Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Shelter Bay

So we have now been here for a couple of weeks. Our first impressions of Shelter Bay are that it is well sheltered and safe. There is a slightly more American feel to Panama whereas I think the Spanish influence was more in evidence in Colombia, though having been used to the windy Colombian coast it's quite a pleasant change to get in a sheltered harbour. First things first we had to check in. There is a little shed here which it would be very easy to miss ....this is the Port Captains office. Fortunately he speaks some English so we were able to follow what he was saying. I have been trying to learn Spanish via an app called Duolingo this tells me I'm now 17% fluent in Spanish which in reality means if I'm lucky I can get the gist of what is being said and offer up a few words in return! However I will persevere as being able to speak Spanish definitely puts you at an advantage! Having checked in the Immigration Officer who was very helpful and checked us in for 72hours in which time we needed to go into Colon to see the Port Captain there and get our cruising permit then return back to her with two passport photos for our visa.The Marina puts on a bus that goes into Colon in the morning and again in the afternoon so we duly signed up for the next day. Once we had our cruising permit in our hand we were told to go back to the Office and we would get a three month stamp on our passport. 
                                  The tugs pushing the container ships in place for their transit

So off we trundled the next day,Mauricio the bus driver dropped us off at the Port Captains Office in downtown Colon and after knocking on every office door we finally found the Port Captain. There were quite a few in the Office and it was apparent that something was awry! There was a lot of huffing and puffing and shaking of heads...... A guy called Luis took us under his wing and as he spoke English he was able to let us know what was going on ....the system had frozen!! Just our luck. Luis suggested that we go and get our passport photos for our visa whilst we were waiting ....not a bad idea as he said he would show us where we could do this. Colon is not for the feint hearted, many of the building are falling down,there are people sleeping rough and the general advice is get a taxi to where you want to go, do not wander around with anything valuable and if possible no bags. 

                                        The old lock gates Crocodiles have been seen here!

Luis however told us to stick with him and he would show us the way. As we set off, as it turned out it wasn't far, the heavens opened! I began to resemble a drowned rat but John with his trusty Crocodile Dundee hat did not fare so badly. We got to the shop, one of those Chinese run we sell everything type of shops and I was expecting a booth like you get in the local supermarket in the UK but no we had our photos taken,printed and ten copies cut to size with a guillotine all for $2....bargain! I just kept my fingers crossed that a picture of me hair dripping and soaked to the skin would be acceptable for my visa! So back we strolled to the Port Captain hoping that our cruising permit would be there waiting for us when we arrived, wishful thinking, no such luck! So we waited and waited til finally it became obvious that we would be out of luck today. So determined we would catch the afternoon bus back to Shelter Bay we agreed we would return the next day. Sure enough the cruising permit was waiting for us the next day and with our 72 hours well and truly up we finally got our passports stamped and our visa a week after having arrived. Knowing what we know now, I think we would probably hand the whole process over to an agent to do all the running around .....worth a few bucks just to forego the hassle.
                                                     The new locks ...work in progress

We have now been into Colon and Panama City on the Shelter Bay bus which has very little suspension and we soon discovered if you want to minimise the effect of the bumpy roads try to sit in the front! The trip to Colon involves going on a very small one way bridge through the locks. If you are unlucky enough to get a red light then the wait can be up to an hour whilst they move two supertankers into the lock and finally close the gates enabling the traffic to pass through. It does enable you to get off the bus and watch the tugs stuffing these enormous ships into the locks and the trains tighten the lines to slowly pull the ships into the lock. There are currently new locks being built and a bridge that will mean that the traffic can flow freely .Inevitably these projects are behind schedule but it will make such a difference to the flow of both marine and local traffic. Shelter Bay is in what was an American base, it is now a nature park and there are a few good walk but more of that later.....

Sunday, 6 December 2015


So we finally found a decent weather window.....not an easy task in Colombia, either no wind, too much wind or wind going the wrong way it seems to me! We decided to leave early in the morning hoping that it would then allow us to get sixty miles or so before dark but also for us to be I front of the edge of the strong winds that were evident on Weather 4D our weather app of choice. As I let slip the lines I noticed that there were swarms of midges behind the stern sheltering from the wind! Usually the wind has been strong enough to keep the mossies and no seeums away but this morning they seemed to be out in full force and by the time we had slipped the lines and driven out of the marina with the gearbox behaving beautifully both John and I realised that we were both starting to resemble a pin cushion! The insects had had a tasty breakfast and the scratching that continued over the next two days had started! 

We had a good sail winds around twenty knots to start and then the wind moved around onto a reach..... we averaged six and a half knots covering about 165nm day one though we did slow down day two. The trip I'm glad to say was uneventful and we decided we did not want to go into Colon in the dark so we put into Portabello, dropped the hook and chilled over the weekend. It was like a millpond in there so we had plenty opportunity to catch up on some sleep. The anchorage at Portobello is disturbed by water taxis whizzing across the bay ferrying workers and assorted travellers to both sides of the Bay. It is also littered with 'dead' boats which is sad to see. We did not put our dinghy in the water but noticed that the water taxis came very close to the boats and particularly at night if your dinghy was not raised then it was possibly dicing with disaster! We lit up our cockpit to ensure the boat boys could see us as they ferried revellers back on Saturday night. Apart from the drumbeat that went on into the early hours and the unmistakeable sound of outboard engines the anchorage was still and we both slept soundly. 

