Curacao to Cartegena

All goes well with further preparations until it is discovered once the boat is back in the water that the stern gland is leaking quite profusely. This is the bit of cord thatsurrounds the prop shaft near where it enters the hull, and so expands when it gets wet to prevent water coming in. Our immediate thought is the boat has to be taken out of the water again which is not available until next Tuesday. Thankfully the mechanics sort this out successfully. Louis, the electrician has given us a great deal of time not only checking all the electric systems, but has an interest in the boat generally. He may join us to pass through the Panama Canal.

Friday, 23rd. March

This morning is fun shopping with Louis and another skipper for parts for the boats. They both have a keen sense of humour so it is much more fun, and easier, than trying to do it by myself.

We don´t know until 3.30pm today we can definitely leave tomorrow. The only solution for the spinnaker pole track is to repair the old one, which the welder did well. About this time it is confirmed the stern gland is ready to go, and the fridges have been gassed.

I have provisioned by now for all the “hard” requirements. The problem is to stow them with all the workmen on the boat. Now I can head off to stock up on fresh food.

Robbie has advised us that this is the last place for buying good supplies for our long crossings ahead e.g. vacuum packed goods.

It is a great relief to return to Impulsive to find a space for everything. I hadn´t slept well last night worrying about this! Ross and I have also lost some sleep worrying over boat issues and therefore the possibility of being held up for some weeks. Apart from wanting to get back to sailing we have some time commitments eg, meeting people, passing through the Panama Canal and a booking on a commercial tour for the Galapagos Islands.

Tonight we experience a local frustration. We need to be on the other side of the river that divides this city in two to clear out of Customs (within 24 hours of leaving Curaceo). The customs officers are friendly but very slow as they are new in this position. When we arrive back to cross the swing bridge we find it is open for large ship traffic and we have just missed the last ferry. We have to wait over an hour for the bridge to close again. We are both tired and can only think of all the jobs we could be doing on the boat. Also now the Immigration office is closed so we will have to make time to go there tomorrow morning.

Saturday 24th. March

We farewell Jim, who is in the next pen to us at the marina at 0945. We met Jim several years ago at Langkawi. We hoped to motor out through the opened swing bridge together but we are not ready and once we are through we plan to track in different directions. Jim and his son, Matt are sailing direct to Colon in the Panama. We hope to meet up with them, and their wives in the Pacific somewhere.

After saying farewell to the lovely people we have met here and we hope to meet up with again, we let go the ropes at 1130 to begin the next leg of our adventure.

The swing bridge opens and it is lovely passing out through the centre of Curacao and enjoying a last glimpse of this very attractive city.

We set out on a beautiful morning, goose-winging with 16-18 kts. of wind. The seas are rolly in stages.


After 6pm the wind comes up and we are now sailing on a broad reach. Ross enjoys steering at the helm for a while. At sunset a very large pod of dolphins joins us for sometime and play at the bow. Ross saw one do a somersault.

Passing between Aruba (where we had originally planned to visit) and Venezuala, which are only 25 n.miles apart, takes full concentration as the boat traffic is so busy. The radar screen is filled with boats. The AIS system is a wonderful aid as it gives the details of the boats, the direction and speed they are travelling in.

Later there is a heavy rainstorm (which we enjoy because it gives the boat a good wash down) and a wind change which thrashes the sails around for a while. We must have a current helping in our direction because we are tracking at up to 8 kts.

I am very apprehensive about going anywhere near Venezuala. We have heard of many, and some recent incidents here with pirates all connected with drug trafficking. We plan to track to Cartegena which involves passing by part of the Venezualan coast line.

Also the “400 miles between Aruba and Cartagena are known for the worst condtions in the Caribean and among the top 5 worst passages around the world”. You can experience very strong winds and very large waves here.

The good weather window we need to pass by Barranquilla, at Cape Augusta on the north coast of Venezuala, comes back from the weather changing on Thursday evening to Wednesday morning so to accommodate this change Ross plans to go straight through to Bahia Guayraca with 2 overnight sails. We are straight back into the sailing scene, but before I know it we have sailed past the Venezualan coast and are in Columbian waters where the coast guard are excellent apparently. Instead of spending the planned 8 days to get to Cartegena it will take 5.

