The hope was to leave Aruba by eleven in the morning. We only missed it by a little less than three hours. Finishing up the windlass installation took about three times longer than expected, which is just about right for boat work. But, we did finish it and it’s working like a charm, at least at the dock. After a jaunt through Oranjestad looking for a post office (which also took longer than expected since we discovered if you ask four people standing on the same street corner where the post office is located, you will get four different answers, including there is none), we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the local KFC and returned to the boat for final preparations. Just after 1 p.m., we cast off our dock lines from the Renaissance Marina and motored the short distance to the customs dock, where we again had to tie up while waiting for both customs and immigration officials to come to us. They were very prompt this time, and we had turned our bow westward before 2p.m.
Rather than raise the sails right away, we motored for an hour or so, leaving behind the parking lot of tankers and container ships just off the coast of Aruba awaiting opportunity to come into the harbor. It is a given that on any passage of significant length, something (or more often, some things) will break or not work. It didn’t take long for problem number one to arise. We attempted to unfurl the genoa, but the furler would barely budge. I inspected the system for the usual problems, such as a tangled line,etc. But, could find no reason for the malfunction. With much effort, we were able to unfurl the sail to almost the halfway mark, but no further. So, then, my concern was would I be able to furl the sail back in, or would we be in the unenvious position of having a sail halfway out without being able to adjust as needed. Fortunately, with some additional effort, we were able to furl the sail back in. With the wind almost directly behind us the entire way, it looked like we would be primarily motoring.
So, we alternated using the port and starboard engines throughout the day and night, enjoying the 20-30 knot winds from astern and the six-foot rollers propelling us forward. Well, we mostly enjoyed it. Not long into the passage, Cindy was sitting in the cockpit working on making covers for our fenders. The next thing I knew she was hanging over the transom lifelines emptying her gastric contents. It had occurred to me that sitting with her head down working on the covers was a prime setup for seasickness, but she seemed to be doing well, so I didn’t say anything. Big mistake. Afterwards, she felt much better and did fine the rest of the day. Exacerbating the issue was the fact that she didn’t take her meclizine pre-trip as usual.
The highlight of the evening was a ten-minute visit by a very large solitary dolphin who leapt and frolicked in the waves at the bow. This was pretty unusual as on several occasions we’ve been visited by a small pod of dolphins, but this fellow was out by himself putting on a show for us.
Apollo pulled his chariot down over the horizon around 6:30, and darkness descended upon us. The cloudless sky that we had experienced all day lingered into the night, rendering the vast canvas of space speckled with the innumerable lights of the night. Shortly after midnight, the great hunter, Orion, climbed above the horizon in the east, chasing us through the black, moonless, night. Then, just before 4 a.m., the waning crescent moon made its appearance, illuminating the face of the sea just enough to better see the incessant march of the waves from astern.
I don’t know if it was because of general exhaustion due to our hectic schedule over the past few days, but the night watches of the previous night had taken their toll. I struggle to keep my eyes open on my second watch (5-8 a.m.) But, we both took an extra morning nap, and I took a shower to jump start my day. We found a flying fish in the cockpit this morning. We don’t know when, but he leapt aboard at some point in the night. We brought up one of the memory foam mattresses and slept in the cockpit over night. Unbeknownst to us, we were not alone. I read the owner’s manual for the genoa furling system, but received no enlightenment as to the cause of our furling problems. But, then I noticed that the gennaker halyard was loose. It is difficult to see the fine details of what is happening at the top of the mast, but I believe I discovered the problem. I think the gennaker halyard is wrapped up in the furling system up high. There is no way I’m going up the mast to try to resolve the problem in these conditions, so we’ll just have to continue to motor unless I can come up with an alternative.
As we rounded the northern most tip of Colombia and changed course from about 275° to 240°, I discovered the second challenge to this passage, the first being the failed furler. As I attempted to plan our course on the chart plotter for the rest of the passage, I realized that I don’t have the Garmin charts for Cartagena and westward! The available charts took me to just east of Cartagena, but no further.Now, that’s a problem! I was certain that I had purchased and installed charts of the entire Caribbean, but upon further inspection, I had only purchased the southeastern Caribbean! Fortunately, I have Garmin charts on my iPad and iPad to use as backups. The charts for the iPad include the entire Caribbean. This was the likely source of my confusion, since I assumed the Garmin charts for the chart plotter would be identical. So, the last several hours of our passage, including the entry into Cartagena will be accomplished using my iPad for navigation. I’m at least thankful I have those charts as backup. I’ll have to try to find the other charts I need for the chart plotter in Colombia.
