entrance is so shallow.  High tide is only about 8 inches here; but with our deep draft and the shallow entrance, we will need those additional 8 inches of water under our keel!

September 29, 2007  Saturday
Back at the marina again.

It has been a busy week.  The pilot arrived as scheduled Monday morning and guided us through the mangrove channels to the travel lift during high tide.  There was a whopping 1.8 feet of water under our keel when we reached the travel lift slip.   Lifting the boat was a challenge for several reasons: obviously the boat must be lifted enough for the deep draft keel to clear the ground surface and the 40-ton travel lift was not very tall, plus the width of our beam caused a problem.  The travel lift has a large I-beam along each side, connecting the cables that hold the lifting bands which slip beneath the boat.  As they would lift the boat and the weight of the boat would settle onto the lifting bands, these steel I-beams moved closer together and pressed against our stainless steel life rail and stanchions.  We very obviously did not want our life rail bent or the stanchions broken loose from their base along the toe rail.  It required a great deal of maneuvering to get both beams placed higher than the life rail and also not pressing against mainmast shrouds.  Two hours after beginning the lifting procedure, we were finally in place in the yard with chocks and ladder and ready for work to begin.

We stayed at the yard all day Monday and watched workers doing the various little maintenance jobs.  The taxi arrived at about 4 o’clock to take us to the hotel, and we were more than ready to go.  We stayed at Tres Banderas (Hotel 3 Banderas) in the San Diego section of Old Town Cartagena, which is located half a block from Plaza San Diego.  This is a small boutique hotel and was fine for our needs.  It was about one-fourth the price of the Santa Clara Hotel, which is part of the Sofitel chain and located directly across the street from Plaza San Diego.

Each morning the taxi would arrive about 9:30 to take Bill to the boatyard.   Bill would check on the work being performed and the taxi would arrive about 4 o’clock to bring him back to the hotel.  I walked around the San Diego district on Tuesday but didn’t really enjoy it very much.  Lots of interesting things to see and the people watching was great, but everyone stared at the single gringo woman and it made me feel conspicuous; so on Wednesday and Thursday I pretty much stayed in the hotel room watching television and playing on the computer all day.  When Bill got back to the hotel each day then we would walk around and search out restaurants.  We enjoyed an outstanding Italian dinner with a superb bottle of Spanish wine at restaurant Da Danni.   Really enjoyed the bar in the Santa Clara Hotel, very sophisticated and great music.  One night I had a Martini Bugs Bunny.  Wish we had brought a camera.  Never had an orange martini before, especially one served with a paper-thin slice of carrot garnishing the rim of the glass.  Bill thought I was crazy for ordering such a thing, but he also knows that I always order the most usual thing on any menu.  After all, you can always have ordinary at home; you should try different things when you have the opportunity.  Must say, don’t think I will be having another Martini Bugs Bunny.  One was enough.

Our best evening in town was our final night in the hotel.  We walked along the top of “the wall” along the beach road.  This wall is about 50-feet wide.  I had no idea it was so thick until we reached the top.  We walked down from the wall in an area of town that we had not seen before.  Several small tourist buses were unloading passengers in this area and there were rows of shops, all selling things we aren’t interested in buying.  Amongst these shops was the neatest bar – dedicated to bull fighters.  There were framed posters advertising bull fights in Spain spanning 30 years, along with lots of photos of individual bull fighters in action.  They even had half-dozen mounted bulls’ heads hanging on the walls.  We know nothing about bull fighting; but from what we could gather from some of the pictures and diagrams of bulls, there are names for each shape of bull.  These did not appear to be specific species of bulls, just different body shapes.  This is not a topic that I want to research but did enjoy looking at all the memorabilia.  The proprietor talked to us for a long time.  The first thing he said was “Welcome to my country.”  He was very proud of his country and wanted to make sure that we are enjoying Colombia.  He told us his name was Colombia.  He is a very friendly man and we truly enjoyed talking with him.

 Then we walked the street a bit and came across a street vendor selling hot dogs.  Bill is not a hot dog kind of guy, but he wanted to try one.  He also enjoyed standing around and visiting with the vendor.  This man said that he sets up in the same place each day, and that he sells approximately 700 hot dogs every day.  Wow!  That seems like a lot, but he certainly did have a steady stream of customers while we were standing in the area and watching.  For 2 mil (2,000 pesos is called 2 mil – about 90 cents US) you get a good-sized hot dog on a delicious bun, topped with finely chopped onions and crushed potato chips with streams of mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and 2 other sauces that we couldn’t identify.  They were great; so good that we bought a third one to split. 

Then we spotted a street vendor selling arepas con queso.  I love arepas.  These are made from corn flour and look like corn tortillas on steroids, about ¼-inch thick.  Arepas are heated on a flat griddle or skillet.  Then the vendor would slice partially like you might open pita bread to fill as a sandwich, and he would place a slather of a creamy white cheese inside the hot arepa and hand it to you wrapped in a paper napkin.  This is not cream cheese as we know it in the states; it tastes different.  I buy arepas in the supermarket and have them for breakfast.

We had an evening of hot dogs, arepas, grape drink and beer.  This was our least expensive evening out so far in Cartagena and one of the most enjoyable.  Bill called it our night of getting to know Colombia since we were out among the locals in their city neighborhood environment. 

The taxi picked us up early on Friday morning so we could arrive at the boatyard at 8 o’clock.  Everything was supposed to be finished Friday morning.  High tide was shortly after noon, so we wanted to be back in the water immediately after lunch.  Our boat was cradled in the travel lift; the workers broke for lunch; and when the “end lunch” whistle sounded the travel lift started moving us to the travel lift slip.  Going back into the water was much easier than lifting out for some reason.  There was not a bit of trouble with those steel beams pressing against our life rail or stanchions.  We followed our chartplotter track of the way we came in, and getting out was simple.  Arrived back in the marina and tied up and everything is now back to normal.  Good to be back in our home.

A couple of things were of interest in the boatyard.  First was that a boat that had been sitting for months in a marina was seized by the Colombian government because the man who claimed to be the owner could not provide documentation proving that he was indeed the owner.  So the port authorities impounded the boat and had it delivered to Ferroaquilmar boatyard.  This boat was literally covered in barnacles.  The barnacles had to be 4-inches thick.  There were even oysters growing on it!  There is a photo attached to this posting so you can see how badly the barnacles grow here in CartagenaCartagena is supposed to be the worst place in the entire world for barnacle growth.  You need to have a diver clean your prop and check the bottom every 2 weeks while your boat is in the water here.  This costs only about $15.

The second thing was a Venezuelan looking fishing boat that arrived Thursday morning.  Do not know how that boat made its way to the travel lift area because it was large and had no working motor.  At one point this boat went aground and a single man pushed it back into water deep enough for it to float.   The boat was too big to fit into the travel lift slip, so they used 2 cranes to lift it and move it to a work area of the yard.   The men who had come on the boat then started working on it.  This is a wooden boat and many planks on the hull needed replacing.  These men were using the only tools they had available and were doing a darn good job of repairing that boat.  They had an ax, a pick ax and a machete.  The only thing they used for making measurements was a divider compass and pencil.  It is amazing to see what these people can accomplish with whatever tools and materials are available.   They have learned to make do with what they have.

