French Polynesia: A small sample of the Marquesas and the Tuamotos.

French Polynesia is the remote hub of the South Pacific, comprising the four island groups of the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society and Austral Islands. Most sailors crossing the Pacific from Panama and North or South America make their landfall in the Marquesas, the most north easterly territory of French Polynesia. It consists of six large and six small mountainous islands, cut into deep fertile valleys, but not protected by coral barrier reefs.

Note: click on images to enlarge.

French Polynesia

Before the Covid pandemic, sailors would make their landfall in the southern islands of Fatu Hiva or Hiva Oa and then cruise downwind to Nuku Hiva, the main administrative island. Due to much reduced traffic, entry is now restricted to Nuku Hiva, where we made our landfall. Hiva Oa would have been our preference, as we would have liked to visit the Calvary cemetery and grave of Paul Gauguin, the French impressionist painter and wastrel, as well as the grave of Jacques Brel, the famous Belgian singer.

Sailing in to Nuku Hiva.

Arriving in the Marquesas is a celebratory time, tempered by the need to scrape off a significant harvest of gooseneck barnacles covering the hull and cleaning off a strange yellow-brown sludge above the waterline, despite the clear water we had sailed through.

Out with the bubbly.

The day after our arrival was our wedding anniversary, which we celebrated at the only restaurant in town. On the Monday we checked in with the Gendarmerie and restocked some essential items before exploring the town.

Wedding anniversary dinner.

Traditional Polynesian grass roofed buildings.

Modern bank building – a roof extravaganza.

The Polynesians are keen stone and lava carvers.

Also wood carvers.

The French Governor’s offices.

The village from the Tiki sculpture hill.

The 12 m high sculpture: From the Woman Tiki, the warden of knowledge and tradition, steps the warrior.

You don’t need a flash boat to cross the Pacific!

The anchorage was very rolly and after five days, we had enough of this motion, lifted the anchor and set sail for the Tuamotus. It would be a 540 nm, four day sail south west to this archipelago. On day 2 whilst having sundowners, we had a surprise at sunset when we noticed that the port side shroud cable (attached halfway up the mast, to support the port side mainstay cable), was starting to part ways with the swaged bottle screw on the deck. Two strands of the cable had already started to unwind.

The shroud is the right hand cable.

I quickly put a hose clamp around the cable to stop further unwinding and Annie went up in the bosun’s chair to lash a rope around the top attachment point at the spreaders. This we tightened back to the bottle screw base to support the shroud cable, should it part ways. With reduced sail, we slowly carried on to the Tuamotus. On reaching Tahiti, we will have to replace the shroud and have all the rigging checked. My guess is that more than 6 weeks of sailing on port tack, has put that side of the rig to the test.

Our temporary support for the shroud cable.

The Tuamotus, comprises 76 island atolls and innumerable coral reefs, spanning a distance of a 1000 miles. Each atoll is a ring of coral, topped with occasional motus (sandy islets) surrounding a lagoon. Some atolls have passages through the fringing coral reefs, allowing entry by boat into the lagoons. Only 30 atolls are uninhabited, the other 46 support small populations, limited by food, water and space.

The northern part of the Tuamotos.

People subsist on a coconut and fish economy. The coconuts grow with little assistance on all the motus and the ripe nuts are used for copra production, used for making coconut oil. Black pearl cultivation has become a major industry. The French nuclear testing in these atolls, of 175 atmospheric and underground tests, finally came to an end in 1996, defying a worldwide moratorium on nuclear testing and creating much ill-will for France and stifling local tourism in French Polynesia.

Sailing past our first Tuamoto atoll.

We aimed for the atoll of Apataki for our first stop, as arriving when the sun is high to see the reefs, as well as the correct tide timing through the passes is important – the outgoing tide, can run up to 10 knots out of some passes. After exactly four days and 566 nm, we anchored inside the Apataki lagoon at 11:00. Quite a pretty spot, but the problem was, the prevailing easterly wind had a substantial fetch across the lagoon, leaving us bouncing on a lee shore.

Entering Apataki atoll through the pass.

Entering the lagoon after the pass.

The water gets very choppy on this lee shore, off the village.

We therefore left at 7:30 the next morning, to motor sail the 20 nm into the easterly wind, to the north of the next island called Toau. Typical of the Tuamotos, the rain squalls form and move quickly – we were hit by three big squalls during the 20 nm passage. However, north Toau is paradise – a perfectly sheltered bay in crystal clear water, so blue it makes your eyes hurt.

Entering the anchorage of Toau – this has not been Photoshopped!

A friendly Polynesian couple Gaston and Valentine, live on this motu called Matarina. We paid $5/night to tie up on one of their moorings and stayed for two nights. I took the opportunity on the flat water, to strip the two primary winches, clean and service them, as they were starting to labour because of salt build-up. We walked around the motu to explore this unique environment  with Gaston and Valentine’s three dogs leading us enthusiastically.

Gaston & Valentine’s jetty and outdoor kitchen/cafe.

The winches were in need of some cleaning.

Annie with the boats in the background.

Fakarava, our next atoll destination to the south-east, took a whole day of motor sailing to reach. Only 49 nm away, we seemed to be caught in a revolving squall which drenched us five times from all directions. Entering the lagoon pass was also exciting, steering between huge overfall breakers against the outgoing tide and the starboard marker on the coral reef. Once through, it was still 5 nm to the Rotoava anchorage in the north-east corner of this large atoll.

Rotoava village from the anchorage.

Rotoava village is quite beautiful and would qualify for a tidy town award in Australia. The locals are proud of their tropical gardens and very friendly to visitors. The Polynesian people are attractive and tall, but western food has bulked some of them up substantially. The town has two schools, a police station, with no policemen, a post office and supermarket. There were about 20 yachts anchored in the crystal clear bay. Snorkelling was good over the coral reefs, supervised by three very large and tame greenback turtles.

The Post Office had the only ViniSpot (our data card hotspot) in town, so we did all our calls and emails from here.

The Polynesians are passionate about their rowing.

The quaint local church.

 

Annie walked the 5 km to this tower near the airport. It appears to have been a lighthouse.

We ended up spending four days in this paradise, as the Predictwind forecast indicated hardly any wind to sail the 250 nm to Tahiti – a two day  passage. On Monday the 26 th April we filled the boat tank up with diesel and set off at 5 pm, hoping to do more sailing than motoring to Tahiti. Our next post will inform you about the Society Islands – stay tuned.

Please note: You may well ask why we are visiting so few of the islands in this paradise? It is complicated and all will be revealed in our next post when we leave French Polynesia. In the meantime, cheers for now!

Pacific Crossing: Las Perlas to Marquesas Islands.

Note: Click on any image to enlarge.

Distances to the Marquesas as the crow flies. In practice, distances are greater.

Prevailing wind systems for this crossing.

We set sail from Isla de Rey at 9:00 on Saturday the 13th March 2021. Just offshore, we had a farewell from a huge pod of dolphins, swimming with us for an hour. It was a clear sunny day with a 10kn N-W wind and flat seas, allowing us to pole out the jib, covering 165 nm in the next 24 hours.

