Our Passage From Cartagena To Puerto Rico

Settle in…this one will take awhile.

To make the Eastern Caribbean, Scott’s plan was to head immediately north out of Cartagena, getting as much distance from the Colombian coast as possible, before turning east in a tight reach run toward Puerto Rico.

With this passage being our longest and most challenging, he decided to defer to a professional, and pay for weather routing. The plan came back for us to follow the Colombian coast, keeping out of some current and then turn north. Scott wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but he resisted the urge to argue.

Taking into account the oncoming wind and waves, and constant use of the paravanes, we hoped for a speed of six knots, worse case five. When we received the route, it had us arriving a day earlier than Scott’s calculations, so there was some back and forth to confirm how fast our boat would be able to travel.

With a weather window that wouldn’t get any better in the near future, we cast off lines, and headed east. Our destination was Ponce, located on Puerto Rico’s south central coast. There were other options, but Ponce was farther east, and had many stores in the area for us to shop (Walmart Supercenter, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, auto parts stores, PetSmart, and….fast foodl!).

Sunday – Day One: We made our way out of Cartagena’s harbor through the north cut. It was shorter than the south route we followed into Cartagena, by more than two hours, but challenging to navigate.

There is an old submerged wall at the north cut, put in place to be a harbor defense. Ships would run aground on the wall, tearing their bottom out. This forced them to use the deeper south entrance, which is visible from forts in the area and more easily defended.

A section of the submerged wall has been removed for boats to pass through, but we were unsure of it’s depth. After inquiring online, a local expat informed us that we had eight feet to work with; more than enough, as we only needed five. We made our way easily through the cut, and out into the Caribbean Sea.

As predicted, our passage began with unusually calm conditions, considering Colombia’s coast is the most challenging Caribbean location to “escape” from. Even with virtually non-existent wind, the swells were very sizable. Luckily, they were far enough apart, so even in a head sea we traveled over them comfortably.

As is usual for this area, the winds picked up considerably as evening approached. We spent the entire night traveling right into 20 knot winds, which was a bit lumpy. I was so grateful for our bow height! Even at nine feet above the waterline, we were getting covered in heavy spray. The pilot house was also worth it’s weight in gold at this point, provding the opportunity to be inside!

Howard did not enjoy the increase in wind and swells. I managed to get food into him in the afternoon, and we made two successful trips to the litter box. I helped brace him as he did both numbers one and two (it was clear by the look on his face that he was mortified by this), and was satisfied that basic needs were being met.

However, later attempts to get food into him resulted in two vomiting episodes, and a generally miserable feline. I tucked him in tight with pillows to keep his movement to a minimum and covered him in cold towels to help keep him cool, which seemed to help.

We began the passage with the saloon doors open and the screen pulled across for fresh air. After dark, the sounds of flying fish landing and flopping in the cockpit was too distracting for seasick Howard. It wasn’t worth risking more vomit, so we closed the doors.

I have a hard time sleeping while on passage, only getting an hour or so at a time, and this time was no different.  It’s hard for me to block out movement of the boat and noise of the motor. On this passage, I was also trying to block out noise of the wind and waves, which was almost impossible.

As a result, I took watch as much as possible, and let Scott store up on sleep. He’d begin the day at dawn, while I rested on the couch and did a few chores. At about 10-11am, I’d come back up to the pilothouse until 5pm, and Scott would come on until I started my night watch, which usually ran from 10pm until 5am.

As usual, I sang my way through eight hours of night watch, while keeping an eye on the instruments and radar. Our Delorme satellite tracker is invaluable when we’re underway. I am able to text with others cruisers, and friends at home, until they go to bed. Then I switch over to friends in the UK as they wake up…awesome!

Monday – Day Two: When I woke Scott at dawn, the winds were back down to ten knots. We opened the saloon doors and the smell of dead flying fish hit us in the face. Scott collected thirty, from both the cockpit and side decks.

Later in the day, he went up onto the flybridge, to investigate an unnerving noise (Many sounds occur in big seas, from unexpected items rolling around. Some are never identified, and remain maddening), and found a dead flying fish up there as well!

Even though the winds had subsided, it took hours for the swells to follow suit, but by late morning we were back in easily tolerable head seas. I took the calmer conditions as a chance for Howard to lap up some chicken broth, and he was able to get some actual rest, wedged in between the legs of whomever was sleeping on the couch.

Again, the winds increased in the evening. Scott was concerned that we were now near the Colombia/Venezuelan border, and asked me to be extra diligent as I kept an eye on the radar screen that night. There haven’t been any recent reports of issues with boats in the area, but it never hurts to be more aware. I saw two or three large ships on the screen, more than twelve miles out; aside from that, we were alone.

Tuesday – Day Three: I’d spent the night hearing almost constant thuds outside from fish impact, and in the light of day I could see why. The dead carcasses were everywhere, and their odor came right through the closed doors. Our saloon smelled like a fish cannery, and Scott’s morning carcass count came to a whopping 130!

Fish aside, by now, I could no longer stand the smell of myself. At night, the saloon and pilothouse doors were closed, to keep flying fish out. This stems from one managing to make it’s way through a window that was barely cracked open on a previous passage. It landed on Scott’s face as he slept on the saloon couch, so now….doors closed at dark!

As a result, the boat gets quite toasty inside at night. We keep fans pointed at us, but it’s still pretty darned warm. The need for a shower was now interfering with what little sleep I manage to get, so I decided that come hell, big wind or swells, I was bathing today! It went better than expected, with the molded shower seat coming in handy, and I emerged a new, non-smelly person.

By late afternoon, the winds ramped up with a vengeance. I spent the night watching winds stay at 20+ knots, almost squarely on our nose. We now had white caps and sizable waves along with the huge swells. At one point, I looked out, and saw the churning sea below us. We were perched up on a big-mamma wave, before sliding down it’s side. I was glad that it would soon be dark, hiding my view of the chaotic water coming at us.

Frequently, as we were coming down a wave, another would hit with us from underneath, and the sound of impact was loud, jarring and scary. Sea Life handled the conditions like a champ; the crew, not so much. Howard threw up again, and Scott went to sleep with the assistance of a Valium.

Wednesday – Day Four: Since we were virtually alone, and there was just the occasional ship passing 12 or 16 miles away, I’d spent the night watching movies. Our friends aboard s/v Prism were also underway, heading from the San Blas to the Cayman Islands. We each have a Delorme, so Shannon and I spent time each evening chatting  back and forth. At dawn, I came off watch and woke Scott. Our morning fish carcass count was only 30. I think we were too much of a moving target, for them to intersect with.

Howard was becoming more tolerant of the conditions underway. He kept down some broth and canned chicken, and made another successful visit to the litter box with help from me for stabilization. I considered it progress.

The stupid, big winds lasted for 18 nerve-wracking hours, before dropping back down to 12 or so knots mid-morning. It’s amazing how quiet and calm 12 knots is, after living with winds in the 20s for so long. The strong winds along with current in the area kept pushing us west during the night but Scott was now able to change our course a bit, putting us more on track for Puerto Rico. We are finally crossed the halfway point, but three more days of this seems like forever!

Thursday – Day Five: Overnight conditions remained the same as the previous night. Winds increased, and we lumbered through the waves and swells. While on watch, I suddenly heard a strange thud in front of me, inside the pilothouse, and knew exactly what had happened….fish breach.

