Aruba to Colombia: A Passage Diary

Day One:

A beautiful parrot fish in the shallow waters of the marina.

A beautiful parrot fish in the shallow waters of the marina.

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.

Cindy on fender and line duty.

Cindy on fender and line duty.

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.

Beatitude plowing through the Caribbean waters.

Beatitude plowing through the Caribbean waters.

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.

Our playful dolphin companion.

Our playful dolphin companion.

This dolphin's an acrobat!

This dolphin’s an acrobat!

Beatitude plowing through the Caribbean waters.

Beatitude plowing through the Caribbean waters.

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.

Good night, Day one!

Good night, Day one!

Day Two:

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.

Good morning, Day two!

Good morning, Day two!

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.

Wilson and Cindy hanging out and crocheting in the cockpit.

Wilson and Cindy hanging out and crocheting in the cockpit.

Wilson, doing his part as crew at the helm station.

Wilson, doing his part as crew at the helm station.

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.

An 8-foot wave obscuring the horizon as it rolls beneath us.

An 8-foot wave obscuring the horizon as it rolls beneath us.

Good night, Day two!

Good night, Day two!

Day Three:

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.

Good morning, Day three!

Good morning, Day three!

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.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Fo what did I wish?

Fo what did I wish?

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!

My lovely assistant in repairing the starboard engine in the dark

My lovely assistant in repairing the starboard engine in the dark

Tethered to our craft, holding the culprit causing the engine problems.

Tethered to our craft, holding the culprit causing the engine problems.

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.

Good night, Day three!

Good night, Day three!

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!

Good morning, Final Day!

Good morning, Final Day!

Congratulatory selfie upon arrival in Cartagena.  Headsets on, ready to anchor

Congratulatory selfie upon arrival in Cartagena. Headsets on, ready to anchor

Anchorage in Cartagena, Colombia

Anchorage in Cartagena, Colombia

At anchor, looking across the inner harbor toward the old city

At anchor, looking across the inner harbor toward the old city

Oh, Yes! And we had flying fish everywhere when we arrived. In the dinghy, on deck, and even in the salon!

Approaching Cartagena, Boca Grande in Silhouette

Approaching Cartagena, Boca Grande in Silhouette

Outrunning a Hurricane

Topping my to-do-list on Saturday was to find a place to watch the Georgia Bulldog game at noon. It was God’s divine mercy that ESPN (in Aruba) was showing Portuguese football rather than the expected college game. Georgia was blown out, and having not witnessed the slaughter, no doubt made for a better frame of mind. Rather than fret over the loss, we headed over to the private, Renaissance Island for a couple of hours of sun and fun on the sand and in the water.

The way out of the hotel by boat.

The way out of the hotel by boat.

On the boat, leaving the Renaissance Hotel, heading out for the private island

On the boat, leaving the Renaissance Hotel, heading out for the private island

Swimming in the warm Aruban waters

Swimming in the warm Aruban waters

At the beach on Renaissance Island

At the beach on Renaissance Island

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Cindy among the Flamingos

Cindy among the Flamingos

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You talkin' to me?

You talkin’ to me?

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My view on Renaissance Island

My view on Renaissance Island

The evening was filled with more Jazz. Friday evening clearly had a heavy dose of funk and R&B, while Saturday had a more Latin/Caribbean flavor. The Frankie Yanga trio kicked the festivities off. We were then treated to the captivating saxophone playing of César López accompanied by the Cuban sound of the Habana Ensemble. Next on the big stage was the wonderful Curaçao native, Izaline Calister, whose vibrant singing touches the soul. She sang most of her songs in the local tongue, Papiamento, although she introduced each of them in English. Her music was definitely my favorite of the night. Perhaps the least favorite was the next to last act of the night, a collaboration of Livi Silvan and Randal Corsen, which had a heavy dose of rap. I think they were clearly pushing the limits of jazz. Finally, we were treated to Unity: A Latin tribute to Michael Jackson with Peruvian-born, Tony Succar featuring the famous Cuban singer-songwriter, Jon Secada. The performance was great, although it was a little strange hearing Michael Jackson’s songs with a strong Latin flair.

Sitting in the picnic/food area of the Jazz Fest.

Sitting in the picnic/food area of the Jazz Fest.

The Frankie Yanga Trio on Stage

The Frankie Yanga Trio on Stage

Frankie Yanga and his fancy guitar.  Not sure what to call it otherwise!

Frankie Yanga and his fancy guitar. Not sure what to call it otherwise!

César López and the Habana Ensemble

César López and the Habana Ensemble

César López

César López

Izaline Calister

Izaline Calister

Izaline Calister and her band

Izaline Calister and her band

The Night-Two Crowd

The Night-Two Crowd

To the left is Randal Corsen on the keyboards; Levi Silvanie, forward on guitar

To the left is Randal Corsen on the keyboards; Levi Silvanie, forward on guitar

Levi Silvanie

Levi Silvanie

Unity: With Tony Succor

Unity: With Tony Succor

Jon Secada

Jon Secada

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Tony Succor: A master on the drums

Tony Succor: A master on the drums

Tony Succor

Tony Succor

Two... Tangoing.

