Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cruising to Cartagena

The stretch of water between the ABCs and Cartagena is known for its consistently high winds and rough seas. But thanks to the weather forecasting services of Chris Parker, we were able to pick a great weather window for our trip. We left Curacao on October 30th, at 0430 to make sure that we arrived at our first stop at Cabo de la Vela, Colombia in good light the next day. It is a 180 mile passage and we had wind in the 10-15 knot range. We started with the spinnaker, then motored for a while and finished with full main and genoa. We caught a small mahi-mahi just in time for him to join us for dinner. The seas were moderate and we had a wonderful 30 hour trip, accompanied by dolphins for most of the night as we sailed along in the moonlight.

We arrived at Cabo de la Vela at 1100 on October 31st and anchored in the shelter of the arid, rocky cape. Based on the sketchy cruising guide for the area, we had expected an active fishing village but the area seems to have largely given over to rustic tourist accommodation, which appeared to be mostly vacant. Apparently this area has become popular among Colombians and others as a remote tourism destination, though it didn’t look particularly appealing from our vantage point. We tried to go ashore but couldn’t find a spot where we felt comfortable leaving the dinghy, so just hung out on the boat for the day. The water though clean, was quite murky from the run-off of many rivers along the coast. The few fishermen that passed by seemed friendly enough, though we weren’t interested in buying the pretty reef fish that they had caught.

Approaching the anchorage behind Cabo de la Vela, Colombia.

Tourist "cabins" at Cabo de la Vela.  This is rustic. And since there was no one around, either it was off season or maybe a bit too rustic.

We left around noon to do the 130 miles to 5 Bays. Just before dusk we got into a school of tuna and caught 4 before we pulled in the lines. Had a wonderful meal of fresh sashimi sailing along under the spinnaker in the moonlight – idyllic! Flew the chute in light breezes until about midnight, when multiple thunderstorms required us to take it down so we could take evasive action to avoid any unpleasantness. At dawn it was flat calm and we were motoring along the Colombian coast with the snow capped Santa Marta mountains in the background. Yes, snow capped at 10 degrees above the equator! The scenery was reminiscent of the BC coast except for the palm trees and the air temperature was 34C and the water 30C!

Moonlight sashimi dinner as we sail along at 7 knots under spinnaker.  Tuna doesn't get much fresher - about 1 hour since it was swimming.  Notice the glass of wine in a real glass - love going downwind in our cat! 

We pulled into the first of the famous 5 Bays of Colombia around noon and anchored in 10’ of water all by ourselves, 50 meters off the beach, to the sound of howler monkeys roaring in the jungle. We jumped in for a snorkel and found the bottom alive with scorpion fish! We have often seen several in an area, but in this location there were dozens, many in pairs, so we assumed there must be some kind of mating thing going on. Not a place where one would want to go wading, as the scorpion fish (aka stone fish) have a toxic spine on the dorsal fin which can inflict a serious wound. But even more interesting, was Cathy finding a Pacific Lion Fish. As the name suggests, they are not supposed to be in the Caribbean, but in recent years have been sighted in several locations on this side. It is thought that they were introduced into the Atlantic via dumping of some aquaria in Florida several years ago and have been working their way down through the Bahamas and into the Northern Caribbean. We now know that they are in the south as well. They are voracious predators of small reef fishes and themselves have no known predators here in the Caribbean. They are beautiful fish but they just don’t belong here. So Cathy captured and preserved the little one she found.

Approaching the first of Five Bays on the Colombian coast.

Tourist cabins, 5 Bays.  Looks like it would be a great place to get away from it all.

 Idyll Island all alone in Bahia Cinto, 5 Bays National Park, Colombia.
Scorpion fish - actually two.  They are masters of disguise, though not the prettiest fish on the reef.

Pacific Lion Fish (about 8cm) in the southern Caribbean waters of Colombia. Those beautiful feathery fins hide toxic spines, protecting them from predators.

Pacific Lion Fish in the specimen jar, about to be "preserved".

We were still experiencing low/no wind conditions so we motored through the next couple of bays. This area is all a national park and seems to be actively used by Colombians. We found ourselves another deserted little bay, and as we were trying to anchor realized why. It is a coral rubble bottom with several reefs and coral heads poking up to within a couple of feet of the surface and poorly charted to boot. We did manage to find a marginal spot which was fine in the settled conditions. After a couple of nights listening to our chain grinding on the already dead coral, we moved along to the resort town of Rodadero, a few miles down the coast where we dropped anchor and immediately became an attraction for the holidaying Colombians in their rented pedal boats. They all wanted to take pictures of us and many insisted that we take pictures of them – with our camera. Two more uneventful days of sailing/motoring in light winds and calm seas and we arrived in Cartagena on November 9th.

Colombian guys giving us a friendly thumbs up welcome to Colombia!

B&C of the ABCs (2009 version)

We are playing catch-up on the blog, having reached Colon, Panama and decent wifi access.  More to come....

Curacao (October 5 - 30, 2009)
This is our second visit to Curacao having been here in December of last year, so this time 'round we have only included  pictures and descriptions of a few of the highlights. 

