The 6th January 2018 arrived and as I mentioned at the end of our previous blog we left beautiful St Lucia in rain and strong winds. The fleet was directed to sail along the coast of St Lucia to its capital Castries as a parade of sail but I don’t think there were many spectators, except Keith and Sarah had braved the rain to see us off from the pontoon. We sailed past Barrel Of Beer Rock and into open Caribbean seas, 3 reefs in the main and 2 reefs in the genoa, with 36 other yachts.
The SSB radio net for the WARC is a twice daily occurrence with Roll call and position at 09:00 and roll call only at 18:00. At the first roll call 3 yacht reported squall, we did experience increase in wind and rain but not excessively. We cooked and ate a simple pasta meal after roll call but this was a little late because we ended up eating in the dark. We don’t put the white lights on as this ruins our night vision. Geoff decided he would continue the ARC tradition of Popmaster after dinner, it was a nice way to enter the night shifts.
Our first night at sea is always difficult and Geoff and I did 2hrs -2.5hr shift and as a consequence slept on and off all of the second day. The morning roll call indicated that most yachts were ahead and pulling away from KS but we were not put off. With only 2 of us on boat safety and comfort is important. With our afternoon cup of coffee we ate our last slice of Alice Christmas cake, not long until Easter. Later in the day the wind had shift towards the north so and had caused us to run below our line so at 16:30 we gybed but still with reefed main and genoa. We were slightly more adventurous for dinner with a Thai green chicken curry and rice, this time prepared early meaning we could eat it immediately SSB roll call was over and in daylight.
The second night started uneventfully but the morning of 8th Jan dawned with our first squall of 28knts at 04:00 and a second squall at 07:30 with max wind of 33kts. The skies did look menacing so we checked the radar picture for heavy clouds and assured ourselves that the squalls had gone through. But during roll call we found ourselves in the center of a trough of strong winds that lasted for almost an hour. The strongest winds were 38kts and the average over this period being 30-35Kts. Geoff decided to hand steer during this time as the rig wasn’t balanced and when the gusts hit screwed KS up into wind. We had too much main up and no time or warning to reduce it further. When the wind reduced to 30kts Vera once again took over the steering.
The following day (9/1/18) we poled out the genoa as the wind was more behind us. Our days are quite standard we catch up on sleep, eat, drink, (water and coffee) and generally watch the world go by. It was during a moment of contemplation that Geoff is convinced he saw a space rocket go straight up from over French Guiana, we never did research if this was true. The evening breeze was quite steady 15kts so we decided to carry the poled out genoa into the night. We normally play safe and bring the pole in at night and at 04:30 a large set of waves and wind increased caused an unexpected gybe, luckily the retainer saved the complete gybe and we were able to eventually steer back but it was a bit scary. The night continued with no more squalls or gybes. The WARC radio net is a twice daily occurrence led by different yachts and on this day it was Mad Monkeys turn and at the morning roll call he tasked us to find a suitable anagram of our yacht name, the best we came with was Trip Risk Denied with a little artist licence on the spelling but that is not unusual with my normal spelling inability!
Wednesday saw KS make good headway along the ABC Islands and towards the Colombian coast. The weather was hot and sunny with a decent 15kts breeze we managed to send an update over the YB tracker to facebook, called Matt, Jo and Mum and once again listened to an episode of Hancocks half hour, we will know it verbatim by the time we reach Australia. We kept 15miles offshore especially as we were passing a large commercial port on the tip of Colombia. In total darkness of the night we suddenly heard our yacht being hailed on VHF radio by Eastern Trader a 289m cargo ship. Upon our acknowledgement of his call the captain/skipper asked if we could pass red-to-red? Yes Yes Yes was the reply from 13 meter KS and we passed with a 4 mile clearance red-to-red. The calm night progressed, and we were finally visited by large dolphins playing as always in our breaking water. We were happy with a steady 3-4kts of speed as we were keen to arrive during the day and see the sights of Santa Marta.
We still had a day left until we expected to arrive in Santa Marta and made the most of good sailing with a competent Vera at the helm. We showered and I trimmed Geoff’s hair and we readied KS for South American stop over. Thursday night was a broken nights sleep due to arrival excitement and wind increase and shifted. In order to get around the headland without getting too close and without gybing we had to run in the lee, meaning downwind and a little further, so Geoff decided that he would hand steer for a few hours. Once around the headland and when Santa Marta was just a couple of miles off we spotted Libeccio a 44 foot catamaran that had been moored next to us in St Lucia. Jane and Kevin and their crew had left a day late but had now caught us up. We called rally control expecting to finish in 20-30 mins but the wind died completely and for 30 minutes we just hardly made any headway. We had come this far and didn’t want to start the engine in the last mile. Finally at 11:48 on Friday 12th Januray KS cross the line and we made our way into Santa Marta Marina, ready for our Colombian adventure to begin.
