Colombia by Sea
17 January 2018
Colombia is a delightful place to visit....just not a yachting destination. Marina Santa Marta is a first class marina and the city of Santa Marta is an enjoyable place to visit. Minca, mountain eco tourism area, is an hour taxi ride from Santa Marta. It is also easy to get a bus to historic Cartegna. But one has to endure the Colombian capes when sailing from the ABC islands. One French sailor mentioned the capes of Colombia are rated as the 5th most treacherous in the world.
Skabenga and Uproar left Bonaire in 15 knots of breeze for the 350 mile passage. Karen Shipley had re-joined Skabenga. When we arrived in Santa Marta, Lisa and I were wondering if she was booking a flight back to Wisconsin! Yes, it was a good one. The first cape was Paraguana, Venezuela. We were sailing along smoothly until then. A squall hit pretty hard with 40+ knot winds. And it lasted for at least an hour. After the squall, the seas were sharp and large (3 to 4 meters) and the wind continued over 20 knots.
We radioed Skabenga that we were diverting to Aruba for repairs. At that time we weren't sure if we would stay in Aruba or continue. We tore our main during a reef. One squall brought a big wind direction shift which gybed our whisker poled out jib. The carbon fiber whisker pole whipped back to the shrouds where is snapped in half. I'm ashamed to admit it but we foolishly were towing our dinghy. We could easily have lost it in the squalls and seas. We sailed 15 miles to a protected cove off Aruba, hauled the dinghy and taped the small tear in the main and stowed the damaged whisker pole.
We left Aruba late afternoon in easy sailing conditions, it was just a 4 hour delay in our trip. All night we had less than 15 knots and sailed comfortably. The next day was also pretty benign. Peninsula De Guajira is noted for rough conditions but gave us an easy pass. Then on to Cape de la Agula, only 5 miles from Santa Marta. The wind blew and the sea flew! We don't have wind instruments on Uproar but have a pretty good idea how strong the wind was. When we are surfing down waves at over 11 knots with just a small jib out, it is blowing squirrels out of trees. Skabenga saw 50 knots. We had over 35 knots continuously with much higher gusts. Seas reached 5 to 6 meters! These seas are not ocean swells, they are sharp, wind driven waves.
The autopilot had trouble in the waves and we skidded down a few of them sideways. I steered by hand the last 4 hours until we rounded the cape. Once around the cape seas calmed down a lot but the wind still blew! It was an easy trip into the Santa Marta sand box.
The marina is first class but the constant, screaming winds blew sand and coal dust through the marina night and day for two solid weeks! We kept the boat closed and fired up the A/C. The deck had small piles of dirty sand which we are still cleaning out a month later. This is not the kind of cruising we signed up for. This is not the placid anchorage behind a beautiful island we are used to.
But marina life has its advantages. Sophie loved the frequent walks, even though there was no grass around. We became reacquainted with cruisers we had met in the Caribbean and made a lot of new friends. Greg and Caroline from Laquesta were our neighbors. Caroline noticed a rip in our sail cover. She immediately offered to fix it for us. She dragged out her Sailrite machine to the sweltering hot cruiser's lounge and spent several hours making repairs and patches. Thanks Caroline, it looks great now! They also dog-sat Sophie when we traveled to the mountains of Cartagena for a few nights.
We spent Christmas and New Years in the marina. Cruising friends make great substitutes for family when family is far away. We all had good times together. Uproar had a traditional rum punch party for about 40 cruising friends New Year's Eve. We went through about 6 gallons of rum punch!