Cartagena, Colombia

10 February 2018
Photo: Dinner on the gun emplacement- Cartagena
We finally dropped the mooring lines in Bonaire at 11:00 and headed across to the fuel dock to top up the tanks. We were then on our way to Cartagena, Colombia, a passage we anticipated taking 3 days. The wind was quite light as we left but gradually built, along with the sea state which was very confused until we changed angle when rounding the top of Aruba. We also had a strong positive current with us which was good, except we had timed our departure to ensure we would pass through the river mouth of the Magdalena River, Colombia in daylight two days away. With the speeds Dol was doing this now seemed unlikely. What a difference a moon makes to an offshore passage, it is much more pleasant sitting on watch at night and being able to see or make out the horizon and not being pitch black.
The first 2 nights were relatively uneventful, there were enough tankers and cargo ships to keep us interested but nothing too close. That all changed around dusk on night three, just after we had seen a large pod of dolphins, the first in a long time. As we neared Santa Marta Bay, a notorious stretch of water, the wind began to increase. Our forecasts had nothing above 30kts in them but they would be proved wrong, as the wind was a constant 35 – 45 knots with gusts of 50kts. The Dol handled it beautifully with a triple reefed main, she felt in control the whole way. We ended up doing 2 gybes in 30-35kts and had to radio a cargo vessel to ensure they had seen us and would give us sea room. We arrived at the mouth of the Magdalena River in the very early hours of the morning, about 5nm out. All the pre reading we had studied indicated you could smell the river and the water would be discoloured, there may also be logs, possible dead animals and other debris to avoid. We neither smelt nor saw any debris as we passed across the river outflow; thankfully it was the dry season. Finally about 10nm out from Cartagena the wind eased and we had a pleasant sail into Cartagena. As Cartagena is a busy commercial port we radioed Cartagena Port Control 5nm out asking permission to enter. They took all our details and confirmed we could use the Boca Grande entrance. This entrance is a buoyed channel through a XV century sunken wall, which we entered with no issues, it was very easy. We then made our way through the channel and past the Madonna and Child monument, anchoring off Nautico Marina, opposite the navy base. Needless to say, neither of us went below for a sleep during the night so we were pretty tired when we arrived.
We had arrived, none the worse for wear, Monday 5th February at 08:00, 68hrs for 490nm not bad. It was time for breakfast and then Brian went ashore to clear in as Gail cleaned and tidied up the Dol. Brian paid $US25 for a week’s shower, garbage, dinghy dock and laundry use at the marina and as we were not planning on staying in Colombia for more than 8 days we did not have to pay for a temporary boat import license. The rest of the day was spent doing minor chores and catching up on sleep. The harbour is very busy with both commercial and private traffic, it is well used and has a New York/Hong Kong skyline full of tall skyscrapers, a very different environment for Dol.
The following day we were up and off to explore the old town. Cartagena old town’s wall was built to protect the city from continuing sacking by pirates, most notably Sir Francis Drake, who were after the gold, diamonds and emeralds being sent back to Spain which Colombia is rich in. The old town is a delightful mix of narrow streets, overhanging balconies, flowers and brightly coloured houses. The interiors of the old buildings have been converted to modern shops and cafes while leaving the original architecture in place. There are plazas with cafes, street vendors with brightly coloured wares, they sell everything from food, fruit and drink to souvenirs. We walked around, had lunch and then walked the city walls. On the way back to the marina we stopped at the nearby supermarket, very good.
Wednesday we used the Hop on Hop Off bus to explore more of Cartagena. We always find these buses useful to orientate ourselves and they have very good audio giving information on the history and culture. We are not museum people, we enjoy walking around absorbing the atmosphere and looking at the architecture, not that we are not interested in the history of the places we visit, we like to learn the history from what is around us. Cartagena declared Independence from Spain on 11th November 1811 at 11:00 by 11 men, this information intrigued Brian, (I wonder why) and therefore the number 11 is considered lucky in Cartagena. We spent an hour or so at the Castillo de San Felipe, a fort built to protect Cartagena from the pirates. The fort stands on Lazaro Hill and was built from the top down, it is impressive and easy to see how difficult it would have been to attack. The fort has numerous underground tunnels to get from one area of the fort to another, again we had a very good audio tour giving us all the information. It was then back on the bus, and off to Boca Grande, the modern, tourist area, watching all the yellow taxi’s; there must be more here than on the streets of New York. What a contrast this area is to the old town, no colonial architecture, many skyscraper apartments, office blocks and shopping malls. This could be any tourist area in the world, even the beaches were full of the sun umbrellas and loungers. The days here are very hot but it is a dry heat and the evenings after the sun goes down are cool, great for sleeping.
Thursday night we had booked dinner at the Restaurante Club De Pe Manga Fuerte El Pasteli. It was a short dinghy ride from the Dol and is located in the restored ruins of the San Sebastian De Pastelillo. Our table overlooked the harbour and was situated in one of the gun emplacements, minus the canon, very nice and private. With the climate in Colombia and this being the dry season, restaurants can have all their tables outdoors with no fear of rain, the food was good and well-priced.
We needed to give the Customs Agent 24hrs notice of when we planned to depart so he could organise our Exit Zarpe and a weather window had opened for Saturday. Brian met David, the agent, and organised to have the Zarpe ready for a Saturday departure to the San Blaas Islands, Panama.
We have really enjoyed our 5 days in Cartagena, it has surprised us and made us wonder if we would return to Colombia to do more land travel in the future. It is time to move on again towards the Panama Canal via the San Blaas Islands.
Vessel Name: Dol'Selene
Vessel Make/Model: Warwick 47 cutter, built in three skins of New Zealand heart kauri timber, glassed over.
Hailing Port: Auckland, New Zealand
Crew: Brian & Gail Jolliffe
About: Brian and Gail have retired, at least for now, to enjoy the opportunity to cruise further afield than has been possible in recent years.
Current cruising plans are not too well advanced but we are inspired by Mark Twain’s quote “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your [...]
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