Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Santa Marta Columbia

10th January -  20 January 2015
Sailing to Columbia

Although it is not officially a race, each leg does have an official start and finish line with prizes awarded for the first three places. On this first leg, we also had one racing mark that we had to round off Castries which forced all the boats to sail along the coast and turn off towards Columbia outside of the Castries. It makes great pictures for the local press who had a helicopter taking pictures.
At this first and only mark on the course, we were sailing parallel to two other boats as we neared the mark with us on the inside. 

As we neared the mark, the boat next to us started to cut across us, forcing us to hit the mark (it was only a blow up plastic mark so better hit that than the other boat). As we shouted at them (as you do), they made a hard turn to port sending the stern of their boat into the side of ours. Nothing we could do and fortunately it did not damage to us but it did to them. Not a good start because no-one ever thinks it was their fault and we had not really spoken much to them in the lead up to the start. Luckily for us one of the World ARC team saw the collision and said that they we clearly at fault but the initial conversation in Santa Marta with them was a little awkward!

The next four days were almost perfect sailing conditions and we average 175 miles each day – we would have been pleased with 150 miles per day. We all knew that the last 24 hours would be the most difficult and the last 6 hours would be even more challenging as we closed in on the Columbia coast so it took the shine off the good days we were having. In the event, while the wind and waves were steeper on day 5, it was only the last 6 hours which was really rough. We were on a beam reach with the wind and waves coming over the side in 35 knot winds, gusting to 42 knots for the last 6 hours in pitch black as we closed the coast. It was rough, wet as the waves came over the side and just on the edge!

1 mile from the finish line the wind just stopped and went down to 8 knots and we had to motor the last mile. The winds had just died at 4am as we came into the harbour and it made for an easy berthing. As soon as we tied up, it was beers all round and some of the other boats who came in after us joined us for an early morning beer – 6am counts as a very early morning beer! We were all glad to be in and tied up and nothing broken on the way.

Street market in Santa Marta
Not sure what I was expecting from Columbia and it would not have been on my top 10 list of travel destinations. The welcome drinks on the first night ended with three of the boats going into town for dinner at a local restaurant where the food was excellent. It was cheap, the town felt safe walking through at night and the people were very friendly. Having not slept much the night before on the way into to Columbia, the breakfast beers, welcoming drinks and dinner caught up with us and I had the best night’s sleep for a long time. 

Setting for the Beach BBQ
On the Saturday (17th), the World Arc had arranged a beach BBQ at a private house in the national park. It was a beautiful setting with cold beers all day and a BBQ at lunchtime. The coach trip there took about an hour over some very rough roads but worth the trip. The three brothers who owned the marina (and had helped bring the World ARC to Santa Marta for the first time) had joined us on the beach, each taking their 60 foot luxury motor boats from Santa Marta to the bay and bringing the Minister for Tourism to meet us. They offered to take anyone back on their boats who wanted to stay until later in the afternoon and so 20 of us stayed on the beach talking and drinking beer until they took us back. 

Waiting to get on the Motor Boats
It was a party all the way back
It was an exhilarating ride back and with a real party atmosphere – people dancing to music, drinks flowing and high spirits. On the boat we were on, the Minister of Tourism joined us along with some of the press. Victor, our crew member, was again interviewed and photographed after already appearing in the local press on the first day we arrived. Clearly he was younger and more photogenic than the rest of us!

Kerry, Catherine and Mauren neogitating
Street in Cartegena
The last two days we were there we had earmarked to go to Cartagena which is the number on tourist destination. A taxi ride to the bus station, a four hour coach ride and another taxi ride the other end. We went with three other people and our first task was to find a hotel and negotiate a good deal. We did find a hotel out of town in the backpacker’s district (mainly hostels) but negotiation was not something they would enter into – it was more of a case of “we have a room, do you want it or shall I give it to the person behind you”.
For $30 it was not a bad hotel

Sight of many battles with English,French and Spanish
Cartegena is the oldest city in South America and the number one tourist destination as a result. A very pretty walled town well preserved enjoyable to walk around. As it was a Sunday the Museums were closed but there was enough to discover down the side streets together with afternoon tea, early evening drinks etc. to keep us all amused for the day. The next day we had three hours to walk around the castle that was built to protect the city learning about how the French, the English and the Spanish invaders took the city and plundered its wealth 5 times. The guide who was a native Indian did say 3 or 4 times that there was no hard feeling about this history although he did say it with a little edge in his voice. 

We made the journey back to Santa Marta just in time for the briefing for the next leg of the journey and the farewell dinner immediately afterwards. Further speeches over dinner, some prize giving and a few more drinks before going back to the boat. 

The Tuesday morning was very busy – we had until 11am to get all the final jobs completed on the boat, clean it and do all the shopping and put it away. Not good planning but it was worth going to Cartegena and putting up with a little bit of stress. As we left the harbour for the start line we were still packing away food and finishing of the jobs, some of which we completed as we were crossing the start line. 

