24/04/2012, 11 47.331'N:81 22.759'W, San Andres to Colon, Panama
We left San Andres and are underway to Colon in Panama. We should arrive there tommorow night sometime. Winds are 20 knots from the N, so we have everything in the aft quarter. On our way out of San andres you pass by several wrecks. This happens if you do not pay attention (and there are several of them).
All well with boat and crew.
21/04/2012, Isla San Andres
And we are about to get underway again. We will be departing from Isla San Andres tomorrow for our 210Nm dash to Colon Panama. There is strong North wind coming in, which should blow us nicely to Colon in Panama, winds in the back, that is how we like it. In Colon, Panama we will do the clearing into Panama and subsequently sail on to San Blas, a group of Islands 80Nm East of Colon. We want to spend a few weeks in the San Blas prior going via the Panama Canal into the Pacific.
We had a great time on Isla Providencia and Isla San Andres. Both are Columbian territory and the locals speak Spanish and Creole (also called Patois), a language you find often also in Jamaica and a mixture of old English and West African local languages. On Isla Providencia the majority speaks Creole, thus the Jamaican background is very apparent. In the local bus (van) on Isla Providencia that drives around the island in 30 minutes a few times a day, a local lady made it jokingly clear to everyone in the bus that Spanish should not be spoken on the bus, only English (They call it English, however is a mixture of several languages and we are certainly unable to understand it). Most prefer the Creole, however by Colombian law Spanish is taught on the local school so the little kids all speak Spanish. The Creole they get from home. Isla San Andres however is pure Colombian and they are proud of their Spanish language and Colombian background, they are only a mere 80Nm apart from each other but quite different.
We spend about a week on Isla Providencia before we sailed on to San Andres. Somewhat unplanned, as we had planned to sail direclty to Colon in Panama, however with a lumpy sea and Auke having a bad bout of seasickness we decided to divert to San Andres, only 11 hours away.
Isla Providencia is a remote small island, a rock surrounded by reefs, beautiful and un-spoilt and the locals make a sincere effort to keep it that way. A rarity in nowadays cultures we find. Supplies on Isla Providencia come from the island San Andres and from Central America mainland in old fishing boats converted to cargo ships. Years ago while backpacking our way from Mexico to Chile overland, I travelled from Panama to Columbia on one of those old converted fishing boat. That trip turned out to be a bad four day experience that involved big seas, a poor old ship, broken ports due to the big seas and two seasick backpackers. So when I saw these old converted boats, it brought back some vivid memories.
Isla Providencia is very quiet and truly a little paradise, a great spot for a passing sailing boat. It has some great beaches around the island and a fringing reef protecting the island from the heavy Caribbean Eastern swell. The locals are great and proud of their little island. It is primitive and remote, if you want to get away from everything for a while, this is the spot. However besides rainwater there is no water available (other than bottles of water), so for us without a watermaker we had to depart as we run low on water in our tanks. A pity as we could have stayed longer to explore the beaches and many reefs.
Isla San Andres is something totally different, equally beautiful and similar in size, it is set up to be the tourist place for the middle class of Colombia and other South American countries. Tourists which are flown in by plane loads. However in a nice way, no resorts, just small hotels and pousadas and tons of small restaurants and bars on the streets that line the beaches and happy South American beach goers. Good quality supermarkets with everything available for relative good prices and many shops trying to sell everything a possible tourist might want. The island is equally fringed by an even more brutal, unforgiving and beautiful reef, that has captured a many ship in the past, up to very recent. We arrived in the middle of the night (02:00) and in the moonlight the outline of a small sized cargo ship (coaster) was clearly visible against the horizon. However there were no lights visible on the ship so we assumed at anchor with no lights (normal around here). The next morning at daybreak it became clear the coaster was sitting high and dry on top of reef, less than half a mile from the entrance. A recent casualty and it is obvious to see that they likely tried to cut a corner or simply missed the entrance by less than half a mile, which here is unforgiving and cost you your ship. The seas will eat her up in the next one to two years. Another very large ship, or the remains thereof litter the entrance of the reef, an old causality.
The entering at darkness (no moon) was well to do due to the good charts (Colombian charts) we had in our CMap Max and the entrance contain a series of working lights. 16 lighted green and red buoys marked the entry into the bay. The red white outer marker with white flashing light we failed to see initially which gave some concern, however the following red and greens were clearly visible, visually and on the radar so we decided to proceed, assuming the red/ white outer marker buoy had been removed. Well the red / white outer marker showed up only a few meters ahead of the bow, it had not been visible against the illuminated skyline of the island. Heloisa spotted it just in time so we could go around it. The remaining buoys were clearly visible with the one very challenge however that the Columbian nautical authorities have given all red and green buoys (16 of it) the same flash code on this island, all ISO 3 seconds!! So it is challenging to figure out which buoy is next and when you miss one you can quickly end up on top of an underwater rock.