Here we go, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

By midday we reached the main shipping lanes to the Panama canal, staying just outside the northbound lane. We passed 23 ships by midnight, when the shipping lanes turned west up to the USA and south to Ecuador and Chile.

Pelicans having a fish feast as we leave the Las Perlas behind.

Jib poled out with flat seas.

The next day was the polar opposite when a huge sea built up, possibly due to a counter current coming up the West coast of South America, fighting with the strong NE wind. By 10:00 we were down to two reefs in the main and a furled jib. But by 19:00 the evening, the wind died completely, forcing us to motor for seven hours, before a SE wind slowly picked up. Bob McDavitt, our new weather router in Auckland NZ, amended our waypoint, which was to pass the Galapagos Islands to the South, to a new waypoint north of the Galapagos Islands. This allowed us to keep sailing in this contrary wind.

Seas building.

Pacific Ocean currents.

North Pacific wind zones.

Day 3 started with flat seas and a light SE wind, which allowed Annie to squeeze into the tight rear lazarette locker to tighten the lower mounting bracket bolts on the Hydrovane – the bracket showed signs of lateral movement. Following the Hydrovane upper bracket drama between the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands, we were keen to fix this, as soon as the movement was spotted during my early morning watch.

Day 3: flatter seas.

We decided on six hour watches: Annie 6 am – 12 pm, Dirk 12 pm – 6 pm, Annie 6 pm – 12 pm and Dirk midnight – 6 am. By the third day we had settled into this routine and were able to sleep at night when not on watch. I liked the late night watch as I enjoyed the spectacular sunrises we often had. The day watches were less structured, as it was difficult to sleep and there was always something to do, or to read.

Dinghy securely tied up on the foredeck.

From days 3 to 6, the wind was variable from the SE (we often motored), but with a good 2.5 to 3 kn current running with us. We were looking forward to get to the equator to enjoy the benefits of the stronger west flowing equatorial current and the stronger prevailing SE winds at that latitude.

Day 5: Sunrise.

On day 5 we reset our course to a new waypoint 3, at 2 deg south and about 700 nm away, which Bob had texted us, suggesting better wind south of the equator. We passed the Galapagos Islands to the North on day 6, having sailed 915 nm, since leaving the Las Perlas Islands.

Day 6: Sunset.

We crossed the equator going south on Day 7, the 20 th March 2021. The first time since crossing the equator going north, between Sumatra and Borneo on the 17 th October 2017, three and a half years ago – how the time flies! We had a a party on Esprit that evening, anchored off Kentar Island, in the company of Jon and Sue on Ocelot from the USA, Mick and Brenda from Australia on Grand Cru and Colin and Thant Zhin from the UK on Burmese Breeze – all of us having sailed north across the equator that day.

Grooving to Loggins and Messina.

This crossing was a more sedate affair, being just the two of us, enjoying a few glasses of cold white wine from Chile. Our only company were the sea birds, out here in the middle of nowhere. We even had a tired Blue Boobie chick with red feet, hitching a ride overnight on the anchor at the bow. We also had the occasional pod of dolphins and four big Orcas swimming with us. The water was clear and blue, with the temperature around 28 deg C.

Day 8: Storm approaching.

Close to waypoint 4 on day 8 and motoring about two degrees south of the equator, Bob advised that the SE winds will be stronger at four deg, south of the Equator and to aim for 100 deg W. This was still 200 nm away, so we headed south and ran into quite a heavy rain storm (from the NW!). Showing how unpredictable weather systems can be. It gave the boat a good wash.

Day 10: Sunrise.

On Day 9, we were able to set a course to Nuku-Hiva in the Marquesas group of islands, still 2,642 nm away. We were now in the SE trade winds and settled into the Pacific Ocean rhythm for the rest of the trip. The Pacific lived up to its name as a passive ocean, with sometimes lumpy, or flattish seas, occasional showers, constant 15-20 knot south easterly trade winds and a westerly flowing ocean current of around 3 knots. Good sailing conditions!

Day 13: Rainbow on the horizon.

On Day 13 we reached the halfway mark in this 3,800 nm plus (7,038 km) Pacific crossing, with 1900 nm to go to Nuku-Hiva. We were rewarded with a huge Mahi Mahi that Annie caught, a beautiful rainbow preceding a storm and a serious rain storm during the night. Note: Annie’s fishing prowess didn’t include the stranded, stinking flying fish, we had to chuck overboard daily.

Mahi-Mahi.

We were making more easting than southing, but after crossing 5 deg south, we encountered continuous 2-3 m swells and heavy clouds, which invariably dumped rain on us at night. The rain and gusts were a nuisance at night, as it always resulted in reefing the main and shaking out the reefs at daybreak. Also tiring, was the constant rolling of the boat due to the big swells. I consoled myself that this is a form of exercise, improving my core strength.

Day 18: Sunset.

On day 19, the 1st April we were running out of fresh water. It was expected, as we use about 25 litres/day and knew we would have to run the desalinator during the crossing. The sea however was enormous which meant we could not risk putting the Honda generator on deck or drop the sea water hose over the stern, as the boat speed would have it sucking air on the water surface.

MetBob responded to our request for guidance and advised we should divert to 8 deg south, to get out of the convergence zone and into flatter water. We sailed south for 14 hours overnight, not making much westing. On day 20 at 9 am we dropped the sails, set the autopilot to take us dead downwind and jury rigged the sea water intake hose to the paddle board’s 2.5 m paddle.

The paddle we lashed low down on the Hydrovane shaft to get the inlet to maximum depth, as the stern was occasionally lifting clear out of the water, due to the following swells. You don’t want air sucked into a desalinator! Two hours later, the aft water tank was full and we set sail knowing we had sufficient water for the next eight days – quite a relief.

Day 21: Sunrise.

We managed to read a lot, listen to music and talk about our future plans, once back in Australia. We look forward to catching up with our daughters and our friends, sell the house and downsize to something smaller. Buy a car  and new bikes and then start planning for the Beyond the Great Barrier Reef Rally through the Coral Sea, in 2022. We may also attend the Shag Island Rendezvous in Queensland again.

Reading – a lot!

Our original ETA in the Marquesas was Wednesday the 7th April, but light winds over the last four days of our crossing, put paid to that. So here we are:

We have arrived at Nuku-Hiva on Friday 9th April 2021, Day 27 – a day short of four weeks. We have covered 4,028 nm (7,460 km) from the Las Perlas Islands in Panama. The 1982 South Atlantic Race from Cape Town to Uruguay on a Farr 38, remain our longest crossing at 28 days, with a greater distance sailed.

Passing the island to starboard as we approach Nuku-Hiva.

Approaching Nuku-Hiva.

Sailing into Taiohae Bay.

Harry the Hydrovane has steered us for the entire crossing, bar two hours, when we had to run the water desalinator to fill a water tank. Harry is a good crew member – never complains and doesn’t eat or drink.

Checking that Harry’s axles are tight.

Now we are going to relax and will report again in due course. Cheers!

Our anchorage in Taiohae Bay.

Out with the bubbly.

Esprit’s GPS track

Esprit’s route so far.

Panama City and the Las Perlas Islands.

