28/10/2014, Sabudupored, Kuna Yala
We departed Cartagena at 10pm on 15th October after getting our paperwork changed so we could give Oliver, a Belgian guy, a lift to the San Blas. He had been working as a charter skipper for the past 3 months & was eager to get back to his boat sitting in the Chichime anchorage in the San Blas. Oliver had sailed 6 or 7 times from Colombia to the San Blas so he directed us through the shallower small boat passage (Bocagrande entry) which took an hour off our passage. It was only 2.2 metres deep & we draw 1.65metres so not much room beneath us! We were told it was 3.5 metres deep, but not to be - we were lucky to get through! We had a slow sail until 6am the following morning when we hoisted the spinnaker & had a dream run until midnight - 18 hours under spinnaker - record. PANNIKIN felt like she was on rails.... a very comfortable sail & as we had an extra body to do watch plenty of sleep. Friday it rained, rained & rained. We arrived at Porvenir to check in totally soaked, but in good spirits. That didn't last long however as we were then relieved of nearly US$430 to check in to Panama! $193 for a cruising permit, $100 per person immigration fee & $30 to the Kuna General Congreso! OMG!!!! We had a small stash of US dollars for our time here & that was now just about gone! There is nowhere to get more money (except Colon) so we will just have to be broke for our stay! We motored to Chichime anchorage, got Oliver & his belongings to his boat (we realised he had been anchored beside us at Hog Island, Grenada - small world!) & sat & had a beer or two taking in our new surroundings.
The San Blas are comprised of over 340 islands stretching along Panama's Caribbean coast. These islands & the associated mainland are called Kuna Yala by the Kuna Indians who control this part of Panama through the Kuna General Congreso. Since 1925 the Kuna agreed to be part of Panama under the condition that the Panamanian government respect their tribal laws, traditions & culture & in 1953 the Kuna were granted full administrative & juridical power. The Kuna are small in stature & have a big hearts & we have enjoyed spending time with them. They are extremely peaceful & do not hassle us when trying to sell coconuts, fish or lobster from their dugout canoes (ulu). They also make money from cruisers by selling 'mola' which are beautiful hand sewn squares depicting sea life, birds or geometric patterns. The Kuna ladies wear these mola as part of their traditional dress, which many still wear every day.
We've been to some lovely anchorages so far...
Chichime - an anchorage between 2 islands. One has a small village which is popular with cruisers & land based tourists. They run a small bar where you can meet other travellers in the afternoons (the Kuna like visitors to be off their islands by night fall). A family from French Guyana which we met in Santa Marta caught a huge tuna on their way from Colombia & invited us & others to a BBQ lunch on the beach. We had a great afternoon eating & chatting with them & their Mexican guests, Oliver & a young Spanish couple, Eduardo & Bertrice, who we also met in Santa Marta. Snorkelling here was good too & we were lucky enough to be out on the reef when a couple of Kuna men called us over & let us watch them dive for crab & lobster. They were like little seals & could hold their breath forever! We must have followed them around for about an hour. We bought a mola here from a gentleman, Venancio, recommended by Tim & Paula on HOOLIGAN who spent nearly here at the San Blas. His work was beautiful & ornate and we wished had money to buy 3 or 4!
Holandes Cays - we spent a few nights in different spots here, ending up at the Swimming Pool anchorage to the east. It's an anchorage of 3 metres depth, sand bottom & clear, calm water - hence its name! We were able to snorkel on the outside reef which was amazing. Massive parrot fish & lots of other species everywhere and lots of lovely coral. A big lemon shark even turned up which gave Ange a scare. She turned around... it was just there only 3 metres away! When she started walking on water towards Steve she scared the poor thing away!! We also saw a gigantic ray here as well just cruising around the anchorage. Swimming Pool is very popular on the weekends. Lots of boats, including large stink boats, arrived on Friday night & the anchorage became pretty crowded. Sand flies & no see ums are pretty vicious as well in the Holandes Cays.
Kanlildup (Green Island) - a lovely spot we had to ourselves. There is a nice shallow spot for relaxing in the water on the east of the island & some good snorkelling over reef on the west. We saw a nurse shark resting in a cave & some lovely big French angelfish. We bought 3 lobsters & a large crab (US$15) from some Kuna gentlemen passing by in their ulu & had a lovely, decadent Sunday afternoon meal!