We figured it would take us about five hours to get to Shelter Bay. Leaving early Monday morning on another good reach we got to the outskirts of Colon and the numerous parked large cargo vessels in good time. Going through busy anchorages like this is when AIS is really useful, it makes it so much easier to identify those parked and those still moving very slowly.you can also earwig in on some interesting conversations on the VHF......one interesting one we listened to between two large cargo ships ' Vessel A I have you on my AIS what are your intentions? ' ' Vessel B I am at anchor, repeat I am at anchor' ' Vessel A we have a cpa (closest point of approach).         of .5nm what are your intentions?' Somewhat exasperated the reply came back 'we are at anchor!' The reply was an increasingly concerned and edgy ' yes you are at anchor but we are not under command ( in other words drifting! ) stunned silence on the end of the radio and then came the reply 'Standby' .......we heard no more from these two ships and looked at the AIS monitor to see if we could work out who it might be ...but no luck they were probably out of our range but hoping the outcome was not too stressful! 
As you can see from the picture it is a little busy in Colon! 

However we are safely tucked up here in Shelter Bay and planning what next?!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Just about ready to leave!

Amazingly having been in Colombia for nearly five months ......has it really been nearly five months?! In that time we have painted the decks,replaced the gearbox as well all those boat jobs that are standard....oil change, fuel filters the list is endless but necessary.

We tried to source a gearbox in Colombia but all the advice we got was it was a logistical nightmare so in the end John hopped on a plane to Miami, picked one up that we had shipped down from Washington and bought it back in his suitcase! Fortunately our Hurth gear box weighed 20kg and fitted neatly into our hard suitcase so there were no problems with weight. John was three days in Miami and he was quite surprised by the place. The buses were free,the roads wide and tree lined and the hotel he stayed in was run by Greeks....it's a small world. He managed to keep himself in check as he perused West Marine chandlery where he got chatting to one of the staff who hailed from Cork and after a long chat with him he managed to get staff discount....I think it's called having the gift of the gab!

I had to go back to UK for a couple of weeks so John fitted the gearbox then and a fine job he did too! By the time I returned he had the thing fitted the shaft aligned and Dorothy, our Perkins engine was purring nicely and obviously pleased with the new addition in the engine room!

The week before we were due to leave we had some rough weather one night. The Colombians call it ..'pollos culo'...which roughly translated means 'chickens Arse'. Basically it's when the wind comes out of the South/ South West . The weather did not last that long but by daybreak the damage was evident. All the yachts had no problem but two of the fishing boats were sunk. It would seem that both of them had no automatic bilge pump. The heavy rain filled the boats and the wind slapped more sea water over their sterns which were close to the water line as they had large outboards weighing them down. Both were towed onto dry land in a sorry state .....it will be a long time before they get those outboards going again ....if at all!
Before we came to Colombia many of those that know us back in the UK asked....'Is it safe?' Well we felt perfectly safe but whilst in Puerto Velero the Armarda boys who guard the coast managed to impound a fishing boat that was full of drugs.They towed the boat in and it put along side the Catamaran that had been impounded a long while back for the same offence .....they were getting quite a collection! We got quite friendly with some of the Armarda who lived in a container at the end of the pontoon. They changed shift about every month but once a week a whole bus load would arrive for training which seemed to consist of going to the end of the pontoon and jumping off and the having to swim to the shore or drag themselves onto the pontoon. They would of course sing as they swam.....all good male bonding stuff.
Finally we figured we were ready to leave so asked JC if he would clean the hull and the propellor which he did free diving! He told us that an octopus had taken up residence on part of our hull and had had to evict him! Our prop cleaned we were finally hot to trot.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

It's not all sun,sea and cerveza!

Is it a bird ?.....is it a plane?....no it's a dead gear box or transmission as they like to call it over here. 
For a while I have been saying to John ' you know our engine sounds different' john has shook his head and assured me 'I can't hear anything' ....so we both put it down to the odd vibration from something in the saloon. When we sailed into Puerto Velero John had remarked.....' There must be a very strong current I'm sure we should be doing more than 4.5 knots with this wind !' ....but we moored fine in our spot and truth be told forgot all about these warning signs. 
We should have suspected something when our morse became more difficult to put in gear....but John changed the morse for a spare we had and tested the gear box every day to check we were good to go for our trip to Panama. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! 

We caught a taxi to immigration and the same pleasant guy who stamped our passports in stamped them out. He wished us a pleasant trip and said he hoped we would return to Colombia....
It was afternoon before our zarpe arrived....we were good to go. John sorted out the lines and I was going to take her out. I put the morse into gear and to say we crawled away from the dock is no exaggeration.....something was not right. However, we persevered and got as far as the green buoy at the entrance and John had had enough, there was little wind and it was obvious there was something wrong so turning into what wind there was we dropped the hook and John started to investigate. It was clear there was something wrong with our forward gear, up came the engine lid, out came the spanners(or wrenches for our American friends) and after many Anglo Saxon expletives from both of us, we declared it knackered! 
'Ahh!' says John 'but we have still got reverse....so this is the plan. We stay here tonight and tomorrow unless by some miracle the gearbox sorts itself out, we will reverse into our former spot' 
At this point we notice the Marina rib on its way out to us. That's good we both thought and really thoughtful of them to come out and make sure we are ok. On closer scrutiny we saw that Christina, the nice girl from the office, was also in the rib with Alex the dock master.....'Mister John!' She calls out ' I have made a mistake, you still owe us 19,000 pesos!! ' No what's wrong, how can we help just relief that we were still able to pay them .LOL. Alex had thought that we had decided to drop the hook and leave early the next day so had offered Christina a lift to collect her money. Well we had no pesos left and so we did a deal ... It was twenty bucks or nothing ....Christina was very happy with twenty bucks as she kept apologising for her error we told Alex of our dilemma and our plan for the following day. 'Si, Si no problem ....'