Hi Folks

Rather late than never – this post is 4 weeks late! The reason? We were anchored off Pedro Gonzalez Island in the Las Perlas group, where I did this post with good phone reception. I should have published it then, because when we got to Isla del Rey, the last island before our crossing, there was no phone reception to be found. So here it is. Cheers! Next post to follow soon.

Dirk & Annie

Note: Click on any image to enlarge.

Panama City is big and consists of the old town which is being restored and gentrified, with half of it still very rundown and tired. Then there is the modern downtown area with amazing skyscrapers and a metro subway system, comparable to most modern high density cities. We anchored at Las Brisas de Amador, which is at the end of a 3.5 km causeway between the mainland and three small islands. The well landscaped causeway was built during the canal construction with material from the Culebra Cut excavations.

Panama City – partial plan. (Click on the images to enlarge)

The causeway and the three islands.

View of the city from the causeway.

Our first 7 km walk was to the Biodiversity museum opened in 2014 and designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the new Engineering building at the Sydney University of Technology. We have visited the latter buildings in the last three years and are impressed by the vision of the 91 year old Gehry and his associates.

Start of the Causeway walk.

Halfway across – beautiful landscaping.

The Biodiversity Museum.

The entrance area.

Structural engineer: “You want what?”

Shopfitter: “Definitely – this is the way he wanted it!”

Our next foray was by bicycle to the old town. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendly locals who would offer their assistance whenever we consulted our maps.me app to find our way on our phones. Quite a few enjoyed the opportunity to practice their English. After dicing with death on the spaghetti network of freeways on our bicycles, we decided to stick with buses and the metro.

Old town square.

The old City Hall on the square.

Basilica Santa Maria.

Basilica detail.

The nave inside.

Annie locking our bikes outside a restored Rey supermarket.

Durian fruit in the old town.

With our new electronic bus/metro card in hand, we enjoyed paying only 25 cents per bus trip and 35 cents per metro trip. In what must be the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere, we got lost in the Albrook Mall on three successive visits for groceries, a new Samsung tablet, haircuts, etc.

Downtown in the city.

Amazing building designs.

Monument to the French effort to build the canal.

Modern artwork next to the freeway.

Older monument from the Fred Flintstone school of art.

Right next to our anchorage at Las Brisas de Amador, is the only bureau of the Smithsonian Institute, based outside of the United States. Smithsonian scientists first came to Panama during the construction of the Canal from 1904 to 1914, to conduct a biological inventory of the new Canal Zone in 1910, and this survey was subsequently extended to include all of Panama.

Smithsonian Nature Centre.

Entrance to our Las Brisas anchorage.

I had ordered back up parts such a sheaves for blocks that take great loads and have seized up before, from Harken in Miami. Ridiculous how USD 75 of spares, incur USD 250 of Fedex freight charges! Whilst waiting for these parts to arrive and spotting a used oil disposal facility, I drained the engine and sail drive oil, replaced the 3 oil and fuel filters and filled up with 8 litres of new oil.

Flamenco Marina for fuel and water. Note the tidal height of the marina piles.

We filled up with 200 l diesel in our main tank and 200 l in jerry cans and 40 l of petrol, plus filled our water tanks, at Flamenco Marina yesterday. Diesel and petrol cost only AUD 70 cents/litre and with wine, beer and spirits equally cheap, we stocked up for the year. The parts eventually arrived and we have now checked out through our agent and will sail to the Las Perlas Islands on Sunday the 7th March when there is a good following wind predicted.

Leaving Panama after two lovely weeks, on the 7th.

Arriving at Contadora island in the Las Perlas islands.

The Las Perlas got their name when the Spanish arrived here in 1511 and relieved the indigenous King Toe of his cache of pearls and enslaved all the skilled pearl divers to dive for them. Most of the Islands have white sandy beaches, but the 2.8 to 3.0m tidal range, result in strong currents flowing northwest and southeast between the islands.

Shopping in Contadora.

View down to our anchorage.

Fishing village on Isla Pedro Gonzalez.

A lovely beach at our anchorage at Isla de Don Bernardo.

A bit late in the trip – Annie installing safety netting on the lifelines.

After a week in these islands, it appears that Saturday the 13th or Sunday the 14th March may provide a good weather window to set sail to the south of the Galapagos islands and then, track along the equatorial trades.

A reminder that you can send us a free SMS message while we are at sea (up to 160 characters). You have to go to https://www.predictwind.com/iridium-free-sms/ and enter our Iridium number, which is 8816 5240 9032.  This is the best way for us. Please do not attach photos or images.

In addition, I have activated Esprit’s tracking display, which can be viewed whenever you are interested to know where we were an hour ago.

https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Esprit3

On this long leg we will hum the Village People’s song: ”We joined the Navy to see the World, but what did we see? We saw the Sea!”

Cheers for now.

The Panama Canal.

Correction: My previous post stated that Karen and Evan hiked in NZ over Christmas. Not correct – they hiked in Tasmania – sorry guys!

Panama Canal map and section.

Limon Bay is a large anchorage for ships, protected by a long breakwater on the Atlantic or Caribbean side of the Panama canal. The City of Colon is on the eastern side of this anchorage and the Shelter Bay Marina is tucked in behind the breakwater on the western side – we tied up at the marina on Monday the 8th February 2021. First we had to have a Covid PCR test at the arrivals dock and after a negative result only an hour later, we were in our berth.

Canal info.

Shelter Bay Marina is quite busy with yachts coming and going on their canal transits. It has everything you need, including a gym, swimming pool, bar and restaurant. They offer a free bus service to Colon twice a day for shopping, which we used the day after we arrived. The restaurant serves good pizzas and salads, but the wines are expensive.

Our marina dock.

Restaurant next to the pool.

Sunset from our berth.

Good company, good wine and good food.

Friday the 12th February was Chinese New Year, which was a good enough reason for the yachties in the marina to have a Chinese potluck dinner at the BBQ area. We had a good turnout with some tasty Chinese dishes, followed by a big screen live broadcast of the Prada Cup races in NZ, between Italy (Aussie skipper) and the UK. The foiling monohulls are spectacular to watch, reaching up to 45 knots on the water!

Chinese New Year = Ah soh!

On the Saturday, “Energy Observer” a fascinating catamaran covered in solar panels, tied up at the marina. A floating laboratory for hydrogen, solar and wind energy propulsion and zero emissions. Visit: https://www.energy-observer.org/

The “Energy Observer”

A week after our arrival, on Monday morning the 15th February, the Canal Admeasurer came to measure Esprit for her canal transit. An efficient young lady, who got the job done in 45 minutes and then issued us with a transit number and the necessary documentation. A world of difference to our Suez Canal experience, where two Egyptian officials took a day for the same work.

The next day Roger our agent (Rogelio, pronounced Rohelio), delivered the big fenders and long mule lines required in the canal locks. He also collected payment for the transit which amounted to USD 2,354.00 (compared to the Suez canal charge of USD 600.00, three years ago). In addition, we had to pay 3 line handlers USD 120.00 each for their services. Our transit was scheduled for Friday the 19th February.

Equipment for the canal.

While waiting, we managed to have our life raft serviced – we got that back the day before our transit.

