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!