Up early the next day and with a light north westerly we sat having our breakfast talking over the plan for getting back on our mooring when there is a knock on the hull. It's Juan Carlos ( Juan Ca for short ....I know it's terrible but everyone calls him it and I guess ignorance is bliss!) , the assistant dock master and he's wondering what is happening. Well JC ( a much better nickname in my opinion) speaks no English so out comes the iPad and John uses a translation app we have to explain to him what is wrong and our master plan. Laboriously but successfully John speaks to the iPad and the iPad then speaks to JC in Spanish and it works! ' Si, Si no problem!' 
So with me bringing up the hook and JC back on the pontoon ready to take our lines ....we are ready to execute 'the plan'......
Well John puts her into reverse and she starts to move then the most horrendous noise emanates from the engine room. It is difficult to describe....it sounded like all of John's spanners we're spinning around a tumble dryer!! This could mean only one thing....we had no reverse. Revert to PlanB ..... We would have to sail onto the end of the pontoon. JC understood my gesticulations and moved onto the end of the finger pontoon ready John busied getting lines altered and fenders down as I sailed her slowly, very slowly to the dock. Several tacks later we had to do a 360 to line her up and I was used the bow thruster to edge her towards the dock. It became obvious we would not make the end of finger D but looked good for finger E. JC did his Usain Bolt impersonation sprinting around the dock arriving just as John was jumping ashore. We were back! 
The following Monday we made a trip back into town to see our good friend at immigration. The Marina had phoned to explain our problem and the Immigration Officer was all smiles welcoming us back to Colombia and stamping us in for 90 days. 
John had the gearbox out within a day and declared the gearbox terminal.....now all we had to do was source a new one, get it to Colombia and fit it! Simple! 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Road Trip to Medellin

As we prepare to leave Colombia we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Medellin with our friend Ben. He had decided to drive there as he needed to do some business there. We left Puerto Velero early and as we drove further South East the landscape changed. The area was much more rural .....green fields, cattle and more and more Gauchos. Colombia has very good air connections and the majority of people that leave from Barranquilla to go to Medellin would go by Avianca on a smart Airbus 320 but we were in a very comfortable 4x4 Pathfinder. Ben had already decided he was not going to rush and we decided to stop overnight about 8 hours into our journey. The road to Caucasia was busy but not outrageous though ominously there were quite a lot of trucks. There are Peaje on all the roads in Colombia but the tolls are not outrageous varying from 6,200 pesos to around 9,700 pesos. This sounds a lot but in reality it's between one to two pounds. A little better value than the M6toll road !However some roads are definitely better than others and those littered with pot holes made for a bumpy road at times! The gauchos on horse back definitely had the the right idea! 
A lot of Colombians use motorbikes so do not have to pay the tolls but on this road facing big trucks and lorries hurtling towards you on the wrong side of the road to avoid the potholes it is not for the faint hearted. One sight I will not forget is that of three school kids in spotless school uniform on the one bike weaving its way through the traffic to school...beats the school bus I guess.
The scenery reminded me more of England and as we got closer to Caucasia the heavens opened and we made it to the hotel just as the thunder and lightening struck. At this time of year thunder and lightening is quite common and we have now heard of quite a few boats getting struck by lightening. This can be catastrophic.....losing all your electrics is expensive and a pain to replace. The Hotel was very local, air conditioning that sounded like a DC10, cold water and lights that stemmed to have a mind of their own but it was fine we were only staying overnight. 

We left early the next morning at 7.30 anticipating that we would be in Medellin around midday. What do we know?!! 
Well we know now that the road to Medellin from Caucasia is a mother! The road climbs slowly to above 2600m, it twists and turns and at time disappears with roadworks reducing it to one lane. This would have been bad enough but you share the road with large oversize trucks that cannot manage more than 10kph and struggle to get themselves around the 180 degree bends. The scenery is beautiful though for a lot of the time the valleys were shrouded in mist. On either side of the roads were houses often no more than wooden shacks and you had to feel for the inhabitants....nowhere for the young children to play with ravine at the back and trucks hurtling past your front door. 

They had tapped the mountain streams to provide high pressure water hoses at the road. These naturally had no off switch and because it had been raining the pressure provided endless sprays of water over the road . The more enterprising inhabitants used the water to provide car washes for the trucks at various places along the road. Colombian truck drivers tend to keep their trucks sparkling and shiny......but this still does not detract from the fact that some of their driving habits left me with my heart in my mouth! Overtaking on bends on a steep incline with zero visibility seemed a particularly popular manoeuvre...
As you might of guessed in such conditions our progress was slow...40kms in three hours. However as we eventually started our descent to Medellin the scenery changed again ...the trees turned to Pine trees and if you did not know better you would have thought you were in Switzerland. The road did improve but another sight that made us all laugh out loud was that of an drivers cab on the side of the road. It looked a bit out of place and on closer inspection we discovered inside was a statue of a cab driver, a young child and the Virgin Mary! It was a shrine to all the lorry drivers that obviously use that road. Well that was certainly different! It was just a shame I did not manage to get a picture. 
Finally we made it to Medellin and we had booked a Hotel that was fairly central which turned out to be a real find. It was a great little hotel with everything you could possibly need all for the great expense of £25 a night including breakfast. Quiet air con, hot water and a fridge that worked! We also had the best meal we have had in Colombia, bottle of wine, dessert a brandy for the two of us it was a snip at £18. We made a good choice. 

