Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

December 2:  

     East of Los Roques lies an even more remote reef and island group called Los Aves.  There are actually two separate horse shoe shaped reefs separated by about 10 miles of deep water.  We arrived at the first Ave after a long sail over rougher waters than we were expecting.  Then, to make matters worse, just as we arrived it began to pour rain.  A squall line hit us with 25 knot winds and a driving rain that eliminated our visibility.

     This was not a good thing, because to anchor in the Aves requires you to sail through a veritable maze of shoals to get to a safe anchorage.  We ended up standing off a few miles, slowly motoring into the wind until conditions improved enough to see the shoals.  We have rarely been more thankful to finally drop anchor and relax.

     Aves is the Spanish word for bird.  The Bird Islands, these are called.  They are aptly named.  The main island is home to an enormous colony of several different sea birds.  There are frigate birds and brown boobies and red footed boobies and probably a few others that I can't identify.  They soar many miles out to sea to feed, then at dusk they all congregate to squalk and cluck at each other...probably sharing stories about what they have seen in their travels.  Each bird seems to enjoy making a long circular glide around their roost before finally coming in for a landing.

    Emmett and I took the dinghy and motored along the shallow waters to watch the birds.  I pointed out the differences between the brown boobies and the red footed boobies, which is about as easy as their names might suggest.  Emmett seemed to enjoy being able to say the word "boobie" without fear of reprimand.

    The Redfooted Boobies of Los AvesUliad anchored in Los Aves, Venezuela



December 6:

       We spent several days exploring the gin-clear waters of Aves Bartolomento with our friends on Independence before moving on to the second island group of Aves Sotovento.  There is a small Venezuelan Coast Guard Station here watching their frontier.  As we sailed by, the radio crackled to life with Spanish.  I had no idea what they were saying but thought I may have heard "Barca" and "Azul" in there so I wondered if they were hailing me.  Then they tried again in broken English and I replied.

       They dutifully asked my ships name, last port, destination, number of people on board and so on.  They even asked me to spell my name.  Then when their paperwork was evidently completed, the voice abruptly called, "OK then.  Have good sailing, Capitan!"  Independence was a mile or so behind us and the Coast Guard never even bothered to call them.  I guess the crew on duty felt that with my information, they already had enough to show their superior officers that they had been working hard that day. 

      By now, we had been doing so much snorkeling and spearfishing in the Aves that everyone was getting tired of seafood.  I ended up putting two lobsters in the freezer for another day!  On my first snorkel here to check the anchor, I noticed the lair of an octopus on the bottom.  Octopi come out of their den at night to feed on shellfish.  You can tell where an octopus lives by the "litter" of empty clamshells in front of their hole.  Upon diving down to investigate, sure enough.  When I peered into the hole I could see a big purple tentacle curled up just inside.  Otis had speared another octopus a few days earlier and our efforts to clean it and cook it were successful enough that we wanted another.

Lobsters in Los AvesA hogfish I spearedThe octopus on the fish cleaning table

     Emmett and his friend Ben were thrilled to know they'd get to watch me rassle another one out of its hole.  The spearing part was fairly simple, but it took a lot of strength to yank him out of his hole.  (Eight legs of suckers can really hang on!)  The kids had a blast getting to watch it up close and they even got brave enough to touch it after a while.  They never got quite brave enough to eat it, though.  Marinated in a sweet chili-garlic sauce, the tentacles ended up as an appetizer on Independence that night as a prelude to Otis' grilled lobster.  Dinner was followed by a showy display of meteors put on by the universe for us as we lay on Independence's foredeck trampolines.

    Our time in the out islands of Venezuela has been incredible.  The snorkeling here has been the best we've had since the Bahamas, the beaches are beautiful, the bird watching amazing, and what people we have come across have always been very friendly.  We have deliberately slowed down through this area to enjoy it more.  A great pleasure of this way of life is the ability to live without a schedule.  If we like a place, we can stay.  If we don't, we can leave sooner.  After living most of our lives according to the schedules of school, jobs, designated holidays, and so on, it has taken time for us to be able to do otherwise.  But it is a gift, a true gift to have the freedom to spend an afternoon marvelling at a flock of birds without worry that we won't get to our next destination "on time".

    That being said, it is time to move on.  We need to get some groceries.  After three weeks being rather incommunicado, we start thinking maybe we should check our email.  We have family wanting to meet us in Curacao in a week.  So, reluctantly, we say goodbye to this richly beautiful place. 


