Denali Rose - Ships Log

Denali Rose
This is the Denali Rose - a beautiful 1983 Nauticat 43 off the coast of Colombia
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Denali Rose Ships Log - 10 November 2011

Denali  RoseJack and I flew into Curacao on September 10th, with four large duffle bags, two backpacks and two computer bags filled with boat parts and one change of clothes for each of us. Our boat, Denali Rose, had been stored on dry land for the hurricane season at Curacao Marine, the island's working boat repair yard. Because of boat insurance requirements, we could not launch until the 19th of the month. In the interim, we booked an efficiency apartment in a nice residential area a short distance from the boatyard. Our rental car was a tiny Chinese four-door called a Great Wall, but the letters had fallen off the trunk, so it now it reads "GreatW," and the glove box was held closed with a shoestring, but the engine and the AC worked.

Although Curacao is in the same time zone as the Eastern Daylight Time so we had no jet lag, but we did need to adjust to the tropical heat and humidity. One day at lunchtime, I (Fred) climbed into the car and the inside temperature read 104º.

Jack spent the days in the boat yard, I stayed in our apartment updating inventories. Each sailing season we bring down all of our medications and vitamins for the entire stay. We also inventoried and replenished our canned goods, enough to last at least until we arrive in Panama in February. We took our list of meats to the largest grocery store and the butcher packed and flash froze each set of meats as we requested and omitted the bulky Styrofoam. The only snag was that, Curacao being a Dutch island, the cuts of meat were labeled in Dutch! However, everyone knows a veleesburger is a hamburger patty?

Jack finished painting the boat's hull, replaced the sacrificial zincs and we launched on schedule. About that time, he discovered that the diesel engine's stop solenoid had given up the ghost. Luckily, he found a new one that almost fit but required a new bracket to be custom made. Yes, there were replacements, identical to the old one, in the USA at half the cost BEFORE shipping and import duties. However, we had a proverbial "bird in the hand," with the Dutch one. In addition, with the local one, we would not be held hostage to the shipping gods; plus if we waited for the US solenoid to be mailed, it might bounce around for weeks through island customs offices and gather dust on island time. We simply could not chance it. If we wanted to be ready to head west when the forecast was right, we could not delay our departure. So, we bought the Dutch one, made a new bracket, welded the metric thread to the USA thread connector, Jack installed it and we were off to Aruba. On the way there, 10 dolphins romped and played beside our boat's bow as if to say, "Happy Birthday, Jack!"

Hello Aruba! There is nothing as gratifying as arriving at a familiar place and finding the same friendly people there to greet you. I just wish every Caribbean island had a marina as well run as the Renaissance Marina in Aruba! While there, we also had dinner with our friend, Janine, and her very nice friend, Gerome. We also met fellow boaters, Michele and his wife, Pamela and their three children from Toronto, Canada, aboard a sailing ketch called Viatrix. They were also sailing to Colombia, so we had a buddy boat heading west with us.

ChartJack talked with weather expert, Chris Parker, each morning and they agreed that we should leave Aruba for Colombia, Wednesday, October 5th. This was a shakedown cruise for our AIS (Automatic Identification System) that shows us where commercial shipping vessels are, their ship's name, current heading and location, and it shows them where we are. As we were passing a commercial freighter, it looked like it was sitting still. Suddenly, it started moving and crossed right in front of us, at less than a half a mile. Our AIS set off its alarm, Jack radioed to the ship and the man at its helm calmly said, "Yes we see you, please pass behind us." Jack proudly told me this incident had paid for the AIS!

This would be our first overnight sail in three years. Jack took the first night watch when we sailed just north of a Venezuelan island. It had a navigation warning light on the island but was surrounded by rocks that spread out for miles around it. Luckily, the rocks showed up on our radar and we had plenty of clearance. Sailors just cannot trust the charts to be perfectly accurate with the GPS due to different chart reference systems. I took over at midnight and stayed up until almost dawn. Our prayers for calm seas were answered. We sailed on until 11 a.m. when we reached the beautiful Colombian anchorage of Cabo de la Vela, about 120 miles southwest of Aruba. The next day we planned to sleep in and have a late start, but at 10 a.m., we were surprised to find someone hailing us from a weathered wooden fishing boat. The fisherman had been paid to bring a travel writer and photographer out to our boat to interview us and take photos! The Colombian writer and his Italian photographer stayed for an hour. Jack gave them the names and email addresses of the boaters who had shared their sailing notes about the Colombia coast with us. That way, if the Colombian publishes his travel book, our friends' guidance might be included

StowawayWe pulled up our anchor and set sail though the night for the charming city of Santa Marta. As usual, I had the dark of night watch with huge storm clouds and periodic flashes of lightning but no rain. At about 3 a.m., I was climbing down the companionway steps when something small bumped my left shoulder and fluttered ahead of me down to the salon table. It was a tiny bird, about 3 inches long; the poor little thing obviously had been blown out to sea by the strong winds of the thunderstorm. I put a small basket over the bird, offered it some cracker crumbs and water but it was not interested in anything but freedom. When Jack awoke to take the wheel, I told him about our feathery stowaway that was under the basket. In the late morning, when we sailed closer to shore, we released our little passenger who immediately took off for land.