Two… Tangoing.

A little Tango demonstration on the Jazz Fest Grounds

A little Tango demonstration on the Jazz Fest Grounds

Posing with the Tango Dancers

Posing with the Tango Dancers

On Sunday morning, Kenneth showed up to assist me with the windlass. After about two hours of joint-effort, we succeeded in breaking the old windlass free — literally, as we had to break the flange off the motor beneath the deck in order to remove it. It was clearly a two-man job, so I didn’t feel too bad about my previous capitulation. We were able to install the new one with minimal difficulty. It works fine although we’ll have to finalize a few wire-connections on Monday morning. I’ll let you know how it actually works when weighing a few hundred pounds of steel from the sea floor.

Kenneth in the chain locker; I above

Kenneth in the chain locker; I above

Success!  I, with the windlass top; Kenneth, with the motor flange

Success! I, with the windlass top; Kenneth, with the motor flange

Yes, we do!

Yes, we do!

Sunday afternoon was designated for provisioning. We took a bus the several miles to the grocery store and a taxi for the return trip. Why did we travel so far to the grocery store when others were nearby? This wasn’t an ordinary grocery store, but it was “Super Food!” I expected a lot given the name, and we were not disappointed. The store was awesome and had quantities and varieties we hadn’t seen since the states, and then some. It was the most fun I’ve had at a grocery store in months!

Super Food!

Super Food!

You know you're a cruiser when you are this excited to grocery shop.

You know you’re a cruiser when you are this excited to grocery shop.

On Monday, we are planning to leave Aruba for a 400-mile passage to Cartagena, Colombia. We might have stuck around for a couple of more days, if it were not for the high-probability of a hurricane or tropical storm making its way through the ABCs toward the end of the upcoming week. It is very rare for storms to affect the islands this far south, but this appears to have the makings of an unusual event. A weather forecast site I frequently use for passage planning predicts 40-foot waves and winds over 100 m.p.h. in the western Caribbean over the weekend. So, we are leaving Aruba tomorrow morning with plans to be safely anchored in Cartagena by the end of the week. We’ll obviously be watching the weather while underway, but feel confident that we will be well clear of the worst of it before it arrives. We will pray for our friends whose boats are in the southern Caribbean right now waiting our hurricane season.

One of our marina guests

One of our marina guests

Another marina guest

Another marina guest

Yet another marina guest

Yet another marina guest

What's predicted by Saturday a.m.  It will have already affected Aruba.

What’s predicted by Saturday a.m. It will have already affected Aruba.

Aruba… And All That Jazz

Cindy with Heather and her hosts while in California (Gordon and Deanna Swanstrom)

Cindy with Heather and her hosts while in California (Gordon and Deanna Swanstrom)

Cindy and I returned to the southern Caribbean island of Aruba on Wednesday afternoon, exhausted and jet-lagged. I had gotten one hour’s sleep the night before after working into the wee hours of the morning, and Cindy had flown all night from California to meet up with me in Atlanta. We slept almost thirteen hours that night and awoke feeling much better, though our circadian rhythms were not yet in sync.

A new sight since we've been in Aruba: Two cruise ships docked across the harbor

A new sight since we’ve been in Aruba: Two cruise ships docked across the harbor

On Thursday morning, we decided to try out our newly-purchased bread machine (which we purchased in the states and I stashed in my carry-on luggage on the plane). We were very pleased with the finished product. It will be nice to have fresh bread whenever we desire it. After our bread-baking experiment, it was time to ascend the mast. I slipped into the bosun’s chair and attached the main halyard and the topping lift. Cindy took her spot at the helm station and winched me 65 feet in the air to replace the cover on our anchor light. (For some reason, it falls off periodically. This time I tried to secure it with wire ties. The duct-tape I tried last time didn’t last too long). While up there, I inspected the rigging. I think I’m going to need to replace my main halyard soon as it is showing signs of wear from twisting on itself. I also resecured our single-sideband radio antenna which runs up our port shroud and is held in place by wire-ties which systematically succumb to the hot tropical sun and require regular replacement. The day was topped off by a 2-mile walk through town, followed by burgers on the grill aboard Beatitude. Since our bodies and minds were still feeling slightly jet-lagged, we soon retired to our berth.

Our Oster Bread Machine

Our Oster Bread Machine

Enjoying freshly made bread :)

Enjoying freshly made bread 🙂

How high can you go?

How high can you go?