On Friday the 19th February, the Panama Canal transit advisor (pilot) and the three line handlers boarded Esprit in the Shelter Bay anchorage at 17:00. The advisor directed us under the new Colon bridge, to the holding area before the Gatun locks. Here we rafted up with our friends SV Nauplios, an aluminium yacht from the UK of roughly the same length as Esprit.

Our line handlers Ricardo, John and Ray.

Passing under the new Colon bridge.

SV Ghost passing us.

Nauplios approaching us to raft up.

Raft up done.

Elaine and Crawford Snedden on Nauplios.

We entered the first of three lock chambers, to rise a total of 26.5 m above the Caribbean sea level. Ahead of us in the 110 x 1000 ft (33.5 x 304.8 m) lock chamber was a reefer coastal cargo vessel and SV Ghost, a luxury yacht. Two shore men on each side of the chamber, threw thin heaving lines attached to “Monkey fists” down to our line handlers, which they in turn attached to thick mule lines on our decks. These lines were pulled up and attached to bollards on shore to keep the vessels centred in position.

Approaching the first Gatun lock.

Shore men walking our mule lines forward.

It was now getting dark and as soon as the huge lock doors closed behind us, the lock master opened the valves and water from the Gatun Lake above, gravity filled the lock chamber. The lock chamber has a capacity of 26 million gallons of water (50 Olympic size swimming pools) and was filled in eight minutes, through 70 openings in the floor of the chamber. The water was literally boiling around us, confirming the necessity of the mule lines.

Chamber doors starting to close.

Doors closed.

Line handlers pulling in the mule lines as the water rises.

Water flowing in through 70 openings in the chamber floor.

Lock full – Esprit and Nauplios as seen from Ghost.

The process was repeated through the next two locks, after which we motored a mile to a big floating buoy on Lake Gatun and tied up on it with Nauplios at 9pm. We then fed the adviser and line handlers who were sculling Cokes from the 24 can case we supplied. The advisers left our boats and the young line handlers eventually went to sleep on mattresses in the cockpit.

Waking up on Saturday next to Nauplios.

The next morning at 7:30 we served breakfast to the line handlers and at 8:30 a new adviser boarded Esprit for the 44 nm passage across Lake Gatun to the locks on the Pacific side. Towards the end, we went through the Culebra Cut which is the deepest excavation for the canal though the mountain watershed  on the isthmus of Panama. Most impressive, considering the thousands of men who toiled (and died) here, without modern earth moving machinery in the late 1890’s. Just past the Culebra Cut is the new Centennial bridge.

Approaching the Culebra Cut with Nauplios ahead of us.

Ghost passing us in the cut.

Looking back – once this was a mountain ridge.

The canal was opened in 1914 and since then ships planning to transit the canal had to be designed to fit the dimensions of the locks (The Panamax ships). In 2016 new larger locks were completed in parallel to the existing locks to accommodate larger ships (The Neopanamax ships). A few of these behemoths passed us.

Passing a huge Neopanamax ship in the canal.

Panamax and Neopanamax sizes.

Huge tugs working in the canal.

This tug passing us while doing a fire drill.

We now reached the three lowering locks on the Pacific side, the first being the Pedro Miguel lock (9.5 m step down). Esprit and Nauplios had to raft up on either side of Ghost, entering the lock first. A huge motor vehicle carrier (5,500 vehicles) came in behind us. This vessel built to Panamax specs, fitted in width into the lock chamber, with a few centimetres to spare on either side. She was towed into position by four electric locomotives on each side, centring her with thick mule cables, without scraping the paint on her sides.

Rafted up next to Ghost looking forward.

Ghost looking aft.

Darby and Joan – look at us, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous!

Shore men throwing their lines.

Caught by our line handlers.

The big ships get pulled by these electric locomotives.

A short distance away were the two Miraflores locks, stepping down 16.5 m at mid tide, on the Pacific Ocean side.

Entering the full Miraflores lock.

Here comes the vehicle carrier, pulled by locomotives.

Water level lowered, the doors open.

Out comes the vehicle carrier – a tight fit.

After these locks, we detached from Ghost and said our goodbyes – they were sailing up to the Gulf of Cortez in Mexico. Next up, was the big and filthy harbour of Balboa before passing under the Bridge of the Americas, a poor cousin of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We dropped our line handlers and their ropes and fenders at the Balboa Yacht Club, where Nauplios tied up to a mooring.

Nauplios and the Bridge of the Americas.

Here comes our lock buddy!

We motored on for another 30 minutes to drop our anchor at La Brisas, behind the long causeway, south of Panama City at 18:15, just in time to enjoy the sunset, cold beer in hand. This was truly an exciting experience on our journey so far. We plan to spend another two weeks here while waiting for spare backup parts for our Pacific crossing and sight seeing in this huge city – we can’t wait to see Frank Gehry’s Bio-diversity museum.

The Bio-diversity museum at a distance, as we motor out of the canal.

Panama city across the causeway.

In conclusion, two bits of Panama Canal trivia: 1) French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin worked as a common labourer on the Canal in 1887.

2) The lowest toll paid was 36 cents by Richard Halliburton when he swam the entire length of the Canal in 1928. The new larger “Neopanamax” ships can now pay more than a million dollars in toll.

The high price we paid for the transit, pales when considering the cost and the danger of sailing the extra 7,872 nm around Cape Horn in South America.

So, having now arrived on the Pacific ocean side and measured by longitude, we have covered 65% of the equatorial distance around the world. Our course north and south of the equator during the past 4.5 years added to the distance, to bring it to 28,132 nm (52,100 km) passing under Esprit’s keel. The Pacific being the largest ocean, accounts for slightly more than a third of the total equatorial distance, which we should finish by the end of the year.

Our route so far – click to enlarge.

Our next post will be on Panama City and the Las Perlas Islands off the coast, where we will wait for a weather window to cross to the Marquesas Islands, 3,800 nm to our west. Until then, Adios!

The Colombian and Panamanian Islands.

Our last night in Cartagena.

Farewell dinner.

Motoring out of Cartagena.

On the 11th January we motored the 14 nm from Cartagena, south to the Baru peninsula which has a beautiful long white beach with clear water on the North west side, called Playa Blanca. We found a sheltered anchorage in the lee of Punta Gigantes and it was so peaceful, we spent three nights here. It gave me the opportunity to clean Esprit’s waterline and sides which got quite dirty in Cartagena. Annie polished all the stainless steel work on the boat.

Playa Blanca.

From Playa Blanca it was a 7.5 nm sail south west to the Islas del Rosario Archipelago formed by a group of 27 small islands surrounded by intermittent reefs. We anchored on the South side of Isla Grande and spent a pleasant three days exploring the eastern and western sides. The North eastern side is where all the resorts are and although there are no roads on the island, there are beautiful walking tracks under the trees, all over the island.

Isla Rosario to San Bernardo.

A small island off Isla Grande.

Annie on a walking track.

Island scenery.

The north shore of Isla Grande.

One of the eco resorts on Isla Grande.

We set sail on Saturday the 16 th January in a light north westerly for the 26 nm sail to the San Bernardo Archipelago. This mini archipelago lies at the northern edge of the Gulf of Morrosquillo. It’s ten islands are a group of low rocks, wooded cays, and shoal banks with Isla Tintipán, the northernmost cay of the group and the largest. Its southern shore has a few attractive grass thatched resorts, where we anchored in crystal clear water.