We were met by a rib who guided us to our space and there was a gent ready to catch our lines. The advice was to reverse in as the fingers were short. We managed our second ever reverse into a space pretty well and once tied up congratulated ourselves on our longest double-handed trip, so far 831 miles ! We we greeted by Thomas and Galen who gave us marina, immigration and WARC event details. The initial thought was this could be a marina anywhere in the world except it was so very hot and sunny. After the obligatory arrival beer we tidied the boat and went to check in, immigration and clearance but they were shut for lunch. This gave us an excuse to eat out, we walked out of the marina via a double gate that was manned by an armed guard, definitely a first. The Marina is overlooked by a small row of restaurants one of which became our favorite serving south American food called La Frontier. The food was lovely and the service was efficient. After finally checking in we went back to KS to catch up on the 6 days of limited sleep then back to the marina square for a welcome party. We had speeches by local dignitaries as well as the minister for tourism. Colombia definitely welcomes WARC and it competitors.
Saturday 15th was WARC first group event and this was to be a BBQ on the beach but not the local beach. 3 coaches picked up the sailors at 9am and drove us to Tayrona National Park. The drive itself was an experience we soon went from built up high-rise area through to streets were people lived in no more than a colourful hut and the roads were one step away from a mud track. There were lots of people sitting by the road selling random goods, water, fruit and second-hand shoes to name just a few. This was the first time we noticed lots of stray dogs and cat but the locals just seemed to accept them. At the National where we had a BBQ area reserved and the beach mostly to ourselves. We swam ate and played tug O war, bit like the old ECA regatta days without the barrel of beer. Once again it was a chance for the different boat crews to get to know each other. It was great for us to listen to other people’s stories of how they came to be sailing around the world. This group of people will be spending the next 15 months together but not us we leave WARC after the Panama transit. On our return to the marina we met another Panama only couple Jane and Greg on a yacht name Orion. They are an Australian couple who have worked in London previously but are now taking their yacht home.
As we were only going to be in Colombia for a few days a guided tour of a local coffee farm was a must so the following day we took an off-road 4×4 bus!! We were taken to a town called Minca and onto a coffee farm named La Victoria. Minca is a small town in the foothills of Sierra Nevada. La Victoria is located 3000ft above sea level and has been a coffee farm for over 100 years. The drive up the mountain made the trip to Alp D’Huez seen sedate in comparison, a small bus, no air-con, going off road and with sheer drops on the side. We were joined by an ex professor called Leon and talked us through the journey but also through the coffee process. We were treated to samples of the coffee produced and then taken around the farm to show us the organic process of preparing the beans for roasting. This particular farm harnessed the power and energy of the water coming down the mountain to run the machinery from sorting the small from the big the good from the bad beans and finally the drying process. Of course we couldn’t leave without a purchase or two. That evening we were invited to an ex pats apartment who lived and worked in Santa Marta as the helicopter pilot of the marina owner. Every week he and his father invite British sailors for a Sunday roast, his was very generous and the meal and meat was much appreciated.
The following 2 days we spent preparing for our trip to San Blas and although not far maybe 2 night there would not be a chance to restock until Panama Colon. The evening was laundry and bar and we were joined by many yachtsmen on their way out for dinner, Orion, Exocet strike, smoking roses and Libeccio to name just a few, lots of people whom we hope to continue to meet as we continue our adventure west. The Skippers briefing on Tuesday 16th gave slightly more information and finalised our date for canal transit 3rd/4th February 2018 but also panicked lots of skippers (including us) into a mad dash to the bank on Wednesday morning for small dollar denotations as “no change will be given in San Blas islands”. The farewell party that evening at a close by hotel. It was a formal event with men wearing long trousers, Geoff finally used his Chinos. We had lovely food and were entertained with traditional dancing and although some did enter the party atmosphere most were ready and waiting for the next leg
Wednesday stated early with shop, bank and then prepare and the last job was to use up the Colombian Peseta, we bought 3 bottles of wine and gave the rest to charity. We just about made the line with a genoa only we made our way west again.
The wind wad ENE 25kts and KS was going well with genoa only that is the way we stayed, the seas were larger than expected so made the quite rolly. We hadn’t attached Vera in our hurry to leave so thought we would hand steer and utilise the auto pilot at times. We had a good 36 hours but as the wind dropped so did our ETA to San Blas islands. Sans Blas islands are coral reefs that are in Panama but are inhabited by natives called Gunas and these Islands are NOT to be entered by dark. So at 01;15 on Friday 19th we switch on our engine and motor sailed the last 70 miles to Panama arriving at finish line 11:25, sailing a total of 303miles. The weather was once again windy and squally so although it was day we couldn’t see through the rain so waited for 15 minutes for the rain to pass before entering the coral reefs of San Blas. We then motored to Holandese Cays and dropped the anchor, eventually, after checking the instruction booklet of the new windlass.
We stayed in this quiet anchorage for 2 days and were frequently visited by local people selling their embroidery and fish and lobsters. We did buy an embroidery square and gave a couple of fishermen fresh water and they gave us a couple of limes.
All the locals were very polite even when sent away with no purchase. We pumped up our tender and went swimming from KS and from a close island and although the water is warm and clear the sea life was not forthcoming. This was our first time washing and showering off the back of KS as too hot to shower below.