Hanging on to the shroud to secure the antennae

Hanging on to the shroud to secure the antennae

Encountered on our two-mile walk

Encountered on our two-mile walk

Also encountered on our walk

Also encountered on our walk

Shopping mall on the waterfront in Oranjestad

Shopping mall on the waterfront in Oranjestad

Cruise ship leaving Aruba at sunset

Cruise ship leaving Aruba at sunset

The daylight hours of Friday were consumed with more boat work. I crawled down into the engine compartments to change the oil in our dual Yanmar 39-hp diesels. While there I checked fluid levels, filters and belts to make sure all was well and ready for our next passage. Then we turned to the windlass. Since purchasing Beatitude four years ago, we upsized our anchor from the 55-lb Delta to an 85-lb Mantus. We love our oversized anchor which affords a much more restful night of sleep when on the hook, but when adding in 200-feet of 3/8″ chain, that’s a total of around 420 lbs of tackle to haul up, plus the force required to break the anchor free from the bottom in which it is (hopefully) securely buried. Our 1000-watt windlass would usually trip the breaker once or twice every time we raised anchor. So, while in the states, I purchased a 1500-watt replacement in hope that it will perform better with the heavier load. Replacing the windlass, like most other boat jobs, tested my patience and fouled my mood. After at least two hours of trying to remove the old one, I had had enough! On a boat, the salt air tends to corrode most everything metal. A job that looks so simple (in this case, removing four nuts and pulling the windlass components apart) turns in to a Herculean effort of determination and grit. When at wit’s end, I walked away to try another day. Actually, I asked the marina office if anyone was able to take a look at it and help me. I was told someone will come today or tomorrow to assist. At least, while I was futilely toiling away on the windlass, a diver was in the water cleaning our bottom. So, the afternoon wasn’t a total loss. My foul mood was further exacerbated, however, when we decided to go over to the beach on the private island. We threw on our swimsuits, grabbed our towels and walked over to the pick-up dock, only to discover that I didn’t have our Renaissance Marina/Hotel cards which are required to use the facilities. After searching high and low, we wrote them off as permanently lost while away in the states and in need of replacement.

Disconnecting the chain to replace the windlass

Disconnecting the chain to replace the windlass

If all else fails read the directions (which in this case also failed)

If all else fails read the directions (which in this case also failed)

Diver in the water cleaning our hulls

Diver in the water cleaning our hulls

A Frigate with his impressive wing span and forked tail circling overhead

A Frigate with his impressive wing span and forked tail circling overhead

The frustrations of the day, however, were soothed by the activities of the evening. What fortune came our way when we discovered that the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival was taking place on Friday and Saturday evening here in Aruba! And not just in Aruba, but here at the Renaissance in Oranjestad! The festival takes place on four stages with groups performing on each throughout the evening. We experienced a wonderful night of world class music. The jazz here was permeated primarily by music with a heavy dose of funk and R&B, interspersed with some latin rhythms and afrobeats. We started our evening by listening to the young group of performers known as Live Expressions followed by the big-band sound of the Franklin Granadilla Jazz Orchestra. Next, we swayed and moved to the sounds of Dumpstaphunk, a New Orleans-based band with a couple of Neville family members in the group. Our penultimate jazz performance of the night was by my favorite group of the night, New Cool Collective, the “Dutch pioneers of jazz.” Their style consisted of a unique fusion of latin, afrobeat, and jazz. During their performance, they also collaborated with Mark Reilly, a UK jazz singer, who brought an extra flair to the stage, although I much preferred Cool Collective sans singer. It was way past my bedtime when the final act of the night took the main outdoor stage, Kool and the Gang. At 12:15 a.m., this iconic group which began in the 60s as the Jazziacs, took the stage for a raucous conclusion to the night. We crowded close to the stage to enjoy some of their greatest hits. It was a high-energy finish to a wonderful evening of music and food.

Friends made at the Jazz Festival (First photo:  Yvonne and Jackie with Cindy) (Third photo: Ron and Jackie from Michigan) (Fourth photo: Yvonne and Jeneen, from Georgia)

Friends made at the Jazz Festival (First photo: Yvonne and Jackie with Cindy) (Third photo: Ron and Jackie from Michigan) (Fourth photo: Yvonne and Jeneen, from Georgia)

Live Expressions kicked off the night of Jazz

Live Expressions kicked off the night of Jazz

The Franklin Granadilla Jazz Orchestra

The Franklin Granadilla Jazz Orchestra

Dumpstaphunk with a Neville on lead guitar (center) and one on keyboard (right)

Dumpstaphunk with a Neville on lead guitar (center) and one on keyboard (right)

New Cool Collective

New Cool Collective

This guy was crazy!  Both in artistry and, I think, just generally

This guy was crazy! Both in artistry and, I think, just generally

The excellent bongo player in the New Cool Collective

The excellent bongo player in the New Cool Collective

The crowd at the Jazz Fest

The crowd at the Jazz Fest

Dumpstaphunk with a Neville on lead guitar (center) and one on keyboard (right)

Dumpstaphunk with a Neville on lead guitar (center) and one on keyboard (right)

Kool and the Gang on stage

Kool and the Gang on stage

Ronald Bell on tenor sax (one of the founding members)

Ronald Bell on tenor sax (one of the founding members)

Kool on bass

Kool on bass

Kool and the Gang and the crowd

Kool and the Gang and the crowd