The Christmas season has come to a close and though it was not white like Seattle had, it was a great one. Cartegena is a perfect place for an adventurous way to celebrate or Savior's birth. Loads of old and beautiful cathedrals and festive decorations all around the old town really made for a grand spectacle. And the mall. Yes, the mall, and Michaela was in heaven. She and Rennie spent an afternoon shopping and found a lovely fun dress. The mall is very new and modern with loads of fancy shops, a nice food court, ice cream, great coffee, ...
Of course the coffee is great here. After all this is the home of Juan Valdez! Yes, there is a Juan Valdez brand complete with its own nice café and the coffee is awesome. Coffee street vendors are everywhere selling 'tinto', which is a very strong sweetened coffee. They carry several full thermos's around and serve it up in tiny cups. Very easy and very cheap to keep the caffeine flowing all day long!
So how was Christmas on the boat you ask? It was great. Santa found us with no problem whatsoever and the kids had a blast. One evening we went to a Christmas concert in one of the cathedrals. About 120 kids sang and danced. We recognized a song or two but not the words! A very nice lady saw us standing on the side and took the small kids by hand and brought them to sit with other kids right up front and center. She came back, smiled and babbled something in very fast Spanish that I could only smile back at. Some things require no interpretation.
We had Christmas dinner with the crews of Independence, Uliad, Coqueliocot, and Terra Vana at a lovely restaurant set in the corner of an old fort overlooking the anchorage. White table cloths and the whole she-bang. Even a great little band playing lovely music. Ethan fell asleep in my lap and a couple of waiters set up a bed for him of two chairs and a bunch of table cloths for pillows and blankets.
New Year's Eve was spent with the adults on Independence and the kids next door on Uliad. Being unsure of our ability to make it to midnight we were quite surprised when we finally went home around 3:30am, long after a great fire-works display. Everyone had a great time and no one stirred on Salt & Light until 11 in the morning.
We (meaning Rennie), are now busy with getting school fired up again. I get to concentrate on boat projects such as re-bedding all the portlights. At least as much as my elbow allows. 'Tennis elbow' had been driving me nuts (yes I know, it is a short drive. And no we don't play tennis!). Thankfully Steve on Uliad is an MD and he was kind enough to offer a treatment of 'needle fenestration' to promote proper healing of the tendon. Let's just say I should have had a few belts of rum before be jabbed away. He says as long as I don't overdo it, all should be better in about a month. Oh yes, and Ethan lost one of his front teeth. He tried to keep it in as long as possible but a kick from Sammy while they were on a trampoline finished it off!
A very happy, prosperous, and truly Blessed new year to all of you from all of us! And now it's time to go find a tinto vendor!
Greetings from Cartegena Columbia! We left Curacao Thursday evening the 18th in the company of Independence and Uliad bound for Monjes del Sur, a jaunt of 120 miles. Beautiful breeze calm waters and a great sunset made for a great start of the 400 + mile journey to Cartegena. It was lovely until the auto-pilot gave out. Of course this was as we were coming out of the lee of Curacao into the larger seas and winds. Nothing like hand steering at night with seas and winds on the stern! Needless to say it was a long and exhausting night but we were still able to catch a nice Mahi in the morning. We pulled into the 'anchorage' at Monjes del Sur (aka the rock), around midday - finally. The rock is literally 2 rocks belonging to Venezuela with a breakwater between the two to form a bay. Of sorts. It is not possible to anchor so they have strung a huge rope between the rocks that boats tie up to. Let's just say it was a unique experience, and that one night was plenty.
Day two had us leaving before dawn bound for Bahia Honda on the coast of Columbia, about 60 miles away. Having come to grips with being forced to hand steer it was a much better trip. However, Bahia Honda was definitely not the place to stay as it had a 3 foot swell and ugly brown water. Not sure where the brown came from as the terrain looked like we were in the Arizona desert with no towns or anything for miles around. We pushed on to try Cabo de Vela 25 miles down the coast, but with beautiful weather and good attitudes we opted to go all night to 5 Bays. The night was fairly easy and dawn brought us in view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. At 18,900 feet they of course had snow! It looked a bit like summer sailing in Seattle with the Olympic's in the background. The mountainous coastline also reminded us of Desolation Sound. Getting into the middle bay of the 5 Bays was a bit exciting with the wind hitting 35 knots, the rollers growing and us doing 8-9 knots. About 100 yards inside the headland the wind shut off and the bay turned into a very peaceful and beautiful spot with steep hillsides and a small fishing village. Getting ashore to stretch the legs was a top priority after a 200 mile leg and the locals were very friendly.
We thought we would spend two nights here recuperating but the weather window was going to close in a few days and we still had 112 miles to go. Not wanting to do any more overnights without our good friend auto-pilot we set out at first light for Punta Hermosa. 25 knots of breeze with 8-10 foot tightly spaced waves was not what we were expecting but we slogged through and made it to a very calm peaceful bay tucked behind a long spit of land with little fishing/beach shacks all along it. Mind you this spit of land is not on our electronic charts at all. In fact, every bay we hit along the way had no chart datum. One of the benefits of going where few boats go is you get to discover first hand how old and inaccurate some chart datum are! We relied on hand sketched charts and e-mail notes (and our eyes), that get passed around among the cruisers headed this way. Many thanks to Pizzaz and all the others that have contributed to the info on cruising Columbia.