Sabudupored - near Green Island. We came here yesterday afternoon after spending the morning at Nargana & Corazon de Jesus - two small islands joined by a bridge. There is a Kuna town here where we were able to buy internet credit & some vegetables. The Kuna here have decided not to live the traditional way & many have electricity & television. Their homes are still very basic & the supermarket stocked very limited produce but they are happy & friendly. We watched the schoolkids march around the village accompanied by drums with big smiles & waves while we sorted out our internet problems. We are blown away by how friendly the Kuna are & there is never any problem of crime against cruisers that we know of. It is perfectly safe to leave your boat open unattended & your dinghy in the water overnight - a lovely relief after the Caribbean & Colombia!
Tomorrow we will head to the Coco Bandero Cays for another change of scenery... more coconut palm covered islands & crystal clear water!
14/10/2014, Club Nautico anchorage
We have spent the last week exploring this great city. There is so much history here with the old city dating back 400 years & it's wonderful just wandering around looking at everyday going ons. Steve has had a tummy bug for a few days & has stayed pretty close to the boat, so Ange has done a bit of exploring by herself. We've found it a very safe city & have had no problems walking around by ourselves.
On Friday Ange purchased probably the world's smallest pair of earrings, but at least she can say she owns some Colombian emeralds! Unfortunately she also bought her first pair of reading glasses - getting old now!
Rain comes & goes here & we've had some great downpours. Our water catcher has kept our front tank full so we are confident it will do just as well in the San Blas islands.
Yesterday we started our provisioning for the San Blas. On one of our exploring days we found an Exito supermarket not too far away. It seems to be the cheaper of the supermarkets here so we've stocked up on non perishables & bought our alcoholic drinks from a nice man who had a small bottle shop in the walled city. We have notified our agent that we will be leaving Colombia on Wednesday evening, so hoping she will have the paperwork already for us tomorrow. The supermarket up the road, Carulla, has a laundry service which will return our clothes & sheets tomorrow evening. Everything else for our departure is organised - just have to pick up some meat, fruit & vegies tomorrow & we are right to go.
There is no internet service at the San Blas apart from one island apparently, so this will be our last entry for a while.
Have a great day on Melbourne Cup day!
Congratulations Mr & Mrs Bonventi on the safe arrival of your new grandson!!
08/10/2014, Club Nautico anchorage
The marina at Santa Marta was great - air conditioned internet room, fab showers (they even had hot water!) & laundry. We had lunch out at a small hotel/restaurant on Friday & drinks with Mike & Kate onboard RIGHT TURN Friday night. We will probably run into them again in the San Blas islands.
Saturday we headed off to Cartagena after giving PANNIKIN's decks a quick wash & filling our front water tank. We motored for about 1 ½ hours before some wind decided to pick up & we started the first leg of our trip under about 15 knots of wind. After night fall we had 1.5 knots of current against us as we sailed south of Barranquilla making the waves stand up & steep. On watch Ange copped a wave over the back of the boat soaking her & pouring through the companionway soaking the floor down below - Steve was woken with a cry of surprise & a warning yell! It was a bit of a messy night... not much wind & an uncomfortable sea.
We arrived at Cartagena around 7am & went the 'long way round' (Bocachica entry) into Cartagena harbour. We decided not to take the short cut (Bocagrande entry) as we were tired & also the sun wasn't overhead & we didn't fancy running into the underwater break wall. This was built as a submarine barrier by the Spanish during the Colony period to prevent ships entering the bay that way & making them enter through Bocachica. That way foreign ships were caught in the cannon crossfire between the two fortresses at the entrance of Bocachica. We anchored off the Club Nautico marina in dirty, dirty water on the island of Manga. There are plenty of boats here & some look as though they have been here for a while. We had a good sleep & early afternoon we phoned our agent, Gladys, to let her know of our arrival. After the biggest storm & rain downpour we've seen in ages we met her to get our clearance paperwork started. Seeing though it was Sunday & nothing much happens we spent the rest of the afternoon on board cleaning up & generally having a gander at all the boats coming & going.
Monday we had a big sleep in & then went for a wander. We found ourselves in the walled historic city (Centro Historico) which is absolutely stunning. We spent a good couple of hours here & will return before we head off. We've decided to do the open top bus tour as well to get our bearings & see what else the city has to offer. Cartagena is huge & mostly very modern. The area of Bocagrande is covered with high rise buildings (think Gold Coast or Miami) & lit up at night it is quite stunning. The anchorage can be a bit joggly at times with lots of boats coming & going all the time, but it is not uncomfortable. We feel much safer here than at Santa Marta & have no worries leaving the boat unattended when we go ashore. We don't even need to lock up our dinghy at the dinghy dock!