The hotel was just at the gates of the San Joaquin Church, a fairly new church with an interesting design. The bells definitely worked calling people to Mass at seven o clock on Sunday morning but luckily they did not last for long. Medellin is a very new city and talking to Colombians they would say it's the place to be as it has a rail system and many modern malls. It just seemed to us that anything old had been knocked down to make way for the new. This may be a little unfair as we were only there a day but the scenery on the way made it worth the journey and like every Colombian we have met they were happy, smiley people. It had been a good trip and we arrived back at the boat to another horrendous thunderstorm and torrential rain but all was well and we were back home.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Rather than sail to Cartegena John and I drove to the city from Puerto Velero. The journey takes just over an hour and it's a good road. We could have caught a bus but as we needed to drop off our hire car we figured that leaving it in Cartegena and treating ourselves to a few days in a hotel was a good option. The road to Cartegena is quite an easy one with nowhere near the traffic we experienced going to Santa Marta. We passed the Sombrero  Parador where we have eaten a really good meal for a great price and resisted the temptation of stopping off there for a snack! 

We booked a hotel inside the walled city ...the Zana Boutique Hotel and what a little gem it was. Air conditioned room, the Internet, breakfast on the roof terraces do all within walking distance of the main sites. The cost for four nights was very reasonable .... and the staff were great so friendly and helpful and more importantly for us..... Juan spoke English! So we did not have to resort to thrusting the iPad at them having asked the translation app to do its stuff and ask 'which way to the nearest bar!'

There is quite a lot to see in the walled city but it's hot, steamy and very busy so we decided to pace ourselves and the first stop was to the very impressive Castillo de San Felipe.  The castle is located on the Hill of San Lázaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea.Built by the Spanish during the colonial era construction began in the year 1536 and it was expanded in 1657. Arming ourselves with hats, plenty of water and an English audio guide we were able to find our way around this impressive castle which dominates the view from the old city. Interestingly we discovered parts of English Naval History we never knew about....23,000 lost in the Battle of Cartegena, where we got our backsides kicked by a much smaller navy with the strategic importance of the fortress really coming into its own. Apparently George II instructed that the loss was to be kept quiet if you read the losses of ships as well as naval personnel you can understand why! ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cartagena_de_Indias ). We were also fortunate that the heavens opened as we were nearing the hospital area, sheltering in there we found a really good video explaining the gradual development of the castle and it was in English!!

As the rain gradually eased and with the roads temporarily flooded we took refuge in a local cafe and tried out our Spanish ordering ourselves something to eat that looked vaguely recognisable.
The walled city is packed full of bars and restaurants as well as places of interest. As we walked past one an American collared us with an offer that was too good to resist....two mojito for 20,000 pesos ....that's around £4.50 ! He also countered the offer with ' if you don't like them then you don't have to pay!' .....never being one to resist a challenge we sat down and forced ourselves to try them ( not!). On a hot humid afternoon it was just what we needed....inevitably...we paid!

The bar also had a humidor with both Cuban and Colombian cigars for sale. One thing that we have noticed in Colombia is that they do not smoke. If you smoke you are very much the outsider. Cigarettes are not readily on sale in the big supermarkets and the little corner shops sell cigarettes singularly as well as by the packet. Whilst cigarettes are not expensive it is good to see the young people making the choice to spend their money on other things.

Dotted around the old city were also metal work statues and there were some in the square close to our hotel. They all depicted everyday scenes and one particular one of a guy leaning against a tree having a pee was always subject to the scrutiny of young children. Several times I saw young children tug at their mums hand and looking puzzled ask 'What's he doing Mum?' Their varying responses made me smile, some would ignore the child completely whilst others laughed and went into long explanations in Spanish (incomprehensible to me!).

Within the walled city there are many museums and statues. It is a vibrant and interesting place, street vendors on every corner are not too intrusive and they seemed to understand that 'no' meant 'no'. There is something of interest on most streets, for instance the local corner shop to our Hotel just oozed character and how it was still standing I'm not sure! Not quite your local Co op!

The naval museum is well worth a visit and whilst they do warn you that most of the signage is in Spanish, John and I used it as an opportunity to try to extend our Spanish. It is very visual so we were able to get the gist of most of the exhibits.
We spent four interesting days in Cartegena and we were glad that we decided to make it a road trip. The anchorage outside Club Nautico looked like it could get a little rolls when the powerboats come past and we were told by more than one yachtie that you hull gets fouled very quickly there. One guy even told us he had a diver go down to clean his hull every two weeks!! Yikes!
With an ever increasing list of jobs we have decided to go to Shelter Bay when we leave Colombia. We need to sort out yet another problem with our mast and so will haul out there. Now it is the inevitable wait for the weather window......  