With help of radar and plotter and Heloisa up front at the bow we managed the 2.5 Nm inbound and dropped anchor in between some old fishing boats and a catamaran.
The San Andres bay is full with old cargo ships and fishing boats seeking shelter for a few days. There were two other sailboats when we arrived at anchor. On the first day we managed to get some (expensive) potable water for our near empty water tanks which should get us to Panama.
On Isla Providencia the anchorage in the bay is excellent, as we had some windy Caribbean days with over 30 knots of winds consistent, but the anchorage was smooth as could be. There was also the occasional rains shower, but that is part of the tropics and required a quick dash on deck to close the hatches etc.
During the rain shower days we spend the afternoons on nearby beaches, accessible with the dinghy, where you can access to reefs right of the beaches. I would spend my days looking for eatable fish of sufficient size on the reefs with the speargun. On the clear non-rainy days we would take the local van, that drives around the entire island in 30 minutes and had us drop off on one of the Eastern beaches, where Auke enjoyed the surf on his un-separable body board. On his way to one beach which required a short hike he quickly became friends with the local piggy, which you could smell from a mile distance.
A great spot was this little paradise Isla Providencia and Isla San Andres is a great spot to get a good meal in a restaurant or simply enjoy the many shops (Heloisa) loaded with goodies for the South American tourists.
21/04/2012, 12 34.502'N:81 41.911'W, Isla San Andres
At anchor on Isla San Andres. We actually like it here. We had heard negative stories but it is a nice place. It is THE vacation destination for the middle class from the Columbian mainland, so very much busy with South American tourists. The waters are crystal clear over the reefs, which are littered with wrecks, old and recent so a good reminder to keep up the navigation while approaching these type of reefs littered island. We were able to buy some water so we are ok for the next few days, however we are dreaming of having the water maker on board as to not have these issues anymore.
I am downloading some weather files currently. There is some North wind coming in the next few days, which is our cue to depart and head for colon Panama. Till then we enjoy the reefs, beaches and ice-cream shops.
19/04/2012, 12 47.084'N:81 31.088'W, offshore
It is now 20:30 and we are underway from Isla Providencia to Isla San Andres. We had planned to sail to Colon, Panama direclty, however the winds are now relative low and the seas are still high, left overs from a week breezy winds. Quite uncomfortable really as there is not enough wind to keep steady pressure in the sails, so the boat is thrown around with us inside. Auke is badly seasick and as such sleeeps with his head in a bucket more or less, as he did not want to take his seasickness drops (Dramanin) prior departure. It is hard to see these kids being seasick and nothing you can do for them. I have been seasick many times in my life, so I know very good how he feels, and I know that it is not a happy feeling. Kids can be so stuborn. This is now the second time, somehow he got it in his head that these seasickness drops were not for him, even while he has been taking them for 6 months now fwith great succes against sea sickness. So we will make a stop in Isla Sa n Andres, we will arrive there around 02:00 in the morning (it is now 21:00). There we want to wait a day for the seas to come down or perhaps we wait about three days as according the grib files winds will turn North over this part of the Caribean, which suits us well to head for Colon in Panama. To head now to Colon in Panama is close hauled (apparent wind) in theses lumpy seas, not fun. We had to leave Isla Providencia as we run out of water and there is little potable water to get on the island. We have a watermaker ordered a few weeks ago that we will pick up and install in Panama. This event of runnig out of water while at Isla Providencia was a good confrimation for us that we really want to have a watermaker on board, despite the high cost. We do not want to be pressured to depart beacuase of water shortage. We really liked Isla Providencia and could have certainly stayed more two weeks was it not for the potable water. Great anchorage, great beaches and reef s and great local people around.
So tonight at anchor at San Andres.
All well with boat and crew (except for Auke who is at this very moment staring at the bottom of his bucket again)
12/04/2012, 13 22.798'N:81 22.415'W, Isla Providencia
Last night round midnight we anchored of Isla Providencia, just behind the reef as we were not sure how to enter the bay in all darkness. This morning at 0600 after a very rolling night we raised anchor and headed inside the bay with first daylight to drop anchor in the middle, between several other cruising boats. We like it here! The island is Columbian territory only about 125 east out of the coast of Nicaragua. It was a slow journey from Jamaica to this Island, with low winds to no winds in where we had to use the iron sails (engine). The first day was good winds, but then quickly died down to no winds.