I mentioned Scott being hit in the face as he slept, when a fish came through a cracked window. This time, one managed to travel under the solar panels (which are mounted above the pilothouse, and sit only six inches above the pilothouse roof) and down through one of the small hatches in ceiling! We keep these hatches open, unless the air conditioning is running. With the solar panels mounted just above them, we can get air into the pilothouse without worrying about rain or the sun’s heat coming in, but obviously fish are a concern.

As the smelly fish flopped around on the chart table, I stayed put on the bench and yelled out, “SCOTT!!!!…..FISH!!!…SCOTT??!?!?…FISH INSIDE!!! Scott woke immediately from his sleep, and quickly appeared with paper towel in hand. In the dim light, he located and grabbed the icky, flopping fish and chucked it out of the pilothouse door. Scott then attempted to wipe up the mess left behind; slim, scales and whatever those things throw up when they’re under stress. As you can imagine, the pilothouse now smelled wonderful. Aside from the drama of a fish breach, the rest of my night watch was uneventful. I saw one or two ships on the radar the entire time, none closer than 12 miles.

Day five brought several variables converging at once, making for a stressful day of calculations, schedule change and worry.

After learning that Colombia only sells bio-diesel fuel, we did not take on fuel in Cartagena, A mix of diesel and vegetable oil, it’s make-up “cleans” the build up inside fuel tanks, resulting in clogged filters and the need to change them more frequently to avoid motor issues. Scott stocks spares (of everything), but did not want to make a passage of this distance not knowing how the bio-diesel would react, and not wanting to be in the engine room changing filters throughout the trip.

Scott keeps records of our fuel usage, and accurately knows how much we use, depending on travel speed. What he needed to know, was how much fuel remained in our tanks as we prepared to leave Cartagena . Getting a somewhat accurate read on our fuel levels was challenging, as the tanks are oddly shaped, versus a clean rectangle or square.

There are sight lines marked on the tanks, but Scott was unsure as to their accuracy. After discussions with fellow Krogen owners, who have boats of similar age and cruising distance as Sea Life, Scott calculated, and calculated and calculated some more….and after more calculations was comfortable that we had enough fuel to get us from Cartagena to Puerto Rico, with 100 or so gallons to spare..great!

This was all well and good until day three of our passage, when we began to fight a strong, unexpected oncoming current, which slowed our speed considerably. Scott estimated our speed to average at near 5.5 knots, allowing for slowing from paravane use, increased wind and a running in and out of some current. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to shake the current, and winds were also stronger than predicted. These variables had us traveling at an average closer to 4 knots (much of the time, in the high 3 knot range).

At this much slower speed, it seemed our arrival time may be delayed by a day, maybe two. This brought concern as to whether there was enough fuel to continue for that amount of time. We discussed alternate locations (Dominican Republic and Jamaica), but weren’t sure they were viable options for saving fuel. Scott checked the levels again, which was challenging with the movement of being underway. We had fuel left in both tanks, and Scott planned to run one dry, giving him an idea of how much we’d have left in the remaining tank to use.

Meanwhile, I was wrapping my brain around the possibility that we had more days ahead of us than originally planned. My threshold for passages is three days, after that, I’m done; done with wind, boat movement, motor noise, shifts, odd sleep patterns…just done. Our longest trip so far has been almost four full days, and that was more than enough for me. I was already dreading the fact that we had to endure six days to get to Puerto Rico. My passage frustration peaked on day four, and the idea of more travel time made me insane.

Friday – Day Six: During my overnight shift, our speed suffered, averaging  2.9-3.5 knots. We just couldn’t escape the strong, oncoming current, and it was maddening. After awhile, I just stopped looking at the speed. I’d already stopped looking at the weather station, as our wind speed never went below 20. Passages suck.

The only ship that we were able to visibly see (not just on radar) passed by off to our starboard side in the morning. It detoured around us, saving an uncomfortable course change. This photo doesn’t look across the water at the ship. You’re looking at a wall of water.

At roughly 3pm, the winds increased to 30 knots. Our speed, which had gone back up closer to 4 knots, was now back at 2.9-3….terrific.These conditions were insanely unnerving. We were seeing more sky than water out of the front windows, as the boat launched up huge waves. The noise of the wind, and the sound of the motor as the boat battled it’s way up and down the waves was terrifying at times.

When we began cruising, the sight of larger waves and water coming at us scared me to death. It’s one of the main reasons that I choose to do the all-night watch, so I cannot see the big water. I have made great strides along the way, realizing that Sea Life can handle this stuff, and have become much better at looking out the windows. I was very proud of myself on this passage, being able to stare out at a sea in 20+ knots of wind and not flinch….up until now.

At 30 knots, the seas were huge and angry looking, so I did the last of my afternoon watch focusing on the radar, or the computer screen, and not outside. Downstairs on a break before my night shift, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go back up to the pilothouse; I was terrified. However, by 10pm, after seven hours of 30 knots and huge seas, I was numb to it, and handled my night shift just fine.

Oddly, as outside conditions worsened, Howard transitioned, and became much more tolerant of all the movement and noise. It was as if he thought this was his new life, and he may as well adjust to the situation. Wind or no wind, wave jolts aside, motor noise be damned, he was gonna eat and sleep as usual.

He began to demand food, jumping from the end table up to the raised galley counter, where he could lay supported by the surrounding fiddles (raised wood trim). I hesitantly fed him, and he demanded more, so I gave him seconds. Later in the day, I noticed that he’d made a successful trip to the litter box on his own. Howard was becoming a champion passage cat!

Scott continued to keep a close eye on our fuel consumption. We were still drawing from the tank that he planned to run dry,  so it seemed that we’d make Ponce without having to paddle….fingers crossed.

By 3am, the winds eased a bit, and were back down to just over 20 knots, but it was still an unnerving go. Shortly after, I noticed a band of rain heading for us. I woke Scott, just to be sure it wasn’t something to be concerned about. After checking the radar screen, he informed me that it would most likely miss us. It did not miss us, and the winds quickly ramped up to 37 knots, with higher gusts….yay for us.

Saturday – Day Seven:  We’d expected to arrive in Ponce Puerto Rico sometime after dawn this morning, but were now just hoping to make it by dark. The good news was that Scott was now completely confident that we had the fuel to get there.

I came downstairs after my night watch to wake Scott, and found Howard laying on the floor outside the galley, waiting for food. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was sliding back and forth with the movement of the boat. I fed him a normal amount of his usual food, and he scarfed it up. At least someone was tolerating this stuff.

Moving around the boat had been challenging since the beginning. We have grab rails in place, allowing something to hold on to while coming out of the pilothouse and down to the galley, and also going down below to the head.

Getting to and from the couch in the saloon to sleep, was a different matter. Scott is tall enough to reach the grab rail along the ceiling, but it’s a reach for me when we’re not moving, and became impossible during our lumpy ride. I would swing myself toward the couch, using the pole in the galley counter, landing in a flop. Getting off of the couch was more difficult. With nothing to pull myself up, I’d end up launching forward as I rose, going into an immediate crab walk to keep from falling over.

As conditions worsened, it became increasingly hard to move around. Simple things became challenging, and sometimes dangerous. When getting something out of the refrigerator, you had to keep hold of the door with one hand, to keep it from banging into you. Going up and down to the pilot house was hard, even with the grab rails. I chose to almost crawl, keeping a low center of gravity, and my crab walk had become more of a caveman-like stomp.

I was dying for another shower, but it was just too stinkin’ rough to chance it. Instead, I settled for attempting freshness with baby wipes, deodorant and fresh clothes.