Thursday, 27 August 2015

An unwanted visitor

The prospect of having a rat aboard your boat is one that worries most cruisers. When anchored out this is not so much of a worry but when in a marina or port it certainly can be.    John recently went back to the UK to help one of his daughters move to Gibraltar and I stayed to look after our home armed with a list of jobs to do whilst he was away. No worries!
I slowly worked my way down the list, varnishing, cleaning the bilge, washing down all the interior covers ....all ticked off the list. I replaced the mosquito netting on the small hatches one day and felt pleased with myself only to find the next morning when I awoke that there was a large hole in the one above the cooker. I had foolishly left the hatch open feeling secure in the fact that it was covered with the netting. At first I thought it was the wind that had torn the netting but then sitting down sipping my morning cuppa a horrible thought occurred to me .....we had a rat onboard!! I was astounded that one had decided to jump on board as we are a good 200m down the pontoon with other yachts in the frame before ours but no ratty had obviously earmarked Orion as a yacht full of stuff to eat, chew and generally gnaw away at! Rats can be really difficult to get rid of on a boat and have been known to cause severe damage to wiring, hoses etc ..... In short they are bad news.
So what to do....I asked at the marina if they had any traps or poison ....no but they would get some. I decided not to wait took a trip into Puerto Colombia and armed myself with snap traps and poison which I set that evening. I spent the rest of the day listening out for the blighter and convinced it was in the bow I dragged out everything that it could chew....my BCD, bedding, everything was taken out and put in the saloon. I then bolted the watertight door safe in the knowledge that he could not get into the rest of the boat.
But ....the next morning as I stepped into the saloon I was horrified to find evidence of the darn thing all around the saloon .....mistake number one.....so all the stuff I had dragged out of the bow then went back in along with anything else I thought it might enjoy as a snack! I set the traps again this time in the saloon with the bow blocked off and the stern cabin shut off at all times surely this time he would take the bait?! I set the traps with a little peanut butter everyone kept telling me how this could not fail....but it did for five days I decamped early each night to the stern and listened for the sound of the trap doing its worse to Ratty. John suggested leaving it a route to escape from the boat but this only made it worse as I could hear it padding about the decks at night and then had to clear up its mess the following day. I was worried that I would end with a whole colony aboard and just getting rid of this bugger was proving challenging enough! So every night the boat was shut up tight and the only thing for Roddy to eat was the peanut butter or the poison that I eventually decided to put down. After five days my eyes started to play tricks on me and I began to imagine I saw him down a hole in the Saloon where the chart table seat fits. I had removed the seat as the ruddy rat was enjoying dancing about on the chart table each night. I covered the hole with a saucepan lid held securely in place with a heavy winch on top! I'd got it...... Well no I hadn't!....there was nothing there. I was started to get mightily p****d off with this rat. Every morning the bleach would come out and I systematically washed down all the surfaces where there was evidence the rat had been or might have been and every morning I awoke to empty rat traps. It had started to eat the poison though...then this was a worry as it might actually die somewhere on the boat that was inaccessible. This was always a possibility as I had emptied and and cleared lockers that many times now and had still not managed to get a sighting of the illusive rodent! By now all the surfaces in the saloon were clear and every conceivable ventilation hole blocked with bungs, tape, heavy toolboxes you name it....this was war .....and the rat was winning!

Meanwhile John would ring every day for an update hoping for good news before he arrived back in Colombia.
No such luck eight days after the rat climbed aboard John arrived back, tired and exhausted from his journey he decided to rip out the fridge to see if it was behind there. I had been unable to do this by myself as it was screwed down and definitely a two man job. The fridge came out and yes Roddy had definitely been behind there but he was no longer there having chewed through the electrical wiring to the freezer. We cleared up the mess and once more set the traps and put out the poison. The next morning there was no visible sign of his presence (no droppings) but he had taken all the poison. The next morning, the same but this time he had not eaten any poison....could we be rid of him? John and I crossed our fingers that he had left as we left the boat open now in the hope he would exit the way he came. John was not so hopeful thinking that he was either very sick or dead somewhere on the boat. As anyone who knows John knows he has no sense of smell so I was the one who had to do the sniffer dog impersonation trying to determine if 'thing' was still on board. As the days passed I was becoming more hopeful he had got off the boat. As we prepared to dinner I asked John to get me something from under the boards in the saloon where we store some of our tins as it was dusk he got the torch lifted the lid and then turned to me asking exactly where this tin was......Arghh! There was the rat! It was deceased, a dead rat, it was no more and it had gone to that big rat colony in the sky! John and I had checked under there but it must have been sick but still on the move then. It was rubber gloves time again and the rodent was dispatched overboard along with all the tins it had used as its coffin!
Finally today has been the last day of cleaning the underfloor storage with bleach yet again and whilst the cursed thing has caused some damage I am glad to say we have managed to wrestle our boat free from the jaws of this rat pirate and there are just the two of us on board again!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Road trip to Santa Marta

We hired a car for a week to get about the area a bit more and one of the first spots we made for was Santa Marta. We could have sailed straight there from Aruba but elected to sail past and stop at Puerto Velero instead so a road trip there to see what we missed was in order. It's not the easiest of journeys as you have to find the ring road around Barranquilla which is very busy and driving in Colombia is interesting to say the least! The road to Santa Marta is littered with speed traps so we figured if we tucked ourself in behind one of the many mini buses going there, who obviously know the road and the cameras then we would be ok. This plan worked well. The road trip enabled us to experience the poverty in Colombia which is not evident when you come in by sea.

The road on the way was littered with large bins for the delivery of water and we saw many people transporting water from this in any receptacle they could find to move it to their homes which were often no more than very small wooden sheds. The overwhelming memory for me though was rubbish ...many of the homes were in what can only be described as a sea of plastic litter and assorted rubbish. We are very fortunate and the sight of how these people live and still smile was a very strong reminder for me.

Santa Marta on the other hand is a city that has developed around the port but also the mineral resources in the outlying area. It is an attractive city with quite a history. We visited the gold museum, a fascinating place setting out the history of the area very well and with an English translation.....and it was free. Some of the decorative gold pieces , earrings, nose rings, necklaces and breast plates were beautiful. Not unsurprisingly there were quite a lot of guards in the museum!