Had a great spinnaker day sail to Curacao from Bonaire, with a short lunch stop at Klein Curacao. We were the only ones on the island, which on weekends becomes crowded with day trippers from Curacao

 Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao. Note superstructure of wrecked ship in background, not to mention the peculiar profile of the lighthouse...

In late afternoon we entered the Spanish Water anchorage on the main island.  Spanish Water is a large (1km x 3km) body of water with many small bays and inlets. Except for the single, winding entrance, it is completely landlocked.  This makes for a well protected anchorage but with up to 200 boats and quite a bit of development on the shore, the water is not conducive to swimming, though some do and seem to survive. 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a Happy Hour at the local sailing club. Lots of locals show up, as well as cruisers making for a real cosmopolitan mix. All nationalities, all ages, all budgets – all having fun. We would find ourselves in a group with people from Italy, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France.  All speaking English so we can participate in the conversation – impressive and much appreciated by us.  Meeting such a variety of interesting people from all over the world, many of whom have become good friends, is one the best aspects of this cruising lifestyle.

We also had a couple of great evenings with Baros (one especially, with their friends from Holland, where once again, the support posts for our arch were irresistible for incorporation in several dance routines). 

 ABBA reunion on Idyll Island.  Who woulda thought..?

Another highlight of our time in Curacao was a hike to the summit of Kristoffel Mountain, the tallest peak on the island.  A couple of local boaters provided their cars and 9 of us set off at dawn for the 90 minute drive to the other end the island, so we could do the hike in the “cool” of the morning.  It was 8:00 before we got on the trail which started slowly but ended 2 hours later in a near vertical rock scramble to the top, the temperature by that time in the low 30s.  All of us boat people, most of whom don’t get much walking exercise, made it.  The view was great and thankfully the breeze was cool. Once back in the cars we headed for a beach where we refreshed ourselves with beer and swims.

 A short rest at base camp before tackling the summit.

We made it!

The team at the top.  Great view of Curacao.

In Curacao, Derek embarked on a quest for the best kabritu stoba (goat stew), sampling  from many of the local vendors.  The stand at the main bus terminal in Willemstad made a terrific stoba but lost points for lack of ambience, being served through an iron grating, while standing on the sidewalk.  We also took advantage of the excellent and inexpensive medical services on Curacao to have our spots checked, essential when living outside in the sun. We each had a bit or two removed, but nothing of serious concern. 

Once the boat was provisioned with beer, wine, cheese, chocolate and a few other less essential items, we were ready for the next weather window to leave Curacao bound for Cartagena, via the coast of Colombia.  Our first stop though, was peaceful Santa Kruz Bay just along the coast of Curacao, where we spent several hours scrubbing off the hundreds of barnacles that had grown on our hull in the nutrient rich Spanish Waters.

Iguana Soup and Goat Stew
Our stay in Bonaire this year (August 25 - October 5), included Bonaire Day, celebrated in the small town of Rincon just outside the Washington Slagbaai Park.  We decided to make a day of it with Randy and Lynn, so rented a car and left the boats early.   We drove the winding coast road north and entered the park soon after it opened.  We had been here several times last year, so hit the highlights and finished up with a couple of cold ones on the beach at SlagBaai. We left the park just after noon and headed for the celebrations in Rincon. We had been assured that there would be lots of music and food.  We found both, in a hot, small town way.  The highlight for Derek was trying the Kabritu Stoba (aka goat stew), and the iguana (aka Bonaire chicken) soup.  Both were good, the goat very flavourful but bony and the iguana tasted better than they look!

While in Bonaire, we also met up with our friends, Linda and Hans aboard Baros.  Together with Randy and Lynn we all had several great evenings, on board one or other of our boats or ashore at BobbyJans for ribs or Karel’s or Rumrunners for happy hours.  Rumrunner Mondays became a bit of a tradition. We would go and snorkel right in front of the resort where there are massive schools of silversides (silvery little baitfish), with many larger fish zooming around looking for dinner. Swimming into the millions of silversides and having them close around you in a shimmering cloud was very cool. Coming face to face with a 5’ tarpon doing the same thing, provided added excitement!  Just above us on the lava cliff, the iguanas would be soaking up the last of the day’s heat. It seems that they consider some spots more desirable than others and we watched as two of these large lizards (3’+), battled each other, with the loser finally being thrown off the rocks to land in the water (with us) 6’ below! After all this excitement we would shower off at the Rumrunners dock and then go up to the bar for their free rum punch Happy Hour.  Thanks to Rumrunners for making us scruffy cruisers feel welcome!  A regular at the Happy Hour was Cap’n Don, the driving force behind protecting Bonaire’s underwater world starting 40 years ago and with his foresight establishing it as the diving mecca it has become.  Cathy had several good conversations with Don about what life was like on Bonaire, “back in the day”.  Thanks to Don and many others, Bonaire’s coral reefs and fish life, though not what they once were, are the best we have seen in the Caribbean, including Los Roques, Las Aves, and the San Blas.

Good as life is in Bonaire, it was time to move along, so we said so long to friends and set sail for Curacao, the next of the ABC islands (should be ACB) to the west.