December 7:

     OK, we couldn't resist.  We stayed one more day in Aves de Sotovento so we could have one more day of snorkeling and have a beach bonfire with Independence.  The kids loved roasting marshmallows and poking the fire, as boys inevitably do.  After that grew tiresome (for the adults, not the kids) we sent them out looking for plastic bottles along the beach to burn in the fire.  There is a global crisis of floating plastic debris on the ocean that washes up even on remote places like this.  So we did our part to combat the problem.  If some rain sprinkles had not brought our campfire to a hasty conclusion, we might have spent all night around the fire laughing and talking and worrying that the boys would burn themselves as they poked the fire.

      We finally raised anchor around 3am to make the crossing back to civilization.  The wind was more favorable than we expected and by 9am we were racing at over 8 knots along the shore of Bonaire.  Soon there were cars along shore and radio towers and a large salt factory in view.  We took a mooring off the colorful little town of Kralendijk.  Jet skis whizzed by.  Car horns honked occasionally on shore.  One might be tempted to mourn returning to the bustle of modern society again.  But not us.  We headed off in search of ice cream. 



December 10:


     I read somewhere that Bonaire is the only place in the Caribbean where the coral reefs are still considered to be in a healthy, "like-new" condition.  It's not easy being coral these days.  Global warming and rising ocean temperatures is causing shallow reefs to bleach out.  Pollution and fishing are taking their tolls.  Storms (also more freqent with global warming) also take their toll. 

     We have seen the effects of this everywhere we've travelled:  dead fields of coral looking more like artful rocks than the colorful stuff of Jacques Cousteau shows, bleached patches where the coral has turned white under the stress, places curiously devoid of any edible fish, and so on.  So we were really excited to have a look at what coral reefs are supposed to look like.  Bonaire didn't disappoint.

    First of all, the water here is as clear as we've seen anywhere.  I could look down off the deck of Uliad and see the coral heads with fish swimming around 30 feet below us in the moonlight!  By day, the visibility extends to 100 feet or more.  The topography here is also rather unique.  The whole island juts up from the seabed 1000 feet below.  We tied off to a mooring with our bow in 25 feet of water.  Off our stern, the bottom was nearly 100 feet down and dropping.  Scuba diving here is done in that zone:  20 to 100 feet along a steep slope.  The coral reefs are apparently deep enough to get some protection from storm damage.  The water is clear enough to allow plenty of sunlight to penetrate.  And Bonaire has been careful enough to preserve it all.

Looking off Uliad into 30' of water--BonaireSunset in Bonaire

    While Venezuela has managed to preserve Los Roques and Los Aves by simply making it very difficult for anyone to visit them, Bonaire welcomes cruise ships and plane loads of tourists, but then enforces very strict environmental laws to protect it all.  The diving is pretty fantastic almost everywhere.  Just pick a spot about 50 yards from shore (the stern of Uliad, parked right in front of town, worked just fine) and descend.  We found that steep wall completely encrusted with colorful corals and sponges, schools of healthy fish, and visibility that extended shockingly down into the abyss.  We tried more remote spots, but it really was good all over. 

    Combine that with Dutch modernity and a quaint little town, neat as a pin, and we have put Bonaire on our list of places to come back to someday.  Because sadly, we have to leave too soon.  Tomorrow morning we're going to make the run west to Curacao where my Dad is flying in for a visit.  Hopefully it will be just as nice there!



December 13:

    Our passage from Bonaire to Curacao was a fast, downwind passage.  With the help of a current, we arrived hours ahead of schedule and motored up the long, narrow channel into a protected inland bay called Spanish Waters.  We had timed our arrival to coincide with my Dad.  He and his friend Faye were flying down to meet us with promises of mail and early Christmas presents.  So after dropping the anchor, we turned on the cell phone and waited for his arrival over a sunset dinner in the cockpit.

    Later that evening the call came:  Dad and Faye had been stuck all day in Chicago because of some mechanical problem with the plane.  As a result, they missed their connection in Miami and were spending the night there.  They'd be arriving in Curacao a day late.

    Now one thing I've really come to appreciate about travelling by sailboat is the complete avoidance of airports.  We never have to stand in line to check our bags...never have to sit next to some irate lady whose flight was cancelled.  We never have to have a customs guy rifle through our underpants in public, have our luggage get lost, or pay $8.00 for a hot dog.  So we felt bad for Dad & Faye as I sipped on my Rum & Coke in the cockpit that evening.  We really did.