In Howard’s efforts to adjust to his “new life,” he attempted sleeping in his usual spots. I discovered him trying to sleep on top of the cabinet below our tv. Again, he was sliding back and forth with the boat’s movement, so I wedged a towel on one side of him for support.  Next, he attempted to sleep in his “taco,” which is attached atop a scratching post, Worried it would topple over, with his weight to one side of it, I took him out and laid the thing down on it’s side. He promptly straddled it, to stretch and scratch. If only I could adjust half this well.

The rain squalls moved over us until late morning. I laid on the couch, listening to the winds howl, and bracing myself against the boat’s movement, having another bought with terror. After some time, I again realized the boat could handle it, but was beyond done with wind, waves and current. With Scott being well rested, he offered to hunker down and keep watch for the final leg, God love him. Not that there was much to watch…winds still mid to upper 20s, with occasional stretches of 30, current still against us and seas still angry.

Scott settled into an iPod trance in the pilothouse, I continued my marathon re-watching of the tv show LOST in the saloon and Howard became an eating machine, making up for lost time earlier in the week;  we were all just trying to get through it.

I’d occasionally check on Scott, and find the winds, current and sea state just as I’d left them. By mid afternoon our speed was thankfully back up to 4 knots, and we were on track to arrive in Ponce at approximately 6pm! Scott was now counting down time to our arrival at the channel’s entrance. From there, it would be less than an hour to the marina.

Soon, Puerto Rico finally came into view! As the coast of Ponce got closer, we kept our eyes glued to the horizon, for a first glimpse of the red and green channel markers.

Just before 6pm, we entered the Holy Land….Ponce channel! As we approached the marina, Scott brought the boat to idle, so he could pull the birds in, raise the paravanes and get our fenders down from the flybridge for docking. We had our slip assignment at Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club, but weren’t up for trying to find it in the dark.  Since the tanks had to be filled at some point, we chose to tie to the fuel dock for the night, allowing us to get that job out of the way first thing in the morning.

At 6:30pm on April 29th, we turned off the motor, which had run for six and a half days. Considering our struggles along the way, we could live with arriving twelve hours past our original target time. Sea Life had handled the passage like a champ. We were reconfirmed of our decision to purchase a Krogen, with it’s incredibly seaworthy, full displacement hull. She was a tank in the heavy winds and huge seas, not slamming up and down, but firmly launching up one side of a wave, before sliding down the other side like a beach ball.

We were completely exhausted, but thrilled to be over this huge hurdle, and safely in the Eastern Caribbean! As we tied up to the dock and opened the doors, Howard was happy as a clam to breath in the new smells, and scope out his land surroundings.

Once we were safely tied to the dock, Scott ran the generator so we could sleep in the air conditioning. Now, first and foremost….showers, showers, SHOWERS!! We enjoyed some well deserved celebratory cocktails with a frozen pizza dinner, and then the crew of Sea Life, Howard included, collapsed into post-passage comas.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Eastern Caribbean…Here We Come!

Our month in Cartagena flew by, and we were preparing to head for the Eastern Caribbean. There is no good way to travel east. The trade winds run from east to west, which means traveling into the wind. A head sea is no one’s favorite direction, whether you’re sailing, or motoring.

Getting out of Cartagena, or should I say away from Colombia, is especially challenging. There is an almost constant low pressure down here, which causes the wind to howl, especially at night. Sustained thirty knot winds are a regular occurrence; not good when you prefer a threshold of fifteen.

The most obvious route is to travel off the coast of Colombia, round a “bump-out” of land near the Venezuelan border, and head for the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Winds are most vicious off of the bump-out, and we’re leery to travel anywhere near Venezuela. Six days of a full-on head sea is also a negative.

So after much consideration, we’ve decided to do more of a “tight reach,” to use a sailing term, or head in a diagonal direction up to Puerto Rico. This plan keeps us from traveling in a full-on head sea the entire way, and fingers crossed, gives us a better ride.

After watching and waiting for good weather, winds are predicted to calm over the next few days, giving us the best conditions we’re going to get for the next 14 – 21 days. Our plan is to follow the coast for a bit, to stay out of a current, before turning toward Puerto Rico.

This will by no means be a calm trip, even though the winds are down. Our first and last 24 hours are expected to be  uncomfortable, but we’re hoping that the middle will be better.

The run to Puerto Rico will be our longest to date, and should take six days; I hope we’re all up for this. We have several friends who are currently crossing the Pacific, so it could be worse for me (and Howard).

Even though this passage is going to be a bear, we are so glad to have spent time in Cartagena. The city is beautiful and vibrant, with much to see and do. Safety was never a concern for us, and we walked everywhere with ease. The entire area was incredibly clean for a large city (aside from the treacherous sidewalks!), and everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. As usual, we’d have liked more time here, but hurricane season is coming, and we have to be in Grenada by the first of July, so Puerto Rico here we come!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Howard’s Cartagena Vet Visit

Howard was coming due for his yearly rabies vaccine. Few animals enjoy vet visits, but instead of being quietly terrified (as my last two female cats were), Howard is very “sassy.” He has a Caution sticker on his file at home, and the older and stronger he gets, the more “piss and vinegar” he spits out at a visit. If anything more than a quick vaccine is needed, we have to take him in for the day, to be put under anesthesia.

As we travel, vets and techs are always surprised at Howard’s size when he comes out of his carrier. At just under three years old, he’s 16lbs and very strong. In Roatan, the vet sprayed some pheromones in Howard’s direction, in an effort to calm him. I wanted to inform the poor vet that there weren’t enough pheromones in the building to calm Howard when he’s mad, and I was right. The vet only got half of the vaccine amount in, the rest going all over me and Howard’s fur. Knowing that Howard has no chance of catching rabies, half a shot didn’t concern me. All I wanted was that piece of paper showing a record of the vaccine for customs, which we got…for only $15.00!

Extra stresses, like dinghy and panga rides, and hot car and rooms only make vet visits while cruising worse, and after a terrible experience in Bocas del Toro, we now try to minimize things that will accentuate said “sass.” Cartagena seemed like a good place to get Howard his latest rabies vaccine: we were at a dock, so getting on-and-off the boat was easy; with the great exchange rate for our U.S. dollar in Colombia, the vet visit was affordable and cabs were cheap. There was a vet in the Manga neighborhood, not far from the marina. Scott and I went on a reconnaissance mission, and all seemed good, so I made an appointment.

On vet day, we loaded Howard into his carrier, walked him through the marina and out to the street to catch a cab. He stayed calm, and seemed to enjoy taking in all the smells as we walked. The short cab ride was air conditioned, and so was the vet’s office (both things were taken into account on the recon mission….a cool cat is a less stressed cat), so things were going along smoothly.

Our wait was short, and we were soon back in the exam room with the vet. He wasn’t fluent in English, but was very friendly. We managed to get Howard out of his carrier, vaccinated and back in before he hardly had a chance to hiss…excellent!

The vet suggested that Howard also have a vaccine for Feline Leukemia. Howard is never around other cats, to contract the disease, so I declined. After the rabies vaccine, the vet again stressed the Leukemia one. He even phoned his daughter, who spoke fluent English, and had her talk to me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand, I just didn’t want to put Howard through another vaccine. However, worried that a customs agent somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean may require it, I changed my mind. We pulled poor Howard back out of his carrier for vaccine number two….BAD idea.

Howard knew he was still at the vet, and coming back out of that carrier meant nothing good was going to happen. He came out growling (skipping hissing, and going right for growling), and fought hard as Scott tried to restrain him long enough for the vet to get the vaccine in. When the needle went into his skin, Howard lashed out at the nearest thing possible; unfortunately, the nearest thing was Scott’s hand, and he suffered another puncture wound to the hand.