This morning our anchor chain was delivered; we were not expecting it back so soon.  The chain was fine but we had it re-galvanized anyway in hopes that it will last several years longer.  We wanted to take advantage of being docked at a marina and also being in a country where it is still possible to have this done.   A man in a dinghy comes to the bow of your boat and you use the electric windlass to lower your anchor chain into the dinghy.  It is taken to Barranquilla where it is hot-dipped into the zinc mixture and tumbled.  Tumbling is very important so that the zinc doesn’t clump and fill up some of the chain links.  The chain is then delivered in the dinghy back to the bow of your boat and you use the electric windlass to haul it all back into the chain locker.  Talk about making hard work easy!  The whole process takes a couple of weeks and we were not expecting our chain back until next Wednesday.  The chain looks brand new again for a fraction of the cost of replacement. 

We had purchased an additional 25 meters of chain in Grenada.  Then we ordered a quick-connect link and that was delivered to us when Aaron and the kids visited in Bonaire.  Bill first put the new 25 meters into the chain locker and then used the quick-connect link to connect it to the old chain, then used the windlass to lower all the chain back into the chain locker.  So now we have slightly more than 100 meters of anchor chain on our primary anchor.   We also will have the quick-connect link spot-welded before we leave Cartagena.  That isn’t necessary but would make us feel more secure.

Remember the fruit lady who I mentioned recently?  She walks around daily with a large bowl of fruit on her head and calls out what type fruits she has available to sell.  She also has a tiny machete in that bowl and will cut up the fruits you select to make you an on-the-spot fresh fruit salad.  Well, she came by to visit one day.  She was walking down the dock last Sunday and saw Bill, and she asked him if she could come aboard our boat.  Mind you, she was speaking Spanish; so something might have been lost in the translation; but that is what Bill believes she said to him.   It was her day off from regular work, so she did not have the large bowl of fruit on her head.  I was down below and heard Bill calling me to come into the cockpit because we had a visitor.  We sat in the cockpit and talked in Spanglish for about half an hour.  Her name is Maria, Maria, Maria.  Why you have to say Maria 3 times, we have no idea; but she says her name that way.  She was nice and we enjoyed chatting with her but still are puzzled why she wanted to come sit and talk on our boat.  She did not go to any other boat at this marina to visit.  Guess we seemed special to her in some unknown way.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hibernate during day; go out during cooler evening time

September 20, 2007  Thursday

Last night at the weekly Wednesday happy hour at the bar here in Club Nautico a couple of cruisers (who shall remain unnamed) told us all about their experiences in the San Blas Islands, other parts of Panama and locally here in Colombia.  It is always good to hear from people who are familiar with places that we have not yet visited; however, one thing they bragged about struck me as just plain wrong.  They bragged about how many small lobsters they could buy in the San Blas for less than $5 USD.  The large lobsters are now exported (mainly to the US), so only smaller lobsters are available from the local fisherman in San Blas.  You are no longer permitted to harvest lobster yourself; you must buy from a Kuna; which I think is only right since you are in their waters and that is their livelihood.  But these cruisers said sometimes they would buy lobsters that were barely bigger than large shrimp.  That is just plain wrong!  The small lobsters should be allowed to grow and multiply before being harvested.  If this practice of cruisers continuing to buy tiny and immature lobsters continues, then the San Blas Islands will have a lobster shortage just like that now experienced in the rest of the Caribbean.  Can’t blame the poor Kuna fishermen because they are just trying to make a living with what they have, but the cruisers should know better.  The cruisers should refuse to buy the tiny lobsters and ask that they be returned to the sea to grow and multiply.  If we don’t buy the tiny ones then the Kuna will stop harvesting and trying to sell them!  Use a little common sense folks!

The Club de Pesca crowd also talked about how much nicer the facilities are in Club de Pesca than here are Club Nautico.  They are correct; we have seen that.  But, if it is so great down at Club de Pesca then why are they doing all their socializing here at Club Nautico.  Because the cruisers gather at Club Nautico, that’s why.  Either place is fine and we are very happy with the people here at Club Nautico.  We do have our passarelle for access from the dock to our boat instead of having to use one of those big planks that hang out from the dock to each boat.  That does make a difference in how you feel about this place.  I would hate to have to walk that plank every time I wanted off or onto our boat!  Our passarelle is controlled by a halyard and we lift it when not in use, and lower it only when we are getting off the boat.  It has a hand line and stanchion to hold onto as you walk the passarelle, plus the dinghy davit is right there so you can also hold onto it.  Makes for a more secure feeling when walking that narrow passarelle.  When I tried walking the plank to get onto BLUEPRINT MATCH the other day, I flat could not do it!  Bill moved the plank closer to their dinghy and I managed to get on and off that boat by touching the dinghy for balance, but it is rather disconcerting to walk the plank over the water while watching the moving stern of a boat so you can step onto it at the right movement.  It makes you feel dizzy.  I am just not that coordinated.

September 22, 2007  Saturday

Past few days have been very hot and humid, so much so that we have pretty much hibernated inside with the air-conditioning.  Walked around Manga a bit just to get some exercise; but saw nothing exciting, just a typical neighborhood.  Last Sunday we did walk over the bridge into the Getsemani District of Cartagena.  It is the district inside the first thick wall of Old Town Cartagena.  All the shops were closed since it was a Sunday afternoon; only a few restaurants were open but we weren’t hungry at that time of day and in that humidity and heat.  It was fun walking the very narrow streets and the very old stone buildings with balconies filled with flowering plants overhanging the narrow sidewalks. 

At Plaza Trinidad Bill bought me a ice treat—what we would call a snowcone.  It tasted wonderful and really was an ice treat to cool off on a hot afternoon.  A man with a wheeled cart had 5 flavors of syrup flavorings in plastic bottles with squirt dispensers on the bottom edge.  He had solid pieces of ice that had obviously been frozen in small deep bowls and he would hand grind one bowl of ice to make each snowcone.  The hand-crank grinder looked to be at least 100 years old.  Then he would dispense as many flavors of flavoring as you chose onto the ice in a the paper cup.  He then drizzled condensed sweetened evaporated milk all over it; put in a straw; and handed to me.  This cost 1 mil (1,000 pesos or 45 cents US)  It tasted great.  Bill wouldn’t touch it; he said because of the condensed milk on top.  You know how doubtful that stuff must have been after sitting in the heat all day!   I thoroughly enjoyed it as I tried not to think about the quality of the water that had been used to make that ice.  Since I didn’t get sick later, I probably will enjoy more snowcones---but without that milk on top.  All I really want is the sweetened ice anyway.

We enjoyed watching the local people just hanging out at Plaza Trinidad.  Lots of kids playing in the plaza.  The church looked ancient.  After finishing the snowcone we decided to return to the boat and do more sightseeing another day.  We had no map or diagram and had no idea where we were or the significance of what we were looking at.  You really need a good tour guide to tell you about the history of all these buildings; otherwise, you are just looking at old buildings.  Hopefully we will eventually get around to finding DuranDuran; he is supposed to be the best guide.

Yesterday morning we started to grab a taxi to go into the Centro District of Old Town Cartagena.  We made it as far as the end of the marina dock before deciding that it was just too darn hot and that we would enjoy it more if we waited until early evening.  So, back to hibernate for another day inside our air-conditioning.  We each grabbed our laptops and played computer games all day since the internet wasn’t working well.  I think too many people in this marina take their laptops down to the bar and spend the entire day talking on Skype.  That uses up all the bandwidth during prime hours, IMHO.