    Although we can avoid the airport hassles, we do still have to pay a visit to the Customs and Immigration offices every time we enter a new country.  Rather than standing in a huge line at the airport for this, I usually drop by some office near the waterfront, fill out a form, get our passports stamped, and 5 minutes later I'm heading back to the boat.  Usually but not always.

    On the morning after our arrival, I set out for the Curacao Customs office, which was unfortunately located in the city of Williamstead--a 20 minute bus ride away.  The bus comes about every hour to a bus stop near a fishing port, so I found that and sat down to wait.  Despite arriving 10 minutes bus.  Finally about 35 minutes late the bus arrived.  So if a bus is supposed to pass every hour and it's 35 minutes late, then I guess the bus can pretty much show up at any random time, right?  With that fact clear, I rode along until we arrived in downtown Willamstead.  I wandered among the cruise ship tourists until I found the Customs office.  After filling out their forms, I was directed to go to Immigration.  The directions given to me were something like, "go over the bridge, turn right, then walk down the waterfront as far as you can go.

   There is a large pedestrian bridge that crosses the entrance to Williamstad harbor.  When one of the big tanker ships needs to come in to one of the oil refineries here, they just swing one end of the floating bridge over with bewildered tourists trapped on it.  I crossed just in the nick of time before it started to swing open.  I turned right as instructed and started walking.  About a mile later I had still not seen any Immigration office.  The road ended near a cruise ship pier.  I asked the security guard at the gate.  "Immigration?" he parotted with a bewildered look.  "No immigration here. I think is at Post office!"   I wandered back and forth for a while until I discovered a sign showing a map of the city complete with the "you are here" arrow.  I decided to stop by the police station for directions. 

   "Immigration is at the post office, on the other side of the bridge", they told me.

    Great.  So I walk back over the bridge.  The post office is about a block past the Customs office where I started, so I decided to stop in and tell the lady there how successful her directions were.  "No, no," she tells me.  The immigration office at the Post Office is only open on Mondays, and the one I want is across the bridge, where she told me in the first place.  "A green building, with a sign in front", she adds, hoping that will clarify the situation.

    So back over the bridge I went.  Except the bridge was now swung open to allow a huge cruise ship to enter.  Just when it looked like I'd be standing around for a good half hour or so waiting for this, I noticed that two little ferry boats were running people back and forth, picking up the slack when the bridge was not doing its job.  I hopped on the ferry and it crossed over just behind the cruise ship.  Then I spent another half hour stopping in every building with any green paint on it.  (Every building in the city is painted in Caribbean colors.  And while only a few are green, there is the shutters, the trim, the door, and so forth.)  Nope.  Nobody had heard of any immigration office in this neighborhood. 

   The only place left was the cruise ship pier along the waterfront.  It made sense that if ships docked there, they'd need immigration, right?  I ignored the security guard and marched through the gate, following the waterfront and keeping a keen eye out for green buildings.  Finally, around a corner and a good mile and a half from customs was a small green building with a sign reading Immigration!  I had reached the promised land!  I filled out their form, got our passports stamped and was ready to go, when the officer mentioned that I must also stop by the Port Captain's office and get permission to anchor in Spanish Waters.  Oh, and also permission to anchor anyplace else that I might want to go.  And oh, by the way, their office is closed until 1:30, so you'll have to wait. 

    By now, an airport security line doesn't sound so bad after all.  I stand around in front of the port Captain's office for 15 minutes or so.  At 1:45 a cleaning lady walks out of the locked door, and I manage to slip in.  There is a small vestibule with what looks like a bank teller window.  Only without the bank teller.  Through the glass and a crack in the door I can make out a person on the phone in their small office.  After patiently waiting another 10 minutes or so, I start banging on the glass.  Eventually the person on the phone waves to acknowledge my presence.  She finishes her call and wanders over.  She asks where Uliad is anchored and how Uliad is spelled, then hands me a sheet of paper with my anchoring permission.  And, thankfully, she did not direct me to stop by any other offices!  I hiked back across the foot bridge and back to the bus stop, resisting the temptation to inform the security guard at the gate that there actually IS an immigration office that he is apparently supposed to be protecting.  A half hour later I had found my bus and by mid-afternoon was back to Uliad.

   So there's more hassles in the world than just airports, I guess.  And it turned out to be a good thing that we did arrive a day ahead of my Dad.  I needed it just to clear into Curacao!  

The Williamstead, Curacao Waterfront


December 15:


     We finally met up with my Dad and went to check out the fancy beachfront resort they're staying at.  You might think that swimming would be passe for Emmett by now, but he took one look at the big freshwater pool there and wanted to spend all day in it.  With a swim-up bar full of tasty Mojitos, the adults soon followed. 