Isla Tintipan.

The following day we sailed through the Gulf of Morrosquillo, looking for phone reception to check the weather for our crossing to Panama. We had no success off Isla San Bernardo, the towns of Berrugas and Santiago de Tolu. After 42 nm, we anchored in the bay Bahia de Cispata, where we had a good signal and were able to attend to emails and download the weather forecasts.

Our track around the Gulf of Morrosquillo.

It was a 25 nm motor sail to Isla Fuerte, our last stop in Colombia, where we anchored on the leeward shore, in a beautiful sheltered bay. Isla Fuerte owes its name to the fort (fuerte) built by the Spaniards to protect the island from attacks by pirates and privateers. The island is enclosed by reefs and the surrounding waters are very shallow far from the shore. This island has no vehicles or motorbikes – a few locals have bicycles and dozens of donkeys transport produce, water and supplies. We managed to spend our last Colombian Pesos in one of the small grocery stores of Puerto Limon.

Isla Fuerte.

Beautiful thatched roof and donkeys.

Beasts of burden.

Outdoor cafe where we had empanadas.

We decided to head from Isla Fuerte due west, to the outer islands of the San Blas archipelago off the Panama Isthmus mainland. The 150 nm overnight sail turned out to be hard work. Although the N-E wind only got up to 25 knots on our beam, the sea had built up to 3-4m swells after the weeklong  N-E winds. This, coupled with a contrary current, made for a very confused sea.   After 24 hours, we were relieved to anchor in the lee of the island Banedup, in the eastern Cayos Holandes group – wet, salt encrusted and tired.

Our route to San Blas.

Facing big seas to get there.

The San Blas Islands offer an exceptional area, worthy of exploring, for its uniqueness and beauty. Stretching about 170 miles along the North coast of Panama from Cabo Tiburon on the Colombian border, the chain of small islands named by the Spaniards as San Blas, is called Guna Yala by the original dwellers. Guna Yala is one of the three Panamanian departments that make up the autonomous Guna territory, inhabited by some 40,000 Guna Indians – scattered in 49 communities, both on the mainland and on the islands off the coast.

Guna Yala territory.

Guna Yala, the most populated of the three departments, encompasses over 378 small sand islands, most of them uninhabited and ranging from a decent size piece of wooded land to a tiny pile of sand with a few coconut trees gathered in the middle. Although fairly well protected from the sea by the surrounding reefs, the islands are located in shallow waters with no access for big vessels – and quite problematic for our 2.2 m draft. They rise above the turquoise waters just enough not to be seen due to the waves in rough seas.

Our landfall at Banedup island in the east Holandes.

And look – next to us: Merewether from Newcastle, Australia.

Do not be fooled by the bucolic beauty of the landscape. The whole cruising area is full of reefs, shoals, and shifting sand banks. The area is not charted in detail and commonly used electronic local charts are far from accurate. Eyeball navigation was the order of the day for us, despite three sources of charts behind the wheel – Navionics on the chart plotter, open CPN and other charts from Eric Bauhaus on two laptops.

Walking on Banedup island.

Banedup – Esprit alone at anchor in the bay.

Interesting beach furniture.

Neighbouring BBQ island.

Annie walking on Banedup south beach.

Fish, seafood, coconuts and plantains are relatively easy to get from the Gunas who will approach your boat on their ulus (wooden boats carved out of a single trunk, propelled with paddles and a rudimentary sail) to offer their catch, produce or crafts. Women are in charge of the household finances and contribute to the economy with the sale of their handcrafted molas, colourful pieces of cloth, sewn in multiple layers, then cut to reveal intricate patterns. Annie splurged on a few of these beautiful molas.

Guna fishermen in their ulu.

Mola seller.

An adjoining island.

Watch out for shallow water!

After 5 days at Banedup (with no internet), and exploring the surrounding islands by dinghy, we sailed the 8 nm distance to Green Island (Kanlildup) to get a Digicel phone signal, receive our emails and reply to them. There were 18 boats at anchor at Green Island, as this is one of the few islands where a slow internet signal could be had. We met some new cruisers anchored here and did walks on the island which was uninhabited. We bought fish and squid from the fishermen and had a visit from the Guna Yala officials to collect a USD 50 fee for a month long cruising permit in the San Blas Island waters.

Green island.

Beach on Green island.

Minute Sand island.

Sand island looking out to sea.

Four days later, we motored to the Coco Bandero Cays to the North. These small islands behind a long barrier reef are truly beautiful, but exposed to the fresh winds blowing in from the Caribbean sea. After two days, the wind and the swell picked up, so we decided to leave after taking the dinghy to Tiadup Island to the North, to drop off some rice, cooking oil and other pulses for the two families living there. They had come by in their ulu asking for things – we couldn’t understand their Spanish, so we gave what we thought they needed. After consulting Google Translate that evening, we realised that cooking oil and rice were the two words in Spanish they kept repeating.

Coco Bandero islands.

Annie enjoying the scenery.

Esprit anchored very close inshore in the narrow passage between islands.

Our next stop was 10 miles to the West in the central Holandes Cays where we anchored north off Miriadup in sheltered water. Miriadup has a number of houses on it, but is very plain compared to what we had seen thus far. The island to the North is largely a swamp and Bauhaus’s guide warns about the insects and no-see-ums that come out when the wind stops blowing

Another 10 mile sail southwest to the Cayos Chichime, saw us anchored in the lee of Uchutupu Dummat, the main island which houses a neat and colourful community. The main anchorage behind the reef had about 10 boats at anchor, which were more exposed to the swell, due to the fetch to the reef.

Chichime island in the lee of Uchutupu Dummat.

Circumnavigating the island by dinghy.

Crystal clear water.

Coming ashore to explore the island.

One of two fresh water wells on the island.

We explored the coastline of this island which had white beaches and clear water. Walking around the island, we met the locals who were very friendly and took trouble to rake the ground around their houses and under the palm trees. Like all these islands, the flotsam and jetsam from the oceans, unfortunately, end up on their windward shores.

Sand neatly raked below the palms.

The holiday bungalows sadly empty because of Covid.

One of three wrecks on the reefs offshore.

An ulu in the making – hacked out of a tree trunk.

Two days later, Elaine and Crawford Sneddon anchored next to us in SV Nauplios. We went over for a fabulous dinner with lots of wine, walked around the island and had water noodle sundowners.

Annie and Elaine walking to the village.

Guna dad and kids happy with the nuts and lollies we donated.

Walking through the village.

After four days we upped anchor and motored to the Cayos Limones (Lemon Cays). We only stayed for 30 minutes before moving on to Provenir Island, as the wind and swell were too much. All there was to see was an abandoned holiday resort on the water.

Lemon Cays – abandoned resort.

Provenir is the Guna Yala administrative centre with customs and immigration as well as a small regional airport. The wind and swell were too much again, so we anchored in the lee of the densely populated Wichubuala Island for the night.

Provenir island.

An ulu sailing past our anchorage at Wichubuala.

