The Overnight Passage South
We untied from the Santa Marta Marina at 9.30am on a murky Thursday morning. The forecast was for reasonably light winds from behind, so we were prepared for a slow trip overnight the 135 miles down to our destination of Isla Grande in the Rosario Archipelago, a small off shore island group around 20 miles south of Cartagena. We motored away from land the first hour then picked up enough breeze to jog along in fairly comfortable conditions. We were wanting to pass the mouth of the Rio Magdalena before dark, it is infamous for it’s dirty colour, large logs and other debris that come down from the mountains (well it does drain off around 1/4 of Colombia’s land mass), and busy shipping into the port. Except for the very brown water that we sailed through for about 3 hours, we passed it by without incident.
The Rosario Archipelago
The wind died away again as we made our final approaches towards Isla Grande and we motored the last hour in calm seas. We navigated in through the reef entrance very pleased to have flat water, sunshine and other cruisers notes to help us safely enter. Colombia is one of the few places we have cruised that there is no published cruising guide, but a handful of cruisers have published their notes on the web for the rest of us to use, inspired by them we decided to come and explore this interesting area.
We took a very long dinghy ride one afternoon and circumnavigated Isla Grande and several of the outlying islands. Perhaps island is an overstatement for some of them as several were no more than a teeny rocky outcrop, but amazingly most had some sort of structure on them, from simple thatched roof shade houses to palatial mansions set back hidden in the palms, the whole area was just littered with pocket sized islands, quite amazing. On the southern side of the island there were a couple of small scale resorts but there were very few people or boat traffic to be seen – maybe in the busy season.
For another excursion we did a drift snorkel along the outside of the reef. The water was exceptionally clear and just so warm. There was an interesting range of fish and a seabed resembling an Aladdin's Cave of nooks and crannies, overhangs and tunnels, unlike anything we have seen before. The sea life had so many places to hide it is amazing we saw anything at all.
We shared a beach bar-b-que with a French boat we helped navigate through the reef entrance in poor light, just as we were leading them in after our snorkelling they hooked a good sized fish so kindly invited us to join them ashore. It’s a very long time since we have enjoyed a bar-b-que on a quiet little beach with fish caught less than 2 hours previously, it was great.
The San Bernardos Archipelago
We moved on another 30 miles south to Isla Tintipan in the next island chain, the San Bernardos. The island was very long and skinny and it appeared to have a handful of very upmarket houses lining its southern shore. Some had long docks with thatched roof palapas built over the water, great spot for those late afternoon cocktails with 50 of your closest friends!!
The thunder and lightening settled in over night and the winds weren’t looking too favourable for our passage to Panama in the morning so we had planned to stay another day. We had a 6am wake up call from some armed and uniformed men, possibly Coastguard but we really weren’t sure. They were very polite and courteous, just wanted to check our paperwork and were happy for us to stay another night. They left just as the next shower poured down and we went back to bed!!
The rains stopped mid afternoon so we took the chance to do a dinghy excursion along the shore. We headed west along to Santa Cruz de Islote, this is where the way less wealthy Colombians in the San Bernardos group live, squeezed into this shoebox sized island,. To be honest it really did not look like the sort of place to want to move to – they must look over at the huge houses on Tintipan that probably only get used a handful of weeks a year and wonder what went wrong!
Overnight to Panama
The weather was looking much clearer the following morning so we departed Colombia and headed west, destination Isla Pinos in the Kuna Yala Island Chain, an autonomous self governed region of Panama, much better known as the San Blas Islands. We would be headed slightly southwest, the winds were forecast to be northwest during the day, going northeast overnight, not more than 15knots. Perfect conditions one would think, however one should know better by now!!! The day was ok, we pointed below our course to keep the wind just aft of the beam, thinking that when the winds eased and clocked overnight we could point higher. But something went wrong with the forecast and the winds went further west and increased, haven’t had a bash to windward for a while and our clean boat got covered in salt water – again. And of course we had pointed lower so the bash was even worse, oh well all that downwind sailing was great while it lasted. We covered the 136 miles in 25 hours, we had arrived in Panama.