Dad & Faye in Curacao

     We had been feeling badly about Dad & Faye's last couple of trips to visit us.  Both Turks & Caicos as well as Trinidad were not places we could take them out for a sail very easily.  So this morning we took them out on Uliad to sail to a little nearby island called Klein Curacao.  (There's a little island off Bonaire called Klein Bonaire.  Having been at both places, I think "klein" must be Dutch for "little island with incredibly great diving next to...")

     The trip to Klein Curacao was a challenging upwind beat.  The wind was blowing 20 knots, there was a 1 knot current running against us and 6-7 foot seas to contend with.  That sort of thing might have had us turning back if we were making a passage, but for Dad & Faye the three hour trip just seemed all that more exciting.  We pulled into Klein Curacao just after noon and dropped the hook into periwinkle blue water.  After lunch, we all went snorkeling to look at the multitudes of fish around us.  Trunkfish danced around the anchor chain while little spotted flat flounder rested on the sandy bottom.  Once again, just behind our stern, the perfectly clear water dropped off from 25 feet into oblivion.

    Ashore were a few palapas where locals were camping.  A distant lighthouse and a slowly rusting wreck on the windward side were the only suggestions of modernity in sight.  On our way back to Uliad, Kathleen & Emmett and I took a few minutes to scrape off a few barnacles from the hull.  It must have paid off because on the way back we were flying through the water!  The wind was behind us now, and the current running with us.  We briefly hit 10 knots of speed over ground, which made for exciting sailing for all of us.

    We motored back into Spanish Waters and anchored back in our old spot.  Then we served up a feast of grilled lobster and fish that we had caught back in Los Aves.  Hopefully all that made up for not being able to take them sailing on previous visits!


December 17:

    All the while that we've been hanging out in Curacao, I've been keeping one eye on the weather forecasts.  Our next destination after we leave here is Cartagena, Columbia. That means our path will go along the north coast of Columbia which has a reputation for nasty weather and rough seas.  We really hoped to be there in time for Christmas, which leaves us only a short period of time to find an unusually calm weather window, or else we have to face those gale force winds.

    So it was great relief to discover today that mother nature seems to be in agreement with our plans.  A period of relative calm may be happening just a day or two after Dad & Faye leave.  It was just what I wanted for Christmas:  A blue Christmas, as in calm blue seas...not a whitecap filled White Christmas.  So we have been running at frantic pace to get ready to take advantage of the weather window.  This morning we took advantage of Faye's rental car and cleared out with customs, and did some last minute grocery shopping.  Then we drove up to the Mariott Resort and had an early Christmas celebration with Dad & Faye.  Our gifts included some very spiffy looking Uliad crew uniforms.  Kathleen got a few books and an electric flyswatter that electrocutes mosquitoes with a most satisfying 'zap' when you wave it in the air.  I got a Shurefire flashlight to replace the one I dropped overboard in Trinidad and a new refrigeration guage set.  Trust me, if you lived on a boat, you'd be thrilled to get both of them!

    By 4:30 we had wrapped up the Christmas festivities and gotten a ride back to Spanish Waters.  The canal leading out of this bay is narrow and unlit, so we needed to be out of there before sunset.  So we rushed around to put all the gifts and groceries away, the dinghy & motor stowed, the hatches shut, the engine checked, and so on.  An hour later, we were steaming out the channel and heading West.

    And with all that rushing around, we never really had time to worry about those notoriously rough waters that lay ahead of us. 


December 18:


     Williamstead (the capital city of Curacao) is an interesting place.  The waterfront is a cute cruise ship port with old colonial buildings all gussied up in Caribbean colors.  There are shops pushing duty free watches and designer clothes and cheap knick-knacks.  But a little further back in the harbor there are huge refineries and tank farms and docks for big ocean tankers to come in with all that oil.  From offshore, huge smokestacks rise up in the background of the city.  Enormous flares of orange flames flicker from those towers making it appear from the sea that you have perhaps just arrived at the gates of hell.

   We were, fortunately heading in the opposite direction from the gates of hell.  Carried by a strong wind, we found ourselves by morning at a little group of islands called the Monjes.  These little rocks have been claimed by Venezuela, and to emphasize that, they have set up a little Coast Guard station on Monjes del Sur.  From 6 miles out they hailed us in broken English, "Sailing ship, sailing ship, this is Guarda Costa of the Venezuelan Navy, please identify! Over."  After a few of those we realized they were talking to us.  They politiely asked us who we were and how to spell ULIAD, and granted us permission to stop and anchor at their little rock.