We decided to leave early enough so that we would not have to go around the dreaded Barranquilla ring road in the dark. The road for quite a long way is one lane and the large trucks that ply up and down the road along with the speed cameras can slow you down. We found ourselves dawdling behind one of the trucks unable to get around him for a good few miles....until John saw his chance and took it....ignoring the two unbroken yellow lines in the centre of the road. The joy of a clear road in front of us soon disappeared when two traffic policemen waved us down and asked John to get out of the car....! I stayed in the car scrambling around for our documents to show them. The two policemen started rattling off John's offence in Spanish to which John replied ' no hablo  Espanol' I'm not sure they actually believed him until we showed them his passport. John stuck with his favourite phrase all through the conversation and it clear that the policemen were getting a little frustrated as most of their conversation now was ' no hablo Ingles!' They kept smiling though as they indicated to John that he had committed a moving traffic offence by overtaking on an unbroken yellow line and one of them gestured that perhaps this could be solved by crossing their palms with a little denario.....but at times John can play dumb with the rest of them as he just kept repeating his favourite one liner ....' No hablo Espanol! ' after five minutes or so the traffic policemen smiled, laughed and left empty handed and we were on our way...Phew!!

We got to Barranquilla as the sun was setting and eased our way around the ring road....if it wasn't for the fact that I was navigating I would have had my eyes closed for most of that trip but just when I was relaxing a little more on the two lane highway to Puerto Velero I noticed in the darkness a shape up ahead .....we were sharing the road with a skateboarder! No lights but skating down the hill taking his life in his hands! The end to quite a journey home!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Puerto Velero Colombia

Puerto Velero lies between Santa Marta and Cartegena. It is a big sheltered bay with plenty of room to anchor however,we stayed in the new Marina which though still work in progress has a lot to offer. The floating pontoons are good and both Alex and Juan Carlos who look after the Marina side of things are very helpful. The one thing that is noticeable about this area is it is windy!! We tied up to a finger but Alex advised us to have long lines out holding us secure from the other side of the pontoon. It seems very secure and we have the Coastguard here on a permanent basis .....they live in a steel container at the end of the pontoons! However there are few boats here I counted 18 and most of these have been left by their owners whilst they travel in land or go home for the season. I would say it's a good place to do that. I have seen Alex and Juan Carlos check their lines every few days and when we had a bit of a storm they were out along the pontoons ensuring the security of all the boats. In some Marinas I have not found this to be the case....indeed the marinos complain about getting wet! When we arrived we were told that it had not rained for quite some time and this was evident as the boats that had been here a while had a visible layer of sand on them and the one heavy downpour we have had since arriving was obviously welcome!

Checking in was not much hassle the Marina took care of just about everything although we had to get a taxi into Baranquilla to immigration which again they organised for us. Raphael our taxi driver enjoyed trying out his English while we tried to converse in our basic Spanish which consisted mainly of 'Si' ....'si' ....and the occasional 'que' ! In immigration we waited in line telling them firmly ' non hablo Espanol'  'Si' came back the reply and we were then shown into a room where the immigration officer ' non hablo Ingles!' !!  Finally realising that he was not going to get very far he took us downstairs to a very nice gentleman who spoke passable English, well better than our Spanish, and we were out of there in no time. Waiting for Raphael to pick us up we hopped over the road to a kiosk on the roadside to sample the local beer, Colombians seem to be very conscious about underage drinking and as John went to buy it he asked to see me (I was around the side of the kiosk) to check I was over 18! We got back to the boat at dusk and there were still kite surfers out on the water .....there's dedication for you!

The following day we went to local village Porto Colombia using the motorbike taxi, as only the main roads are tarmaced it was a bit of a bumpy ride but good value. John and I had a bike each ,though John's was a bit of a boy racer and got there way before me. I was rather glad I got the tortoise and arrived in one piece. We ate dinner in one of the local restaurants and then did a bit of shopping for fruit and veg. It's cheap here and whilst I'm sure we were charged a little extra.....we bought lots of fruit and veg including a huge pineapple, mangoes, advacadoes and loads more for under £2....Mustn't grumble!! Whilst we were there the bin man with a donkey came to take away all the over ripe fruit and veg .....hopefully it was going to the pigs.

There is a restaurant at the marina which is really quite good, La Kioska, run and owned by an Italian, Franco, well he's from Scicily really! The food there is great good quality and really quite good value for what you get. It also gives John and me a chance to improve our Spanish. This is coming along.... slowly. Mind we had to laugh at a Pizza Express lookalike restaurant we came across and just had to take a picture

John couldn't get them to even sell him a beer!


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Finally Colombia here we come!

Leaving Aruba proved as eventful as arriving! As the process had taken us so long when arriving we were weary about leaving. We had asked about the possibility of of Customs and Immigration coming to the Marina but this was a no go. I know that the Marina staff have been asking about this for a long time and had no success but we figured there was no harm in asking though we half expected what the response would be! We had been looking at the weather now for several weeks and there seemed to be a small weather window opening that would give us just over three days to get to Puerto Velero after that it seemed to be back to the normal pattern of 30knots plus around Cabo de Vela so we decided to go for it....
We checked out of the Marina asked Aruba Port Authority for permission to go around to the Customs Quay and slipped our lines. When we got to the Quay we were a little dismayed to find a large barge moored with enormous very long lines to the Quay so that at least half the Quay was unavailable. In front of him was a small container vessel leaving us with a very small space to squeeze into between them. With no one on the quay to help I had to leap ashore only to find our lines were not long enough to tie alongside to the Quay. As I leapt ashore I noticed the container ship was reversing at the very same time Aruba Port Control were hailing us to tell us not to come in.....we were already there!! Fortunately as we reversed as far as we could as quick as we could he saw us and completed his manoeuvre springing off the quay as quickly as he could ...disaster averted!! As well as large black tyres there are also some nasty looking rusty metal lumps on one particular bit so advice would be make sure you have plenty of fenders out on that port side!! This time the Customs and Immigration were there, they took our papers,stamped them and did the necessary in double quick time then told us they wanted us off the quay and out of there in five minutes there was a large container ship coming in! You can't win it seems but we were happy to oblige and get outta there! 

