Passage from Bonaire to Cartagena
13 November 2008 | Bonaire to Cartagena
This entry includes a couple days of writing.
Wednesday 11/12 It's 4am (our wedding anniversary) and I've got the sunrise watch off the coast of Columbia as I sit down to type this blog entry. Watch out, I'm a little blurry eyed and may wax on about frivolous topics as I switch from typing to checking radar, scanning the horizon and trimming the sails. We have done many things since I last wrote including some great sailing and fishing in the Venezuelan archipelagos Los Roques and Los Aves, great eating, diving and exploring Bonaire (Seth, thanks for the tip on the national park...it was a great day that was spurred by your suggestion) and most importantly spent a whole lot of time just having fun as a family.
We are currently two days into a three day sail from Curacao to Cartagena, Columbia. This particular stretch of water is noted for bad weather. In fact, it is considered one of the top 5 worst weather corridors for mariners in the world. Needless to say we have been anxious about this particular leg of our trip. We have heard of 30kt+ winds and 10 to 15 foot seas as the standard weather for the passage. Some fellow cruisers hit that kind of weather a couple weeks ago and had a very exhausting passage. About 5 days ago I was chatting with Shannon (Someday Came) while we were still moored in Bonaire. I mentioned that the recent hurricane (Paloma) had cleared the weather in the Western Caribbean and I wished we were already making the passage to Cartagena. He said "well, let's go" and that was that. We left Bonaire the next day and after a quick sail and night sleeping in Curacao we headed off on the mutli day trip down the Columbian Coast. Little rant about Curacao...we did not stay long but what little I did see was not very enticing. I'm sure there are many beautiful parts of this island but the main cruiser anchorage is named Spaanse Water (pronounced by most as Spanish Water) and it was very crowded and the water was foul. It is a very protected anchorage/bay with one 50 foot wide entrance that opens up to a large multiple lagoon type bay with homes and marinas dotted along its shores. As we entered the fifty foot wide passage (keep in mind that Zen is 26 feet wide) we were greeted by a two story, 65 foot floating party barge with blasting music and people packed on so tightly that some were literally hanging off the side with one hand while grasping their drink with the other. Yikes! Anyway, we were happy to stay only one night in this local. The next morning we were off for the 2.5 day trip to Cartagena about 450 miles away.
Back to the Cartagena trip...I always take the 3am to sunrise watch on passages but these past two days have been unique. As a compliment to the favorable weather we have a full moon for this passage. A full moon is always a nice bonus on a night watch but the moon for the past couple nights has the unique feature of setting about an hour before the sun rises. This may be one of those "you had to be there" events but I will do my best to describe it. The sky has been very clear for the past couple nights so the moon is very bright, the kind that casts shadows...if you know what I mean. Our course is nearly due West so the moon sets just off the bow and the sun rises off the stern. As I write this the sky is split in two as I peer straight up past our mast. The moon set only a few minutes ago and the Western sky is suddenly dark and speckled with a million stars that are finally visible after having been drowned out by the shining moon. Meanwhile the Eastern part of the sky has begun to glow orange with the impending crack of dawn (and the crack was good..family joke!!). Hold on...I need to go back outside to see how it looks now. Okay, I'm back...the sun has not yet risen but the sky is brighter and the stars in the West are starting to fade. You may think I'm punchy from lack of sleep (maybe I am) but this is one of the wonders of being at sea. Not only do you get to experience the adventure of sailing a small boat over the ocean you also enjoy the celestial events that illuminate your plotted course.
Thursday 11/13 For the sailors/readers who have not made this passage it is a very interesting trip. As I mentioned above, the weather can be extreme. We chose a window of calm conditions. 25% of the trip was spent motoring or motor sailing with little or no wind and calm seas. The next 25% was spent with 20 to 25+ kts of wind and raucous sailing with 5 to 7 foot seas and the final 50% offered 10 to 15kts and 3 to 5 foot seas of spinnaker type sailing that is delight to any cruiser. Besides one afternoon when we experienced a SE breeze of 12kts the wind was directly behind us (N-NNE-ENE) or just off our stern quarter. The spinnaker was flying nearly all the time except for the 1/2 day when the wind increased to 25kts and we deployed the code zero. There are different ways to make this passage. Some folks choose to stay 10 miles or more offshore in the deeper water to minimize the potentially large seas and diminish the land effect on the wind direction. Others choose to stay close to shore and do day-sails, overnighting in any of the numerous bays along the Columbian Coast (there is an excellent guide to these spots that was written by another cruiser on a boat named Pizazz...you can easily find it on the internet). We chose to combine the two options and sailed for two days and nights before anchoring about 50 miles before Cartagena in a very large and well protected bay named Punta Hermosa. It was our anniversary so we decided to stop and have a nice family dinner. It also allowed us to enter Cartagena in the mid day light which gave us plenty of time to choose a good anchorage and do some initial land exploration. Before you reach Cartagena you will pass the Barranquilla River. You cannot pass this area at night. The river dumps so much junk into the ocean that the water changes color and there are logs, tree limbs and leaves floating everywhere. Some of the leave fields are as big as the boat. We passed the river about 3 miles from shore. The debris field started in a very defined line that stretched from the shore almost directly West. It was a bit freaky to be honest. One second you will be in clear blue water and the next a muddy, nasty brown. It lasted about 15 miles. It doesn't end like it started. As we progressed the water simply got less muddy until it was finally clear again. You need to keep a constant watch. We tried our best to avoid all the floatsum but we still collected a lot of weeds and roots on our rudders. I planned our entire trip around a day time arrival off Barranquilla and it was a good thing. As a final note, the anchorage in Cartagena is extremely well protected and offers a couple different types of bottoms. When we arrived it was relatively crowded and we spent a little time motoring around looking for a good spot. The anchorage depth varied from 7 feet to 50 feet. The deeper depths offer a stinky mud bottom that is notorious for making a mess of your anchor and chain. The shallower depths offer a more gravel like bottom that reportedly has better holding. After a couple false starts we were fortunate to find a spot in the shallow water just off the Marina Nautico. The holding is good and we have the added benefit of internet access from the Marina.