Colombian Coast
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Columbian Coast from Bahia Honda to Cartagena

We have benefited from the experience of  the boat Pizzaz and updated by a French yacht Likapati who have sailed along this coast rather than the more usual route straight to Cartagena or to the San Blas archipelago. This is therefore an account of the passage with other sailors in mind and I have included waypoints and suchlike to help anyone interested.

We assume that people have been steering clear of Colombia because of the country's dubious reputation with drugs and kidnapping because the wind and sea conditions on the straight route sound fairly horrific. We found the sailing close into the coast very pleasant with moderate to light winds and the occasional need to motor/sail to get into anchorages before dark. This latter because none of our charts are detailed enough to risk night approaches.

Bahia Honda  

From Monjes we left early in the morning and arrived in Bahia Honda in plenty of time to creep carefully into this bay. It is very shallow round the northern edge but the gently sloping sandy bottom meant that it was easy to get into a protected anchoring spot.
This is the view to the northeast from inside the bay.
Spotted some large yellow jellyfish so decide not to go swimming.

Way Point 
12 23.548' N   71 46.223' W
Anchored  12 22.4' N  71 45.5' W on sand in 2.5 meters

Ferloguen had followed us and having been fishing en-route, Christophe gave us another two tunas!

Cabo de la Vela  

This was an nice headsail run from Honda to Cabo de la Vela. We went round the small island off the point but could have gone between the two. We anchored around the point where there is plenty of room with a sandy bottom. We spent a day here resting although the water was full of the jellyfish as big as big as cauliflowers and bright yellow! So again we didn't swim which was a shame as the water temperature are was 32. It seems that the warmer the water, the more jellies which is a pity.

Way Point 
12
13.344 N  72 10.910' W
Anchored  12 12.3' N 72 10.65 W on sand in 4 - 5 metres

The Guarda Costa came round to check us out but from the look of them they could easily have been the FALC especially the guy with the balaclava and big shades! They didn't actually check our papers, just bumped into the boat, luckily only gently, and went away.

 

In Cabo de la Vela we met another yacht, Don Quijote with Canadian and Austrian couple, Laurence and Heidi. They are the source of most of these photographs for which I am very grateful.
We and Christophe were invited for sundowners and we decided to all sail on together.

Heidi by the light on top of Cabo de la vela

So we finally caught up with the Black Pearl! Funny, she looks a bit different from when Captain Jack Sparrow had her.

Riohacha (Punta de Vela)  

So, from Cabo de la Vela to Punta la Vela.
This is a departure from the route of the Pizazz guide. Rather than the 120 mile overnight trip to 5 Bays we decided to try and stop just after the oil platform and just before the town of RioHacha. We crossed the pipeline at the point marked by two light beacons although we would have had a better angle of sail if we had gone to the north of the platform.
There was a small patch of reef showing on the charts and we thought it would be fine to tuck in behind them for the night. This was a reasonable idea and a better rest than an overnight sail although it was a bit rolly. We didn't go in as far as we think we should have because we were a bit concerned about the depths. A very friendly local called Ruben came out with most of his family. He was very excited because we were the first yachts that he had seen stopped there in the last 10 years. If we hadn't been in a hurry to get on we could have gone and visited his home ( the blue house). 
He spoke fairly good English having worked in Chicago for a while.

Way Point for crossing the oil pipeline 11 44.547' N  72 43.115' W
Way Point outside shoal 11 39.53' N    72 50.732' W
Anchored 11 12.3' N 74 13.8' W on sand in 2.5 metres

5 Bays - Bahia Cinto  

We left Punta de Vela at 3 am and since the others had requested an alarm call, Foss played Auld Lang Syne on the saxophone over the VHF channel that we had been using to stay in contact with each other. Not really an approved use of the VHF but terribly effective!
We had an excellent sail for most of the way with headsail and goose-winged main. We had to motor/sail for the last 3 hours as the wind had dropped and we had to get into the bay before nightfall.
We tucked right into the north eastern end of the bay in a very sheltered spot. This is a beautiful bay surrounded  by green mountains and looking very like Scotland when we arrived as it was covered by lowering cloud. The water is clear and clean with no jellyfish. 
We had hardly got anchored when the heavens opened and violent thunder and lightning surrounded us. I hurriedly wiped off the top of the doghouse and Erik fitted up the water catching pipes so we could fill up our water tanks.

The mayor of Santa Marta owns a house here with a palm-leafed kiosco on the beach.
We decided to borrow the kiosco and the attached barbeque for the remainder of Christophe's fish and we all had a party. As the only Frenchman, Christophe had to be chef!

Way Point 
11
21.119' N  74 03.32 W
Anchored  11 19.9 74 03.1 N on sand in 5 metres

Rodadero  

Don Quijote decided to move to the third bay and stay there for a few days so after another swim in the lovely clean waters of the bay we and Ferloguen set off again to go round the corner, past Santa Marta to Rodadero beach. Having parted company with Don Quijote there are no more photos unless we meet up again.

We went between Isla Aguja and the mainland. The passage is quite wide enough but there is a semi-submerged rock in the middle of what the chart shows as a clear channel. heading into the sun as we were it was nearly invisible and gave us a bit of a surprise!
The route through that we took is as follows:
Way Points
11 18.855' N  74 10.957' W
11 18.591' N  74 11.285' W
  11 18.479' N  74 11.394' W
  11 18.375' N 74 11.516' W
   11 18.214 N 7411 .739' W

                 

On the way into Rodeadero Bay you pass a large rock which is covered in numerous strange buildings with spiral stairs and balconies like the prows of ships but all slightly ruined and looking rather like an illustration from Lord of the Rings. This anchorage is rather a culture shock from peaceful Bahia Cinto with the high rise hotels, loud disco music and speed boats and the like screaming round the bay. However it was a reasonable overnight stop before the Rio Magdalena crossing.