The next morning we made an early start for Puerto Linton, 40 nm to the West. The swell and the wind was manageable and we had a terrific sail to Linton Island, where we anchored with approximately 80 other yachts of various vintages and sea worthiness. Annie suggested a lot of boats on anchor here, won’t transit the Panama canal for financial reasons, or because a Pacific crossing was too daunting.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting anchorage with interesting characters hanging around the marina bar, staring at the horizon. There was good internet, so we stuck around for three days, catching up with emails etc, before setting off on our last leg to Shelter Bay marina, 30 nm to the West.

The bar at Linton Bay Marina.

Our next post by end February should be interesting, as we will be transiting the Panama canal, before setting off across the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands 3,900 nm away. Please don’t send us any emails from about the end of February for about a month, while we are using the expensive Iridium satellite network – SMS messages will be OK.

Finally, news from our girls is that over the festive season, Michelle visited Cape Town in SA and Karen and Evan hiked in South Island, New Zealand.

Our friends in Cape Town, Lynne, Dave, Reini, Patricia and Michelle.

Evan and Karen hiking in South Island NZ.

Cheers for now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas and New Year in Colombia

Originally, our plan was to spend two weeks in Santa Marta and then move on to Cartagena (pronounced Carta-hay-na) for Christmas and the New Year. Our anchor and chain, sent in for re-galvanizing, was supposed to take 7-10 days, but was eventually, only returned the day before Christmas.

Christmas decorations in Bolivar square, Santa Marta

The council has gone to a lot of trouble to brighten up Santa Marta, despite the Covid.

A balmy evening in one of the the Santa Marta squares.

Finding a quiet alley for a meal – these folks really need the business.

Drinks with Crawford and Elaine at the marina.

This extended our stay to three weeks, to include two great Christmas parties with the cruisers that had arrived in Santa Marta, enroute to Panama. The first was a paella dinner the day before Christmas, compliments of the Santa Marta marina management.

On our way to the paella meal.

On Christmas Day, we had entertaining team games between the cruisers, a pot luck late afternoon BBQ dinner and Secret Santa presents. Eating, drinking and great fun was had by all, until late in the evening.

Kyle nails the pantihose 6 x water bottle knock down race.

Missus Claus hands out the Secret Santa presents.

Crawford and Kieran received some Colombian hats – eat your hearts out, hat aficionados.

The group of sailors heading for Panama.

The BBQ tong masters.

Missy, Kyle, Denis and Natali chewing the late night fat.

We set off bleary eyed early on the 26 th to do a two-day sail to Cartagena with a stopover halfway at Puerto Velero to use our water maker and fill our water tanks (the water in Santa Marta was not potable). The sailing was great with 15knot north-easterly following winds, all the way to Cartagena.

Approaching Cartagena – old town on the left.

We arrived in the anchorage outside the Club Nautico Marina late afternoon, to check into the marina the next morning. Cartagena is a modern city, built around the historical town with defensive walls, dating back to the 1600s

Modern buildings around the anchorage.

Club Nautico facilities.

Our berth next to Piano Piano.

The historical port of Cartagena, entered through the narrow passage at Punta Castillo, is today a modern harbour, with an incongruous big statue of the Virgin and Child in the centre, marking a shallow area. The harbour is surrounded by high rise buildings, reminding of the Downtown Core and Raffles Place in Singapore.

Statue of the Virgin and child.

A walk to the top of the biggest fort in Cartagena “Fuerte de San Felipe de Barajas” gives a good introduction to the layout of the old and the new cities.

Fuerte de San Felipe de Barajas

In front of the fort is the statue of Don Blas de Lezo, about whom Colombians are heard to say: “Because of him, we don’t speak English”. This Basque naval hero, after a long career whose battles cost him an arm, a leg, and an eye, was appointed Commander of the Spanish Fleet at Cartagena in 1737.

Don Blas de Lezo

When British Admiral Edward Vernon came gunning for Cartagena with a fleet of ships and men, many times the size of that under de Lezo’s command, de Lezo sank many of the English ships and held off the attack until the start of the rainy season when tropical illnesses ran through the English crews and Vernon slunk away with one-tenth the number of men and far fewer ships than he started with.

Approaching the top of the fort through a network of tunnels.

The massive walls of the fort.

View from the top – the English were anchored in the bay below.

There are restaurants along the waterfront and a block away is a big, well stocked supermarket. The old town centre inside the defensive walls, is a 10 minute walk from the marina. Below follows a number of our un-annotated  photos, to give you the flavour of the old town. The first lot taken in the narrow streets and alleys of the residential area, followed by the grander buildings in the centre. The people living on these alleys don’t have gardens, so they gather in the streets at sunset, with lively Spanish music playing. The ladies in colourful dresses are called Palenqueras – they are the food, fruit and veg sellers in the old town.

Palenqueras balance their wares.

This one is for Michelle M!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Stef, Cath and the boys!

We cycled around the old town a few times to visit the gold museum and the museum of modern Colombian art. It also gave us the opportunity to explore streets which we had missed before. There is just so much beauty and art in this town, that it leaves you breathless. We had an interim goodbye BBQ on Esprit, as some of the younger cruisers wanted to head off to go kiteboarding at Bocas, west of Colon and the Canal. There is a lot of encouragement from them for me to take up the sport, but I am ambivalent about this as it sounds too much like excessive exercise at 73.

After two delightful weeks in Cartagena, we will head south this weekend, to explore the Islas del Rosario, Archipelago de San Bernardo and Isla Fuerte on our way down to the San Blas Islands north of the Panama isthmus. We will report back on the above islands, when we reach the Panama Canal at Colon, as we don’t expect good phone or data reception during the next month. Until then, enjoy 2021.

Santa Marta Christmas 2020.

Santa Marta street art.

In the days following our arrival in Santa Marta, Colombia on Sunday the 6 th December, a number of other yachts arrived. These were Australian, New Zealand, US and Belgian registered yachts who we had all met before in various anchorages, so there was a flurry of reunion drinks and dinners in the evenings of the following week.

Statue of Simon Bolivar “The Liberator” of South America from Spanish rule. He died in Santa Marta.

Colonial government buildings.

During the day, we explored the town of Santa Marta, which was bustling with street traders on the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets and running the gauntlet of vehicles whose drivers consider traffic lights as mere decorations and their hooters as the cure-all for pedestrians in their way.

Bustling streets and sidewalks.

Having a cup of coffee at a busy street cafe.

A hat and bag seller.

The marina could arrange hot dip galvanising with a local plant, so we had our badly corroded anchor and 80 m of anchor chain sent in for galvanising. Our BBQ which runs off an Aussie gas cylinder, was back in action as the local gas supplier had an adaptor for it and refilled the cylinder for us.

Santa Marta cathedral.

Our daughter Karen who travelled South America two years ago and spent some time in Colombia, suggested we visit Minca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We headed out there on the 13 th December to spend a relaxed time on land for a couple of days. The town reminded us of Nimbin, the hippie town in northern NSW, Australia. We stayed at the Chunu’u hostel resort in a “glamping tent” next to a river.

Arriving at Chunu’u – named after the small nectar eating bird.

The “glamping tents”

Inside our “Loveshack”

Taking a breather.