Along the way at about noon, a pod of about 20 dolphins of all sizes entertained us for at least 10 minutes. Jack videotaped them as they leaped up in unison! This dolphin experience was one we will never forget!

Next stop was Santa Marta's brand new marina, within easy walking distance to the center of the 500-year-old town. We had hired an excellent agent, Dino, to handle our check-in with the Colombian Customs and Immigration offices. We met up with our Canadian "buddy boat" family and toured the plantation where Simon Bolivar (the South American equivalent to George Washington) had spent his
final months of life.

Jack checked the weather forecast again with Chris Parker and we decided to leave Santa Marta at noon on Thursday, October 13th, and anchor near the town of Rododero. Unfortunately, the winds clocked around causing our boat to roll constantly at anchor, affording us little rest that evening. We pulled up the anchor at 3:00 a.m. on October 14th, during a thunderstorm and sheets of rain and occasional lightning. To add a bit more entertainment to the situation, a tug pulling a huge dredge came out of the fog and soup and crossed our bow about 300 feet to spare. (Needless to say, its AIS was not turned on, so we received no warning.) We did not need coffee to stay awake after an experience like that!

Why were we leaving in the dark of night? You might ask. The answer is that we needed to arrive during daylight hours when we reached the mouth of a huge river farther ahead of us, called the Rio Magdalena. This river drains 1/4 of the country of Colombia into the Caribbean Sea. During the rainy season, entire trees and other debris (very unfriendly to sailboats) float out the mouth, which is two miles wide. Sure enough, when we arrived at the river, we watched the blue/green Caribbean waters turn a cocoa brown and carried small islands of water hyacinths and small logs across our path.

Late that afternoon we arrived at our final anchorage, Punta Hermosa, where we dropped the anchor behind a natural jetty, in protected waters. Cool and gentle breezes lulled us to sleep shortly after sunset. It was a good thing, since we needed to raise the anchor at dawn to reach our final destination, Cartagena, and the Club de Pesca Marina, before dark.

Neptune decided that our quota of fair winds had expired and it was payback time. The changed direction and came at us from the nose. To explain this, picture yourself riding, sidesaddle, on a 43-foot rocking horse, on a lumpy carpet; then, continue galloping along for six hours. That was our final hours before turning into protected harbor at Cartagena. Little did we know that we were arriving on the Saturday afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend. The marina staff was waiting to grab our lines (in Spanish the lines are "sogas"). We were tired and sore, but we were very happy to finally arrive. Jack had started researching this trek three years ago; all his hard work paid off. To celebrate, we popped the cork on the Prosecco bubbly we had brought from Curacao.

From the stern of our boat, we have free entertainment here each weekend. We can looks over to the fuel dock frequented by local babe magnet powerboats and macho fishing boats. According to Jack, watching the big power boat captains jockeying to get fill their tanks is a great show, free of commercials!

That first afternoon, after connecting to shore power (110-volts) and to the water line, we walked down the dock looking for dinner. That is when we learned that the marina was deserted and closed. Since it was a three-day weekend for something, they just closed up with only security and thank goodness, the bartender! This marina had one of the top restaurants but it was closed for the holiday! He told us about another restaurant nearby but it was dark and we were new to town. He could see we were reluctant to venture out the gate. He said, wait a moment, please. He went back to the cook, who was preparing dinner for the employees and they took pity on us. Within minutes, he served us fresh sea bass filets, French fries, and a salad! The tab came to $50 including a few drinks, but worth every peso. What a wonderful welcome to Cartagena!

Thanks to the many international cruisers here in the harbor, we have found a local Spanish teacher who comes to our boat twice a week to teach us the language. Already we feel at ease hailing a cab to tour museums and the shopping mall, etc. Each weekday, the boaters use the marine radio to broadcast an informal "cruisers' net," covering current local weather, security and medical incident reports, help for fellow cruisers and upcoming events. I volunteered to run the Friday morning broadcast and Jack reports the weather, which he pulls down from the internet.

Cartagena HarborCartagena has a population of over 1 million people and thanks to our boating friends here, we have also found a local carpenter and brass refinisher to help us renovate the boat. Yes, our boat, Denali Rose, is on the market for sale, and while we have received some initial nibbles, we are taking our boat broker's advice: only work on projects that you will enjoy yourselves. Part of the enjoyment of working on these "nice to have" boat projects is meeting the artisans and speaking with them in Spanish. We never leave the boat without a dictionary, a map and a cell phone. We never know how long it will take to find the correct place, but we know that once we have found it, we will be richer in experience from the adventure.

Columbian KidsYesterday, as part of Cartagena's 200th liberation festivities, kids dress as devils (similar to our Trick-or-Treat) and we had been advised to carry small change (100 pesos = $.05 cents US) to give to them. Sure enough, we met some 6-year-old boys who acted ferocious dragging a classmate dressed as a devil, but were thrilled to find that two Norte Americanos (North Americans) knew about the tradition and forked over the coins!

We look forward to the Miss Colombia beauty contest here next week, Thanksgiving celebrated with fellow cruisers and the Christmas holidays in the "land where palm trees sway." In January we head to the remote San Blas islands in Panama.

Here is the website Jack created to sell our boat:

Susan & Jack
Cheers from Cartagena!

Susan "Fred" and Jack Webb
Aboard the sailing vessel Denali Rose

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