    Well, not exactly anchor.  There's really no place to anchor so the Guarda Costa has strung a big thick rope across a little bay.  Boats then pull up to it and tie a bow line to the big rope.  We'd never done that before.  But it got us out of the weather and the harbor was protected enough to get some rest before moving on to Columbia.

Uliad, Coquilicot, Independence, and Salt & Light at Monjes de Sur

    Now an interesting thing about the Venezuelan Coast Guard station here is that they don't actually have a boat.  They just have a hill and some binoculars and a radio to do their guarding with.  So when our friends Helge and Therese on Coquilicot put their tiny dinghy down to go to shore, two of the Coast Guard boys bummed a ride out to each of the yachts that had arrived to check our papers and do an "inspection".  They arrived dressed in what looked more like basketball uniforms than military attire. 

    The coasties were warm, welcoming, and friendly...the inspection consisted of going below and casting their eyes forward and aft, then going back to the cockpit.  It was pretty clear that they were bored out of their minds on this duty station, and we were a real treat to show up and give them something to do.  When the formalities were complete, they seemed a bit disappointed and kept trying to find more things to talk to us about. Kathleen fed them some Pringles and ice water and after we had reached the limits of our conversational Spanish, they climbed back into Coquilicot's diminutive dinghy for the trip back to the rock. 

    That evening a few Venezuelan fishing boats pulled in to share the rope with us.  Otis traded some tobacco for a half dozen fish, so we had a nice dinner of fried snapper and tuna while watching the bored Coast Guard boys play soccer on their tiny concrete pier with predictable results.  It was hard to tell if the game was soccer or "send Juan swimming after the ball again". 


December 21:

   We left from Monjes del Sur the following morning.  By "we", I'm now referring to a small armada of yachts that have been travelling together:  Independence, and Salt & Light are other boats with kids aboard whom I have previously mentioned.  We also met a boat named Allegria in Venezuela.  They also had kids but unfortunately were stopping in Curacao to fly home for a while.  The other member of our group has been little Coquilicot.  This tiny boat is sailed by a Norwegian named Helge and his Swedish girlfriend Therese.  I know, it sounds like a bad joke a Minnesotan might tell:  "A Norwegian and a Swede set out across the ocean in a little boat... "  Yet so far it seems to be working.

   Anyway, the group all left at various times to tackle the 200 mile stretch across what is usually a terribly rough patch of ocean.  The weather forecasters predicted a pause in that usual condition long enough to get us safely to Cartagena, and so far they've been correct.  We had a fast passage, averaging a little over 7 knots with 6 foot seas.  Thats rough enough to be tiresome for us, but not enough that anyone was seasick.

   Kathleen always has the hardest time with passages.   She does fine if she's up in the cockpit sitting still, but she gets nauseated trying to do anything below.  And you can only sit and read a book for so long.  Maybe her book just wasn't that good, but by the second morning out she was getting a little edgy.  "How long until we're there?  Should we maybe run the engine."  I tried to explain that when we're already travelling at hull speed the motor won't make a difference, but I don't think she really wanted to hear that dissertation after all. 

   I had my reasons to be irritable as well.  It has seemed like every boat we are travelling with has been catching plenty of fish on passage.  Our reels, on the other hand, have been mysteriously silent.  We have been doing well lobstering and spearfishing, but I hadn't caught a single fish while trolling ever since St. Martin.  So I was absolutely tearing my hair out these past couple days when all of our travelling companions would get on the radio:  "Looks like sushi tonight!  We just got a tuna!"  "Just reeled in a mahi-mahi" "We had one, but by the time we landed it, it had a shark bite out of it!"  I have taken to trolling 4 lures at once just to be sure the fish don't miss us.  I've been trying to figure out a reason:  Do they not like the boat's new paint?  Do my lures smell bad?  Are we cursed?

    The dolphins on the other hand seem to like Uliad.  We had some swimming with us on two different occasions which is always fun to watch.  But soon they swim off leaving me dreaming of a nice fat dorado or a wahoo or something.

Dolphins swimming in our bow near Columbia

    On our second morning out from Monjes, the curse was finally broken.  Emmett and I were in the middle of his homeschool lesson when my reel sang out a joyful noise. We cheered and leaped for the rod to set the hook.  This fish was not going to get away!.  Emmett was jumping up and down and squealing.  If our cockpit had walls, he would have been bouncing off them.  "What can I do, Dad!" he shouted as I pulled with all my might to wind in a big fish.