Scott released our seethingly angry cat, and cleaned his hand in a nearby sink. The vet held up the half-full needle and looked at me, as if to imply that he wanted to inject the remainder. Fat chance! We’d all had enough drama and stress for one day.

I blamed myself for not leaving well enough alone. We’d had the best ever vet visit going, and changing my mind had caused havoc. I should have known better, and felt terrible for both Scott and Howard. Howard only lashed out in fear and anger, trying to protect himself from perceived danger, not knowing that he was hurting Scott. Thankfully, this wound was nowhere near as serious as the bite Scott received in the San Blas, and it healed quickly.

So, I again walked away with half a dose of vaccine in my cat, and another updated record. Fingers crossed, we’re free of vet drama for another year and things are back to normal in Howard’s world.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”



Cartagena’s Artsy, Funky Gethsemane Neighborhood

The colonial center of Cartagena’s walled city is beautiful, but most always bustling with people. Tourists come on foot and by the busload to tour museums, cathedrals and other historic sites. Street performers and vendors are prevalent in the city’s many squares, and horse-drawn carriages are around every turn.

Despite the area’s color and beauty, its energy can become overwhelming, especially in the Colombian heat. Luckily, we wandered outside the hub of the city, and discovered the streets of nearby Gethsemane.

This area was the birthplace of the revolt against Spanish rule in the early 19th century. Cartagena became one of the first cities in Colombia to declare independence from Spain, supported by a group called the Gethsemane Lancers, who continued to resist the Spanish until the city won its independence 1821. By then, Gethsemane was home to craftsmen, freed slaves and merchants, and the area became known as the “popular quarter.” Gethsemane is now often referred to as the “culture quarter,” as poets, painters, photographers and other artists settled into the neighborhood.

Outside the original walls of Cartagena’s historic old city, Gethsemane was formerly a haven of prostitution and drugs. However, as in many city neighborhoods with a gritty past, there has been a resurgence in the area. Most of the old colonial buildings have been converted to backpacker hostels, boutique hotels and bistros, and the area now has an artsy, funky vibe.

Unlike the colonial center, there are no major museums, cathedrals or other traditional sights to see. This neighborhood is an attraction in itself.

We first went to the Gethsemane neighborhood in search of Beer & Laundry, after Scott noticed it when reading restaurant reviews online. In addition to laundry service, Beer & Laundry also sells beer and pizza, and was getting rave reviews. Customers talked of the friendly the owner who was fluent in English, among several other languages, who happily offered local information. We read that the pizza was great and the beer was cold.

I didn’t need laundry service, as we thankfully have a machine on board. However, I’ve never met a cold beer I didn’t like, and we’re always up for a good pizza, so we set off to find this “Beer & Laundry.”

After crossing the bridge from Manga, where our marina was located, we decided to walk the wall for a bit, admiring the massive structure along the way.

High atop the huge stone wall, we had a clear view of Castillo San Felipe, as well as houses and shops along the outskirts of the neighborhood.

We also had our first look at some of the street murals that Gethsemane is known for.

After rounding a block or two, and getting our bearings, we located Beer & Laundry. I was so excited about a cold beer (after the hot, sweaty walk) that I forgot to take a photo of the exterior, so I borrowed one from online.

Inside, large, shiny-new washer and dryers lined one wall of the narrow space. Along the other wall were several small tables, surrounded by benches and chairs.

Anna, the owner, came over to greet us, and laughed when she learned we had no need for laundry, and were instead in search of pizza and beer. Customers happily share tables in the small space, so she sat us with several people who were visiting Cartagena as part of a trip across South America (The glass wall behind us held maps of the world, for customers to mark where they call home).

It seemed crazy to us that they were traveling with only a backpack or two, and they were amazed at our boat life. We had a great time chatting with each other, and exchanging stories of our travels.

After feeding our bellies and cooling off a bit, we wandered the streets of Gethsemane. Here, locals far outnumbered tourists. Instead of vendors selling hats, paintings and jewelry, and tour representatives calling out to get your attention, local men played board games on the sidewalk or just gathered to chat. It was obvious that most residents had lived in Gethsemane all their lives, and there was a great, small-town feel to the neighborhood.

Gethsemane’s streets are just as colorful and scenic as those in the historic center, with one more interesting than the next. We tried to walk a different path each time we visited, enjoying each street’s unique feel.

At almost every turn, we were met with beautiful wall art. The vivid, urban murals were striking, against the backdrop of a faded colonial wall or building.

We discovered Basilica Pizzeria, opposite a quiet square off the beaten path. Our lunch was delicious, and we were amused at how nearby restaurants receive their deliveries..by glorified hand truck!

All streets in Gethsemane seem to lead to Plaza de la Trinidad , which is anchored by the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad (Church of the Holy Trinity), built in the 17th century (During the day, the quiet plaza looks something like this).

The plaza is charming and welcoming, and the natural “hub” of the neighborhood. It comes alive at night, with residents and tourists gathering to eat at the surrounding restaurants and cafes.

We enjoyed a tapas dinner at Demente, on the edge of the plaza. They have a retractable roof in the bar area, to take advantage of the cooler evenings, and open-air patio seating out back. After our meal, we wandered the area, enjoying the sights, smells and people-watching.

The star of the plaza in the evening is definitely the street food. Vendors set up throughout the square and surrounding streets, with food to satisfy most any craving.


Burgers and hot dogs with all the fixins’ (Scott was sorry he’d eaten so much at dinner)

Lots of things on sticks.

And of course, arepas. (I was sorry I’d eaten so much at dinner)

Arepas are found in nearly every park and square in Cartagena. Arepa de choclo are made by blending yellow cornmeal and fresh corn kernels. This mixture is then combined with milk, salt and sugar, making a batch of something similar to thick pancakes. The pancakes are joined together and grilled with a filling of mozzarella cheese, egg and/or meat….and more butter. They seem to be most popular for breakfast, or lunch. Scott and I enjoyed several of them from a vendor just outside of Club de Pesca (borrowed photo).

“Arepas de queso are made with white corn, milk, butter and salt and then pan-grilled. They are sometimes opened up to allow more cheese and butter to be shoved inside. Sadly, we never tried these yummy-sounding/looking things (more borrowed photos).

Amidst all the frying and grilling, we were surprised to see fruit vendors. With brightly loaded carts, they were in full force among the evening plaza scene.

Lunch at Basilica Pizzeria was so good, that we returned for dinner with our friends Bob and Irma (s/v Gaia), who we’d met in the San Blas. At night, the square was filled with tables of diners from the surrounding restaurants. Soft street lighting and local live music made for a great atmosphere.

We spent many afternoons exploring Gethsemane’s streets, and enjoying the evening atmosphere. With its laid back feel, and friendly locals, it was easy for us to become hooked on this hip, but quaint, neighborhood . Here are more photos of Gethsemane.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Our Visit To Cartagena’s Massive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

From our slip at Club de Pesca, we had a great view of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The massive fort dominates an entire section of Cartagena’s skyline, and is the largest, most complex Spanish fort ever built in the New World. These photos  I found online give you an idea of just how mammoth this thing is.

Having never met a fort he didn’t like, Scott obviously wanted to visit. The sheer size intrigued me, so I was game as well, despite Cartagena’s intense midday heat.It was  just a short taxi ride to the fort, and after purchasing tickets, we made our way up the switch-back ramps that lead to the top.