After action satisfaction – man, relax with a cup of coffee.

Fellow Aussie Colin, arranged for us to visit the La Victoria coffee plantation high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To get there, ten of us sailors got onto the pillions of the local moto taxis and had a hair raising ride on narrow unpaved roads with hairpin bends and sheer drops to the valleys below.

Annie and her driver.

Miguel my driver – hairstyle is important to these youngsters. The “Style du Jour” is “Mullet meets Mohawk”.

La Victoria is one of the biggest and oldest coffee farms of northern Colombia. It was founded in 1892 by Charles and Alice Bowden, a couple of English entrepreneurs who arrived in the country. The Bowden’s were among the pioneers that started producing coffee extensively in the region around Minca. They engineered a system of pipelines that uses water from the numerous streams of the farm to collect coffee from remote areas and to power the machinery of the coffee factory.

The water powered generator supplying power to the farm.

Thanks to these innovations, La Victoria Coffee Company became one of the top producers of coffee in the region by 1921, with a yearly production of 200,000 kg. More recently, the Weber-Wilde family, who has owned the property for two generations now, is opening the farm to alternative activities. We enjoyed a very informative tour of the coffee factory built in 1892 and still running today. The owner who’s husband passed away two years ago, is running the big farm and coffee factory on her own.

The owner explains how the coffee fruit is soaked to separate the flesh from the bean.

Coffee beans are dried in these turning vessels.

The trip back on the moto taxis were even worse, because going downhill the riders could show off their considerable racing skills, which would have had the motorcycle racers in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, green with envy. When not hiking along the rivers and the mountain trails, we explored the town and enjoyed the local food.

Crossing the river on a dodgy bridge.

Locals enjoying the chilly mountain water.

Up in the mountains, these huge bamboo forests are prolific.

A nymph in the river.

Bye-bye to Chunu’u.

Back at the marina, we had new neighbours, Rokas and Simona on “Starlight” from Lithuania and Elaine and Crawford on “Nauplios” from the UK. The galvanising of our anchor and chain had been delayed due the volume of work at the plant, with the promise that we can expect delivery just before Christmas, which is celebrated in Colombia on the 24 th December. We will set sail to Cartagena, 120 nm to the South, after Christmas, to celebrate the New Year down there.

To all our family and friends, we wish you a merry Christmas and after hopefully receiving your Covid vaccinations early in 2021, a brighter and happier new year than the year that 2020 has been. Cheers!

Annie & Dirk

Curacao 2.5 and sailing to Colombia.

Whilst waiting for confirmation of the 1st December border opening of Colombia, we did our laundry and did two long hikes: The “Meditation” hike above Santa Barbara resort, which clearly hadn’t been walked by anyone for years. I should have taken a machete to fight through the prolific cacti and “Hook and spear” thorn trees. (Haak en steek dorings)

Annie forging ahead on the Meditation hike

Cacti flourish here.

As if the scratches on our legs were not enough, a solid rain downpour hit us just before we reached the lookout, drenching us completely. During my meditation afterwards, I tried to answer the questions “Why did we tackle this hike?” and “Where did you put the Betadine antiseptic and Voltaren meds?”

Looking down to Seru Boca marina.

Annie at the lookout.

View across Spanish Water.

Annie catching her breath back at Santa Barbara beach.

The next hike was the Jan Thiel lagoon walk (aka “The roller coaster hike”) on Sunday the 29th Nov. After the previous day’s rain, this was a slippery mud-bath and begged the same question as above. After a swim, some Voltaren anti-inflammatories and a stiff whisky, we went to bed early.

The only worthwhile photo on this walk – an animal cemetery in the bush.

There was the good news by email just before bedtime that Colombia will open it’s harbours on the 1st December – details about Covid-19 protocols to follow. Confirmation came through on the 1st: No prior testing or testing on arrival required after a doctor has checked us out. We took the bus into town and did the 6.4 km circuit checking out with Customs and Immigration on the 2nd December. In the evening we had farewell drinks on Wild Thing.

Last look at Punda in Willemstad – new hearts for more locks.

Christmas tree decorations complete.

The fresh fruit and veg market.

The following day, we had a relaxed broad reach up the West coast of Curacao and anchored off beautiful Santa Cruz bay, the most northerly anchorage on the island. The reason for setting of from here, is to pass Aruba to the North and avoid the 15 km wide passage to Venezuela to the South – the danger of piracy from Venezuela is a reality.

Passing Willemstad on our way up the west coast.

More cruise liners in mothballs – the Kiwi’s say “Beached as”

On the 4th December, we set off at 6:30 am for the 358 nm crossing to Santa Marta in Colombia. After 2 hours of motor sailing to get out of the lee of the island, we set the jib out on the pole, with one reef in the main to goose wing downwind. We fine tuned Harry the Hydrovane in 28 knots of north-easterly wind and Harry steered us all the way to Santa Marta over the next 46 hours.

Route Caribbean. (Click on map to enlarge)

At 2pm we passed Northwest Point in Aruba, 8 nm offshore. At 4:30 pm we gybed the sails at 13.15 deg north on the 1,000 metre depth contour, to start our course south. During the night, the notorious easterly and confused swells started to rise, but we were bowling along nicely to cover 176 nm at 6:30am to average 7.3 knots over 24 hours. At 10:00 am we passed Cabo de Vela in Colombia, 20 nm offshore.

Annie catches another Mahi-Mahi.

Sunday the 5th December was a real relaxed Sunday sail as the waves got smaller, once we were in the lee of Cabo de Vela. As we were approaching Santa Marta, we furled the jib and tucked a second reef in the main in an effort to slow down in the strong 35 knot easterly. We had planned to reach Santa Marta by midday, but now it was still dark and we were not ready to make our landfall.

We managed to drop the sail outside Marina Santa Marta at 6:30 am, as the sun was rising. Esprit had sailed 182 nm over 24 hours to average 7.6 knots. The 358 nm passage she covered in 48 hours at 7.46 knots. Esprit was performing as well as we could wish for.

Hoisting the Colombian and quarantine flags.

The marina staff did not come on duty until 8:00 am, so we drifted in the harbour, brewing coffee and having breakfast. The staff were very welcoming and efficient, tying us up at our berth. Being Sunday, the government agencies weren’t working, so we went for showers and slept most of the afternoon. By 5:00 pm we were woken by the many pleasure craft returning to the marina, their sound systems blasting fantastic Spanish music. This was a welcome change from the Afro beat prevalent in the Caribbean.

Washing off the salt.

Jeanneau’s at Santa Marta marina

It is now Monday morning and Jorg Domann from Berlin has just berthed next to us in a Jeanneau 409 sister yacht. Sailing single handed and restricted from poling out, he covered the distance in 3 days, which is good for single handing. He has gone to sleep now, whilst we are waiting on a doctor to come and check us up around midday for Covid clearance. It has also given me the opportunity to write this post while waiting. We will report in due course on Santa Marta and Cartagena in Colombia. Until then, cheers and stay safe.

Curacao 2.

We arrived in Curacao during the rainy season, with the result that the rain came bucketing down for days on end, which was good for filling our water tanks, but not so good for exercise. Whenever there was a break in the rain, we bolted out on walks into the country, or to the supermarket.

