Passage from Aruba to Cartagena
03 June 2008 | Sunset on the Second Day
Our long-thought and planned sailing trip to Cartagena via the eastern Caribbean islands was to be concluded with this 3-day passage which has been listed to be among the 6 most difficult sailing passages in the world. The winds and currents off the coast of Colombia, particularly as we one rounds its tip at Cabo de Vela and heads south, accelerate to extremes making sailing both arduous and dangerous. The Inter-tropical convergence zone lies around this area bringing a vertical ascent of warm, moist air from latitudes above and below the equator. This creates a lot of instability in the weather with heavy thunderstorms filled with lighting, something that is pretty scary to see when sailing - the mast of a sailboat acts as a big lighting rod! Because of this we were very careful about picking our weather window. This paid off as we had a wonderful passage with only a 24 hour period of somewhat strenuous but controlled sailing and thunder and lightning on the distance but no rain.
We finally got underway from Haven Barcadero in Aruba at 10:30 AM in 18-22 knots of wind off our starboard quarter. Kikuyu flew with the wind and for the next 3 days we spent a lot of time reefing the main and jib so as to stay at pace with Contrails which was sailing with their reefed main & jib as well. On the first day we caught a great looking tuna and were happy thinking this would be the first fish we would eat. However, it was too small and we threw it back in. When a few hours later Contrails reported that they had just caught an 8-10 lb tuna we casted the hook back in and, finally, we caught a good size tuna, about 6-8 lbs. Daniel was beside himself and excited since this was the first fish we had caught that we could eat. We cleaned it and cooked it the next day - it was delicious!! In fact, we all reported that it was one of the most delicious fish we had had.
We had been told by our weather services that the wind would be about 18-25 up until we rounded the northern tip of Colombia which was about 24 hours from our starting time. This forecast held for the most part. However, we were expecting the winds to die down to 10-15 knots on the second day and the opposite happened as it appears that we rode the beginning of the weather front that was expected to occur. The waves built to 8-12 feet on the second day and the wind was steady in the mid to high 20s and low 30's, occasionally puffing to 35+ knots. But both wind and waves were fairly steady.
We managed to talk to one of our weather services (Chris Parker) over the SSB (single side band) radio on the second day in the morning and his prediction this time turned out to be right on. Once we passed longitude 73.5 we were to experience low winds and waves. Like magic, once we passed this longitude on the third day in the early morning, the wind and waves slowed down. From then on, we sailed very slowly, trying to "kill time" because we were expecting an arrival of 1AM to Cartagena's harbor given how fast we had sailed. We wanted to get into the bay and anchor during daylight.
Though we sailed for a good part of the evening at 2.5-3.5 knots, we found ourselves in front of the Bocagrande (big mouth) entrance to the bay of Cartagena at 5AM. We had the option of sailing south to Bocachica (small mouth) where, unlike Bocagrande, the entrance was unobstructed. The Spanish, to protect Cartagena from attacks by pirates, the English and French built an underwater wall in Bocagrande which still remains. However, a well-marked entrance has been made and Kim volunteered to enter Cartagena's harbor first and Contrails followed. We lowered our sails, came into the harbor and headed to the Naval Club at the tip of Castillogrande , a finger-like land that extends out from Bocagrande and where mostly wealthy people live. We stood in front of the Naval Club where we had dined in the past with Maria's parents old neighbors in Cali and wondered if and when we would sail right into this bay. We were overtaken by emotion and disbelief that what started in 2000 as a casual conversation between us about sailing here, we had actually made happen. We circled around, watching the Naval Club's restaurant come to life with the staff getting ready to serve breakfast. At the first crack of light, we sailed right into Cartagena's harbor and found a spot to anchor - we had arrived to our destination!