This morning we have light winds as predicted. They then freshen enough to pole out the headsail, which increases our speed 1.5 to 2 kts. As seems to be the pattern here the winds come up in the afternoon so Ross just has a reduced mainsail up. We keep this setting through the night and unfortunately we have a current against us but the weather is calm with little swell.

We arrive at Bahia Guayraca at 1045. This is a beautiful cove surrounded by mountains which are often topped with snow. We anchor off a remote little village with its few thatched roofed houses and fishing boats along the shore. There is a beautiful long stretch of white sandy beach here which is wonderful to walk along to stretch our legs after a long sail. This followed by a swim we feel in excellent form. While working on the boat during the afternoon we see the fishermen coming and going as they pass by Impulsive with their friendly waves. This cove is protected from the swell.

After lunch we have a well needed sleep, followed by another 3 hour sleep after an early dinner so we can be up at 12.30 am to sail to Barranquilla. This stretch of water is reknown for being very rough and turbulent, especially later in the day when the wind comes up. The river, Rio Magdelina flows out quickly here and causes problems if there is a strong wind coming in the other direction. It is helpful to pass here in daylight so you can spot any debris being washed out to sea by the river.

As we pass by the next cove there are several boats anchored nearby and 2 bright lights on the shore. We wonder if there is some drug dealing happening? Some cruisers have been asked to move on from here.

Through the night we have calm seas and little swell, reaching the mouth of the river at 0815 hours. The seas look very muddy and are turbulent in places similar to the washing machine effect going through the heads at Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne. We track about 5 n.miles offshore but it is very hazy and we are unable to see the shore line except for a few cargo ships at anchor. Suddenly one appears through the haze coming in our direction but soon bears off to starboard to travel behind us, we think in the direction of the Panama Canal. At times there is a strong contra- current of up to 20 degrees. The winds vary from 15 to 20 kts. so this passage went well. We are warned of floating debris but fortunately don´t see any.

We jibe to track another 15 n.mile south to Porto Valero. This port is named thus by the locals because of the large number of yachts that come through here. The entry here is not on the chart plotter at all but fortunately is on the Sea Map application on the Dell computer. It is very shallow in parts.

This is quite a windswept anchorage and so is very popular with kite boarders. We enjoy watching their expertise. Also there are many locals wading in the shallow water to net fish. There is nothing to go ashore for here. We just need a lot of rest. Listening to, and watching the birds at these last two anchorages has been lovely.

The change comes through at 0030 hours with just a 10kt. increase of win, increasing later.

Wednesday 28th. March

The 50 n.mile sail to Cartegena is fine with the winds increasing up to 30 kts. It is very similar to a lot of our sailing across the Atlantic with following seas and winds, with waves varying up to 3 metres. We turn to port around the n.westhead land at the Zambia bank to track south to Cartegena.

Enroute we continue to organize Impulsive. We are meeting our dear friend Maritza from Costa Rica (who we stayed with on our way home last year). We are planning to explore Cartegena together.

Maritza has been very understanding with our delays to leave Curacao but when we told her we could be there by Thursday she found all the flights booked out for Easter. One was available for Wednesday so we are pleased to be able to say we can be there then.

We come into the harbour over the Bocco grande ( the defense wall built under the sea in the 17th. century) which gives a sudden drop in depth to 3.9 m. just for a short distance, and then past the striking statue of Virgen del Carmen in the centre of the harbour. We anchor outside the marina just off the palm lined shore. It is a very sheltered anchorage and we can see the world go by ashore with people walking, jogging and dog walking groups. Children are jumping off the near-by jetty and there is an early morning aerobics group with appropriate music each day.

We have to have an agent here to clear customs and immigration. As usual, it all takes some time.

It is exciting to meet up with Maritza and go to dinner in the “Old City” at the colonial style house restaurant, La Vitrola. The cuisine and atmosphere are excellent. Walking through the old city at night with its effective but soft lighting is lovely, and cool. The colonial style houses with their overhanging wooden balconies and flowers are beautiful. We enjoy the sound of the horses and carriages as they pass by, and also the music, singing and dancing everywhere. The cumbia is the folk dance of this region, developed by the Africans who arrived here as slaves. Its beats add to the lively atmosphere of the city. It often leads to impromptu dancing – see photo of Ross and Maritza!