Off to San Blas Islands. (just off Panama).

Sunday, 1 February 2015

St Lucia

28 December to 10 January 2015
St Lucia 

After 17 days at sea we arrived at St Lucia on Sunday 28 December at 9:00 in the morning. After berthing the boat and a beer on board, we went to immigration and customs to check in. We had already pre-registered our arrival when we were in Gran Canaria using the Caribbean website which amazingly allows you to complete all the boat and crew details on line. This greatly speeds up immigration on entry (according to the website). It was the normal scrum as we went into immigration, queued up at the counter that was for crew who had registered on the website. However, while they may have a sophisticated website for preregistration, they do not have any ink for the printer so you have to join the other queue and complete all the details by hand.  But only two hours later we were through the process, having visited 4 different people, completed forms in triplicate and we finally had our papers and passport stamp.

After lunch of hamburgers and beer (funny what you crave for after nearly three weeks at sea), we walked into the nearest town in the afternoon heat. Last time we did that because it is very hot at that time, there is an excellent and very cheap bus service or better still you can take your dinghy for a 5 minute ride directly into the town. But there again we did want to have a walk and it was only a couple of miles on hot dusty roads. 

The day we arrived, we were approached by “John” who offered boat cleaning services. He showed us some of his work on other boats and we negotiated on prices to to clean the decks, topsides and hull. So for $200 he and his father spent the next day and a half making the boat look like new again and  took such pride in his doing so. He was also really cheerful and just a nice guy to have around. I wish I could muster the energy, patience and attention to detail when I clean the boat – but that is never going to happen! 

It took us a good 5 days before we felt we had any energy again although as Sarah was leaving on the 1st January, we did pack a few things in. We took the bus to Castries (the capital) one day - always fun travelling on local transport – and spent the day with 5000 passengers off the three cruise ships anchored there walking around the streets. In a bid to get away from the invading hordes, we walked further into the back streets of Castries only to be advised by a doctor, who came out of his clinic especially, to turn back as we were in an unsafe district. Advice gratefully received!

Sarah departing for South America

On New Year’s Eve we decided to move out of the Marina and anchor outside to get some peace and quiet while watching the fireworks along the beach. A relaxing night of eating, drinking and playing games. Sarah also had to pack her bags for her 6 week tour of South America which she was starting the next day. 

Trip to the rain forest.
After Sarah left we started the planning for the next leg to Santa Marta on the Columbian coast which started on the 10th January. All the guide books and advice from the World ARC team was that this was the second most difficult passage of the entire circumnavigation, second only to round the cape off South Africa. This came as a little bit of a shock after having spent three weeks crossing the Atlantic but we decided that just two of us undertaking this 900 mile journey was not a good idea so we had to find another crew member. 

The World Arc Starts
The World Arc team arrived on the 3 January and we discussed the problem with them. Fortunately one of the team knew of someone who had sailed with who wanted to sail to Australia – a 25 year old Frenchman called Victor who had some ocean sailing experience. We were due to meet him in a few days but at least it was a potential solution to our problem. We met him a few days later to find out that not only is he a very good sailor, he loves to cook and is very good at it. Could not have worked out better. It was also a great relief to have a third person on board for this “challenging” sail as it was referred to.

The World Arc put on a series of drinks in the evening and other social events during the day for the World Arc participants to get to know each other.  There are 14 other boats in the fleet with the smallest at 40 feet and the largest at 62 feet. There is also a good range of nationalities: British, French, Icelandic, American, Australian, Irish, Swedish all with a common interest of sailing around the world.  A few drinks parties, a few dinners and some social events helped to get to know people (as did the crib sheet the World Arc gave out showing who was on which boat).

The saga with the generator played out for the entire 8 days before we left, with engineers coming, taking things apart, trying different solutions but to the same effect. The day we left, the engineer turned up at 9am in the morning to put back the generator after having found that the brushes on the alternator had broken. I was pleased that they had found the fault, not pleased that the generator was in bits two hours before we were due to start the first leg to Santa Marta or that we did not have a replacement part. However he did manage to put it back together just in time so we did get to the start line on time but it was not the most relaxed of starts.  

The last night before the start was the farewell party at a local hotel. Rum cocktails, some nibbles and a steel band together with speeches from the government minister for Tourism and various other people. The drinks ended at a respectable 9pm so a few of us set off to go to the Friday night “Jump Up” at Gros Islet. This is a street party over about 4 streets where all the locals go on a Friday night to have street food, loud music and dance. It was one great big party and even the rain showers did not dampen the atmosphere. Never a good idea to go out the night before the start of a 5 day sail and especially not going out until 2am (or maybe it was the beer that was not the good idea – I forget which). We all slept well that night and felt surprisingly alert the next morning, no doubt in anticipation of the next 5 days.