A little after 5 p.m. we decided that the sun was low enough that we could be reasonably comfortable walking around narrow stone streets between hot stone buildings, so we dressed again and caught a taxi to the Centro District.  Cartagena is divided into several districts.  There are 2 very thick old stone walls that encircle the old town districts.  Our marina is located on a small island called Manga which is just southeast of Old Town.  It is an easy walk over the bridge to enter the first thick wall which surrounds the Getsemani District of the old city Cartagena.  That is where we walked around last Sunday.  If you walk straight through the Getsemani District then you pass the Centre Convenciones.  After the convention center you pass through another thick stone wall surrounding the Centro District (directly in front of you through the Clock Tower entrance of the inner wall) and the San Diego District of the old city (to the right or north of Centro).  There is also anther area called La Matuna which is off to the right separating Getsemani and San Diego.  I have not been able to find out what La Matuna is all about; it is inside the first wall but outside the inner wall, and there is another partial wall around part of it.  The other 3 districts (Getsemani, Centro and San Diego) are filled with shops, restaurants, bars, churches, libraries and museums.  The La Matuna area is a mystery to me as I can’t find information on anything that is supposed to be located there.

We told the taxi driver to take us to Plaza Simon Bolivar in Centro.  He drove straight through Getsemani where we had walked last Sunday.  Then he turned left around the south side of Centro and followed the wall around to the beach side.  There he found that the entrance that he had planned to use into the walled city was closed for the evening.  The tourism police do this to ensure safety for the hundreds of walking tourists at night in this historical district.  So the taxi followed exterior of the wall along the beach almost to the end, where he finally found another entrance through the wall that was not closed for the evening.  This brought us into the walled city into the San Diego District, which is where our hotel is located where we will stay while the boat is hauled next week.  The taxi proceeded through the San Diego District southward to the Centro District; so we sort of got a little driving tour most of the way around the old walled city and then most of the way straight through it.  Those streets are really narrow for automobiles, and the taxi was a very small car.

When the taxi finally reached the corner to turn towards our destination of Plaza Simon Bolivar, he found that street closed by the Tourism Police as well.  So we hopped out of the taxi and began our self-guided walk around the Centro District.  At this point I should mention that we see more police in Cartagena, and different kinds of police, than we have seen anywhere.  Not to forget also the private security guards that are absolutely everywhere, most carrying guns and looking like they are not people who should be doing so.  So far in our limited travel around the city we have seen Municipal Police, Museum Police, Tourism Police, Traffic Police, the Colonia Policia and the plain Policia.  And we have not seen one policeman detaining one single person.  Seems pretty safe here as long as you use common city sense.

The Centro District is literally filled with shops of every kind.  Lots of clothing and shoe shops, mostly higher quality items.  We walked for a couple of hours and finally decided it was time for dinner.  The restaurants have good-looking babes standing in the streets with menus.  Most of them wear tight skimpy tops and tight jeans with high-heeled sandals to get attention.  They approach you as you walk down the street and try their best to get you to eat at their restaurant.  Same hawking is true for the hundreds of jewelry stores, except the jewelry stores all use men who are not nearly as attractive as the restaurant babes.

We chose an upstairs restaurant with a balcony table overlooking the Plaza Santo Domingo.  This provided us with a wonderful opportunity to people watch on a Saturday night as this is the most popular plaza in Cartagena.  I had mango ceviche appetizer and fabulous seafood pasta; Bill had a less-than-stellar churrasco (steak).  This meal cost more than twice the price of the great meal that we had enjoyed at the lovely de Oliva on our first night in Cartagena.   Still not an expensive evening at 92,000 pesos ($41.50) including both taxis and dinner with tip.

The people watching was fun.  A dance troupe performed in the street; there was a mime; a man juggling fire sticks; several table-side guitar players for the 3 restaurants whose tables fill the plaza at night; a puppeteer; and a couple of the black boys that are famous in Cartagena.  These boys (appear to be very young men or teenagers) paint their skin and clothing totally black.  They sometimes cavort around but mostly just sit quietly with a black-painted can placed in front of them to collect tips.  We have heard that these black boys can cause problems during carnival by ganging around tourists and demanding money, getting black paint onto the tourists if they don’t give enough money or sometimes resorting to robbing the tourists.  But all the black boys that we saw this evening were quiet and well-behaved.

It was a fun evening.  Still can’t believe we are actually in Cartagena.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Boy! Is there a lot of lightning here!

September 17, 2007  Monday

No more Chocosanos over the weekend, thank goodness.  Things have been quiet except for a couple of unbelievable lightning storms.  Really glad our insurance rider is in effect!    We have walked around, nothing too adventurous as it is too hot and humid.  We just cannot seem to get out and get moving early in the morning before the day heats up. 

We tried out a restaurant called Arape that was recommended for steaks.  Bill ordered the medium size lomo fino which was 300 grams of beef.  The regular size lomo fino was 500 grams.  Who could eat that much at one dinner!  As it was, even though he liked it; Bill only ate about half of his meal.  What a shame to waste that good steak.  I ordered a dish called pollo relleno, knowing full well that it would not be anything like what would be served in Houston, Texas.  And it wasn’t.  But it was very good.  It was chicken breast in a very tiny amount of red sauce of some kind that had almonds in it.  The nuts really completed this dish; it was quite good.  Like Bill, I could only eat about half of the amount served.

Bill has wanted to try the marina restaurant for lunch but hasn’t yet been able to wait until their hours of lunch service.  He is accustomed to eating lunch promptly at noon, and lunch isn’t served locally until about 2:00 p.m.  They also eat dinner very late.  You can tell the cruisers in the local restaurants because we all want to eat between 6 and 8 each evening.  The locals don’t eat dinner until more like 10 to 11 p.m.  Different culture; but Bill will never adjust to those meal times, no matter how many packages of crackers and cookies he eats between meals.

I think I am going to get my hair cut this afternoon.  After we left the restaurant Saturday night we noticed a hair salon down the street.  It was open at 8:30 on a Saturday night, which I thought was odd for a shop that is not in a mall.  So I walked in and tried to get a haircut.  They would have done it then except that there is only one guy in that shop who cuts women’s long hair.  Others were doing men’s hair and others were doing women’s short hair cuts, but only Alain does long hair cuts for women.  So the receptionist made an appointment for me for 2:00 p.m. Monday.  Mind you, all this communication is being done with no one in the shop speaking English and me not speaking Spanish.  But I think we managed to communicate okay.  Will know for sure when I show up for what I understand to be a two o’clock appointment this afternoon.  I figure a haircut here can’t possibly be any worse than the cut I got in Grenada in May.  Wish me luck. 

September 18, 2007 Tuesday

Yep, did get my haircut; it cost only $9 USD vs the $55 I paid in Greneda and this guy did a much better cut.  Nicely appointed L’Oreal salon.  Couldn’t believe the price was such a bargain.  Of course, other cruisers here have found places to get haircuts for as little as $3 but I'll stick with the L'Oreal salon.

We are spending the day holed up inside our air-conditioned boat.  Feel like we should be out sight-seeing, but since we plan to be here about 2 months it is hard to feel any sense of urgency about it.  Bill has been searching the internet today trying to find a hotel in Old Town section where we can stay for a couple of nights next week while our boat is hauled.   I have been searching the internet trying to find just where we might want to visit for tourist stuff.  Can’t believe we did not buy a visitors guide for Cartagena.  Too late to do that now because everything sold here is in Spanish.