Once there, we took time to enjoy views of the city below.

We then met our guide, who lead us on a tour, and provided us with many interesting facts about the fort and its history.

The original fort was commissioned in 1630 and was quite small, with eight batteries for artillery and barracks for 24 soldiers. Construction began on top of the 131 foot-high San Lázaro hill, and the fort took its shape over a period of 120 years. The original portion of the work, which included constructing the “old fort,” should have taken five years, but the governor’s unmerciful schedule pushed workers to complete it in just one.

In 1762 an extensive expansion began, which resulted in the entire hill being covered over with the huge fortress (online photo).

Slaves used pickaxes and shovels to first clear the highest point on the hill (pickaxes and shovels..no small feat), and then began building the fort from the top down. Using rectangular blocks gouged from both the coral reefs offshore and from a quarry nearby, the hill was covered with walls and ramps; sentry stations; watchtowers and bell-towers; weapons plazas, ramparts for cannons and artillery.

Structures were also built to maintain 500 troops at any one time, such as a central kitchen, laundry, hospital, foundry and huge cisterns to collect water during the rainy season, in preparation for times of drought.

There are extensive labyrinth-like tunnels that run under the fort, many dug by Welsh miners brought over especially for the task. The main underground tunnel runs along the perimeter of the fort’s complex at sea level. Chambers within it could be exploded, preventing the advance of overhead attackers.

This complex system of tunnels connected strategic points of the fortress, and were used for moving and storing provisions (food, weapons, gunpowder, etc.) as well as re-positioning troops or even evacuation, if ever needed, through a protected exit at the base of the fort.

The tunnels were constructed in such a way that any noise reverberated all the way along them, making it possible to hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy’s feet, and also making it easy for internal communication among troops. Soldiers used verbal commands, or sent alerts by ringing bells with pre-arranged codes, their sounds echoing through the intersecting tunnels.

There are only a few tunnels open to the public, and I can only imagine the fear in taking a wrong turn (like a rat in a maze). We came upon a group of girls who had gotten turned around, and were a bit panicked. I was glad to have a guide to take us through the dark maze; at times, we used our cell phones for light!

As we entered the tunnels, our guide pointed out exposed sections of the coral and brick construction.

The strategic placement of the San Felipe was key in its defense. Located at the base of the fort was a “hospital” for lepers (where treatment consisted solely of prayer), which was avoided by all who feared the dreaded flesh-eating disease, believed to be caused by demons. The area surrounding the castle on three sides was a mixture of lowlands and hills, frequently flooded by seasonal heavy rains.

An elevated roadway connected these inhospitable surroundings to the fort. It served as a route for supplies, but was useless to attackers, as the road was well protected by the fort’s cannons.

Swamps lay on either side of the road, thick with swarms of mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever that had been introduced to the New World by the African slaves, further hindering enemy troops; an army weakened by disease, exhaustion and thirst was an easy foe for the Spanish to overpower.

The fort itself was actually seven defensive structures, with overlapping fields of fire. Should an attacker actually breach one of the outer parameters, they’d find themselves confronted with a hail of gunfire coming from two or more of the remaining six fortifications. It was a death trap waiting to trap any enemy fool enough to accept the challenge.

The photo below shows long, angled sections designed for artillery fire.

Cannons fired through the upper openings, while men with rifles laid down to fire through the holes below.

The small slits at the other end allowed enough room for rifles to fire out, but prevented enemy fire from coming back through.

The entire massive fortress stands as a testament to Spanish tenacity and genius. It was truly impregnable, and was never taken, despite numerous attempts to storm it.

The geometry of San Felipe was years in advance of that practiced in Europe; a full half-century would elapse before fortifications on the continent would rival this enormous fort in Cartagena. Along with the old City of Cartagena, the fort was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

When our tour was over, we spent more time admiring the views of Cartagena, from high atop San Felipe.

At night, the fort is lit with a warm glow, like a towering beacon on the hill. Here are a few online photos, the second is the view we had from our slip:

I have to say, the imposing and impressive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was worth the day of sweat.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Cartagena’s Historic Walled City

Without doubt, Cartagena’s old walled city is its key attraction. The imposing walls were built to protect the city from pirate raids…an annoying side-effect of being a prosperous city on the Caribbean Coast of South America (I found this great aerial view online).

The city was founded in 1543, and served a key role in the organization and expansion of the Spanish empire. By the early 1540’s, had established itself as the main gateway for trade between Spain and its overseas empire.

During the colonial era, Cartagena was a key port for importing African slaves, and especially for precious metals. Gold and silver from mines in New Granada (what is now modern day Colombia and Panama) and Peru were loaded onto ships  bound for Spain, causing the city to be raided numerous times by pirates.

As a result, construction began in 1597 on a walled fortification around the city, which took nearly two centuries to complete, due to repeated damage from both storms and pirate attacks. It was finally finished in 1796, making the city virtually impenetrable.

In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The massive coral-constructed walls are 30 feet high, and 65 feet thick at their base, complete with angled bastions (sections that project out from the wall and built at an angle, to allow defensive fire in several directions), towers and cannons.

The seven miles of huge stone walls that surround the historic center are in remarkably good shape.  The wide, expansive tops of the walls now serve as walkways for visitors, providing scenic city and sea views.Another online photo, showing the extensive upper walkways.

Inside the old walls, Cartagena’s historic streets are packed with churches, plazas, shops, cafes and restaurants, and the city is bursting with color. In addition to buildings of all shades, flower stalls, local lunch spots, produce carts and shops are a rainbow of bright hues .

A popular item seen in the city’s shops are items made from reed grass and wood. After the reed is hand-dyed, it’s cut into small pieces and used to accent wooden bowls and vases with bright, beautiful patterns. I couldn’t resist them, and chose this bowl to take home.


In addition to the endless shops in old Cartagena, many street vendors line the sidewalks with vibrant items for sale as well. The colors draw you in, and make it hard not to walk by without purchasing these beautiful items.

Even donkeys are colorful in Cartagena.

Old Cartagena has a very European feel, with it’s narrow streets, quaint balconies and  many church steeples visible from the city streets; a stark contrast to the Central American locations we’d visited over the last 18 months. It was as if we’d crossed an ocean instead of having made a thirty-some hour passage on the Caribbean Sea.

Modest houses and mansions alike are adorned with overhanging balconies of all shapes and sizes, and shady patios,  most accented with bright, colorful plants.


Large wooden doors are a common sight in many of the city’s houses. We were told that the large doors were used by carriages, and that the smaller doors within the larger doors were used for servants. We also heard that the smaller doors were used to prevent a hot blast of the tropical air entering the building when the door is opened, by minimizing the size of the entryway, and the larger door is used for big deliveries. Whatever the true meaning, the historic doors are beautiful.

Doorknockers, called aldabas in Spanish, are a common sight in Cartagena. The aldabas come from a time when social hierarchies meant families were eager to display their status. The size of the aldaba was an immediate indication to the public of your social standing and wealth. It was the ultimate status symbol, and a constant reminder of your place in Cartagena society.

In addition to their size of each aldaba had a symbolic meaning. The animal shapes corresponded to the owner’s profession:

Lizards represented royalty, signifying a family’s Royal Spanish background.

A fish or mermaid referred to the merchant class, particularly those who made a living from the sea.

We were told that lions represent teachers…and also the military.

Today, the aldabas are simply decorative, and Cartagena’s many shops sell all varieties and sizes.