We rounded Cabo de Vela with no issues and the trip was going well until we got just past The Five Bays when we were expecting a bit more wind and as we got to Santa Marta we got it! We had stayed quite close to the shore where the winds were less but had been advised to keep 10 miles offshore as we went past the mouth of the Magdalena River and Barranquilla as the seas were confused and the winds always gusting. We had gusts of 50 knots for periods of over five minutes and I can tell you it was pretty windy! George(the auto pilot) spat his dummy out and had trouble holding us on course so John and I had to hand steer. In heavy seas and strong winds this is hard work and we have friends, David and Dimity on SV Fanny Fisher who did this all the way from the Galapogos to the Marquesas when their auto pilot packed up,....that's a long way!! Respect you guys....I don't know how you did it!  
Finally at first light with calmer seas we made it into Puerto Velero, our friend Ben was there to take our lines and after we secured the boat..we slept.
This particular bit of the Caribbean must be treated with respect...the next day another boat came into the Marina, a Vagabond 42, Emily Morgan. They had started on a trip to Aruba but had to turn back, staysail was shredded, the engine had stopped(dirty fuel), main sail jammed and a rope around the prop. They sailed in on just the headsail, it had been quite a trip for them too!
Puerto Velero is a good place to chill though and that's what we intend to do for the next few weeks!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Still in Aruba!!

Still waiting for this wind to weaken ....no sign of that in the next few days so John and I are resigned to enjoying Aruba's hospitality for a bit longer. All of the ABC islands are arrid and having come from the lush greenery in Grenada it is a bit of a shock. There has been very little rain in the month or so since we left there. One thing we have not seen yet but have heard about are the Boa Constrictors that live on the Island. At last count there were 17000 of them on the Island! They were bought onto the Island by some unknown inhabitant who then realised that they needed a lot of feeding and so they let their 'pets' go! Unfortunately for the Island Boa Constrictors love the place and feed on the bird population quite happily. They have decimated the bird life here ! Apparently they like to hide in car engines and so have been moving all over the Island and concern is such on the Island that they have snake hunt days when the National Park Rangers will pay $10 U.S. for each live snake handed in! One guy handed over a sack with thirty of the blighters! The snakes are then killed but it appears that the population just keeps growing....

Another thing that we have noticed in all of the Islands is that at the weekends ...but particularly here in Aruba I think, is that the more affluent Venezuelans come over in their motor boats fill the boats up with food and then return back for Monday morning. It is a sad state of affairs when these guys fill up with not luxury goods but what I see as staples....sugar, flour, toilet rolls,bottled water etc. I have to say that I would not want to be in the motor boat in these winds even if fuel is ridiculously cheap!
Our neighbours here in the Marina are Keith and Ida on Cheers they have been here longer than us ...and have been lucky enough to have been offered the use of a car by other yachties that have returned home for a few weeks, so set off off on a jaunt around the Island. The importance of tourism to Aruba is evident along the coast there are strings of very smart hotels with kite surfing,snorkelling and water sports being offered. We stopped off at the California Lighthouse in the North of the Island. It is a Lighthouse originally built around around the turn of the twentieth century. It is still working but in need of some much needed tlc which apparently is on the cards.

We moved onto the Alta Vista Chapel, a tiny church and the oldest in Aruba. The majority of the seating is outside the church and there are some wonderful views. The church surrounded by cacti is still in use.

In terms of things to see .....there does not seem to be that much to see on the Island and in the South the landscape is dominated by the now abandoned Aruba Oil Refinery. The refinery is still understandably a no go area for the public and the place seemed deserted bar the security guards that patrol the perimeter but it is a bit eery! St. Nicholas ,the nearest town, previously a busy place has obviously been affected by the closure but still has a working red light district with the girls hopeful that at sometime the Refinery might open!

Latest news on when we can manage our crossing to Colombia.....the winds are looking more favourable this weekend so fingers crossed!    

Friday, 19 June 2015


Leaving Curaçao behind us we edged North dropping the hook at Santa Cruz , a nice anchorage with caves that have formed all the way along the coast. A good place for a snorkel. We were leaving at first light and managed to get a good nights sleep. We set sail for Aruba with the wind inevitably behind us but a pleasant 20 knots with just the Genoa out we tootled along nicely between 5-6 knots it was not til we were 10 miles or so that the wind started to pick up and reduced sail. We had decided to spend the night in Rogers Lagoon on the Southern tip of Aruba ....there are three entrances one for the fishermen which basically appeared to go straight over the reef! Not for the feint hearted! Another for the big tankers stopping off at the oil refinery and the other down a marked channel which was for all other shipping. Normally it would have been easy to pick out but when it's blowing 40 knots its sometimes not easy to distinguish the buoys......we edged slowly in and finally dropped our hook in 6 metres in what was I'm glad to say good holding. Taking a good note of the way we came in and the buoys lit up at night just in case we dragged,we set the Anchor Watch on the tablet but also decided we would take it in turns to stay up on watch. Whilst the sea was flat the wind was howling! Finally at around 1 o clock we decided the anchor must be well and truly holding....we had not moved an inch off the spot! Trying to get some sleep and waiting for the wind to drop a little we set sail for Orangestad about 12 miles up the coast.