Remember the photo of the fruit lady that I posted last week?  I found the following letter online to a newspaper about these women:

“Fruit, fruit juices and fruit sweets are among the unforgettable experiences in Cartagena. No one has described them better than Anastasia Moloney in the Guardian Weekly:
Every day black women draped in flowing, colourful dresses stroll along Cartagena's stretch of grey-sanded beach. They effortlessly balance large bowls of tropical fruits on their heads. These sturdy women are known as the palenqueras, named after their native town of Palenque. Over the centuries these fruit queens have become a symbol of the city.
The palenqueras carry an array of fruits that are commonplace and in abundance in Colombia all year round. These range from oversized papayas, mini-mangoes, yellowy banana passion fruits, bitter tree tomatoes, guavas, pitayas, succulent pineapples and sweet green feijoas to tangy orange lulos shaped liked tomatoes and the juicy white flesh of the soursops.
Using a small machete, the palenqueras peel and slice these fruits with the flair of an artist and in a matter of minutes rustle up a fruit salad to your individual tastes for less than $4 a go.
The king of fruits, as it's the most expensive, is the mangostino. It is a rare leathery deep purple fruit that looks a bit like a pomegranate. Inside is a succulent aromatic white flesh, with a similar texture to a lychee.
My favourite is granadilla, a round, orange shiny fruit with a thick, brittle rind, known to be good for the digestive system. Inside are fragrant crunchy black seeds in a jelly-like pulp, which despite looking like frog spawn, is delicious and refreshing.
Street vendors sell peeled strips of unripe mango served with honey and salt, giving a bittersweet taste that Colombians crave. Along the narrow streets, fruit-sellers wheel carts laden with pyramids of ripe avocadoes the size of small melons.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chocosano!!! In the middle of the night, of course!

September 14, 2007 Friday

About 2:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon the sky suddenly darkened.  About 3 minutes later one of the notorious Chocosanos arrived!  Everything we had heard and read about these sudden high-wind storms was true.  Chocosanos are a local phenomenon that also occurs in the San Blas Islands.  These are very sudden, high, sustained, straight-line winds that may or may not be accompanied by rain.  They usually last 30 minutes to an hour, but have been known to last as long as 3 hours. 

The winds yesterday afternoon topped at 35 knots.  That doesn’t sound like all that much because we have encountered 35 knot winds while out sailing and managed just fine.  But these winds are different.  Best description I can give is that they are straight-line solid winds, not gusting winds.  This makes a huge difference. 

Now we understand why boats are required to have three 100-foot bow lines tied to the underwater cable anchoring system here at Club Nautico.  The winds started directly on our bow.  They slowly clocked to our port beam, without ever letting up a bit.  The strong wind caused the water to become extremely agitated and caused all the boats to start hobby-horsing like crazy.  Everyone was instantly up in their cockpits ready to start their engines if a bow line failed or if the lines stretched too far and let their sterns pound into the dock behind them.  It was most exciting – an excitement that we would just as soon not experienced.

Then heavy rain began to blow with the strong winds.  The whole thing lasted about 30 minutes as best I remember.  Then it was perfectly calm and still.  I have read that these Chocosanos typically occur in afternoons but the other cruisers here at the marina said that lately these storms have been happening about 3 a.m.  We are glad that the first one that we experienced was during the daylight.  Now we have an idea of what to expect.

All the boats on our dock were fine after the storm passed, but a catamaran on another dock lost one of its bow lines.  It would have been pounded into the dock behind it except for a French sailor berthed next to them.  The 42-foot Manta catamaran has two 20-horsepower engines.  These two engines were not strong enough to hold the catamaran away from the dock at their stern.  The Frenchman tied a line to the catamaran and started his engine.  He used his boat to help keep the catamaran off the dock until the winds passed.  This is the second time the Frenchman has come to the aid of that catamaran this month during these Chocosanos.  How disastrous would it be if the owners were off shopping or doing tourist things when these winds suddenly appeared!  Makes you want to be close to home during the afternoon just to be on the safe side.

Then, at 2:00 a.m. this morning we experienced our second Chocosanos!  This is most unusual to experience two in less than 24 hours, and these were only 12 hours apart!  The one this morning did not have any accompanying rain, just the high sustained winds.  All the boats were again hobby-horsing all over the place.  I was very concerned about the boat on our port side.  It has a large pulpit on the bow that would really beat up our boat, and their bow lines don’t look very heavy-duty to me.  In fact, I think all three of those lines look pretty darn flimsy considering the strain that they must hold.  Plus, that boat does not have any spring lines rigged to the concrete pillars on the dock behind us.  Thank goodness that Bill thought to add two spring lines.  These help keep our bow from turning when the winds come off the beam.  Since the boat next door doesn’t have any spring lines rigged, his bow was being blown sideways and getting much too close to our boat.  We have spare fenders out and ready to try to fend him off if necessary, but I would hate to have to do that because I am afraid one of us could be badly injured as much as that boat was rearing up and kicking all over the place.  A foot or hand between our two tossing boats would be instantly crushed to little bits.  Our boat is 27 tons and his is at least that much if not considerably more.  Not a pretty thought!  But we didn’t collide so all was well.

Some people leave their boats here while doing inland travel in South America – not in Colombia because that is still too dangerous.  But people do fly from Cartagena to various destinations in South America.  They are required to designate or hire someone to care for their boat in their absence.  After going through one of these Chocosanos, Bill and I know for certain that we would never leave our boat here in Cartagena while we traveled elsewhere.  We would be worried sick about our boat the entire time and would not be able to enjoy the vacation.

We hope to get some routine maintenance chores performed here in Colombia where the labor is so inexpensive.  One of the things that has bothered Bill for the past year is the turnbuckles.  The guy in Trinidad last summer put an acid-based cleaner on the turnbuckles when he was cleaning our boat.  This discolored the turnbuckles.  They truly don’t look that noticeable, but they are not the shiny stainless that Bill wants them to be.  He is forever polishing the stainless rail and stanchions, etc., and likes all the metal to gleam spotless.  (Frankly, I doubt that I would ever even notice those turnbuckles; but they bug Bill to no end.) 

Yesterday Bill hired a guy to act as a general manager for the various jobs that he wants performed.  First assignment was to find a stainless man to polish the turnbuckles with jewelers rouge.  Bill had read that this would be the only way to get the turnbuckles back to their original gleaming state.  Alberto, our project general manager, located a stainless man and had him come inspect our boat.  Turns out that our stainless steel turnbuckles are not stainless steel after all.  Our turnbuckles are solid bronze with chrome plating to make them appear to be stainless steel.  Seems like Amel would have made a bigger deal about that fact.  Bronze is the preferred metal.  We were pleasantly surprised to learn that these turnbuckles are solid bronze.  The stainless man did use jewelers rouge to clean one of the turnbuckles as a sample of what he can do if he is assigned the job, and that turnbuckle gleamed again.  Made Bill very happy.  So the stainless man is hired to polish all the turnbuckles.

Bill also wants the hull waxed again, with special attention to the boot stripe and that small white line between the boot stripe and the bottom paint.  That little strip never gets waxed when we get a bottom job.  The painters always tape it off so they will have a straight edge on the bottom paint.  The waxers just wax the sides of the hull down to that tape.  When both jobs are finished then the tape is removed and that tiny strip never gets touched.  And that tiny strip turns yellow-brown and crap starts growing on it immediately.  It is a constant chore to clean marine growth off it.  Another project is to repair a scratch on the bottom edge of the keel.  The bottom paint got scraped a little on a rocky/shell bottom and we want another coat of bottom paint applied to the keel.  Labor rates here in Cartagena range from $20 to $30 for an 8-hour day.  That is incredibly cheap!! 