    "OK, Emmett, I want you to pull in these two hand lines so they don't get tangled with the fish.  Then after you've done that, have the gaff hook ready," I grunted.  Emmett started pulling in a handline. 

    "Dad! Dad! there's another fish on this line!!"  Sure enough.  I had to put my rod back in its holder to fetch the gaff while Emmett pulled in a nice 9 pound yellowfin tuna.  I hooked him with the gaff and lifted him into the cockpit.  Kathleen and Emmett drowned the fish's sorrows with a squirt of alcohol to the gills while I returned my attention to the fishing rod.  A few minutes later I had reeled in a much bigger yellowfin tuna who joined his little friend on the floor of the cockpit.  This one weighed in at 19 pounds on the scale.

Yellowfin Tunas, off Columbia

    Now 30 pounds of tuna makes a real bloody mess when you clean it all, so Kathleen went down below to avoid having to watch the gory spectacle.  Emmett, on the other hand, was rapt with attention.  "Dad, show me the heart.  Dad, lets see if there's anything in his stomach.  Dad, is this what it's like to do surgery?  Dad, can you take out the eyeball?"

    An hour later we had a huge tray of fresh tuna fillets ready to be vacuum bagged and put in the freezer.  Into the fridge went just enough for sushi rolls tonight and grilled tuna tomorrow.  Then came the long task of cleaning up every last tiny drop of fish blood and fish scales that had been splashed all over the boat.  At which point Kathleen emerged to point out even more tiny drops that I had missed.  By the time that task was finished, we had arrived at our destination for the night. 

   Along the North coast of Columbia there are steep mountains.  There was even a little snow on top of one of them.  And in the shadow of those hills sit five little bays with steep green jungle on all sides.  It's like fjords only in the Caribbean.  By the time we reached the entrance to bay #3, the wind had kicked up to a steady 25 with gusts up to 35 knots.  So it was a great sense of peace to suddenly have that wind blocked by the cliffs around us and glide calmly into a quiet bay with less than 10 knots of wind.  It grew quiet again.  The smells of land replaced the salty ocean air.  We could move around without holding on to something again. 

    We dropped anchor, took a nice swim, and met a friendly local named Ricardo who paddled out with his son in a dugout canoe to welcome us to Columbia.  Emmett went off to the beach with the kids from Salt & Light while Kath and I indulged in an afternoon nap.

Ricardo and Son in dugout canoe

    We still have another hundred miles to go to get to Cartagena, but so far this has been a great least when you consider that this area is usually a terrible passage.  Now if I can just find here a better book to read, I might even convince my wife of that.


December 23:

     We left our little bay around midnight to make the final push to Cartagena.  This was carefully scheduled for several reasons.  First of all, between us and our destination lay the Rio Magdalena.  This is a large river that flows into the ocean and frequently carries with it a lot of debris.  We had been warned to only cross that area during daylight because there can be tree trunks floating around out there and we'd like to have a chance at seeing them and avoiding running into a tree in the middle of the ocean.   So we carefully calculated that if we left at midnight, then it should be daylight when we cross the Rio Magdalena outflow, and if we maintained our usual speed, then we would arrive in Cartagena before dark.  

     We knew from our arrival that it would probably be rough around the point where we exit the bay, so we secured everything below extra carefully, ate dinner, and napped for a few hours before we had to go.  By the light of the moon, we raised anchor and sailed out of the calm bay.  Just like our entrance, as soon as we poked our bow out of the bay we hit 20 knots of wind.  I had first watch, so I pointed us downwind and fiddled with our sail trim for a while before settling in to read a book.  Every few minutes I'd look around see that all was well. 

     But soon all was not well.  Even with our short sails, we were flying through the water.  A glance at the instruments confirmed that the wind had picked up to 25 knots.  I reefed the main again and all was well.  By the time it was Kathleen's turn to take over, the wind was howling along at 30 knots with occasional gusts above 35.  I knew that Kath hadn't sailed in winds this strong before and she does tend to get anxious sometimes... I decided to let her sleep.

     The good thing was that Uliad is a solid, steady boat in such conditions.  I had no worries.  Kathleen finally poked her head out of the companionway an hour later.  She immediately asked, "How strong are these winds?  Are we OK?"  So I tried with my most calm and confident voice to explain that the conditions were a little different than our forecast had predicted.  We stayed up on watch together and pretty soon Kathleen's eyes had regressed from pie-plate sized to normal to closed as she took a nap in the cockpit.