We left Jamaica in Nergil beach on the far West side of Jamaica. It was supposedly a great beach, but again it did not �"click�" with us. It is a long beach sheltered from the seas by a reef for the most part and beautiful at first sight, however the shore lines are covered with resorts. We anchored of a Sandals resort and watched the weddings pass by on the beach and the water scooters pass by on the water. We used the clear shallow water to clean to underwater part of Mundinho. The delrin shims that we had renewed in the centerboard well in Charleston in December were not painted with antifouling. Somehow I was thinking that time that biological growth does not like these plastics to grow on. Well I was wrong, the shims were so covered in marine growth that every time I raised and lowered the centerboard I needed hydraulic pressure to get it passed the marine growth on the delrin shim plates. With a scraper it came easily off. However till I get some antifouling on t hese shims, I guess this will be a regular cleaning job for me.
The next day already, Easter Sunday we raised anchor and set off for Isla Providencia. Auke was lucky in that the Easter bunny had found our boat as Auke had hoped for. He was awake early (nearly too early, as the Easter Bunny had over slept�...) to look for Easter eggs on deck, which there were plenty.
The interesting thing is we do not have much treats such as chocolates anymore on board. It is often expensive to buy in the countries we visit and chocolate is difficult to keep in the tropics. Very little compared to what you carry at home in your pantry often. So a few Easter eggs with chocolate, M&M�'s and the like made Auke a very happy kid and had a smile on his face the next two days till he had finished it all.
Mom and Dad had finished the remainder by then that had been left behind in a bag by the Easter Bunny.
In the previous blog that we posted via the Sat phone while requesting and downloading some weather files we mentioned we would try to anchor off a small island, Cayo Serranilla, provided we could find everything all right in darkness. Well we did and had a great day there, truly a little paradise.
As it is littered with reefs on one side and the charts mention that not all waters had been surveyed, we were cautious. I am always very cautious and do not want to rely on the chart plotter. It is always very tempting to simply believe the plotter is right. However on those desolate cays, it is quite normal to find them reefs on charts over 0.5 miles from the true position. GPS is correct, the charts are simply not all correct yet. So you always want to find a reference in reality which you can plot against your chart to confirm the position on the chart versus reality. This Cayo (Key, reef with a single rock) had a light on a concrete tower according the chart. Just before full darkness we located the light tower on the horizon, slightly over 8 miles away, so we knew it was there indeed. We were heading towards to lighthouse, however our radar (Simrad BR24, Broadband) performs poorly over large distances, anything over 6 Nm it struggles with. So the light tower and rock it was sitting on only showed up 4Nm away from us. That is still far enough to safely navigate in, however I desired to see that many miles earlier to rest my conscious. Only once you have identified the light tower and rock on the radar, you can compare it (or overlay it) on the chart and verify that the chart location matches with reality. Once verified I felt more comfortable and turned directly into an open spot in front of the Cayo. While preparing to drop anchor to our surprise the VHF radio crackled and someone demanded us to report in Spanish. We expected the Cayo uninhabited but had switched on the VHF just in case other boats would be anchored here, as I h ad seen some fishing boats in the area. It was obvious someone demanded us to report soonest. Heloisa told them our name and persons on board and asked them to wait a moment. After finishing the anchoring I called for them back on the VHF as they had requested and to my surprise there was a 10 man Colombian Marine detachment based on this rock. They asked us if we could come in the morning to the island and present our papers and bring a �"regalo�" (present) if possible. So in the morning we headed for the beach in our dinghy with our papers and two bottles of Cuban rum. The papers were briefly looked at, the two bottles got more attention and were well appriciated.
The 10 man Colombian navy detachment is based for 4 weeks at a time with only drinking water, no water for showers. The oldest was 23 and most were around 18 years old. We had a great morning with them and they loved the visit naturally, finally something happening. Apparently the Cays territory are disputed by Colombia, Nicaragua and Honduras, hence the Colombian full time presence on this little rock, not more than 0.3 miles in length and 0.1 miles in width and a much larger reef surrounding it.
Their days consisted of raking the beach so they could play football on it and trying to prepare the only computer available in order to play computer games. The reef is often used for fishing boats to anchor for the night, so they track that as well. I asked them they must be eating fresh fish every day here with all the fish around, however reportedly therse reefs contained many sharks according the army boys and as such no one dared to go in the sea to fish. The island and reefs are beautiful and if it was not for the rather rolling anchorage with little protection we could have stayed here weeks.
