10:24N 75:32W Aruba to Cartagena

Conor & Marion Wall
Tue 15 Feb 2011 04:52
Aruba to Colombia
Some weeks earlier we had arranged with a friend from Christchurch, Maria Reid and her friend Neil to spend a couple of weeks with us. At the time the plan was hatched Marion and I were in Grenada and we had heard about a seminar, the Pacific Puddle Jump, that was taking place in Panama and thought we might be able to get there in time for us go to the seminar and meet others that would be crossing with similar plans to ours. Maria and Neil booked tickets for Panama City to join us at a location yet to be decided but possibly the San Blas Islands or somewhere in that area. Unfortunately time was running out and now we had to make the long sail from Aruba to Cartagena in Colombia. We could of course have skipped Cartagena and gone straight to Panama but as Cartagena was on my list of must see places that was never going to happen and there was still the possibility that we could make the San Blas Islands about the time of their arrival, if they had to stay in a hotel for a day or two until we arrived then this was not going to be a problem for them.
Nice Tuna
We planned the route, tides winds etc. and figured that it would take us three days exactly. With that in mind we left Aruba at 1200 hours on Friday 4th February. During the first day and night at sea the winds were steady 20 to 25 knots and we were making good time and to plan. We even caught a tuna that fed us for a few days. 
Sunset on a rough sea
The next day brought a different wind and a much different sea and by the time the sun was setting we were down to three reefs in the main and had already ripped the head sail in a squall that caught us by surprise. This sail was also reefed down to about a quarter of itâs size to save it from ripping any further. We really had some big stuff coming at us and it seemed to be determined to get us. We got pooped twice, once during the day and once at night. We saw winds of 40 knots on a number of occasions and most of the second night and third day the winds did not drop below 30. We not only ripped the the headsail but I noticed a small tear in the main which was close to the second reefing point. This could have happened as we reefed in the strong winds but however it happened it meant that we could not fly the main un reefed until it would be repaired.
The large drifting and floating object in the distance was either a container or very large metal buoy. Luckily we did not hit it.
Apparently this is a notorious passage as there are very often very strong winds off the area of Venezuelan coast from approximately Punta Gallinas to approximately Cartagena with conflicting and confused seas especially when there have been strong winds north of the region. At the time of year that we made our passage it would be very likely to be affected by those winds. For this reason we had been monitoring the weather forecast to determine our best time for the crossing but we also needed to cover this distance to be somewhere within striking distance for Maria and Neil. The guide books give two choices for this passage. One is to stay close to land and hope to be out of the stronger winds but the recommended advice seemed to fall on staying well offshore and somewhere around the one kilometre deep contour. This is the one we chose as we were also warned of floating logs being washed out to sea during floods and heavy rains. I have since seen some of these logs which are actually trees and big ones at that. Not something you want to meet on a dark night in 40 knots of winds and seas breaking into the cockpit.
Entering through the submerged breakwater with the new part of Cartagena in the background. Remember the buoys are wrong way round for us. Red to starboard, Green to port or as the Americans say, red right returning.
We arrived at our waypoint early on Monday morning and turned left and headed for Cartagena. Within a very short time the wind died completely and we ended up motoring the last 20 miles or so into the harbour. We chose to enter via the eastern entrance which is no more than a gap of about 100 feet or so in a submerged breakwater that runs across this entire entrance, must be at least a mile or so across. Only small craft can come into the harbour here as there is also a depth restriction but it was to save us more than a couple of hours by not continuing to the western and larger entrance. Cartagena is a massive harbour and has a very large and efficient container port. There is a marina of sorts just north of the container port and this is where we stayed during our time there. Luckily I had warned our guests not to expect European standards but still I think they were surprised at the state of the place.
The showers
Cartagena turned out to be everything we had hoped it would be and because we had to wait for our sails to be repaired and returned to us we ended up staying there for more than a week. Maria and Neal were able to catch a flight from Panama to Cartagena which is normally only an hour or two but because their flight took them to Bogotà first it actually took them an extra couple hours. Lovely to see them, our first guests since Simon and Henry left and we spent some extra time exploring the city and stocking up with the fresh food stuff and beer before departing for the San Blas Islands.
Some Old Town Cartagena photos. A magical place with lots of money being spent restoring it to itâs former glory.
Some of the many statues around the old town.
We left this historical City on Tuesday 15th February with the two new crew members and travelled the short distance of 25 miles to a group of Islands owned by Colombia called the Rosaries Islands. We spent the night there before making the overnight sail to the San Blas. Maria and Neal would spend the next ten days or so with us.