So we hope to arrange to have the boat hauled for these maintenance projects.  It is just so inexpensive here that if we don’t haul then we would be kicking ourselves for the next year every time we have to scrub the water edge of the hull.  Hauling out is a bit cumbersome because you are not allowed to move your boat at all without first obtaining a letter from the Port Authority granting you permission to do so.  The Port Captain does not deal with private yachts so that means that our agent must first obtain this letter for us before we can move to the haul-out facility and boatyard.  Hoping to do this next week.  This will also allow the project general manager time to locate the various laborers and materials that will be needed.  Bill already met with the boatyard manager and learned that hauling, boatyard time and splashing will cost only about $400.  Again, that is very inexpensive for a 53-foot boat.

While the boat is hauled (about 3 days?) Bill and I plan to stay in a hotel or hostal in Old Town.  That should be fun.  We are looking forward to it.

Today we walked around and visited every ATM we could find.  Each ATM would allow only 300,000 pesos per withdrawal.  We each withdrew 300,000 at three different banks; giving us a total of 1,800,000 pesos.  Sounds like a lot of money until you do the conversion.  That is only $810 USD.  We must pay cash for the marina and everything else; no credit cards accepted and they don’t want US dollars.  Guess we will be visiting the ATMs frequently to accumulate enough pesos to cover our needs.

We like it here so much that we might stay two months rather than one.  Kind of depends on how often these Chocosanos happen.  Wonder how long it takes to get accustomed to them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Club Nautico, Cartagena

September 13, 2007 Thursday
Club Nautico, Cartagena, Colombia

I looked at some of the stats for our passage from Curacao and found them interesting.

The first 24 hours we sailed 206.8 NM at an average speed of 8.62 knots.
The second 23.5 hours we sailed 168.1 NM at average speed of 7.15 knots.
The third 18.75 hours we sailed 127.8 NM at average speed of 6.82 knots.

Passage total 502.7 NM; total sailing time 66.25 hours, for average speed of 7.59 knots.  And much of that was under only the poled reefed genoa because we were trying to slow down.  Others had warned us that we would not make good time during the final leg of this passage but we found that not to be true.  Maybe the difference was because they took the coastal route and encountered erratic winds and current; whereas we took the offshore route and had fairly consistent winds and very consistent current.  If anyone reading this log ever considers making the same passage, I would recommend angling more toward Cartagena during the final 50 miles of the passage.  That final section was abeam to the large waves and swell; it would have less uncomfortable had our route taken a more gradual angle to reach the same destination.  Another positive of the offshore vs coastal routes is that we experienced far less lightning.  We could see the lightning close to and over the land in the distance on both nights we were off the Colombian coast, but the lightning dissipated before it reached us well offshore each night.  The winds offshore might have been higher than coastal; we won’t know that until we hear BLUEPRINT MATCH fares.

Arrival at Club Nautico is a unique experience.  This is a dilapidated old marina; it was dilapidated years ago but just keeps on attracting cruisers anyway.  The only alternative is to berth at Club de Pesca, which is a private yacht club for wealthy Colombians.  It is a much nicer facility – men are required to wear long pants and collared shirts to enter the dining room and women are required to wear dresses or skirts; linen tablecloths and all the nice stuff.  Club Nautico on the other hand is an ultra-casual, laid back kind of place.  Club Nautico has a happy hour every Wednesday evening and a cruisers’ pot luck dinner on Sundays.  The cruisers who are berthed down at Club de Pesca all come down to Club Nautico for any socialization.  Spanish is the only language spoken at Club de Pesca; at Club Nautico there are several people who speak English quite well.  We originally planned to stay at Club de Pesca but changed our minds and switched to Club Nautico.  Now that we are here, we are glad that we made this decision.  The people here are very, very friendly and very, very, very helpful.

To dock at Club Nautico you are required to have three dock lines of minimum 100-feet each.  We don’t have even one dock line that long, so Bill pieced together the lines that we had on hand and barely managed to come up with what was required.  There is a cable system underwater on the bottom and placed out around the marina docks.  We backed up to the dock and 2 men took the stern lines to hold around dock cleats while the bow was secured.  A diver (using just a snorkel mask) is in the water as you start the docking process.  You throw him one of the 100-feet dock lines and he dives down and ties it onto the cable on the bottom.  This process is repeated twice more.  Then the stern lines are tightened back to the dock as tight as possible, pulling the 3 bow lines very taut.   The boat is now secured; it isn’t moving.  This is a very unusual form of med-mooring.

Cartagena is subject to “chocosonos” – which are wind reversals that sometimes occur suddenly and can blow 40 knots or higher.  These typically occur in the afternoons but can happen at other times as well.  If a boat is not secured quite tautly, then it would be pounded against the dock in a chocosono.  We understand from other cruisers that these chocosonos occur even more frequently in the San Blas Islands, so it is something that we will be dealing with for months.  Most of us have become very familiar with the cool air temps that precede rain.  Here in Cartagena and over in the San Blas, the first sign of an approaching chocosono is the cooler air temp.  Instead of running to close the hatches when we feel the cool air, now we will be running to check the dock lines (and later the anchor).

We needed to fax something to our bank so we walked a couple of blocks to the supermarket; found an ATM to get our first Colombian pesos; and got that tiny bit of business attended to.  One-stop shopping – bread, ATM and fax service – all in one store.  The supermarket is modern, clean and sells anything that we might want.  Milk is sold in refrigerated section and is packed into bags of all things.  Ever bought a bag of milk?  They apparently are big into breads here as the bakery section stocked a huge variety of freshly baked breads in wide assortment of sizes, shapes, textures and varieties.  We tried a half-loaf filled with what we thought was finely chopped sausage and cheese.  Turned out to be a guava filling with white mild cheese and sprinkled with sugar.  Sounds strange but we enjoyed it a lot and called it lunch.  Cost less than a dollar.  We got 100,000 pesos from the ATM.  I checked our bank online this morning and learned that 100,000 pesos is $45 USD; so the exchange rate is 2222.22 pesos to one dollar.  Shades of Venezuela again.  Will take me a week or so get back into thinking in these ridiculous money numbers. 

Last night we went to the happy hour at Club Nautico and chatted with all new people.  Didn’t see anyone that we know but did run into someone who was docked next to us last October in Puerto la Cruz.  We met a couple on a catamaran from Belize and ended up chatting with them most of the evening.  After the happy hour the four of us walked several blocks to a wonderful restaurant and then to Nimos for ice cream.  Bill and I shared an orange sherbet and it was really good.

This morning Bill washed all the salt off top-deck.  I moved all my clothes and things from the forward cabin and head back to the aft stateroom and my head.  Bill keeps his things forward and has “his” bathroom, and I keep all my things aft and have “my” bathroom.  I had moved everything forward back in late July before the kids came to visit and left my stuff up there since Donna and Bruce were also coming.  We don’t expect any visitors any time soon (although many are welcome any time they can meet up with us!), so I moved everything back to normal. 