We then moved to another anchorage called Chichime Cays this was much busier with lots of yachts charters and the ‘uninhabited islands ‘ had tents and campers on but still the water was clear and warm so no real complaints. We had to go to another of the San Blas islands to clear in called Povenir we were met by Thomas and Stefano who walked us across the only run way in San Blas and to the immigration office. The officials were helpful but so relaxed the 5 minute check in took 30 mins.
Anyway we were in no hurry and on our way back to KS stopped at the “Hotel” that Thomas and Stefano were staying in as they sold beer. We sat with lots of other WARC sailors for 4 hours chatting about our sail to and around the San Blas Islands.
After a very choppy night at anchor we had decided to move to Isla Linton this was a 48 mile trip along the Panamanian coast towards the Canal. This bay was also very busy and Geoff and I dropped anchor 4 times before we were happy that we were not too close to other yachts. Anchoring here is very different to anchoring in UK waters as we only lay with the wind and not the tide, so not much space between yachts.
We went ashore a couple of times and ate in a restaurant, Casa X, who had bats flying around at night as this kept the mosquito count down. As we walked along the shore it was obviously a very poor town with lots of plastic rubbish washed up and a random pig tethered by a stream, but friendly locals. We spent to uncomfortable nights here before moving 12 miles along the coast to Portabella on 26th Jan. This a Port made famous by Christopher Columbus on his 4th trip to the Americas. This was a much better anchorage and more inviting town. We walked to the Church of San Filipe de Portebello to see the famous Black Christ. This small wooden Statue is worshiped by followers throughout Latin America and every year on 21st Oct people walk on their knees from as far as Costa Rica to pay their respects. We also discovered found a shop that sold some food and hardware where Geoff managed to pick up ‘essential’ stuff and I found a box of Klos wine.
After a good night at anchor it was time for us move to our final stop in the Caribbean, Shelter bay marina. It was a short 20-mile sail under Genoa only with the wind 20-25knts directly behind us. As we approached the Canal entrance our AIS signal went mad with literally 100’s of signal mostly from large cargo ships. We arrived at the marina and were welcomed by WARC friends and Thomas.
The rules on entry to the Galapagos Islands are very strict with no barnacles or weed allowed on the bottom and they do check on entry to the Islands. Therefore, we had arranged for KS to be lifted and scrubbed on 29th January so we spent our first couple of days making sure she was ready for the lift. During these preparations on Sunday a very friendly gent with a mask and boiler suit came over to fumigate our boat. After sealing the hatches and windows the job was done but we had forgotten to take out the batteries to the fire alarms! We had to leave the boat for an hour so joined Jane and Kevin from Lebeccio for lunch.
The lift out went well with the yard manager Victor diving on the boat to position the slings and then driving the boat hoist. He and his team were brilliant and very helpful.
Spraying and scraping the propeller helping Geoff grease the propeller, replace the anodes and antifouling the bits that needed a touch up. We arrived back in our berth just as the Admeasures team arrived. These are representatives from the Canal authorities who check the overall length, speed capability and the facilities for our pilot/advisor. All yachts have an individual advisor on board and we must provide fresh food and water, shelter from the sun and clean toilet facilities. This was our last check required so when we passed the questioning we breathed a huge sigh of relief, KS is good to go.
We had exhausted all our fresh food and the mini store on the secure marina site sold good beer wine and basics no real fresh stuff so on the 30th we shared a taxi van to the Mall with Libeccio and Pritax. We managed 5 bags of stuff but the others managed about 20+ each. We will be going again before we leave. Wednesday 31st was an organised trip by WARC to an Embara Village this was a hour and half bus trip then into dugout canoe for a 45min trip down the Chagres River , with a 20hp engine, though a jungle. Embara Indians are an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. In the Embara Language the word ẽberá can be used to mean person, man, or indigenous person, depending on the context in which it is used. There are approximately 33,000 people living in Panama and 50,000 in Colombia who identify as Emberá. The tribe we met live in a national park so have restriction on what they can cut down and it is forbidden to hunt, although they do admit occasionally hunting for personal consumption only. As a result of these restrictions they have turned to tourism to boost their economy. They make baskets and carvings, they gave a demonstration of their craft work skills. They also use henna for tattoo and identification and evidently mosquito repellent, I just couldn’t resist having one. The men wear loin cloths and the women brightly coloured skirts and jewelry but only on special occasions, I not sure what they wear when going about their daily tasks. They practice herbal remedies but if the botanical concoction do not help and the person is sick they are taken to a normal medic but this is >2 hours away. Only Embara people can live in the village and no one is forced to stay. The village we visited had approx. 29 families but there are many Embara villages in the jungles of Panama and Embara Indians can marry Embara from another village. They made us lunch of fish and plantain eaten out of a banana leaf and they demonstrated traditional dance, and encouraged us all to the dance floor. They seemed a truly happy and relax tribe of people.
We were now coming to the end of our stay in the Caribbean and our journey with WARC but looking forward to our trip through the canal and into the enormous pacific.