The next day we moved on, still with little winds. The nights typically filled with small rain cells and some squalls. I spend the nights zigzagging around the small bad rain cells which were always clearly visible on the radar. However one of those squalls was hiding a 183 meters long oil tanker bearing down on us, which I only noticed 5 miles away. The AIS viewer we carry on board (Vesper Marine) showed him and raised an alert as the CPA (Closets Point of Approach would be less than 1 Nm). So only when I turned up the rain clutter on the radar, the rain disappeared from the screen and the tanker was clearly visible on the radar. So going forward I am going to be less concerned with squalls and more concerned with 183 meters long oil tankers. The pictures below shows two squalls, the larger red smeared spots and the tanker that came out of the top squall on the far right after he had passed us.
Since 1Nm is too close for my comfort in squally weather, we diverted course with nearly 90 degrees to get some distance between the two of us. I never can be bothered asking other ships on the radio if they see us or not etc, especially if it is littered with squalls limiting visibility. I believe there is really only one safe way and that is to get out of their way. Mundinho is outfitted with solid commercial navigation lighting which talking to ships and other yachts reportedly can be seen clearly miles away. We have one tricolor outfitted with a led light in the top of the mast and use that when sailing and no shipping is present nearby. The commercial grade navigation lights on deck level and in the mast are outfitted with normal bulb lights. Once shipping is present we typically switch these lights one and the tricolor off. That is however not enough normally to satisfy my concern for big ships. 1 Nm appears enough to some however the way I see it is that the problem lies in the fact that if these large commercial ships are already nearby because you were happy with your 1Nm CPA, and they decide to alter their course for whatever reason, then that 1 Nm is used up in just a few minutes time before they are on top of you so I like to have at least a few Nm between me during darkness hours, depending the direction they are heading compared to us. It was quite busy that whole night with traffic, all traffic heading to and from the Panama Canal to Mexico, Veracruz or places like Houston in the Gulf of Mexico and all skirting the reefs and keys that we have to go around. The fourth evening I woke up to the smell of fresh baked bread. Our last loaf of supermarket bread had gone bad, so Heloisa had baked two loafs of wheat bread in the evening. I do not think there is anything better then waking up while sailing over a large body of water to the smell of fresh baked bread coming from the galley. The night shift I passed with studying the stars. I had downloaded this free program, �"astro viewer�" some weeks ago. The program show the night sky for your location and time of the day (night). I had books and a chart, however they are never really for your exact location, so I always was struggling to identify the big planets. Auke is always asking me when we are outside in the evening, and I typically can identify the Moon and the Polestar and that is about it. The rest of the stars I make up as we go when Auke is asking me "which one is that star?", I know not very educational responsible. Well I promised myself I would get it right so aft er a few more practice runs on this astro viewer on our laptop I will be ready for Auke�'s questions; �"which one is that planet�"
So finally we are here in Isla Providencia which we will explore today. We head to shore in the next 30 minutes to the clearing. In the next few days / weeks we head for San Andres and from there onwards to Panama. However now we will be looking for some more winds before we depart. All well with boat and crew.
09/04/2012, 15 57.392'N:79 54.755'W, Cayo Serranilla
We left Jamaica a day and a half ago, first with some winds, but during the night and today no winds. Absolutely nothing. So motoring the whole night and today. Fed up with that, we were looking at the charts what to do. There are several shallow spots to navigate around on your way from Jamaica (West side) to Isla de Providencia. Most of them steep mountains rising up from the sea bottom, from 2.000 meter water depth to perhaps just below the sea level, about 10 meters water depth. Here and there a rock protrudes above the sea level, something you really want to stay far away from normally. Well we just arrived on the banks (sea mountain top) of Cayo Serranilla. According the charts water depths range here in the 10 to 20 meters range. On the East side of this bank some reefs just below sea level and one lonely rock with a light on top sticking above the sea level. Studying the charts we noticed a tiny little �"anchor�", meaning suitable for anchoring, behind that ro ck. That is where we are heading for right now and should arrive in the next 2 hours. You can only do this when the weather and seas are settled, as today. We are going to try this and see if we can anchor here out for the night in 15 meters of water. A quite night without that engine running. The trick is to find the rock at night, as it is now 18:00 and we still have two hours (10Nm) to go, so it will be dark when we get there. I do not trust the chart so much, so it will be imperative to find the light and then locate it on the radar, so we know the true location. If we are unable to find the light, then we pass on it and move on. Great feeling to anchor out here in the middle of 2.000 meters water depths, on top of a sea mountain not larger then 20Nm around. Our fishing is still no success. We lost another two lures to whatever is out there. It is spam and omelets again. What a terrible fisherman I am. I really think there is little fish out there nowadays. We will let you know if we were able to anchor out here.