Being at a dock and having air-conditioning is a must here in Cartegena.  It is HOT!  Heat index today is 105F.  As soon as Bill finished cleaning topsides, it started to rain.  Think this will be an inside day for us.  We plan to be here at least a month, so there will be plenty of time to see the sights.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Five Bays to Cartagena

Log covers 10 Sept afternoon to 12 Sept 2007 morning, Five Bays to Cartagena:

September 11, Tuesday

This morning a local man paddled out to our boat in a hand-hewn dugout canoe to tell us “Bienvenidos a la Colombia!”  A nice man named Ricardo Garcia.  He makes it a point to say hello to as many visiting yachts as possible.  Likes to collect their boat cards.  We gave him a pack of cigarettes from our bribe stash and that seemed to make his day.  He spoke only Spanish but we managed to communicate just fine.  We loaned 4 jerry cans of diesel to Paul on BLUEPRINT MATCH because he had only ¼ tank left.  They plan to stay in this lovely bay for a few days.  We left Five Bays shortly after 1:00 p.m.  Had a truly gorgeous sail all afternoon.  Then had a good shower on deck before dark set in.  I think Bill has become a convert to deck showers at sea; much more comfortable than trying to shower down in the head of a tossing boat.

In the late afternoon we passed a very large platform of some kind which was not shown on either of our charts.  Did not look like an oil platform or a natural gas platform.  Not sure what it was.  But it certainly was big.

There were a couple of submarine cable laying ships working in the path of our route.  We had to divert slightly to allow sufficient room for clearance of the cable. 
Tues 2040 (8:40 p.m.)  11.11.234N; 074.56.904W;  Course 263 true; 8.2 kts SOG; wind 18 kts true; seas 8-10 ft following swell.  Full genoa poled to port & full mizzen.  Going too fast and will arrive in darkness if don’t slow down soon.

“Red over Red, the Captains dead” came back to mind when we saw another cable laying ship after dark and she was displaying 3 red lights, one over another.  I will have to check our USCG rules book because I thought there were different light schemes for a vessel not under command and a vessel constrained in her maneuverability due to the nature of her work.  At any rate, this is the first time we have encountered the 3 stacked all-round red lights in use.

Tues 2145  11.10.018N; 075.05.064W; Course 247 true; 6.6 kts SOG; wind 22.6 kts true; following seas 8-10 ft.  Took in mizzen; sailing with double reefed genoa only; still going too fast.  Going faster was much more comfortable.  Rolling a lot more now that we have taken in mizzen and have slowed a bit.  Thousands and thousands of heavy bright stars.  Lots of shipping traffic.

Tues 2355  11.04.262N; 075.18.590W;  Course 247 true; 5.6 SOG; wind 22.6 true; following seas 8-10 ft.; double reefed genoa only.  Passed 2 more ships off port side.

I did not update during the night because it was again too rough.  There was lots of large ships passing all night long.  The pleasant sailing vaporized during the night, and it was very uncomfortable by daybreak.  That is when we made the turn to head down to the entrance at Boca Grande.  There is an underwater rock wall all the way across the entrance at Boca Grande.  It was built by the Spanish to keep the English out I don’t remember how long ago.  Anyway, when we made that turn it placed us beam to the waves; so it was a miserable final 3 hours in the highest winds of the entire trip, sustained 28-30 knots.  And to top it off, when we attempted to take in the sails and start the engine we learned that the prop was fouled!  Bill gunned the engine alternating forward and reverse until he began to get some positive results.  What a place to have a fouled prop!  Very large seas in 30 knots of wind well offshore.  He got the engine to work acceptably for the time being and then we realized that our electronic charting was screwed up.  It was no longer indicating any boat speed or depth and the little boat icon on the screen started sailing sideways.  Then the icon turned around and we completed the passage with our little boat image sailing in reverse.  That really plays with a very tired mind accustomed to the boat pointing in the direction on the monitor that it is going.

A really good surprise is that the narrow entrance through the submerged rock wall is now well marked with huge red and green buoys.  That was a load off our minds!  The entrance only allows clearance for 2.35 meters draft and our draft is 2.05 meters.  We had been concerned about this entrance because it hasn’t been marked in recent years.  We were quite relieved to find such nice navigational markers in place.

Wed 0900  Arrived Cartagena.  10.24.676N; 075.32.525W; moored at Club Nautico.  Man, it is HOT in Cartagena.  People are very nice and friendly.  We are tired and hot and hungry.  And very glad to be here in Cartagena.  More later.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Curacao to Five Bays, Colombia

Log covers 9 Sept – 10 Sept 2007; passage Curacao to Five Bays, Colombia:

This log is somewhat scattered in date order.  Sorry about that. 

We moved out to Anchorage E in Spaanse Waters after our friends Donna & Bruce left last Wednesday.  Of course, as chance would have it, the weather turned perfect sailing conditions shortly after they departed.  What a shame they flew all the way to Curacao for a sailing vacation and never left the dock.  But they did get to see the island.  And they got to experience hurricane preparations for a boat.  It was great to be back out on anchor.  We like that so much better than staying in a marina.

We went to the cruisers’ happy hour at Sari Fundy’s on Thursday and met 2 couples who just returned from San Blas Islands, Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Cartagena.  They came to our boat on Friday evening and gave us a wealth of information about all locations.  A big thank-you to Rico & Jackson on S/V APPARITION and to Jim & Michelle on S/V WIND MACHINE.  They both use the same Maxsea software that we use, and Rico provided us with actual tracks into Boca Grande at Cartagena and into various anchorages in San Blas Islands.  We also learned from them that the navigational markers are again in place in Cartagena for the narrow entrance through the underwater rock wall.  Yahoo!!!  That is a big worry that we can now forget about.

BTW, I took the free bus from Sari Fundy’s on Friday morning to the Centrum Supermarket.  FWIW, Centrum is far superior to Strada which is recommended so highly in the cruisers’ guide.  I would recommend visiting both because Strada does offer some items that are not found in Centrum, and the prices are lower at Strada.  But Centrum is as big and nice as any supermarket in any large city in the states.  We did not need anything, but we wanted to use up all our guilders (NAF—Netherland Antilles Florin) as we will not be back in Curacao or Bonaire any time in the near future.

Saturday morning we prepped the boat for the long (for us!) passage to Cartagena.  We rigged both poles because we will be flying the genoa on the port side until well past Aruba; then we make a turn and will be flying the genoa on the starboard side.  Better to rig everything now rather than dealing with it at sea.  Outboard engine is mounted on the rail and the dinghy is tied down on the mizzen deck.  We could have left the dinghy on the stern davits, but I have read too many logs of people getting swamped on this passage by big seas filling the dinghy on davits.  Better safe than sorry.  Then I cooked 3 meals so all I need to do at sea is reheat.  We are set to leave at 4:00 p.m. so that we should arrive in Cartagena on Tuesday mid-day, assuming no bad weather is encountered.  We are both freshly showered (important to start off squeaky clean when we know it isn’t likely that either of us will have another chance to shower until this passage is complete) and ready to go.

We just learned that S/V BLUEPRINT MATCH is also enroute to Cartagena.  They moored at Monjes del Sur (the Venezuelan rocks with the rope tied between) last night.  They are traveling with S/V RED THREAD, whom we do not know.  It will be interesting to later compare the experiences of us on the offshore route at the same time they are on the coastal route.

Trip Log:  (note that this was written during the passage; our opinions of the passage changed to a more positive note after we reached our destination, turned on the air-conditioning, had a shower and ate a meal.)
Sat Sept 8, 2007  1520 (3:20 p.m.) anchor up and left Spaanse Water channel entrance about 1545.  Course 306 mag; wind 20 kts ESE, gusting 24 kts.
Sat 1745    12.10.334N; 069.05.501W    Boat speed 8.16 SOG; course 316 mag; wind 20-25 kts ESE; 6 ft seas; passed well astern of 2 large ships, both headed SE.  Sails: full genoa poled to port and full mizzen, double reefed main.  Bill finally might have learned to sleep at sea.  He is asleep and I am taking the first night watch tonight.  Pork chop sandwiches for dinner.