     By sunrise we could see the 6 to 8 foot waves rolling up on our stern, which also made things less scary.  And about an hour after dawn the water suddenly changed from deep blue to muddy brown.  The air smelled like wet earth and the waves had trouble penetrating this new water.  The wind slowly died, the seas flattened and by late morning we had to turn the motor on.  We never did see any tree trunks, which was fine by me.

    And then in the distance appeared the skyline of Cartagena through the haze.  The high-rises slowly grew and by late afternoon were gliding along watching the tourists on the hotel beaches.  There are two entrances to Catagena's harbor.  The smaller and closer of the two has a hidden underwater wall across it save for one small gap marked by two buoys.  I haven't researched this, but I suspect that back in the days when Spain was looting all the gold of the Incas and loading their galleons with it to bring back to Europe, maybe the wall was a trap to block invading pirates or something.  Well, it remains a trap to this day.  But having arrived in good daylight we easily found the buoys and motored through with plenty of water under our keel.  The city drifted by with its cars and noises and smells beckoning us to join in.   We turned a corner and there lay the old walled city, surrounded by ramparts and parapets, topped by domed church steeples.  This could be any beautiful city in Spain or Italy.

Cartagena as seen from Uliad's deck

    We anchored just off an ancient fort along the waterfront and I was  feeling ready for a well deserved nap after our long windy night.  In fact, I was just heading for my bunk when Independence roared up in their dinghy, eyes filled with excitement.  Everyone was going out to grab a bite to eat and they were sure we didn't want to cook after our passage and there's no need to get our dinghy down because we could just ride with them... We left Curacao 5 days ago, and had not been off the boat since then.  I glanced ashore and the city beckoned us again.  Sleep could wait a few more hours.  


December 25:

      Emmett has reached the age where he has grown skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus.  He has let Kathleen and I know at various times in the past few weeks that he has heard that "some kids" say there is no such thing as Santa.  "Is that right?" I replied.  "I wonder how they explain those presents then?"  Em went on to opine on the implausibility of one guy being able to deliver packages to EVERY kid in the world, even if he did have a flying sleigh. 

     Of course the Santas in the mall were fake.  And it was hard to understand why, when delivering presents, Santa wouldn't just poke his head in the bedroom and in a deep grandfatherly voice say, "Hi, Emmett.  I'm sorry to wake you, but I just wanted to say hi.  Oh, and thanks for being so good this year.  I left a little something for you in your stocking.  Good night.  See you next year."  Why after flying all that way wouldn't he make the effort to say hello?  And then there was the issue of just how could he know?  How could he know if some kid was naughty or nice?  How would he know that Em wanted a microscope this year?  He'd forgotten to write.

     Now I started to squirm ask I watched my son's mental gears turning because I knew what would come next.  The direct question.  "Dad, is Santa Claus real?"  Should I lie to my own boy?

     And suddenly, I was eight years old again, and asking my Mom the same question.  And her marvelously imprecise reply came to me:  "Hmmmm, what do you think Emmett?"

     "Well, I guess he has to be magic to be able to do all that."

     So, one more year of Emmett carefully setting out three Christmas cookies, and exactly 9 carrot slices for the reindeer.  One more year of staying up late, loitering over a Christmas Eve nightcap until we were sure he was fast asleep.  No need to re-label the hidden microscope "From Dad".  One more year of Kathleen waking up in a panic, "Oh my God!  Did you remember to eat the cookies?!"

Em's Letter to Santa

     "Yes," I grumbled sleepily.  "And a bite out of each carrot."  I didn't tell her about the carrot crumbs sprinkled on the port deck for Emmett to discover later.  Emmett would wake with the sun and find these pieces of evidence that indeed Santa does exist.  His squeals of delight would, as is our family tradition, announce the beginning of Christmas Day. 


December 27:


     Let me try to describe Cartagena for you.  The yacht anchorage sits adjacent to a well to do neighborhood called Manga.  Its a jumble of smart townhomes and high rise apartments along the waterfront.  Just a block from the marina is a nice, modern grocery store.  What a pleasure to be able to walk to the market every day to get food for dinner.  No need to puzzle over the deeply buried contents of our fridge and food lockers to come up with some agreeable combination.  Outside the market, at all hours of the day, stand an assortment of street vendors selling a whole variety of things.  A few of my favorites:  fresh squeezed orange juice, 35 cents a cup, mangos--peeled, sliced into little slices and served up in a bag like an order of french fries (50 cents per mango), or arepas, which are a sort of corn polenta dough around a filling of savory chicken (also 35 cents each).  Sometimes I never actually make it into the grocery store.

