The Republic of Colombia is a unitary, constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. It is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil to the south by Ecuador and Peru and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization ultimately creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada, with its capital at Bogotá. Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 "Gran Colombia" had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903.
Colombia is ethnically diverse, and the interaction between descendants of the originalnative inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans originally brought to the country as slaves, and 20th-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, has produced a rich cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's varied geography, and the imposing landscape of the country has resulted in the development of very strong regional identities, in many cases stronger than the national. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines.
Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries, and is considered the most megadiverse per square kilometer. Colombia is a middle power with the third largest economy in South America, and is part of the CIVETS group of six leadingemerging markets. Its principal industries include oil, mining, chemicals, health related products, food processing, agricultural products, textile and fabrics, garments, forest products, machinery, electronics, military products, metal products, home and office material, construction equipment and materials, banking, financial services, software, IT services and the automotive industry.
26 January 2014
Since we had a six month break from sailing we had a long time to think about this passage. We had read numerous articles and spoken to many people it was clear this was not going to be an easy passage. It is rated as the fifth most dangerous passage in the world. The trade winds which blow freely across the open Caribbean and along the Columbian coast join with the katabatic winds from the Sierra Nevada mountain range to create frequent gale force conditions. It is not unusual to see 30 knots of wind during the day and 40 knots at night. The long fetch before the Columbian coast also allows large short waves to develop.
The main issue was to decide between an in-shore and off-shore route. Most books and older reports indicated, with no explanation, it was too dangerous to stay close inshore. Clearly without accurate navigation the steep rocky coastline was dangerous but nowadays everyone has accurate GPS chart plotters, so the risk of making errors in my opinion was no different to any where else. Staying 50-100NM off-shore would certainly eliminate this risk but the seas would be clearly much bigger.
The other danger in-shore was pirates. During Columbia's drug running years piracy was a real issue and a number of yachts had been attacked, even as recent as 2012. Nevertheless, recent articles suggested Columbia had cleaned up it's act and the coast is now relativly free from piracy.
When we finally departed other boats wanting to make this passage could not agree on the best approach. We decided on the in-shore route.
Soft-sand beaches and exotic nooks are abound in this magical city. Santa Marta, the capital of the Department of Magdalena, is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Colombia. It possesses a unique architectonic patrimony, and is the oldest city in Colombia and South America, founded in 1525 by the Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas.
25 January 2014
Having decided to take the in-shore route from Curaçao to Santa Marta the next decision was when. On this stretch, with two nights at sea and a high risk of localized gusty winds, we wanted to avoid winds stronger than 25kts. Since the wind always appear to be 5kts stronger than GRIB forecast winds, we waited for maximum forecast winds of around 20kts.
In this part of the world the winds regularly blows 20kts-30kts from January to March and on average every 10-14 days are interrupted by a cold front moving down North America. The influence of the front is never certain so there is some degree of risk that it may not be significant.
We missed one good weather window over Christmas and we had to wait 4 weeks until the next opportunity arose. I planned the timing of the passage so we would sail the two difficult cape stretches in daylight. We sailed from Curacoa to Aruba. Waited here one night at anchor, made a last minute weather check and decided to go. Two other boats anchored with us in Aruba also hoping to make the same passage, decided not to go. The small catamaran 'Paranda' found the crossing from Curacao to Aruba the day before so challenging they decided to stay possibly until October when the wind usually blows less. The other mono hull got advice from a professional weather router and did not go.
We departed at 1600hr and arrived after 44hours later, one hour longer than expected. The wind was so little we had to motor for 20 hours between Los Monjes and shortly before the Carbo Punta Gallinas and shortly after the cape until 25NM before Carbo La Aguja. At the capes we had almost 30kts and orderly but moderate seas.
We had a fantastic trip. We didn't want to acknowledge it until we arrived in Santa Marta just in case we were pooped at the last minute by 40kts winds and huge waves which we discovered several boats experience several days before us.
26 January 2014
We have arrived in Santa Marta, Columbia after a super 1day 20hr uneventful trip. Calm to moderate seas and 10-25kts wind. A lot luckier than our friends who arrived the day before and experienced 45kt winds and big seas !
29 January 2014
Day trip to Minca, 650m up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.
2 February 2014
One of Colombia's most popular national parks, Tayrona is set on the jungle-covered coast at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The park stretches along the coast from the Bahía de Taganga near Santa Marta to the mouth of the Río Piedras, 35km to the east.
Also known as the Five Bays is not the best place to anchor. Two boats we met who tried to anchor here both experienced 60 Kts of katabatic wind. We went there with the chicken bus from Calle 11, Carrera 11, Santa Marta. From the park entrance we got a second bus to Cañaveral and then walked 90 minutes to the beach at Arrecifes. Too dangerous to swim. Over 100 people have already drowned here. It is 'dry jungle forest'. Most people stayed overnight in tents or in hammocks. Eveline was worried about the bugs so we walked back.
6 February 2014
This is the bay we passed coming into Santa Marta. A few years ago it was in the hands of the drug running mafia.