Sun noon.  Spoke too early; Bill has not learned to sleep at sea.  He came top deck last night at 2130 after unsuccessful attempts to sleep for 4 hours.  That was the precise moment when I chose to blow my dinner all over the deck—much too rough to attempt to get to the rail, safer to kneel on the seat of the cockpit and puke out onto the deck; easy enough to wash the deck down with the water hose.  We were rolling very badly all night and I was seasick all night.  Bill took care of everything while I tried to sleep it off in the cockpit.  At 0430 we took in the sails and motored until daylight; needed to charge the batteries anyway.  At daylight we set the genoa poled out to starboard and mizzen to starboard.  With only those 2 sails we are making about 8 knots SOG; course 285; wind down to just under 20 knots; seas 8-10 feet and very confused.  There are white caps curling in every direction and patches of foam, while the current and general main direction of the waves are in the direction we are headed.  Still rolly.  Passed one ship within 2 miles and saw 2 others far in the distance.  Our fastest speed overnight was 10.8 knots!!  That is when we reefed down the sails.

Sun 1530  During the past 24 hours we have sailed 206.8 NM.

Sun 1645  12.48.057N; 071.58.683W  Boat speed 8 knots SOG; course 265 mag; winds same; seas larger at 12 feet.  Have not seen any other vessels since making the turn over Aruba.  This is not a pleasant downwind sail.  It is test of endurance.  We both have been catnapping all day.  We both are tired of this motion.

Sun 2130   12.35.621N; 072.34.966W  Boat speed 8.20 SOG; course 255 mag; winds lighter at 16-18 knots; seas much smoother at 8 feet;  quite a lightning show over on the Colombian mainland.  Bill managed to get a shower down in the head tonight.  Not me.  No way in Hades that I would go down there in a shower with the boat moving this much.

Mon 0315  Wow, my watch again.  My, how time flies.   12.09.769W; 73.14.501W  Course 230 mag; boat speed 8.56 SOG; true wind speed at 22.5 knots but feels much lighter; seas calm –can’t see in darkness so can’t judge size but boat is sailing smoothly (finally!!) so seas must be smaller. There was a lot of lightning most of the night, but you are reading this so we didn’t get hit.  We have decided to tuck in at Five Bays to meet up with Paul and Michelle on BLUEPRINT MATCH.  No reason that we couldn’t proceed directly to Cartagena and arrive tomorrow mid-day, but we would just as soon sail along with them for the rest of the passage.  Plus, this way we get to see some of the Colombian coast.

Mon 0800   11.50.338N; 073.36.097W  Still within the 3000 meter depth line; it cuts over very close to shore near the Five Bays area.  Course 235 mag; boat speed 8 kts SOG; true wind speed 14.5 kts; seas kind of flat with a very gentle 6-foot swell moving same direction as boat.  Pleasant sailing.  Have seen 4 large rather strange looking ships plus had 4 other ships as radar targets but never seen.  The charts call this a “shipping convergence zone.”

Mon 1230  11.31.802N; 073.55.000W  Course 232 mag; boat speed 6.2 SOG; true wind speed 10.3 kts; seas totally flat with nice swell.  We are motor sailing because the wind is so light; also lets us charge the batteries.  About 2 ½ hours to Five Bays.  I had a wonderful shower on deck this morning.  Not a soul in sight, so why not.  Nice to feel human again.

Mon 1620  Anchored 11.19.555N; 074.06.428W in center bay of Five Bays, Colombia.  This is not the real name for this location but that is what the cruisers have come to call it.  We wasted more than an hour trying to anchor in the second bay before giving up and moving to this bay, so our time/speed average for the passage will be skewed.  BLUEPRINT MATCH and RED THREAD are still on their way here.  We motored the final 4 hours of our offshore passage; they have been motoring all day on their coastal route.  Basically, in about 48 hours we sailed 375 NM, even with a wasted hour trying to anchor in the wrong bay.  Only mishap for the passage was that Bill left our anchor snubber on the stern deck to dry when we pulled anchor in Curacao.  We both forgot all about it; and with the severe rolling that we encountered north of Aruba, the snubber fell overboard.  Hope we can find a new one in Cartagena since we will be anchoring a lot in the San Blas.

As we approached Five Bays we were greeted by 4 to 5 dozen dolphin.  These were the smaller variety of porpoise; had a slightly speckled appearance on their backs.  And, yes, it was 50 to 60 dolphin; swimming and jumping all around our boat.  One even did a backflip.  Bill went forward on the deck and whistled loudly (our kids can attest to how loudly Bill can whistle!).  The dolphin love it when you whistle or make lots of noise and they perform more enthusiastically.  It was great!

And now it is time for a diet coke and a cold shower to cool off.  BLUEPRINT MATCH and RED THREAD arrived in the bay just before sunset.  Not sure if we will leave tomorrow for the rest of the trip to Cartagena or if we will hang around here for a day or two.  There is zero wind out there right now.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Off to Cartagena

September 8, 2007  Saturday
Spaanse Water, Curacao

Leaving today for the long dreaded passage to Cartagena.  We had hoped to buddy-boat on the coastal route with S/V SCOTT FREE, but this perfect weather window presented itself and SCOTT FREE has not yet arrived in Curacao.  We don't want to lose the opportunity of this unexpected weather window, so we are going ahead without them.

Hurricane Felix has sucked up the normal Colombian low that causes such bad weather along the Colombian coast.  Prediction is for it to take about 7 days for the Colombian low to rebuild back to normal.  So this is the perfect time for us to make this passage.  Winds are predicted 20-25 knots with a few 30-35 knot showers and seas 8 feet.  That sounds like something we can handle -- that is same weather we had for our 460NM passage from Bonaire to Virgin Islands last November.

We plan to take the offshore route recommended by Jimmy Cornell, outside the 1000 meter depth line, so the seas should be considerably less rough than on the coastal route.  We should arrive in Cartagena sometime Tuesday.  Will update again when we are docked in Cartagena and have found the internet again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Goodbye to Donna and Bruce; almost time to move on

September 5, 2007  Wednesday

Goodbye to Donna and Bruce.  They left mid-day for the trek back to Texas.  As always, it was good to visit with them.  They are welcome to visit us aboard any time.  It was a shame that we didn't get to do any sailing while they were here.  We spent the first 3 days exploring the island by car.  Turned out that those were the best 3 weather days during their entire 8 days with us.  Guess we should have gone out sailing first and then explored the island by car.  But with the hurricane and then higher winds and rougher seas that are so typical of the ABCs, there simply was not a good day for sailing.  But we enjoyed their visit even if we didn't get to sail.

CaribWX website posted several images from the hurricane center showing Hurricane Felix as the storm progressed across the Caribbean.  These images graphically show why the Curacao area was spared damage from this hurricane.  The eye wall changed shape as the storm passed north of Curacao and all the energy was moved up into the NE quadrant of the storm.  Since Curacao was about 40 miles south of the eye and all the energy was up in the NE quadrant, we had no bad effects from the storm.

Lucky us! 

This has now happened twice with hurricanes while we were aboard boats.  One could become complacent and think that as long as one is 35-50 miles south of the eye of a category 2 or 3 hurricane, then one wouldn't suffer damage.  How dumb that would be to make such an assumption!  We realize that we were extremely lucky during both Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 and Hurricane Felix in 2007.  We hope never to be so close to another hurricane while aboard a boat.