With Cartegena only 55 miles away we decided to get going by 5 am so we would have plenty of time to get ashore and celebrate arriving. This day brought very light winds and by ½ way dropped all sail and just motored in. 'Just get there' was there motto, and when we finally got the anchor down the relief was palpable. Cold cervezas ashore had to wait an hour or so while we cleaned the boat and ourselves up a bit, but when we did get ashore to Club Nautico (a marina serving as cruising headquarters), they sure did taste good!
So what is Cartegena like you ask? So far after two days words can't quite describe how amazing, cool, exotic, ancient, kind, vibrant, awesome or phenomenal it is. The old city is indeed that, being founded in the 1500's. It is filled with many cobblestone streets, piazza's surrounded by café's and restaurants and shops. Small balconies overflowing with flowers are everywhere. A very European feel to it but with a unique flair that makes you realize you sure are somewhere unique. We look forward to celebrating Christ's birth in this very special city!
The weather has turned nice again with only infrequent squalls so our movement west has begun.
We spent a most fabulous Thanksgiving at Crasqui Island. We were anchored in a lovely sand covered bay with crystal blue water with Independence, Alegria, Uliad, Vento, and Coquelicot. Roberto from Vento was in the Roques last year for several months and met many people in the area. At Crasqui, a quaint fishing shack is owned by his friends Phillip and Patricia. He arranged a very local Venezuelan seafood feast for Thanksgiving. We started with fried minnows and oysters on the half shell with little fried homemade breads. Then we sat down to a beautiful table setting with local flowers lying around and were served lobster, conch salad, tuna sushi server four different ways, fried whole snapper and rice. What a bountiful feast! There was more than enough; we couldn't even eat it all! After a lovely dinner we all met over on Uliad for a dessert buffet of pumpkin pie, oreo cheesecake pie, oatmeal cookies, chocolate soufflé, brownies and much cheer! All in all a fantastic Thanksgiving!
After recovering from our scrumptious dinner we headed out the next day to Sarqui. Sarqui has a fantastic setting with the surf crashing on the reef just 50 yards away. Another beautiful anchorage in paradise! From there we moved onto Bequeve only 10 miles away. We were able to sail and fish there. We caught a tuna but by the time we reeled it in we only had a tuna head. Another well fed shark is swimming the ocean, thanks to Salt & Light! Very frustrating but as Denny was pulling in the hand line we caught another fish. We thought it was a small tuna but after further investigation and taste testing we realized it was not. We think it was a kind mackerel; we are not sure which one. However we cooked it up that night and had a fabulous dinner! Bequeve is part of 3 islands that form a large cove of sorts. We snaked our way between coral heads and sand shoal into a beautiful anchorage. We jumped in the water to check the anchor and go for a swim and found the bottom littered with huge conch! Jackpot! We easily collected what we needed, beautiful shells and all! On our swim to shore Michaela and I swam over two very large sting rays. What magnificent creatures with there wings flowing up and down. The beach was a treasure trove of shells and collectibles. Our friends on Alegria found a sting ray skull, very cool!! The guys all went hunting while we played on the beach but found no lobsters however came home with lots of reef fish, snapper and grouper.
Bequeve is beautiful but we are on the hunt for lobster and in need to head west to reach Colombia before Christmas. After two days we headed to the Aves where we sit right now. WOW! Thinking we snaked in Bequeve we had no idea; to get into Aves Barlovento we really had to bob and weave our way through coral heads and sand shoals. Thank God for his amazing sun shine that marks everything very clearly. We are getting good at reading bottom color again just like in the Bahamas! A few passages through coral and sand were probably only 25 feet wide, with a side wind it can get very challenging, to say the least!! The snorkeling was fabulous and Denny caught 2 lobsters that were scrumptious. After a couple of days, knowing we needed to head west, we left to Aves Sotavento. It was lobster mecca! We anchored at Curricai and snorkeled right off the boat, it was amazing and the size of the reef fish... huge! We saw a few angel fish the size of a turkey platter on Thanksgiving! The largest we have ever seen. Denny saw many lobsters and brought back four; one extremely large one and the three other were large to medium size. What a hunter!
We needed to head west but it was with sorrow. We would have spent at least a week at each Aves group if we weren't trying to beat the Christmas winds west. If we were to recommend a place to stay for hurricane season we would say go to the Venezuelan out islands. They are pristine, inexpensive, and the holding is superb. I don't think a hurricane has ever crossed the area.
We are now in Bonaire, the most east island of the ABCs or Netherland Antilles. It is an extreme contrast to the Venezuelan out islands. There is no anchoring, to save the coral, so we sit on a mooring ball in the main town on the island with WiFi right on the boat. The first evening here we went into town with Alegria and had hamburgers for dinner! The water is the most crystal clear; we can look down to 75 feet and see the bottom. Denny, Michaela and Liam were able to do 3 dives in one day. The reef is very alive, colorful and full of numerous fish, large and small. They came back talking a mile a minute about all that they saw, a very exciting day.
Enough for now... more hopefully soon before we head off to Colombia. We are hoping early next week, weather permitting!