Going bush – Spanish Water, on our way to the ocean beaches.

Caracas Bay on the ocean side – a cruise liner and an oil rig laid up due to Covid.

Papagayo Beach with mostly Dutch tourists.

In between, we did work on the boat or had other cruisers over for drinks. Ed and Natalie from Montreal in Canada took us along in their car to do shopping, so we reciprocated with a dinner at Taboosh, a restaurant on the Spanish Water with local cuisine.

Dirk, Ed, Natalie & Annie at Taboosh.

The bus service into town gave us the opportunity to explore the towns of Punda and Otrabanda on opposite sides of the canal into Willemstad. On the Otrabanda side is the fantastic Kura Hulanda Museum, which is part of the urban renewal project which the Dutch entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jacob Dekker funded to the tune of many millions of dollars. Curacao was the centre of the slave trade in years past and the museum is a stark reminder of the terrible fate that befell these people from Africa. The museum has a valuable collection of African art which Dekker assembled over many years. Born in 1948, he sadly passed away a year ago from cancer at the age of 71.

Entrance to the museum.

A bust of Jacob Dekker.

“Mama Africa” sculpture in the museum courtyard, highlighting the origins of the slaves.

Started by the Portuguese in 1526, the current estimates are that about 12 million to 12.8 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean over a span of 400 years. The number purchased by the traders was considerably higher, as the passage had a high death rate with approximately 1.2–2.4 million dying during the voyage and millions more died in seasoning camps in the Caribbean after arrival to the New World.

Millions of slaves also died as a result of slave raids and during transport to the African coast for sale to European slave traders. Near the beginning of the 19th century, various governments acted to ban the trade, although illegal smuggling still occurred. In the early 21st century, several governments issued apologies for the transatlantic slave trade. (Source: Wikipedia)

Model of a slave trading ship. In the holds of these ships, the slaves in chains, were crammed like sardines .

Sad!

Venice also has something to answer for it’s North African slave trading history.

Slave girls – I have only included photos of the less shocking exhibits in the museum.

Mural depicting slaves at work in the Caribbean.

Exit of the slave museum – Annie looking back, gobsmacked.

End of a sad chapter – celebrating the emancipation of the slaves in Curacao by King Willem III of the Netherlands.

The photos following, are of the redeveloped urban area in Kura Hulanda – with lots of public art around.

 

 

Cooling off with iced cappuccinos.

Dekker’s extensive African art collection.

Walking back to Punda.

Punda, which we explored on the other side of the canal, is a living and very colourful street art gallery, with artistic surprises around every corner. We enjoyed this so much, we went back two days later to explore the area further. Below, follows some photos of the street art, which don’t need further explanation.

We thought this building was a church – it is the Public Prosecutor’s office!

The Christmas decorations are coming out.

A Chichi Santa with reindeer.

Last night, we had cruisers from Australia and New Zealand around for drinks, all of us waiting for the Colombian border to open on the 1st December (hopefully). Like us, these boats, Merewether and Wild Thing are also planning to transit the Panama canal early in the new year, to start their Pacific crossing. We are all waiting with bated breath. We will report back early in December on our next move, so until then, keep safe and wear your masks.

Curacao

Caribbean Route.

Note: If the map on the email version you have received is not clear, click on the map to enlarge it.

The route from Grenada to Curacao has two potential dangers: 1. Piracy off the North coast of Venezuela, which evidently, is worse than the piracy which we had expected off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden – so, we sail well offshore from the Venezuelan Islands of Blanquila and Los Rogues! 2. Strong easterly winds, which build up towards the Gulf of Mexico, after their long journey across the Atlantic.

The Predictwind Offshore service which we are subscribed to, indicated a favourable four day weather window starting on the 7 th November 2020. The expected wind strength for the 440 nm (815 km) distance was around a 15 knot Easterly with swells of 1 – 2 metres. Ideal for Esprit with a poled out jib and full main, going dead downwind. We set sail from St George’s in Grenada on the 7th at 15:00.

To remind us of the high rainfall in Grenada and as a farewell present, we were hit by a severe squall with torrential rain, two miles offshore. After this, Harry the Hydrovane took control and we were sailing downwind at 9 – 11 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground). With no further rain and  a consistent wind, we had a wonderful trip downwind for the next two days.

Harry the Hydrovane.

The prediction for day 3.

Weather, according to MetBob in New Zealand (Bob McDavitt), is a mix of pattern and chaos. It therefore comes as no surprise, when the wind suddenly dies down on day three, despite the predictions. We had to start the Yanmar engine and motor for the last 30 hours, before anchoring in Curacao – averaging 6.1 knots over the total distance. As passages go, this one was both good and frustrating.

Although Bonaire is the first island in the Netherlands Antilles to be reached, sailing from Grenada, we passed it by as Bonaire required 14 days quarantine on arrival. It is a small island, but has good diving.

Approaching Bonaire.

The southern tip of Bonaire.

Day 3: Annie catches a good sized Dorado (Mahi Mahi) with her new pink lure.

Approaching Curacao – huge Cumulus clouds.

South of Willemstad the capital of Curaçao, is a substantial body of sheltered inland water called Spaanse Water (Spanish Water), accessed by a narrow channel. Yachts anchor here in five designated bays during the hurricane season. Although we have now reached the end of this season, there are still many permanent boats anchored here, mostly from the USA, Canada and SA, who uses the bays as a base to cruise the region.

Spanish Water.

You can’t blame these cruisers, as the island (a self governing province of the Netherlands), is well developed with modern infrastructure and services, but more European than the islands of the Windward and Leeward Islands. The Island was settled by the Dutch around the same time in the 1600’s as Cape Town in SA, so architecturally the Dutch Colonial style buildings with the Amsterdam gables are similar, but more colourful in Curacao. Because it is a world heritage site, modern buildings have to conform in a stylised fashion.

Dutch gables.

The 1888 Queen Emma floating bridge busy closing.

Almost closed.

The pedestrians walk over.

The official language is Dutch, but culturally, the island has many influences such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, Asian and Jewish. English is widely spoken, but the native tongue is Creole of Portuguese descent.

The high Queen Juliana bridge.

Colourful buildings on the dockside.

Lots of public art.

On a street corner.

The morning after our arrival, we took a bus into Willemstad and walked for miles to check in with Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority, staffed by friendly and efficient people, all apologising for the fact that the offices are situated so far apart. In the evening we had Ed and Natalie on “SV Safari” from Canada over for drinks – they had helped us in the morning with information on how to get around. They have a beautifully restored Morgan monohull and two dogs.

Ed and Natalie have a car and they invited us along on their weekly shopping trip to the supermarkets two days later. The supermarkets are well stocked with fantastic cheeses and cheap Amstel beer. The selection of fresh fruit and veg is of good quality and reasonably priced. We look forward to exploring Curacao further, until the end of November, but in the meantime, we conclude with a few photos around the Spanish Water.

Fisherman’s harbour housing, next to which we tie our dinghy up at the dock.

A holiday resort opposite Fisherman’s harbour.

A colourful house next to our anchorage – the voluptuous lady is a statue!

A lot of houses have these grass covered gazebos.

Curacao Yacht Club.