We are checking out of Curacao Yacht Club in a few minutes and will move out into the anchorage.  Bruce drove us into Willemstaad on Monday so we could obtain an anchoring permit from the Harbor Authority.  The anchoring permits are free but it is a pain in the butt to have to go all the way to the city to obtain a permit.  And you must have a permit for each anchorage that you plan to visit.  We planned to obtain permits for several anchorages so we could sail around Curacao a bit, but that wasn't possible because you must tell them the exact dates that you want each permit for each anchorage.  Isn't that one of the dumbest things you have ever heard!!!  How can we possibly know what the weather will be like on any particular day in the future!  So we couldn't provide specific dates for specific anchorages.  Therefore, we got a permit only for anchorage section E in Spaanse Waters.  Curacao really needs to rethink this permit restriction if they want more sailors to visit their island.  It would be too cumbersome to have to find transportation all the way to the city each time you want to change anchorages.  Cruisers will merely go somewhere else where these restrictions do not exist.  I understand why Curacao wants to know where each boat is located at all times, but there must be an easier way to track the movements of visiting pleasure craft.

We will stay in the anchorage until the proper weather window presents itself to begin the passage toward Cartagena.  S/V SCOTT FREE should arrive here in Curacao in a few days.  We will then decide whether to wait and buddy boat with them or not.  Depends on how long they want to hang around Curacao.  I am ready to leave on the first good weather window after we receive the Colombia rider from the insurance company.

Don't know if we will have internet access out in the anchorage, so might not update for awhile.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hurricane Felix while we were at Curacao

September 2, 2007 Sunday

Okay, I admit it.  I have totally lost track of times and events of past week.  Let’s blame it on Hurricane Felix.

First, we are perfectly fine.  The hurricane passed 43 miles north of where we are docked at Curacao Yacht Club in Spaanse Waters.  Felix was a category 2 hurricane at that point.  We were extremely fortunate to be on the south side of the storm and in a very protected area.  The experience was basically a repeat of what happened when Hurricane Jeanne passed north of Tortola in September 2004 while we were at the Mooring docks.  It was truly a “non event.”  And we are so thankful that it was!

Donna and Bruce helped us prepare the boat for the approaching storm.  S/V BeBe was tied securely alongside the dock.  We had every fender against the dock, including our old car tire in a heavy plastic bag and our huge inflated orange teardrop shaped fender.  The outboard motor was on the rail and the dinghy was securely tied upside down on the mizzen deck.  No way that dinghy could have blown up and away.  Bill furled both the main and mizzen sails completely into their masts.  The genoa was furled and the jib sheets were wrapped round and round the lower part of the forestay.  Then we took a halyard and wrapped it around the upper and middle parts of the forestay; so there was no way for wind to cause the genoa to unfurl.  Bill took a spare line and wrapped it around all the halyards on the main mast, just as a precaution in case one of those started to flail about in the wind.  Everything was well secured.

We all went to bed early, expecting to be awakened by high winds and rain about 2 a.m. Each of us did wake up off and on all night long, but it wasn’t because of the really bad weather that we had expected.  Bill and I took turns getting up and checking the computer for latest coordinates and satellite imagery. 

The anticipated high winds never materialized.  Highest wind was less than 30 knots.  And the barometric pressure never dropped like we thought it would.  Stayed slightly above 1008 the entire time.  Spaanse Waters is totally protected from the seas with the multi-dog-legged narrow entrance to this huge fingered lagoon.  We expected to be blown against the dock by the westerly winds and water as the hurricane passed, but the conditions never got bad.  No worse than a regular rainstorm.  Again, we are so thankful that this area was spared from the bad storm conditions.

Donna and Bruce arrived last Tuesday afternoon.  It is great to see them again.  They brought a large duffle bag of boat parts.   Bill had provided Bruce with a list of parts that we needed.  Bruce shopped for the best prices and hauled all that stuff down here to us. They also surprised me with a new set of dinnerware.  Bill had asked Donna to find and buy new dinnerware for us; that is his anniversary gift to me (or our gift to each other?).  Bill trusted Donna to choose whatever pattern she thought best; he trusts her good taste.   The Amel dishes we have were looking a bit tired and Bill knew that I wanted a nicer set.  Donna made an excellent choice.  The new dinnerware matches the wine glasses that I bought in St. Martin.  Donna and Bruce rented a car and we have enjoyed seeing the island.  We haven’t sailed at all yet; hoping to do that tomorrow and Tuesday.  They will depart on Wednesday.

We have visited the Punda, Sharloo and Otrabanda sections of Wilhemstaad.  Each section has its own special flavor.  Punda means “the point” and Otrabanda means “opposite side.”  I don’t remember what Sharloo means.  Sharloo was the financial district in many years past, inhabited mostly by Dutch Jews.  Sharloo is home to the Maritime Museum, which we enjoyed visiting one afternoon.  Punda is the site of the old Waterfort and has more shopping and restaurants and is more interesting than Otrabanda.  But one musn’t miss out on seeing Otrabanda as that is where most of the museums are located. 

We visited the African Slave Museum and would highly recommend it.  We each learned tidbits of history that were very interesting.  The most interesting thing Bill and I learned is that the slave trading business was started by the Moors.  The Moors captured more than 600,000 Europeans and transported them back to Africa as slaves.  So the actual business of slavery was started by blacks.  That was shocking news to us. 

Otrabanda held no interest for us except for the museums.  There is a major renovation being performed at the Riffort area with lots of shopping and restaurants being added.  That looks like it will be very nice once completed and should help Otrabanda district garner more tourist dollars.

Punda and Otrabanda are connected by a floating pontoon pedestrian bridge that also acts like a drawbridge for shipping traffic in and out of the industrial harbor of Wilhemstaad.  The bridge swings open widely to allow large container ships egress to the harbor.  Would hate to have that job as bridge tender; doing nothing all day long except swinging that bridge open and closed.  There is also a ferry across this harbor entrance.  Both the pedestrian bridge and the ferry are free.

Another day we went to the Seaquarium.  As we were walking to the ticket booth a young lady stopped us to give us a schedule of activities at the Seaquarium.  She also told us that if we were willing to listen to a 45-minute tour of the timeshare resort that they would pay for our lunch.  So, uh, okay; why not.  We have nothing but time so listening to a sales pitch for 45 minutes seemed fair to us.  Turned out that we had a nice lunch and also gained free entry to the Seaquarium, a value of $98 USD for the four of us.  Not bad just for sitting and talking to a very nice man.  Plus he answered many questions that we had about Curacao and the island’s relationship with Holland and the building expansion that is occurring on Curacao.  The amount of building and development happening on Curacao is amazing.  The timeshare resort was nice.  If we were the slightest bit interested in owning a timeshare, this would be the place.

Yesterday we drove out to the Hatu Caves on the northern side of the island.  Unfortunately it started to rain heavily as soon as we arrived.  It is not possible to do the tour in the rain, so we piled back into the car and drove back to the yacht club.  Bill got concerned about being off the boat with the weather turning so bad so quickly.  The hurricane was approaching Curacao much faster than had been predicted.  Returning to the boat was a good idea because that allowed us plenty of time to prep the boat in anticipation of the approaching hurricane.

Tomorrow maybe we can actually take Donna and Bruce out sailing – they should appreciate that since sailing is the reason they came down here to visit with us!