6 February 2014
These oversized canoes or dugout boats are made from one dugout tree trunk. Many of them are so old and weak they have been sheathed in fibre glass. They measure at least 8m long. It is amazing how many are still being used by local fisherman.
26 February 2014
Against the advice of recent cruising articles to visit Cartagena by bus from Santa Marta, we sailed there. Despite paying an additional US70 for an agent to clear us in, this was the better option as we could stay as long as we wished.
The notorious stretch of water between Santa Marta and Cartagena could also be done in two daylight passages and anchoring overnight at Puerto Velero (Punta Hermoso). This 114NM stretch can be one of the most dangerous in the Caribbean. You can encounter 40kt winds, unpredictable downwind seas, the crossing of the Magdalena river estuary and pirates at Puerto Velero.
Since the last reported case of piracy was 2012 we ruled this risk out as long as we anchored close to the new marina at Punta Velero. Rainfall was low this time of year, so debris ladened river flow was also a low risk. Our only concern was the wind, so we were lucky when a very calm weather window opened.
We set off from Santa Marta at 0600 with 5 kts head winds forecast to change soon in our favour. The wind didn't change until much later. We had to motor but, the consolation was, we had relatively calm seas. We only noticed crossing the Rio Magdalena because the sea changed colour from blue to dirty brown. At midday the wind finaly changed and blew from behind at 15-20kts (forecast 15kts).
At 1600 we approached Puerto Velero. Here we had to be very careful and navigate by eye only. Not easy in murky water. Only Google Earth showed a realistic map of the land spit that protruded 2NM out from the coast. There are no water depths on Google! . Navionics, Garmin and CMap charts all showed a spit half this size. Only later did we obtain an official Columbian chart that appeared accurate. By the time we got to the marina the wind was gusting 25kts and there was no way we were going to try a med mooring without help, so we anchored in 5m of water to the west of the dock in very calm water.
Below is the Google Earth map superimposed over the Navionics chart !
27 February 2014
Following a quiet and dark night at anchor (Marina turned their generator off at midnight) in Puerto Velero we upped the hook and headed straight for Cartagena. Again we had head winds for the firsts 3 hours and then a comfortable 10-15kts set in from aft until we reached Cartagena. We approached the harbour through the northern Bocca Grande entrance .
Thia entrance is an interesting feature in that even though it is 500m wide the navigable 3.5m deep channel in the middle is only 50m wide. Over 200 years ago the Spanish built an underwater barrier across the entire entrance forcing the English and French invaders to use a heavily fortified entrance further south. England only penetrated this southern entrance once with 180 ships and at a cost of 8000 lives ! At that time Cartagena was the centre for gold for South America.
We anchored opposite the Club Nautico in 12m of water opposite the old city, on one side a very busy container terminal and on the other a city skyline like Manhattan.
Apart from catching a Jack Cravelle fish and air in the diesel fuel lines we had a wonderful trip. Several boats we met in Categena who came from Santa Marta were not so lucky. Just before the Rio Magdalena they were completely pooped broadside with large random waves coming on board and flooding their cockpit.
We were very surprised how advanced Columbia is. Apart from the well preserved colonial old city, the skyline was dominated with very modern multi story buldings. Above all the people were very friendly and extremely helpfull.
6 Februray 2014
Moored off the hipi beach at Taganga
27 February 2014
Cartagena must be one of the few places where you can host regatta sailing in the middle of town. Sailing into one of the largest natural harbours in the world is amazing. First you navigate the opening of the underwater wall and then you sail on a vast open expanse with a modern skyline on one side and the old historical town in the middle with the container terminal on the other side. Certainly a very interesting place to be. Some people prefer to take the bus from Santa Marta, which can be between 4-6 hours, stay overnight and visit the city of Cartagena, well, I think they miss out on anchoring in such unusual surroundings. Sure, you have to check in and out again, which will cost you $70.- , but it is easy and done by the many agents offering this service. The dinghy dock is very safe, nobody locks his dinghy there, Club Nautico charges $5,- /day or $25,- / week, this includes unlimited water. There is no anchoring fee, the water is deep and in places the holding not good, but it is a large area and one can find always a good spot.
The historical town is within walking distance from Club Nautico, a taxi will cost you $3,- to anywhere in Cartagena. The atmosphere of the historical part is wonderful, some people think it is spoiled by the many cruise ships which arrive almost daily. I think it charming and well worth a visit.
7 March 2014
In order to shorten the passage by a few miles between San Blas and Cartegena, we have sailed 20NM south west to Isals del Rosario. Here we waite for wind to sail the 175NM to San Blas.
It is like going back 50 years in time. The islands have no water and each house must generate its own electricity. The inhabitants are friendly but look lost for things to do (and eat). The the few hotels there are appear closed or run down. We are anchored in a small protected channel 'caño Ratón' directly opposite the Armada Nacional who have no interest in us. A good job becauase we have officially cleared out of Columbia several days ago !