Tuesday we had a quiet day - sort of! Steve was unwell with a tummy bug so decided to stay onboard. We discovered that our front head (toilet) was blocked so started to take it apart to see what the problem was. The waste hose was completely blocked with calcification & needed to be removed to give it a good clean out. This proved to be harder & dirtier than first though, so it was left until today when Steve was feeling better.
After we got the toilet problem sorted this morning, followed by a huge, messy cleanup we went for a walk to Caribe Plaza to check out the supermarket there. We are trying to find a good supermarket to do our stocking up for the San Blas islands. "Jumbo" is a huge supermarket with plenty of choice, but Ange will look at another tomorrow for deciding which we will use. Caribe Plaza is a big shopping centre that also had a huge Home Centre store (think Bunnings by BIG!). We shouted ourselves some new cockpit cushions & few other bits & pieces. Because of the great rainfall here we also bought a few things to rig up a 'water catcher' as we can't use our water maker in the disgusting water. Just need some rain now. This afternoon we've caught up on emails & generally done not a lot!
02/10/2014, Santa Marta marina
Saturday we left the commercial harbour at Aruba around 9.30am after checking out. We had a great spinnaker sail in 12 knots of wind until about 4pm when the mast head block gave way (the shackle snapped) & we had to pull it down. After that it was a fairy uncomfortable sail under headsail with the following sea pushing us around. We sailed across one of the worst stretches of water in the Caribbean safely & rounded the tip of Colombia without further incident! A short sail then down the coast to Cabo de la Vela where fisherman waved to us as we entered the bay - there were heaps of them all using plastic water bottles as buoys for their fishing nets & traps - they were hard to see in the morning sun! We anchored in the bay at around 7am, had breakfast & then had a well deserved sleep. There was one other yacht anchored as well. We spent the rest of Sunday resting, reading & watching the kite boarders and wind surfers on the bay. Every now & then a fishing boat would motor past holding up their catch for us to see, smiling & waving, as they headed back to the village onshore.
Monday we weren't in any hurry to leave so didn't until 8am. Conditions were completely glassy & hazy so the bay looked quite stunning, but we unfortunately had to motor. We caught some wind about 2 hours later & we started a slow sail of 4 knots. The wind did pick up for a couple of hours in the evening when we had a lovely sail, but by 3am we were back to motoring. At sunrise we arrived at the '5 bays' north of Santa Marta. We were welcomed by a flock of flamingos flying past the boat, their pink feathers looking stunning in the early morning sun. We decided to anchor in the first bay, Punta de Cinto, as we were tired & desperately needed some sleep. Only one fisherman here who waved as we went by. Tuesday was again a day of rest with some TV thrown in as well.
Yesterday we headed off to Santa Marta arriving around midday. We anchored to the north of the marina entrance where there is good sandy holding. Our neighbours were a young Spanish couple who had radioed us & said hello during our second night passage as we sailed by them. After we got the dinghy off the deck Steve went to the marina to ask about an agent for our clearance paperwork. Luckily the clearance agent (Dino) was there at the marina with other cruisers & we were able to start paperwork straight away. Colombia is trying to encourage cruising sailors to its shores but they haven't sorted out their paperwork. We had to pay $200 to check in/immigration and get a cruising permit and a temporary importation of our vessel which is only valid for this area. We believe we will have to pay again at Cartagena! The marina here does not encourage yachts to anchor off by charging $30US per day to tie the dinghy at their dock and as there is nowhere else safe to leave it can become an expensive stay. The other option is to pay a local fisherman at the "Fisherman's Beach" just north of the anchorage a small amount of pesos to watch your dinghy as you go ashore. The fisherman's bay/beach has toxic, thick black water smelling of raw sewerage which you have to walk through to pull the dinghy ashore! Not a fantastic option!! After completing most of our paperwork we moved PANNIKIN to another anchorage south of the marina advised in a recent article as being safe & having good holding. Not even an hour after we left the boat kids had swum from the nearby beach & were having a good old time on board. Mostly just running & diving off, but this morning we found they had stolen our binoculars from the cockpit. Little bastards! Our agent & a local at the marina advised it was not safe to leave to the boat where it was so we moved back to the northern anchorage where we sucked in the beautiful aromas of the Fisherman's Bay!
