Friday, March 22, 2013

Cruising Colombia

Cruising and boating in Colombia is becoming more and more popular. Many Marinas have been built in the last few years and new ones are in construction. Earthling was docked at Santa Marta Marina (IGY) for 11 days, which is too long for us being tied at a dock, but we had a great experience. STM Marina is located perfectly by the city and is one of the nicer marinas in the area. It’s just a couple years old and getting more completed; a marine store, restaurant, bar and haul out facility will be available at Santa Marta Marina in the near future.
In order to promote boating tourism, the Ministry of Tourism of Colombia recently published a “Cruising Guide to Colombia” in English. The book contains detailed marine charts of the Atlantic and Pacific coast of Colombia including all the Colombian Islands, anchorages, and many additional information. It’s not written by a cruiser or a boater so it might not be as comprehending as other cruising books, but is definitely a great source for sailing these waters! As of yet the book is not available to purchase anywhere, but you can get a free issue in Santa Marta Marina if you are nice to Diana at the front desk. They do as much as they can to help and provide a good experience for sailors, but Colombia is still developing and boating is a pretty new culture!  
Santa Marta Marina

One challenging issue for cruisers to visit Colombia is the check in & out procedure. Since Earthling landed here, there has been confusion on how much we have to pay for what! All the different agents we interacted with, have been nice but I don’t speak Spanish and although my crew Hector is fluent in the language, it still has been really hazy to understand the rules and costs. The laws and rules for cruising boats are still the same as cargo ships. Every time you come in or leave a marina or anchorage, you have to check in and out through an agent. The price to hire an agent in Santa Marta is $100US, and in Cartagena between $60 to $100. If you stay in the country more than a week, you have to apply for a 90 day temporary importation of your vessel, a fee which could be included in the total $100 or the agent might charge you an additional fee of $103 (185,000Pesos). Furthermore, in Cartagena you might need to pay for a cruising permit if you are staying more than 10 days. All these rules make visiting Colombia relatively difficult for cruisers; it’s expensive, confusing, and too much of a hassle. Additionally, your agent might tell you it’s easier to take a bus to Cartagena, costing less than sailing there and going through the check in procedure. My understanding is that “Samarians” (people from Santa Marta) would like you to stay in their home town! If you want to visit Cartagena, sail your boat down and view the city entering it from water, pay the additional $60 to check in with the port captain and you are all set. The Authorities are working on making laws easier for pleasure crafts to visit Colombia, but in this country as with many other developing countries in the world, it will take time to enforce new laws and regulations.
All that said, small vessels like Earthling fall into a grey area. Sometimes we have to find an anchorage because of the weather, or on occasions, we want to anchor in the next bay or an island nearby! I have not heard of anyone getting in trouble and locals move around all the time without checking in and out. If there are no agents or offices close by, you are ok! In Santa Marta we hired Rafael from Agencia Maritima, whom speaks very little English and in Cartagena we hired Manfred, whom is fluent in English. We payed $100 to Rafael to check in the crew and the boat including temporarily importation and in Cartagena $60 to check the boat in with the port captain.  
The key is to be patient and not get frustrated. It is easier said than done but with kindness and patience you will get much further for less price! 

Once in Colombia, you will encounter and see many police, coast guard, and security. This is one of the solutions to reduce the crime in the country. Colombia is much more secure than it use to be 5-10 years ago, but crime still exists and a traveler must keep a low profile so as to not stand out.   

Colombia is a beautiful country that has much to offer and well worth the visit. In Santa Marta we were able to visit Minca, which is in the mountains 45 min from the city. Adventurous travelers can stay in Minca for a few days and hike up to the lost city, visit the coffee plantation, the Indian village, or my most favorite attraction, waterfalls. Furthermore, on the northern part of the country you can visit Tyrona National Park, where if you climb high enough (+20,000ft) you will step in snow. We didn’t get to do that during this trip but it’s on the list of things to do next time Earthling visits Santa Marta. 