Ross and I quickly realize how difficult it would be here without Maritza´s translating skills. There are many occasions when she can sort out problems eg having dinner at La Vitrola restaurant. Her hotel concierge tell us they have been booked out for weeks. She spoke to someone else she had had previous dealings with in the hotel and they were suddenly able to organize us a table. Maritza is booked to stay in a hotel for 2 nights in case we were held up and with the Easter bookings she needed to ensure she had a room available. She joins us onboard on Friday morning.

The 2 electrical issues we have are easily dealt with. Both the water maker and the house battery bank hadn´t been properly reconnected!

Our other problem is the onsat mail on the computer.The problem seems linked to the previous problem because the app. will not accept the password which has been confirmed by 3 sources. Scott and Ross spent several hours on skype trying to sort this with no luck. We need this app. especially for our long sea passages. There are several other options which we hope will be productive.

We have a wonderful time exploring this vibrant city with Maritza. Since the 16th. century Cartegena has been Spain´s chief Mediterranean base and a commercial port.Maritza is booked to stay in a hotel for 2 nights in case we were held up and with the Easter bookings she needed to ensure she had a room available. She joins us onboard on Friday morning.

Henry, our tour guide, has a wonderful knowledge and is quite a personality, with a great sense of humour. He presents his tour with an optimisism for his country in a very positive way. He explains that 5 years ago there were no tourists in Columbia, and the residents could not move between towns or they could be shot. There was a strong militant group here who used to hold people to ransom. The new president at the time said if he was elected he could sort this out. He was elected but five years later it was no different. The next man to stand for this office said if he was elected he would have all these rogues shot. And that is what happened. Now people can move around as they choose free of the bandits. There is still a huge problem with corruption though with a few very wealthy people having a lot of control.Tourism has now become very important here. There is a summit here next week with Barak Obama coming so there are many preparations and security checks happening.

The perimeter of the massive old defence wall, built in the 1600´s is 11 ks . Henry guided along some of this and also to some of the more interesting sites and monuments through the city. eg. Plaza de la Inquision, the Clock Tower which is the main entrance to the city, the huge Customs House and a place where local food produce is sold, Plaza de SanPedro and the San Pedro cathedral, and the lively Santa Domingo. It is easy to imagine the past here we walk past the many monuments and along the old wall.

Dancing in the Clock Tower Square

We are fortunate to see a production of Don Quixote in the San Pedro plaza, which is part of the art´s festival here.

At one stage we are nearby a large and very noisy protest march involving the local bus drivers. The plan is to change the transport system and move all the present local buses out of town.

Another tour with Henry is to the market. Here there are hundreds of stalls of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish and cooked foods. We see two main Costenain dishes here – egg/corn bread stuffed with cheese and ground beef, and fried cheesy dumplings and coconut rice.

The Market

It is great fun catching the local bus to the fort. This massive structure was built in the early 1600´s by the Spaniards to protect their gold from the pirates. Attacks had already been successful including several by Drake.

The view from the fort

Ross and I have a visit with Henry to a fishing village, which is quite an experience. After passing through an area of top class hotels, and what Henry describes as prime real estate, we turn off to drive a relatively short distance beside the sea to an area of mangrove by the sea. Here at the tidal estuary we board a canoe and are punted through some peaceful mangrove forests to a small fishing village. The contrast here is incredible with their tiny little delapidated huts by the sea. The wonderful thing is that everyone seems so happy. They are very welcoming here.

We missed the last bus back to town and had a long walk to find another bus route. We had to walk through another small town which was bustling with early evening life and music everywhere. There was a marked difference with the fishing village in the economic status here too. The local bus ride was fantastic with the Columbian music blaring, horns blasting and the scene in the bus with its unique decorations.

One morning Ross needs to be on the boat with the electrician so Maritza and I venture back into the old town to explore the high quality fashion, design and Columbian handcrafts here. It is fun and interesting to just meander through the streets. The Local Fisherman punting across the Estuary.

The other restaurants we enjoy here are:

Sibaris, a wine cellar for lunch


El Bistro for a casual dinner

Enoteca for a casual dinner

Don Juan for a special farewell dinner for Maritza

We visit Santa Teresa hotel where Obama Barak will be staying, and Santa Clara hotel which we all prefer, especially with its tropical garden courtyard and chic d├ęcor.