This morning as we waited to meet Dino to deposit our entrance fees in the local bank we saw two men at Fishermans Bay beating another to an absolute pulp. One was about to crush his head with a huge rock when the police arrived. We decided to break our budget even further & spend 2 nights in the marina (very expensive) for peace of mind & safety for PANNIKIN. We had a wander around the historic area of Santa Marta this afternoon. Santa Marta is the oldest town in South America & has plenty of character! We found a BIG supermarket & got a few fresh bits & pieces and some steak for dinner. Prices are very reasonable here & you can get a beer at a bar/cafe for $1 - we had a few!! We've done some cleaning up & reorganising on PANNIKIN this afternoon & Ange winched Steve up the mast to replace the broken spinnaker block. We will do some laundry etc tomorrow & some more sightseeing. It is very hot here - a bit like Trinidad - but usually some sort of breeze to make things a little more comfortable. At this stage we will head to Cartagena on Saturday.
26/09/2014, Airport Anchorage
We left Santa Cruz Bay at 6.45am & had a slow & uncomfortable downwind sail to Aruba. We were seriously checked out by the Coast Guard plane & a military helicopter as we approached Aruba (they both circled us for quiet a while) it is very close to Venezuela & drug running is a problem. We arrived into the anchorage & had our anchor down by about 5pm. We had a couple of beers as we watched the planes come & go - the anchorage is right at the end of the runway - not too noisy though. There are only 2 other boats here. It is a nice anchorage, calm & wide with lots of wind to keep us cool. Good holding too.
Thursday we attempted to check in. We were sent to the airport & then directed to the cruise boat dock.... no luck! So Ange did a bit of shopping & had a walk while Steve read on board & then did some laundry. Thursday afternoon was a bit of a rest & then dinner and an episode of 'Downton Abbey.'
Today we attempted to check in again & had more luck. We radioed the Aruba Port Control who told us to bring our boat to the commercial dock. Immigration & Customs met us there... that's never happened before... except in Morocco. We filled in our paperwork & they returned our stamped passports & customs schedule as we finished our cuppa. A very easy & very friendly check in. We have to do the same again tomorrow when we check out. After returning to the anchorage we took the dinghy to the marina & then caught a local bus to the closest large supermarket. It had everything we needed & we stocked up on a few things we may not be able to get in Colombia - the San Blas Islands are in mind. This afternoon Ange has cleaned the boat & prepared dinner for our overnighter tomorrow while Steve went back into town & did some clothes washing.
Cruisers always say Aruba has nothing & should be avoided. We have enjoyed our time here. Yes, it is a holiday island & there are plenty of shops & duty free places around, but we have found it to be friendly, lively & very colourful. The anchorage has plenty of action around to keep you interested (& you can swim) & then main town is only a 5 minute dinghy ride away. It has been refreshing to be a tourist & not just constantly talking and thinking sailing & boats!
Tomorrow we head for Colombia after checking out.
23/09/2014, Santa Cruz Bay
Thursday was a quiet day getting PANNIKIN ready for our trip to Curacao (Koo-ra-sow) & then to Aruba. Just picked up a couple of things that we needed & tidied up a bit. We also said goodbye to Andrew & Claire on EYE CANDY - not double we will see them in the Pacific next year.
Friday morning was Steve's last dive with Jeremy & Susie at Kalli's Reef. After lunch we had a game of dominoes over a few drinks & then a farewell dinner of ribs from Bobbiejans. A couple of tears were shed when we said goodbye to the crew from JOY, but we know we'll see them again someday, somewhere. They've been wonderful friends & cruising partners & we will miss then terribly. Take care Jeremy & Susie!
Saturday we were up early & on our way to Curacao. We started with the spinnaker & had great fun racing across the bay (9 knots) until we had two round ups & decided it should come down! We continued to Curacao under headsail & arrived into Spanish Waters around 4pm. We anchored in the lagoon - it is a tight squeeze with lots of boats anchored in the 2 designated areas & had a beer.
Sunday we went into Willemstad (the capital) to check in with Immigration & Customs. Willemstad is a colourful town with plenty of history & wonderful buildings. We spent a while wandering around & then caught the bus back to Spanish Harbour.
Monday we jumped on the free bus that takes cruisers to the Vreugdenhil Supermarket. It was plenty big enough with heaps of variety - even had its own bakery & butcher. We did a couple of days worth of provisioning & had a quiet afternoon on PANNIKIN.
Tuesday saw us back in Willemstad to check out & then we sailed 25nm up the west coast to a lovely bay called Santa Cruz Bay. It has a small beach with a restaurant (we think) & a great little anchorage with clear water. It provides a great spot to start our sail to Aruba tomorrow.