Cartagena’s “fruit ladies” are a fixture on the city’s streets. They sell fresh fruit at a very cheap price, and also accept a tip for photos (we paid for some, and snuck in a few others).

The women were originally from San Bassilo de Palenque, which is located to the south of Cartagena. The small town was founded during the Colonial Era by runaway slaves who claimed to be obligated to no government.

The Palenqueras were so successful, that the town was able to negotiate its freedom.  In 1691 a royal decree established the village as its own entity, making residents the first free Africans in the Americas. The town is widely considered to be one of the first “free” towns in The New World.

On two ends of the city’s walls, restaurants are located atop the bastions, providing great views of the modern city and sunsets over the water. Cafe del Mar is at one end of the city, and draws a big crowd for daily sunsets.

From our slip at Club de Pesca, we could see Casa de la Cerveza, and enjoyed several fireworks displays that were set off here during our stay.

Cartagena’s most famous landmark, the Torre del Reloj, or Clock Tower, was once the main gateway to the walled city.

Of the three arched doorways, only the central one existed originally; the other two were occupied by a gun room and a chapel. In 1874, a clock was added to the gate, brought over from the United States. It was updated 63 years later, with a Swiss clock, which is still in place.

A short, fifteen minute walk from our marina put us at the clock tower gate. We seldom ventured in during the day, as the heat was brutal. By late afternoon, the sweltering temperatures would subside, and a much welcome breeze would blow, allowing us to wander and enjoy the city as it came alive in the evening. I borrowed this online photo of Cartagena aglow at night.

Colombia was not on our list of places to see, but every cruiser friend we met who’d visited told us that Cartagena was a must-do. We are thrilled to have listened to them, as this beautiful, historic city is a gem. Here are more photos of Cartagena’s colorful walled city.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”



On To Cartagena, Colombia

After spending four months in the San Blas, doing short, 2-4 hour jumps at most, between anchorages, we now faced a thirty-some hour run to Cartagena, Colombia. We hadn’t planned to visit Colombia at all, but everyone we’ve met over the last 18 months who’s visited the city says not to miss Cartagena, so here we go . Like the forts we visited in Portobelo, Panama, the city’s historic walled area is also a World Heritage UNSECO site. We’ve been told that it has a very European feel, and are anxious to explore the area.

Whenever we settle in for an extended period, the thought of a long, overnight passage is unsettling. It’s always nerve wracking as we set out. Seas that were previously the norm for us, seem insanely huge until we get our passage “pants” back on.

Our trip got off to a more bumpy start than expected. As predicted, the winds and seas picked up overnight (not Scott or Howard’s favorite trip, so they weathered most of it out on the couch together). Thankfully, by the time we made the turn for our final leg, which was in  a head sea, both wind and wave conditions had calmed wonderfully.

After 27 hours, we approached Cartagena Bay, noticing the increased presence of fast pleasure boats running in and out of Cartagena (yay….wakes!).

The Colombian National Navy has a base near Cartagena, and we saw several of their ships on our way into the harbor.

We passed the remains of several forts, their walls still mostly intact. At one time, all of Cartagena harbor’s natural entrances were protected by forts, and the huge  Castillo San Felipe de Barajas that dominated the city to the east, from atop it’s rocky cliff.



Many of these forts are still standing in some form, and we passed several on our way into the bay.

After passing towns and villages,  we eventually got our first glimpse at the modern skyline of Cartagena’s Boca Grande peninsula.

To the west was Cartagena’s commercial port, reminding us of scenes from our home port of Baltimore, Maryland, and it’s busy commercial shoreline.

As we came further into the harbor, the expanse of Boca Grande’s high rises came into clear view. The bright, white buildings with their blue and green glass windows gleamed among the palm trees and blue sky, very similar to the syline of Miami, Florida.

The Castillo Grande Lighthouse, and remains of Fort San Matias stand as a reminder of Cartagena’s history, among the modern skyline.

As we neared the harbor, the old, walled part of the city came into view, with it’s many church steeples rising into the midday sky.

We arrived at Club de Pesca, and headed for our slip. Docking was a bit challenging, as we only have one motor and don’t have the luxury of a bow thruster (they provide propulsion, making a boat more maneuverable). We usually rely on the outer poles of a slip, resting against one as we pivot into the place.

The slips at Club de Pesca didn’t have outer poles, and there were only finger piers on one side of our slip. That meant we had to come into the slip without making contact with the boat next to us, and without a pole to use for pivoting…making  things extra challenging.

Luckily, our friends on s/v Sirena were docked right next to us, on the “open” side of the slip. They’d heard us hail the marina on vhf, and Shawna was out on the bow, in case she needed to fend us off. That left me free to keep watch on the very large boat on the other side of us, as he stuck pretty far out past the short finger pier. There’s always a flurry of activity, and calling back and forth as we back in, but everything went fine.

We were required to use an agent for clearing into Colombia, and Julio was waiting for us on the dock as we came around the corner to our slip. He collected our passports and other needed documents, and was off to begin our clear in process. We settled into our slip, with a great view Roman Bridge, and the edge of the walled city.


We could see over to the many church steeples in old town, and also had views of Castillo San Felipe; behind us, the skyline of Boca Grande.

Howard took his usual post-passage, coma nap.

Once rested it was “turtle” box time. He loves to get under this collapsed box and run around, wearing it like a shell. Throw in some string and a straw, and it’s pure bliss…cats are weird. After clearing in, it was time to again raise the Colombian courtesy flag, and Howard helped make sure we had the right one.

Scott visited the atm to withdraw some cash. The exchange rate in Colombia (as we learned during our stays last year in Providencia and San Andres) is insane: 3,000 Colombian pesos to 1 US dollar; we’re millionaires here! Scott returned with a fist-full of bills…..20,000, 50,000, good grief!

We began to explore our surroundings. Shawna and Chris (s/v Sirena) filled us in on the need-to-knows: locations of grocery stores, restaurants, ice cream spots, etc., and we perused the marina grounds. It was a full house, with lots of daily activity, in the form of washing, waxing and detailing. I think most of the boats were cleaned more than they were used!

The fuel dock was a traffic jam every day, with boats of all sizes waiting in line to fill tanks and/or jugs. It was amusing for Scott to watch the organized chaos.

We stopped at one of the two restaurants on site for a happy hour cocktail, and were convinced that there was a meeting of the Colombian mafia at a nearby table. It was like a scene out of Scarface or Goodfellas. We remained quietly amused, not needing Colombian enemies.

Shawna had told me of the many kitties that call the marina grounds home. I bought some cheap cat food at the grocery store, and carried a bag with me whenever we came and went (Of course, I couldn’t get the bag out, without giving Howard some… I called it his McDonald’s treat). The cats came to know our step, and would pop out of their shelter spots, or run up to us for food.

Groucho (aptly named by Shawna because of his black mustache) was one of my favorites. He was very vocal, always greeting us for food near the rear marina entrance. If I thought I could talk Scott into it, and if there was a chance that Howard would share his space….and food, we’d have a second cat.

Club de Pesca in located in the Manga neighborhood, just a short walk across the bridge from the walled city. It was a very safe area, and we enjoyed wandering the streets.

Of course….Scott can always sniff out a unique vehicle.

Shawna and Chris took us to their favorite local find, D’Res. It was just across the park outside the  marina, and had terrific steaks at great prices! We returned several times, to get our red meat fix.

The streets of Cartagena are insanely clean, with crews sweeping them every morning. However, the condition of the sidewalks are treacherous. If you’re not frequently looking down as you walk, it’s easy to twist and ankle on the horribly uneven surfaces, or in the patches of rubble “repairs.”