Upper Water Fall in Minca 
Lower Waterfall
Beautiful Flowers

Love from Colombia

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Fish Full Passage

Another 270 mile passage brought Earthling to Santa Marta, Colombia. This leg delivered many fish to our boat! We were fortunate to catch a good size Mahi Mahi followed by two Tunas, in addition to 21 flying fish that landed on deck. Literally we caught a fish every time the line was put out in the water!
Mahi Mahi
Flying Fish
 The passage from Aruba to Santa Marta can be tricky, it’s important to watch the weather before setting sail, specifically the wave transformations. One of the sources is weather passage. In the map below you can see how Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico currents can interact by Colombian coast. It would be wise to avoid finding yourself in the middle of 10 footers crashing against each other! Timing was perfect and we did not run into any of that!
Wave Directions, Source:
The passage was divided into two 135 mile legs, Aruba to Cabo De La Vela and further to Santa Marta. The first leg was calmer and easier than the second one. Once you leave Cabo De La Vela to Santa Marta, you will be in Shallow waters (100-200ft) and the waves can build up close to each other, which makes running down wind more or less challenging. With winds of 15-20 and swells between 7-10ft at 6-7 sec, the autopilot could not hold and we had to mostly be behind the helm. My crew/friend, Hector, does not have much sailing experience but he got to steer and can manage being behind helm during day time now. I had to stay awake most of the night! I was tired and desired a power nap after midnight. During the first attempt to get a nap while the auto pilot was engaged, as soon as my eyes were falling asleep, a flying fish landed on my face, scaring the heck out of me! I could hear the fish flapping around in the cockpit, and in this cloudy moonless night, it was a fun game to catch the fish and throw it back in the water! The second attempt for a quick nap was followed by a nice fresh cold splash of salt water on my face from a large swell hitting the stern of the boat. I guess the universe was trying to say, “Stay awake!”
Cabo De La Vela N12º11.77 W72º9.30

Ensenada Gairaca N11º19.31 W74º6.45

Once the sun rose, the tall mountains of Colombia appeared like we entered a new world, the best sight you can imagine after 10 hours of darkness. The five bays between the mountainous nature were looking so attractive that we had to change course to go in one (Ensenada Gairaca). The breakfast rest and a swim was perfect liberation before going to civilization in Santa Marta. These bays are beautiful deserted anchorages that should not just be passed by. The last bay before Santa Marta is Taganga, where we biked to on Sunday. The beach is mostly visited by local tourists and the hippie society. There are many small restaurants, shops, and handmade jewelry street vendors.
Santa Marta in Sight
Sunset by Taganga Beach
Taganga Beach
Earthling is docked in Santa Marta Marina (IGY) for now and will be cruising Colombia for another month till my Spanish gets more ground. We are planning to cruise the coast down to Cartagena and also travel inland to see more of Colombia.             

Love from Santa Marta

Click here to view the Album of Colombia

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Danki Dushi Aruba

Days flies by when you have good times with friends. I did not think about staying in Aruba for three weeks, nonetheless it has been a pleasant visit. You know you have been in one anchorage too long when; you recognize most of the boats around and every time you step ashore people know you by name, then it’s time to move on! The longer you stay in one Island the more convenient it becomes, you know where things are, where to go and you find new friends. However, the main reasons Earthling has not moved in three weeks is the weather. There will be a weather window on Monday and Tuesday with calm seas and moderate wind and we have to jump on it to sail to Colombia. The passage from Aruba to Colombia is considered to be very challenging. It is rated as the fifth most difficult passage in the world. Swells and currents from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean can collide and create large sharp seas. We shall wait and see in a couple of days.
California Light House
The Old Fort on the Windward
Sunset by Arashi Beach
Aruba is a great hub for friends and family to fly into. My friend Nick flew in on a non stop flight from Boston last week. It is nice to have old friends aboard, Nick’s visit was a great reunion. We rented a car and explored the Island. The highest elevation is 175m/600ft and there are steps on the side of the hill going all the way up, it didn’t take long to go up and down and the best view of the island could be viewed from here! We also drove through Arikok National Park to the windward side where there are a few very cool caves worth seeing. The drive through the national park and the North side of the Island is scenic and it is a fun ride on dirt roads along the windward coast. On the Leeward are the “High Rise Hotels” along long beautiful beaches such as Palm Beach, Eagle beach, and Manchebo Beach. At the most Eastern corner is Arashi Beach, where locals go to and the California sand dunes and Lighthouse are just around the corner.
View of the Tallest Hill
View from the highest Point
Nick is pointing at the Pinnacle
The Light Shall Set You Free
Guadirikiri Cave
Stock up Reef Rocks and make a wish, lots of wishes must come true here
As of a couple days ago my friend Hector joined Earthling. He will be aboard till Cartagena, Colombia. Hector is fluent in Spanish, which makes communication easier in a Spanish speaking nation. Earthling’s boat buddy S/V “Chiron” is also here and we will be making the passage alongside each other.

In Papiamento

View the complete Album of Aruba on fb page, click here

Follow Earthling’s crumb trail from Aruba to Colombia on spot connect       

Love From Aruba