We have a few meals on Impulsive. The views from the anchorage at night are similar to those from Club de Pesco which claims to have one of the best views at night.

The NH galleria features Botero, and his wife Sophia Vari. It is disappointing to miss the Museum of Modern Art.

The Club Nautico anchorage suits us well. There are many different boats here and from all around the world. There is an adequate supermarket within walking distance. We are advised not to stay here for more than a week because the water is so warm that after that time barnacles will start to grow under the boat.

One day we take Maritza for a sail and anchor off a beach for lunch. This is great fun with the loud music floating out to the yacht.

Sometimes you can be lucky. Back at the anchorage and having dinner on Impulsive just before dark we noticed the dinghy quietly and slowly floating away. Ross dived in and just had a short swim to retrieve it. The problem was we each thought the other had tied it on to Impulsive. Imagine waking up in the morning and finding it missing.

We see Maritza off after a wonderful few days. We have had lots of fun and such an interesting time together. Hopefully we will see her in Australia next year.

Tuesday 3rd. April

Today we get up early to provision the boat for our next leg, which will take us 10 days and there is probably no shopping available during this time.

We winch up the anchor at 10am to set off to the Rosario Islands, an archipelago shaped by coral reefs only 18 n.miles from Cartegena. We need to arrive there about midday to have the best visibility of the reefs.

We come inside the reefs to anchor at a beautiful little cove. We are the only boat anchored here. Swimming in the clear turquoise water is so refreshing. There are a few places ashore, some with thatched roofs and a bit of activity all accompanied by music.

A young boy comes out to us in his wooden canoe to show us his beautiful collection of coral and mother of pearl necklaces. He has little English but we understand his house is private and the one next door is a small hotel.

We go in to be met by two young girls from Norway who speak excellent English. They explain we can have a drink and dinner here if we like. They are hoping we are returning to Cartegena because they need a lift back there. They say they can go with the fishermen otherwise. They are back packing and having a wonderful time.

We have a drink here with some fresh coconut the girls give us, and a walk before going back to Impulsive for a relaxed dinner.

Wednesday 4th. April

We are up bright and early for a swim and to head off for an overnight sail to the San Blas Islands. There is no wind but a slight swell and lovely blue seas. We leave early so we can arrive there near midday so we can spot the reefs. It is lovely out here even though we have an adverse current. This changes later and we average 6.5 to 7kts. just with the headsail up.

Ross is disappointed he is unable to get the cover off the mainsail. It is a UV canvas protecting cover that pulls across the opening at the top of the boom and retracts using a pull cord. The pulley system seems to be jammed somehow. It will have to wait until we are anchored and the headsail is quite adequate to maintain our speed.

The other problem is that just on dusk the raymarine autopilot stops functioning. This is very frustrating but Ross puts the spare B and G autopilot on so all is well. Hand steering all night would be exhausting. The radar system still works well fortunately because we do see a few ships an yachts out here tonight. It is perfect for sailing under a nearly full Easter moon.

Favourite recipes this leg:

Scallops on lemon grass stick skewers

4 large scallops /person

place on skewer of lemon grass

marinate in lime juice and herbs

serve with lobster bisque (or seafood sauce)


julienne of baby carrote in a bundle

baby broccholi pieces

Seared salmon with sesame seeds

1 beaten egg white

2 tblspns. black sesame seeds

2 tblsns. oil

500gms. Udon noodles or cooked spaghetti

dressing: 3 tblsns. rice wine vinegar

3 tblspns. oil

1.5 tblsns. soy sauce

2 tsp. sesame oil

½ cup shredded nori

2 scallions finely sliced

Brush tops of salmon with egg whites and press this side into the sesame seeds.

Place this side to brown over high heat in frypan, for about 30 secs.

Place seed side up on a tray and chill in fridge

Just before serving slice each piece of salmon into 3-4 equal slices. Place slices slightly overlapping on a tray and bake in 200 degree oven to bake 3-4 mins.

Cook udon noodles

Combine dressing ingredients. Mix noodles with nori, scallions and ¾ dressing. Divide on plates equally and place salmon pieces on top of noodles. Spoon over remaining dressing.