In other places, exposed rebar and open holes wait to cause you harm, making it challenging to try and find your way along streets and across intersections, while looking down for these sidewalk traps.

In the late afternoon, when the marina office is closed, we enter through the old walls of Fort Manga, a daily reminder of the history surrounding us.

We ventured out to the nearby mall, in search of a sim card for our phone and of course, a McDonald’s fix for Scott. They made the food to order; still quick, but deliciously hot and yummy….. the best McDonald’s ever!!!

You couldn’t spit without hitting an ice cream place in the mall (or in all of Cartagena for that matter). I counted four, just in the food court area, including a McDonald’s stand-alone kiosk. At most locations, there is a separate ice cream counter, next to where you order burgers and fries. They’re serious about ice cream here.

Scott sought out a dermatologist in Boca Grande, and made an appointment for some routine scans. He walked there and back, past the high-rises and beaches. As a reward, he visited Burger King after the appointment, for another fast food fix. Much to his disappointment, it was not nearly as yummy as the McDonald’s food we’d enjoyed at the mall, much to his disappointment.

We were spending a month in Cartagena, so Scott took time for some boat projects. He replaced the raw water impeller, during routine maintenance of the pump. He finds it more thorough to just take the pump apart, so he can inspect all of it’s workings.

An oil change for the motor was also in order. During the process, he used a jiggle siphon to transfer oil from a five gallon bucket that he’d purchased in Bocas del Toro, to smaller containers for easier storage.

And, our poor, dirty cockpit got a fresh coat of paint…hurray!

As usual, we’re one of the smallest, oldest boats in the marina…but we’re ok with that. We’re enjoying our Cartagena home, and look forward to exploring the walled city!

Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”






Fishing And Relaxing In The Albuquerque Cays

The water surrounding the Albuquerque Cays was gorgeous! 

Clear, Bahama-blue water reflecting off of shallow white sand bottom, framed by green and brown of the surrounding reefs. The whole area is encircled by darker shades of deeper blue water, with the bottom easily visible 30 feet straight down below us, and 80 feet out at an angle.

We anchored in front of the larger cay, where the military “Flies” base is located. The island is so thick with palm trees of all sizes, shapes and shades of green that you cannot see any sign of life or shelter on it, until a small glow of light appears after dark. We never tired of admiring the view, it was straight off of a calendar page.

Of course, Scott got right to fishing. On his first venture out he caught a glass eyed snapper (which we enjoyed several times in Providencia) and a decent sized mangrove snapper.

The reefs weren’t terrifically colorful, but they were very, very healthy. Scott commented on how big the fragile, larger coral was (elk horn, stag horn, etc.). Some of the monstrous brain coral was so large that it broke the surface in places. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many fish, and lobster were non existent. We assume that the commercial fisherman on one of the two cays here have depleted the supply.

However, Scott was not discouraged, and ventured out nearly every day. I tagged along one morning, to get some photos and enjoy some bug-free sun, and reading, while he searched the waters below.

After an hour or so, Scott came back empty handed. He’d noticed the head of a large snapper peeking out of a hole, and waited for it to exit. When the fish made a move into open water, Scott shot it through the back. Unfortunately, the tip of his spear broke off, rendering it useless for another shot as the wounded fish swam away.

Scott came up into the dinghy angry and frustrated, wanting restitution for his tip. That fish was going to be dinner, come hell or high water! We headed back to Sea Life, where a new tip was put on, and a mission was set. I skipped this go-round, preferring to stay clear of the battle ahead.

Back at the scene of the crime, Scott found the large snapper again in his hole and fired another shot. This stunned the fish, and it came out of the hole swimming aimlessly. Scott seized his opportunity, and took a final shot that went through the snapper’s gills.

With his restitution in tow, Scott swam hard for the surface, not wanting to share his kill with any lurking sharks or barracuda. He was glad that the snapper wasn’t at it’s full strength, because the fish fought hard on the spear all the way to the surface.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was quietly enjoying a book. When I rose to close the shades against the hot afternoon sun, I heard the dinghy motor and saw Scott approaching. He triumphantly raised his kill (too large to fit in the five gallon bucket) for a photo.

Here is his first snapper…

And the trophy snapper…

The fish was fat, heavy and long. At 23″, it was more than enough for several dinners, starting with yummy fried fish sandwiches (on my homemade ciabatta bread!).

Now that the fridge was full of fish, and his hand was feeling the pain of battle (bruising between the thumb and forefinger), Scott took a day off. We both relaxed, watched movies, napped and admired our surroundings.

Aside from the occasional lap against the hull and the sound of waves crashing on the outer reef, our days were dead quiet at anchor here. The Flies only ventured into sight in the late afternoon, when they spent time line fishing from the beach. Except for the glow of a nightly campfire, we didn’t see or hear the commercial fisherman either.

The sun light on the small cays at dusk was beautiful, and for the first time since we were in Key West, in January, we had an open view to the horizon for sunset.

Scott enjoyed hours of stargazing each night. Even with light pollution visible from San Andres, 40 miles away, the stars were thick and brilliant. The Milky Way wound clearly through the sky above us, like someone up there had spilled their morning glass of full-fat.

We could have stayed for weeks, but it’ was time to move on and continue the journey to Panama, our most southern location to date. Here are more photos of our beautiful anchorage in the Albuquerque Cays.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Traveling To The Albuquerque Cays And Meeting The Colombian Military

The Albuquerque Cays lie 36 miles south, southwest of San Andres. It’s a 5-6 hour trip for us, and a nice way to break up our journey to Panama. The two small cays, surrounded by many reefs, are also owned by Colombia. One is used by commercial fisherman, and the other is a small base for the Colombian military.

The forecast called for little chance of squalls, low wind and relatively decent size swells. As we prepared to raise anchor, Scott noticed the skies ahead were a bit ominous. For the last few months, we’ve had multiple, instant downpours each day. Out of nowhere the wind will whip up, with sheets of rain right behind it. The downpours lasts for 1-3 minutes, and then the skies clear as fast as they darkened, so Scott wasn’t concerned as we raised anchor and headed toward the channel.

Of course, this rain decided to linger. For the next 30 minutes, as we maneuvered through the channel, staying to one side to allow room for an incoming freighter, the rain poured so hard we could no longer see the anchorage behind us or the horizon in front of us. The winds kicked up to almost 30 knots, filling the harbor with white caps and giving us a good roll. This made putting the paravanes out challenging, as the winds threatened to push us into shallow water (we come to idle to put the birds in).

We entertained the idea of throwing out the anchor, and waiting for the weather to pass, but decided just to slog on. The winds eventually slowed, but the rain continued at a steady pace; thanks for the send off, San Andres! By the look of our radar screen, we worried that there was a squall headed our way, but fortunately the big red blob broke up as it approached us, and we were just in for a lot of steady rain.

Photo: Luckily, this giant mass of red broke up before hitting us full force.

Photo: Instead, we just had steady rainfall.

After the heavy rain ended and the swells calmed, it remained cloudy all the way to the Albuquerques. We’d planned to arrive in the early afternoon, with the sun high overhead to help see any coral below the surface. The completely overcast skies made navigating through the reef more challenging than normal.

Scott has literally thousands of hours on the water, and is excellent at reading it. Me….nada. He’s had similar time and experience behind the wheel, and can make decisions on course adjustment in a blink. Again, me…not so much. If the sun had been shining, the plan was for me to be out on the bow as we approached the reef, so Scott could steer (Sea Life doesn’t turn instantly, so there’s a learning curve that I’m still working on).