Clearing into Aruba is different and to be honest a bit of a pain. Thirty minutes out of Orangestad you must notify Aruba Port that you wish to come in and clear Customs and Immigration. We did this and were told to wait for an hour then call back. This was a pain as it was still blowing 30 knots and milling about was no fun.....we waited an hour and got back on the VHF...no reply .....so we waited some more .....an hour and a half later and very exasperated we got the Marina on the VHF and told them of our predicament. They contacted Customs and lo and behold next time we called Customs they answered! By this time there were three boats waiting to come in....a small Venezuelan  motor boat shot past also going to Customs and we met him on the Customs Quay shortly afterwards....you cannot be in a hurry with this process it's pointless! The Customs Quay is lined with big black Tractor tyres and there is no way to avoid marks on your boat unless you come prepared with something to cover them. You identify the boats that have been to Customs by the dirty marks on the hull! All in all it took us over four hours to check in and I really am not looking forward to repeating the process over again when we check out!

Aruba is the most American of the three islands we have been to. There are lots of Malls, Starbucks,Dunkin Donuts and many very expensive watch and jewellery shops. Not really our scene but it's very comfortable and being in the Marina we have use of the pool and the Renaissance private island so it's not all bad. The iguanas line the dock during the day and they seem to really come out when the fishing boats return.....I thought they were herbivores. They a
So have a cinema here so John and I have been to the movies for the first time in many years ....2 for 1 Monday's through to Wednesday so seemed like a good idea.

Every day we study the weather in the hope that the wind will drop for long enough for us to get around the corner but so far we have been out of luck. When the wind drops it just doesn't give us enough time to move down the Colombian coast and we really don't want to be stuck in Capo de Vela for any length of time waiting for the right weather to move on ....it's better we wait here I think. So fingers crossed for the weather to be on our side soon. In the meantime we'll just enjoy the sun, sea and local brew....

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


We left Bonaire early in the morning and sailed off our mooring hoping not to wake anyone. We hoped to make it to Curaçao before three o clock so we could check in with customs. It was a good passage and the sea was relatively calm till we reached the bottom of Curaçao and made our way up the coast. We managed to sail most of the way using just the Genoa with the wind behind us blowing 20 to 25 knots. We were aiming for Curaçao Marine where we had booked a slip so that we could investigate a creak that seemed to be coming from our boom.
As we turned into Willemstad we had to alert the Queen Emma Bridge control (VHF Ch12 )that we were on our way in and needed them to open the floating pontoon. It seemed an age before they responded but in truth I think they were having a bit of trouble with the engine ....but after ten minutes or so a gap appeared at one end of the pontoon and we slid through. There was a large cruise liner in and we were the subject of many photos taken by cruisers as made our way through the floating pontoon. The floating pontoon is quite a site....and once open the ferries immediately take over so that it is always possible to get from one side of the bridge to the other. We eventually found our slip at the Marine having decided to go to Customs the following morning.

It is about a 25 minute walk from the Marina to Customs and we had not realised that they use the SailClear system here so we could have done all the bureaucratic form filling in on the Net before we arrived but never mind....Immigration is a walk or a ferry ride if the bridge is open over on the side of the town. Formalities completed we wandered around Willemstad and took in the sites and a couple of beers. Just outside Customs there are a number of Venezuelan boats that sell fresh fruit and veg every day and it seems like this is where everyone gets their veggies from. They appear to live on the boats and have an abundance of fresh fruit and veg for sale which is kind of ironic considering that we are led to believe that back in Venezuela people are struggling to put food on the table.

The following day we went to the slavery museum....well worth a trip and packed full of information. Curaçao was once the centre of the Dutch slave trade but the museum references all the 'players' in the trade with artefacts and information. There is also a garden with a  Sculpture Garden for you to wander through.

John has hopefully managed to sort the creak....this involved boiling the gooseneck in oil, using one of my best pans of course! And then immersing it in ice cold water to free it up. I thought it was going to be a mother of a job but with a bit of swearing, a lot of banging and of course some skill the seized part became free and John was able to replace some of the bolts on the boom so now hopefully all is well (fingers crossed!).
We are now waiting for a weather window to make it around top of Colombia ....it always seems to be blowing there and to meet up with our friend Ben there.....he's not Italian he's from Rome!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Bonaire..braving the Iguana!

As we weren't able to ride our scooter through the National Park in the North of the Island we decided to try again but this time we hired. SUV ....the hire car of choice in Bonaire as Divers put their gear in the back and drive around to the many dive sites around the coast. We thought we might snorkel off the beach on the way to the Washington Slagbaai Park and we went with fellow OCC members and friends Rhiann and Rob on Bayzano. Unfortunately it was a very windy day and we eventually decided that it was not an ideal snorkelling day. I know....wimps!!

We took the shorter route around the park ....some stunning scenery and wildlife. The Iguanas just walked right up to you and some were downright aggressive. John found himself a stick to walk with quoting Theodore Roosevelt ' walk softly and carry a big stick! ' . I think it was ' speak softly ' but anyway it worked!... one gave the stick a good bite but they were certainly less intimidating!

The scenery is very arid and reminded us of the Spanish Sierras. In many ways it is easy to see why the Brits gave it up ....they would have struggled to cultivate the land and I should imagine that cactus farming was not an area of expertise !
We did manage to see a few more Flamingos in one of the many salt flats in the Park

With snorkelling written off for the day we made our was to a local restaurant near Rincon, which used to be the capital of Bonaire, much safer from pirates in land we were told. Rincon has a cactus distillery and a little museum and the restaurant had a great panoramic view over the landscape. Rob, Rhiann and myself played safe with the menu and had the catch of the day but John opted for Iguana Stew! John being John and not one to waste food ate the lot but had to admit there were lots of small bones....I should say..he had been warned by the lady who took the order. I think this was a one off and he would not order the same again. The waitress asked him what he thought, agreeing with his comment about bones and saying ' you don't order iguana if you are in a hurry! '