    A short walk over a bridge leads you to the old walled city.  The buildings here are pretty as any old city in Europe.  Narrow cobblestone streets wind along to open onto airy piazzas.  Wrought iron balconies jut out above you and sidewalk cafes invite you to stop and watch the people moving by.  The prices are decidedly higher here, but the view is worth it.

Walking the back streets of Cartagenastreet of old Cartagena

   Being good Catholics, the colonizing Spaniards built a lofty cathedral every few blocks.  More recently, the city fathers have installed sculptures almost everywhere. 

   And then there are museums.  A museum of modern art, a museum of the history of the city, a museum of the gold and emeralds mined here in Columbia, and (Emmett's favorite) a museum of the Spanish Inquisition.  Located in the old "Palace of the Inquisition", the museum displays a good dozen hair-raising torture instruments.  Most of them, their labels soberly announce, were NOT ever used in Cartagena.  I don't know why, but for some reason the pre-teen boys in our group found it incredibly cool to gaze upon machines designed to dislocate limbs or crush a human head.

    If architectural scenery could be eaten, we would be gluttonous fatties by now.  As it is, the fresh fruit and juice vendors on each corner give us the sustenance to keep wandering.  And if that fails, (this being Columbia) there are equally numerous coffee vendors ready do serve up a 3 ounce shot of strong, sweet, and hot coffee. 

    Eventually we stumble back to our boat with sore feet and smiles on our faces.  The sights of the city surround us anchored here, and it won't take long and we'll be back exploring again.


December 30:


     After living in the stifling Caribbean heat, we have been pleased to note that it actually gets cool at night here.  Night time lows drop into the mid-70s which makes for great sleeping weather.  Which is good because we really need to catch up on our sleep lately.  Cartagena tends to pick up after sunset and we subsequently stay out late.  Mid afternoon siestas would be a great idea, except that Emmett seems to feel it would be a sign of personal failure on his part to go down for a nap.  After all, that's what babies do, not big kids like him.

     I'm convinced that moderate temperatures also instills industriousness in the local population.  I have to admire anyone who can work in the West Indian heat, but most Caribbean workers learn to pace them selves.  Hiring someone to do boat work can be an aggrivating exercise in patience.  Back in the islands, able bodied men tend to gather in shady spots and revel in doing as little as possible all day.  I can admire thier ability to relax, but not when I need my boat fixed.

    Here in Columbia, however, everyone seems busy.  And labor prices are as cheap as the fresh squeezed OJ!.  So we decided to hire out some work here.  I had a sliding screen on one of our hatches where water was rotting out the wood.  I brought it to a local carpenter and handed it to him asking him to duplicar.  His response was "manana".  Which can mean tomorrow, or it can simply mean "someday".  So I was thrilled when two days later he handed me a perfect recreation of my hatch screen all ready to be varnished.

    Next we sought out bids from two canvas shops to build a canvas cover for the dinghy to protect it and hopefully help it last longer.  While we were at it, we decided to have a new bimini and dodger made for Uliad.  The old one isn't that bad, but with the new paint, the old dodger looks a bit shoddy by comparison.  We were pleased to have the estimate come in at half what we were quoted back in Trinidad.  And they claim to be able to do it in half the time, too!  Hard workers, these Columbians.

    I've caught the spirit myself.  I have been struggling with our refrigeration system ever since we installed new 12 volt compressors back in Grenada.  Here in Cartagena, I vowed to solve the problems once and for all.  My biggest problem from the start was that I really didn't understand much about how refrigerators work in the first place.  Of course, I never really had reason to until now.  So I've spent the last few weeks pouring over the manuals, e-mailing the manufacturer, and acquiring a set of refrigeration guages.  Finally feeling ready, I set to work the other night after putting Emmett to bed.  First I had to run new larger wires for the 12 volt power supply.  The wires we installed back in Grenada weren't delivering enough voltage.  Then the expansion valve wasn't adjusted right so I fixed that.  And then finally, despite two technicians visits, the system was still undercharged so I added more refrigerant.  By the time I looked up from all that it was 3 am. 

    But the work flew by in part because my family was asleep and not tripping over my tools, in part because of that cool night air, and in part because of the great salsa music wafting out over the anchorage from a nearby restaurant.  (Yes, the band plays until 3am on weekends!)  So now the system is finally installed properly almost two months later.  I was so happy I could have done a little salsa dance myself in the galley.  I certainly had the music for it. 
  created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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