As we approached, the skies brightened a bit, but the sun just wouldn’t pop out. The cloudy skies made it much harder for either of us to see possible coral heads, especially when we couldn’t agree on what was dark blue, or dark blue-green. Luckily, Scott had some way points from our friend Kevin, who’d come through the week before (charts for the area are terribly inaccurate), and we used them to feel our way through the reef. Once safely inside, we could admire the beautiful view!

Photo: The Albuquerque Cays come into view


As we were deciding where to drop anchor, the military hailed us on the vhf…in Spanish. Scott replied in English, which usually clues someone to reply the same (most port captains, military, etc. speak enough English to get their point across), but they came back in Spanish again. Scott then replied that he didn’t understand…more Spanish.

Luckily, the only other boat anchored in the area was Kalea, who’d been near us in the Providencia anchorage. Iris speaks Spanish, thank goodness, and relayed that we were being asked to anchor closer to the island. Once anchored, we were expected to come ashore with our passports and paperwork from San Andres.

This was different from what we’d heard about the Albequerque Cays. People have told us the military doesn’t really “check” you in, at most they may swim over to your boat just to make contact. However, we weren’t interested in making enemies with any part of the Colombian military, so if they were requesting us to go ashore, that’s what we would do (We’re not really sure why there is a military presence here, there’s certainly no “threat” of any kind. It’s more likely a pride thing, rubbing the fact that these cays are Colombian owned into nearby Nicaragua’s face).

The entire time we anchored and Scott made sure we were set, and then put the dingy in the water, we were being watched by five men standing amide the palm trees at the edge of the beach. One was dressed in camouflage, and carried an AK-47 assault rifle, while the rest wore t-shirts and shorts. The men appeared to be in their mid twenties, at most, and the whole scene gave off a weird “Lord of the Flies” vibe.

Scott made his way to shore and beached the dinghy (with no help from said five “Flies” men).



Anderson, who seemed to be the “commandant” of the group, and the oldest (Fly), pulled out a crumpled piece of scrap paper and copied down information from our passports and paperwork. They asked how long we were staying, and Scott wanted to tell them maybe four days, maybe a week, but with his limited Spanish and their complete lack of English, communication was difficult.



Just to make sure all was clearly understood. Scott later took a letter back, that he’d written using our English/Spanish dictionary (thank you John and Lela, s/v Yachtsman’s Dream!). I’m sure it read like something written by a five year old, but the intent was understood.

Now that we were anchored, and “cleared in,” Scott got right to exploring in the rubber dinghy, putting together his plan of attack for fishing in the coming days. As he was getting comfortable on the bow, with his evening “sun-downer” in hand, he noticed the “Flies” waving him over. Having no idea what this was about, he again made his way to shore. He left his drink behind, but sadly, I couldn’t convince him to change into a shirt with sleeves.

After almost 30 minutes I looked to shore, and could see no sight of Scott, our dingy or the Flies. I began to panic, envisioning Scott being beaten to death, in typical Lord of the Flies style. I scanned the horizon with binoculars, with no luck. Finally, as I scanned behind us, I caught sight of this:


Once Scott had arrived onshore the Flies handed him their own translated letter. It seems they wanted to borrow our dinghy and Scott’s spear, to go fishing. Scott told them that if they wanted to fish, he’d be happy to take them, but they’d have to use their own means of catching the fish. The men agreed, and off they went.


There were many one word and hand-signaled conversations. At one point, Scott was asked to go faster. He explained to them that our little two horsepower motor could go no faster, and to try would result in them rowing back to shore. The Flies then pointed toward the Aluminum Princess, asking how fast it went. Scott acted like he didn’t understand that one.

They made a stop at the island which is used by the commercial fisherman. Scott noticed a five gallon bucket, full of large lobster tails. He’d relayed to the Flies earlier, that he wanted to catch lobster while here in the cays, and was sure that they understood.

As they now smiled and pointed to the contents of the bucket, Scott hoped that he might get one or two as a thank you….no dice. The Flies chatted with the fisherman a bit, one of whom spoke very good English (Scott wondered why Anderson didn’t use this man as an interpreter…or a teacher), before climbing back in the dinghy.

Eventually, the Flies asked to return to the island, where they continued to line fish from the beach.


Anderson asked Scott to stay awhile. He replied, using his best hand gestures, that it was time to eat with his wife and then go to bed.


After Scott’s little adventure, we felt that it was safe to say the Flies approved of us. It was time to relax and enjoy our beautiful surroundings.



“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Scenes From San Andres

There has been much to see and do during our stay here in San Andres. Shortly after we arrived, the island celebrated independence day (July 20th), complete with a parade and week-long festival. Scott and I planned to watch the parade from the flybridge, but the crowds were too thick to see through.

The parade lasted five hours, and that crowd stayed put for the entire thing (I never would have made it). Our friends Jack and Monique (s/v Aloha) ventured in for an up close and personal view. Here are a few of their photos:

As Providencia did for their carnival, San Andres held a beauty contest during the independence festival. Of course, that required a parade as well, and the contestants rode through the streets on decorated golf carts.

We’ve gotten to know our way around the busy downtown streets, and are constantly amazed by the number of motorcycles and scooters here (notice the clever sun covers). The flow and noise of traffic in the small area is amazing.

Benches along the mains streets are very unique, and make for great photo opportunities (unbeknownst to this local girl).

San Andres is full of beautiful tile work, murals, etc., as we saw throughout Providencia. The colors and patterns jump out at you, as you travel throughout the island.

We land our dinghy at nearby Nene’s Marina, and have spent much time at the little bar there, enjoying the breeze that goes through . The ladies who run it are very friendly, and the beer is cold.

Like everywhere else in the world (except for the U.S.), soccer is insanely popular here. We came out of dinner one night to find the streets jammed with people watching a game, obviously a very important one. They were gathered in front of every bar, restaurant and convenience store, eyes glued to the tvs inside.

Putting the pieces together as best we could, it seemed to be a collegiate national championship. When the game ended, the local team must have won. The crowds climbed onto their motorcycles and scooters, and into cars, and began an impromptu parade in and around the downtown area. Luckily, we crossed through it easily on our way back to the anchorage. As we climbed back aboard Sea Life, the lights of the auto parade, with horns blaring, stretched as far as you could see.

The water in and around our anchorage here is very clear. We’ve taken the Aluminum Princess out to the shallow, Bahama blue water for some bobbing, and have also made use of our water loungers, just off of the swim platform.

After a very enjoyable two weeks and change, we’re moving on today. We’ll raise anchor as soon as I post this, and make a six hour run to the Albuquerque Cays. It’s a remote anchorage, with only commercial fisherman and a navy post. No land to speak of, no stores, shops, restaurants, parades, festivals..or tour boats! It’ll be a nice break, before we continue on to Panama.

There is a tropical system forming to our north, that will most likely become a category 1 or 2 hurricane for either Mexico or Belize. We are far south of any danger, but it’s strength is sucking out all of the wind and squalls for the next week..terrific! The weather forecaster we listen to on the SSB radio says that it’s a good week to travel if you’re motoring, so we’re off. We are undecided if we’ll stay in the Albuquerques a week or more, or continue south after a few days, while the weather is still quiet.

Be sure to check in on us, using the link on our Where Are We Now page, as we make our final push to Panama! In the meantime, here are some more scenes of our time in San Andres.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”