Way Point 
11 12.366' N  74 14.461' W
Anchored  11 12.3' N 74 13.8' W on sand in 4 metres but sharply shelving

Punta Hermosa  

At 3am (again!) with the disco music still pounding, we left Rodadero. Up till now the winds had been light but already the wind was freshening. By dawn we had 20-25 knots of wind on the stern quarter and a big swell with breaking waves. This was a bit unnerving as we knew we had to be a bit careful crossing the mouth of the Rio Magdalena. This river is the biggest river in Colombia and a lot of debris is brought down from the mountains and spilled out into the sea..
We had planned to cross about 2-3 miles out from land but in light of the weather we decided to stay out roughly at the 200 metre line to avoid the steepness of the waves in the shallower water.
We had been warned to look out for logs and floating rafts of vegetation that had been washed down the river. What we hadn't been warned about was the sudden interface between the outflow and the sea. As we approached, we could see what looked like a low shore or reef dead ahead! 
As we got nearer and the brown line became clearer we could see that it was the muddy river water. As we crossed the sharp dividing line between ocean blue and river brown,  we were swung violently to starboard, heeling right over and heading off-course by 30 or more!
However, after a few minutes, the river current actually calmed the waves down significantly and the current helped us on our way to Punta Hermosa.
There were lots of way points provided by other sailors for this anchorage, mostly because the sand bar does not appear on any charts even though it has beach huts and even larger buildings on it!
This following course worked for us. Basically it is an area of variable shallows with a sandy bottom and you have to keep an eye on the depth as you come in.
As you come round into the bay, the sand bar and the beach look like they have giant strips of corrugated cardboard laid along them. These are long rows of palm-thatched beach shelters which on a rather windy and cool Saturday were pretty deserted. We went as far up the bay as we reasonably could with a slowly shelving sandy bottom.

Way Points 
10 57.074 N  75 03.701'W
   10 55.629 N  75
02.937 W
     10 55.995 N  75 02.427 W
Anchored 10 56.7' N 75 01.7'W on sand in 2.5 metres

 

   
Cartagena

Apart from giving Punta Canoas a wide berth, the trip to Cartagena was a straight-forward downwind run. The crossing point of the submerged wall across the harbour mouth is marked with red and green buoys that you can see, with binoculars, from the waypoint.

Way Point 10 25.361 N  75 34.717' W


CARTAGENA

After Cartagena we decided to continue on down the Colombian coast as far as possible before crossing to the San Blas Archipelago. Foss bought a new camera in Cartagena so we have pictures again. We did meet up with Don Quijote again when they limped into Cartagena a few days after us with a dead gear box and having been struck by lightening in Bahia Guayraca! We hadn't the heart to pester them for more photos even if they had actually had time to take any. Apparently, after we left them, the wind increased a lot, gusting up to 50 knots in the bay which wasn't as well protected as Bahia Cinto.
The lightening strike burnt out the aerial/radio and maybe the depth sounder but apparently not too much else. It could have been much worse and we felt very lucky that we had pressed on with the trip rather than waiting. Thank you Sue for the weather forecast!
We make a habit of  keeping all the electronic devices, that are not permanently attached, in the oven which should be an effective Faraday cage should we be struck by lightening. That way we should be left with a few functioning gismos if the worst happens.

Islas Rosarios ( Isla Grande )  

Christophe decided to accompany us at least as for as the border with Colombia. He is headed for Costa Rica but his boat, Ferloguen, is not suitable for big seas so coastal hopping seemed like a better idea.

Our dingy got punctured by the dinghy dock at the Club Nautico in Cartagena so Christophe is being our ferry service to allow us to go sightseeing.

Our chart is not at all accurate for depths round here so we came in fairly cautiously. The following worked for us ( we didn't want to go to the main harbour)
We were in deep water until the last moment when it was suddenly 2 metres. 
Way Points 
10 11.0383' N  75 41.575' 'W
10 10.583' N  75
42.059' W
10
10.142' N  75 42.853' W
10
10.169' N  75 43.873' W
           10
10.089' N   75 43.372' W          
10
10.215' N  75 43.812' W

Anchored    10 10.472' N 75 43.954' W    on sand and scattered coral in 12 metres

Islas Bernados ( Isla Tintipan )  

It seemed odd that all the larger islands were empty and all the village crowded into one tiny island.

There were also quite a few big fancy houses owned by rich Colombians.
Holiday homes?

Anchored 9

We left by a different route which gets safely through a narrow gap in the surrounding reef
Way Points
9
46.825 N 75 51.015 W
9
46.577 N 75 50.584 W 
9
45.192 N 75 50.715' W
9 43.116 N 75 50.110' W

Isla Fuerte  

 

Antonio paddled out as we were arriving and guided us through between the large underwater rocks that were all around this anchorage and the next morning he sold us some red snappers.

9 23.09' N 76 10.028'W
9 23.09' N 76 10.119' W
9 23.059' N 76 10.160' W
9 23.060' N 76 10.280'W
9 23.098' N 76 10.370' W
9 23.143' N 76 10.410' W

Anchored 9 23.125' N 76 10.44' W


NEXT FISH IN PANAMA