Curacao, Cartagena The San Blas and down to Panama.
“Its 8pm and dark. I cant expect the half moon until after midnight. We have 3 reefs in the main, half staysail and half genoa making 8-10 kts in 15 kts wind. The sea is just aft starboard beam so were taking a bit of green every now and then, but making good way. Not uncomfortable, but a bit rock and roll. We should arrive at Holandes Cay, Kaimou some time after lunch tomorrow. Its about 180 miles from Cartagena. And about as different as you can imagine. Just think of you’re A typical desert island with tall coconut palms, crystal clear water and white sand beaches, all protected by a fringing reef, and you’ve got it. Were all looking forward to a week of downtime, just gentle cruising again, not running west”
We left Cartagena in the afternoon after a week at anchor between Club Nautico and the naval base. Sheltered, with all amenities we needed, but pretty dirty as you would expect in a big city. It was a bit of a shock for us to be in the city with high rise buildings lining the Bocca Grande a mile to the west, the old town a mile to the North and the Isle of Manga 300yards to the East. The smells and sounds of a big city, always in the warm air. A pulse not felt since…. Nassau I guess.
We had arrived at 3am, and in the still and peace of the inner harbour we had the anchor dram and listened to the city, excited about the new horizon and our first stop in South America. Neither of us quite believing we had sailed from Cowes to Cartagena, the Isle of Wight to Columbia, our dream now reality.
Cartagena is a difficult place to get to. It’s a rough passage from Curacao, with a big confused sea, and is renowned as one of the 5 windiest passages in the world. We waited in Curacao until we saw a window where it looked like the wind was peaking at 25 kts. I had been worried about this leg since the Caribbean and knew it would be rough. We sailed up the windward side of Aruba having decided to head offshore for possibly stronger winds, but a less confused sea. We can handle the wind and big seas, but a big confused sea with short wave frequency starts to get worrying and uncomfortable. Our other option was to go the inshore route staying on the 500-1000 meter line, but we found the seas large and very confused off the north coast of Aruba in 500 metres, so headed offshore to the 3000 meter line.
Well our 25 kts of wind turned into 45kts and we had pretty large seas. We used the 4th reef in the main (Thanks Jerry, Medina sail care, I knew we were going to need that) for the first time and were making pretty good way. The problem comes when you get lifted up on a 30 footer and get hit by 40 kts at the top. Old Pegasus just accelerates away and your doing 16-18 kts boat speed down the wave…ok during the day but at night it’s a bit much. Luckily we had a full moon so we could just about see what was going on. Whenever were in a sea like that I am just amazed at how well Pegasus behaves. Were lucky she’s such a great design. We pretty much sailed with either 4 reefs in or no main, and a slip of staysail for the last 50 hours. I was just glad we weren’t there the week before. It would have been a cauldron with 60 Kt winds and ferocious waves…extremely dangerous. I always held the feeling we were in a place we shouldn’t be and didn’t want to hang around long. Rather like crossing a motorway at 3 am. You know you can get away with it if your careful, but it would be death trying it at 9am!
It took us a while to get into Cartagena as we had to take the waves abeam to come inshore. It was pretty rough with strong winds but as we approached the coast the wind backed allowing us to head closer and closer to the harbour entrance. At one stage we thought we may not make the entrance, the city or the country, the wind and waves forcing us further south than we liked, but they eased and we pinched up the last 15 miles with engines running to push us up to wind. It was a bit of a trip, but much the same as everyone else who we met in the club. We were very glad to get in and tucked up after 3 tiring days at sea.
We all enjoyed Cartagena. The old city is really beautiful and vibrant, and the restaurants good even though they all have the same menu…steak basically. Highlights were Simon Bolivar square, mandarin juice from the street vendors and small, sweet coffee readily available every 20 yards or so at 10c a cup. Yep, it was pretty cheap, which made a change from Curacao. Being on the mainland there was also an abundance of fruit, which the boys loved. After our week there we were ready to leave and after our fairwells in the club, set off for .the Ssan Blas islands.
Curacao to Cartagena daily milage, 210, 193, 123 (Part)
Cartagena to san blas daily milage 191
After the big city we were all looking forward to just cruising. A fast 24 hour passage and we arrived in a small anchorage between 4 islands and settled down for a few days. I launched Silver (our new optimist dinghy) for the first time and we all had great fun with the two boats sailing from island to island around the small reefs, protected in the lagoon from the Atlantic swell. The Islands are basically spatially habitated with fewer people the further east you go. There were island we wanted to see, and we had allowed ourselves a week there so we moved every few days. We spent a magical night in Bandaros Cays where we had an island to ourselves with Pegasus anchored just 50 yards from the beach in the lea of the island. That night we had a BBQ on the island making a fire from coconut husks and cooking steak (from Cartagena) and sausages…a favourite with all the boys. It was really beautiful, quite magical. Picking shells off the water line, swimming whenever you felt like it. The boys were in heaven
During that week we stopped at 4 island anchorages and walked many beaches. Being where they are at the far west shore of the Caribbean sea, the shelling was terrific in addition to many varieties of sea beans we found. The Local Kuna Indians were all pretty friendly approaching us in their dugout canoes as soon as we had dropped anchor. We bought Molas…decorative and intricate needlework designs…and gave fresh water, coffee, biscuits etc to those who asked. We allowed ourselves one night of Lobster…very extravagant at $25 for 3 biggies..oh… and 2 beers for the fisherman. They were delicious.
One night we anchored at a place called Dog Island. In the morning a Kuna came alongside in his dugout canoe , “could we charge his mobile phone”, well when it rang I thought I would try mine and yes reception was available. Quite remarkable really, and very useful as I had things going on in London and needed to make some calls. I had a surreal phone call to London sitting on the stern of Pegasus watching the Kuna in his dugout ( which was tied to our stern) catching quite large fish with his hand line. My conversation was peppered with “oh he’s got another one”….. A long way from the environs of my telemate.
We were heading for Panama some 80 miles west and decided to push on. After speaking with the production company it had been decided that Ben the Camera man was going to meet us in Colon and film the canal transit. So we had a rendezvous, a deadline, a city to make.
After a night in Isla Grande en route, we arrived at Shelter Bay marina on the Atlantic side on Friday the 27th March. It was a great sail under spinnaker down to the breakwater outside Colon harbour. On the way we caught our first Tuna. 3 small (10kg) Black fin, duly dispatched and frozen.
As you approach Colon you know your somewhere special, the crossroads of the world. On the way down there are ships arriving, departing, and anchored, and every stage in between. On the AIS I was getting 165 signals. That’s 165 ships within 15 miles. We felt very small and insignificant as we stole quietly through the 300yard entrance in the breakwater and headed 2 miles west to the marina that held our reservation.
See our photographs of Curacao, cartagena and the San Blas Islands at