December 11, 2001
According to our last letter, we should have left from Curacao about the middle of November. As usual, the actual date was Saturday, Dec 1st. We completed our projects by (finally) having a new floor installed in the head. Know that this must still sound strange to most of you as our bathroom is called a "head" on the boat. Also finally worked out the problem of the new freezer which would still only keep things cold. The new cold plate was exchanged for an evaporator plate and now works great! I guess that good things do come to those who wait.
We also left with a third person aboard. Cathy is a 35 year old Belgian bio-chemist on one year's vacation from work. She wants to cruise as far as possible during that year. Belgium arranges for all of their workers to go on holiday for one year with salary paid by the government. During that year an unemployed person takes her place and has a chance to prove himself/herself?keeps the employment taxes rolling in, it appears. Sounds like a very nice arrangement to us. Cathy will crew for us for a while and then find another boat on which to continue across the Pacific. One of her talents is that of free diving. She can dive to 13 meters on one breath of air. This can be a great advantage when we need to have someone check that anchor to be sure that it is secure. Cathy's photo is included in the attachments.
The first leg of our trip was an overnighter to the border area between Venezuela and Columbia. The Monjes (monk in Spanish) are an archipelago about 20 miles off the coast of Columbia. On the southern island there is a Venezuelan Coast Guard station which watches the area for boats crossing into Venezuelan waters and calls by VHF for them to report in. They also provide a great service to cruisers in transit. The station is organized on two rock islands which have been joined by a huge rock wall. Because the water is 50-60' deep at the juncture between the islands, one can imagine the efforts that this joining has taken. In the second photo Jane has taken a shot of Satori at rest joined to a cable which is stretched between the two rock islands. You might be able to see the cable in the photo if you look closely. In order to take the photo, Jane swam ashore with the camera in a watertight container and climbed to the top of the one of the rocks. On the windward side of the islands there were huge crashing waves and birds diving and swooping into the air currents. It seemed as though she was standing on top of the world! These moments are the core of traveling as we do?a very special experience. On our side of the island we enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. The stop offered a great chance to go snorkeling as well. Jane and Cathy saw huge schools of fish of many types.
On our arrival at Monjes two guys were calling us from the dock asking if they might come aboard. Not wanting to lower our dinghy, we said, "Sure if you can swim out." They went off to change into swim suits and came out with paper in a water tight bag. We were quite embarassed to see that they were Coast Guard officials who needed to get information from us and do a cursory check of the boat for safety items. We considered this real service!
We left the next morning from Monjes at 8AM with a 200 mile passage ahead of us including two overnights. Making good time (5.5 knots on average) we arrived at our destination early on the morning of Dec 5th and had to wait an hour for daylight to enter the bay of Guayraca which is about 50 miles to the east of Baranquilla, Columbia. Here we planned to rest overnight and prepare for the last leg of our trip.
The main sail needed to be mended and other tasks done. During the afternoon we were visited by a local entrepreneur named Reynaldo. We had heard of Reynaldo before our stop here and he had heard of Satori as well. Past cruisers had spent time with Reynaldo and had even purchased some antiquities from him. We were ready to say "Thanks, but no thanks" to Reynaldo as we knew that these antiquities had come from his business of grave robbing through the Columbian mountains. Gives Jane the chills just to think about it!
Our timing for the last leg of the trip was important. To reach Cartegena boats need to cross the mouth of a large river, the Rio Magdelena, with waters from the mountains of Columbia emptying into the sea at the port of Baranquilla. The advice is to approach this crossing in the early morning hours when the winds are the most calm and the debris from the washoff can be clearly seen and avoided. With 50 miles to go we figured that a departure at 8 PM would assure a good arrival time. What we did not count on (ain't it always the way?!?) were the winds howling at 25-30 knots. We had the reefed the main sail in order to better control our speed. For non-sailors, this means that the bottom part of the sail is lashed onto the boom so that less sail is up for use. Foolish thought ?as we screamed along at 7.5-8 knots anyway. We knew right away that arrival at Baranquilla would be in the dark of night and at speeds with which we were not comfortable. We had to do something to slow things down and finally made the decision to try to turn Satori into the wind so as to bring the main sail all the way down. This lowering must be done into the wind in order to reduce the forces on the sail. When the boat turns from downwind into the wind, it must circle (using a lot of power) through the waves and expose the broad side of the boat to those 6-8' waves. Many boats would not be able to handle such a maneuver. Ours did great, thanks to Sander's expert handling and a powerful engine. It was a scary situation but the sail was down and we were on our way again. Foolish to think that the speed would be much reduced, however, as we continued to move along at 6-6.5 knots under bare poles (masts).
At the mouth of the Magdalena, we had two encounters with merchant vessels who were on a collision course with Satori. The first vessel's watchman could not have been nicer. changing his course for us to give us enough seaway and then, after our thanks, said "No problem, Any time" The second vessel was from Buenos Aires and the watchman was really terrible. We had to call him twice to confirm that he had seen us. When he finally answered he let us know right away that he would not deviate his course. We moved 30 degrees towards shore and still had quite a job staying out of his way. Isn't it amazing how two human beings can be so different in how they approach others in this world?
Neither Sander nor Jane slept at all that night, but we had Cathy to spot us at daylight so that we could sleep a bit. We arrived in Cartegena about 4 PM on Friday afternoon, Dec 7th. What a great city this is! Safe, inexpensive, lots of things to do and see and relatively clean. The last photo is of some artwork in one of the city plazas. The figures were interspaced in the plaza around outdoor cafes. The reason for all of the above is (most likely) that Cartegena is the playground of the wealthy and influential Columbians. The Columbian navy is located here in the harbor with submarines and gunboats.
We have been happy to find good inexpensive medical care here and will take care of all of those yearly appointments. Dentist-$25 for a cleaning. Gynecologist-$25 for the visit and $15 for the labwork. A colonoscopy for $200 (in the states this procedure is probably running $3000-$3500 now) Same day service too when you call for the appointment. Now, we know that you folks in the States do not know what that means! We can get our winches rechromed for $15/each and the work is finished within 2 days. In the states we paid $150 for one winch and had to wait two months for that to be completed. An apartment in a high rise here rents for $350/month?maid service is $25/week. One of our cruiser friends jokingly said he plans to sell the boat and settle down right here. At least, we think it was a joke???
We have not decided to stay here for six months as we did in Curacao. We will finish all of our tasks, enjoy the hospitality of the city for a while and then move on to the San Blas islands of Panama. We will not be sending a Christmas card this year. We have no good excuse except that we did not get it all arranged. Perhaps next year. But we do send our very best holiday wishes to all of you and to your families.
That's all for now. Hope that you will let us know how you are and what is going on in your lives. We will stay in touch.
Jane and Sander