Around 10:30 a.m., I dropped two fishing lines in the water from astern. The resident fishes showed no interest. I’m thinking (I don’t know) that the rough conditions were not the most conducive for fishing. By mid-afternoon we had 30-knot winds and 7-foot seas. The wind was blowing the tops of most of the waves creating a gorgeous backdrop for Beatitude’s passage. The deep blue water was accentuated by multitudinous splotches of white. It reminded me of a vast miniature mountain range of snow-covered peaks. Thousands of flying fish scattered right and left as we cleaved the azure sea. And all the while, Beatitude bore on. It was amazingly comfortable. It’s remarkable how pleasant conditions like these can be when going downwind. Upwind.. now that’s a different story. Conditions for our twenty-one hour passage to the Turks and Caicos from Acklin Island in the Bahamas were similar. But, we had 20-25 knot winds and 6-foot seas into which we motored full-steam ahead the entire time. It wasn’t a happy sight.
The watches of the second night passed uneventfully — the best kind — as we continued our journey southwestward. There was, however, another failure which occurred during the night. Our Delorme InReach satellite tracker/communicator stopped functioning. It would not respond. I could not turn it off and I could not get it to perform any tasks. I use it to post periodic updates on Facebook and to communicate by text with loved ones when on passages. We still have our Iridium Go! satellite phone, but it is one more thing which now needs replacing/repairing.
On this third day of our journey to Colombia, I turned 58 years old. It was a little strange being at sea and far from the reach of text messages, phone calls, and Facebook “Happy Birthdays.” My lovely bride, however, did not let the day pass without a celebration. I contributed by baking my own birthday cake (a rum cake, of course). It tasted good, but didn’t rise well, likely secondary to the constant undulation of our vessel as it rode up and slid down the six-foot waves. Cindy placed candles in the cake, decorated the salon, and sang “Happy Birthday” to me.
Neptune’s gift for my birthday was a slight moderation in conditions throughout the day, starting around noon-time. The stiff breeze let up a bit, and the waves became much more regular and less chaotic. We had seen some waves over ten feet the day before, but today’s maximums were in the six feet range. I didn’t tell Cindy prior to departure, but this stretch of sea, from Aruba to Cartagena, is known for being the roughest passage in the entire Caribbean. The trade winds increase as they whip around the northern coast of Colombia, kicking up waves far larger than elsewhere. It is not uncommon to see steady 30+ knot winds and seas of 9-12 feet.
Here is a short video showing some of the conditions of our passage (the video never truly captures the experience):
Our day was passed to the rhythm of the steady motion of our vessel on the water. For most of the day, we listened to the audiobook of one of my favorite books of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo. Although our audio narrative was filled with excitement nothing exciting happened to us, that is, until dark, when dealing with it would be more challenging. Glitch/Failure/Breakage number four of the passage occurred. We were both sitting at the helm station listening to The Count, when, just as the last remnants of light were disappearing in the west, the sound of the starboard engine changed. I looked at the gauges and noticed that, instead of the 2600 rpm at which it had been running, it was only turning 2100 rpm. It was also a very rough sounding 2100. I tried to increase the throttle, but there was no corresponding increase in engine output. I fired up the port engine and cut the starboard. After waiting for a couple of large cargos ships to pass and the engine to cool off, I donned the life jacket, harness, and tether, secured myself to the boat, and opened up the engine compartment above the starboard stern steps. I had first checked to make sure there was water coming from the exhaust. There was, so my impeller was likely okay. Could something be wrapped around the prop? If so, it was an object in the water as all lines aboard Beatitude were accounted for. The raw-water filter was fine. The engine oil was fine. When I opened up the Racor fuel filter and pulled out the cartridge, I had hit upon the problem, or at least I had hoped. It was quite dirty. Cindy handed me a replacement which was quickly installed. We fired up the engine and…. Voila!… she ran as good as new. Thankfully!
As the day turned to night, there was a significant amount of cargo ship traffic. We were on the stretch of sea between Cartagena and Barranquilla, two of Colombia’s largest ports. The increased traffic would provide us a diversion, if needed, during our night watches. We slowed our vessel for these last overnight hours, so as not to arrive before the morning light. We anticipated entering the harbor at Cartagena shortly after sunrise. We had switched over to iPad navigation earlier in the day after we had journeyed beyond the reach of our installed chart plotter maps. Fortunately, we could still use the AIS as an aid to avoid the massive ships which roamed the Colombian coast. Instead of seeing them on a chart, however, both we and they appeared on our plotter as small moving triangles on a blurred canvas.
In the early morning hours, the glow over Cartagena was clearly visible, signaling that our three-day pass was nearing and end. Six miles from the harbor, just before sunrise, a small pod of dolphins greeted us with a warm Colombian welcome. Five miles from the harbor, as instructed, I radioed the Cartagena Port Control to notify them of our arrival into the country. He asked a number of questions regarding the vessel size, previous port of call, number of persons on board, master’s name, destination within the harbor, etc. After satisfactorily answering these, we proceeded into the outer harbor over an underwater breakwater which had been built during World War II to keep enemy ships out. Just a few minutes later we had made our way into the inner harbor, passing all the high-rise condos on our way in. At 7:30 a.m., we dropped anchor in 30 feet of water just in front of Club Nautico. We had covered 387 nautical miles since leaving the dock in Aruba. It was good to be in South America!
Oh, Yes! And we had flying fish everywhere when we arrived. In the dinghy, on deck, and even in the salon!