Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Curacao to...Colombia? !

"Big ship, big ship to our starboard side, this is sailing vessel Ula!"...
Preparing to snorkel out to sunken tug.
Our week had disappeared fast preparing for the next leg, with a good weather window taking us around the notorious Colombia head: 20 knots wind with 1.9 m swell easing.
We had a morning family swim and hair wash so left the anchorage feeling fresh and sparkly. (By far our most preferred method to wash hair by the way: jump overboard to wet hair, rub ocean friendly shampoo through and jump overboard again. Shake your head profusely upon returning to the surface, a couple more dolphin dives may be necessary. Repeat if using conditioner! Over and done with in minutes and far more fun.)
We sailed up the coast of Curacao in a jovial mood, enjoying the view, the sailing conditions and looking forward to our next port of call: Portobello, Panama.
Late evening, the lights of neighbouring island Aruba came out to greet us.  As did the lights of the ships. Dave counted 12 in all, along this small coast, bit daunting at first but thankfully the majority were anchored.
Not too much happened over next couple of days, although a few dolphins cruised past on their way to some other more important engagement.  Was a near full moon so at night there was a good amount of visibility.
One evening Dave was adjusting sails and yelled out to Eli to "tighten the sheets", to which Eli, who's not too bad on the nautical terms, teasingly replied, " oh stop being so fancy, no one understands you!" While he dutifully pulled the correct rope!
Third night in, I was on watch, swell seemed to have increased but was comfortable. I'd been watching the lights of a ship for some time and decided to call Dave up to ascertain course of action as it approached nearer. It seemed we were both headed toward the same direction but he was coming toward us and there was the chance he may not have seen us and cut too close in front of us. In the dark, we thought he had pushed the autopilot button to go 10 degrees to port. The numbers changed but soon after, large wave walls were coming straight at our side. Looking down at our compass, we realised we were in fact heading due south instead of west. Tweaked the button again, it glitched, Dave gave it a whack and the screen did something else. Another wave shoved us at our side. We decisively turned off the autopilot, and got back on course handsteering to the compass. The lights of the ship loomed nearer all too soon. Two calls on the vhf were met with silence.
" Big ship to our starboard, this is sailing vessel Ula, we are having steering problems, can you please turn to your starboard. " To which the reply came,
"Hello, I see you, I will try to altar course but I don't know if she'll change in time!"
Righto. Off to port we veered as much as could be, thankfully they did noticeably veer away from us in good time.
With that out of the way, Dave took off down below, pulling the surfboard bag onto our bed, opened up the space to see what was going on.  Over the next couple of hours or so, he topped up the oil,  bled it for air, had to fossick about up front in our over filled focsle looking for our bike pump, then pumped up the hydraulic arm 25-30 psi. All this done in the stinking hot while I snaked all over the ocean, trying to maintain course.
I see what you're thinking, if the power steering goes out in a car, it's tough, but do-able, not that bigger deal. I've done a good amount of non-power-steering as a teenager and I can tell you, this is comparing apples with lemons. This is a 16 tonne boat and I was wrestling for its control against the power of the waves, most with walls towering above us.  My neck and shoulder were agitated, taking most of the strain (mainly due to a surfing injury back in NZ where I tore the ligaments in my neck-another story).  I felt exhausted and it seemed every minute I was praying, "God I can't take much more of this".  But at least I had breeze. Eventually poor Dave surfaced, sweating from his sauna-like workout, spewing from my snaky driving.  He decided to switch on the engine and try the autopilot.  Hallelujah it was working! We wearily watched the numbers on the two dials for sometime and made the call to head into the nearest port, Santa Marta, Colombia, some 84 nautical miles away.
Nearing Santa Marta.

It's a peculiar thing to be under that amount of stress, wanting to throw in the towel and walk away...but you can't. You have to just keep going, keep enduring,  inspite of exhaustion, were both shattered, we managed to continue on with our watches till morning when Eli could watch.
Something I did notice during the intense time was how the large waves didn't scare me as much as they had two years ago on our last scare coming into Bonaire.  Yes the situation was scary, considering possible outcomes, but I do remember feeling a deep down peace and trust in Ula to ride us out safely, which in turn gave me some reassurance and confidence.
The engine and autopilot happily chugged away for the rest of the day. The lush mountains of Colombia finally came into sight and the high rises as we came close to landfall in the late afternoon, dropping anchor in the very picturesque Santa Marta Bay, near a Venezuelan fishing boat.
Sunset Santa Marta.

Saturday night was lively ashore, small buses zooming past with people hanging in their doorways, beach filled with swimmers, soccer players and street vendors.  The smells were welcoming and comforting.  South American music filled the night.. ah, it was good to be back in South America.

I spent a year in Brasil as an exchange student when I was 16/17. My love affair for all things South American never seemed to dissipate. I even managed to drag Dave and Eli over when he was three. We spent 4 months between Brasil, Peru and Chile.  We noticed that people would warm to us more because of Eli.  But also, we got to see things through his eyes that we would've overlooked otherwise.

Santa Marta was not just a silver lining, it was more like the Icing on the cake.
With no working outboard we paddled waka style to the marina for clearance procedure. We arrived at the berth of some newly acquired friends from Curacao and actually Bonaire at customs when we were begging for an extension mercy.
Another cruiser guy was there who happened to be the dad of three boys almost the same ages as ours! Talking with these people was like being welcomed with open arms.  We felt reassured and encouraged almost immediately.  The boys instantly keen to hang out, they spent the day back and forth between boats and diving off various platforms at the beach. Their blond hair making them instant celebrities!

Clearing in and out of Colombia requires an agent, at every port.  Our options were:
1) use outside agent while at anchor, cost approx: $300 US
2) stay at marina five nights: $370 US, free  agent but temporary import of boat required.
The marina seemed like a plan. After many questions and apologizing for our lack of sleep and decision making abilities, the lovely lady offered for us to take up a berth, get some rest and come back tomorrow to see the agent.  We were jetted out to our boat then we slowly, slightly nervously, made our debut entry into a marina.  It was the perfect first time  setting : not busy, not huge, not too many boats down our lane and not too much wind.  Suffice to say, with the guidance of Dave and Eli, I managed to successfully back our boat into our slip without collecting anything on the way, yay!

Much to the delight of the boys, we each had to register our fingerprint for entry to the very nice bathrooms!  Got some rest and had an enjoyable evening meeting the other cruisers.
Our view: big mountains overlook the city when the cloud peels away.

As arranged the night before, we met up with another guy to taxi our gas bottles a 15 minute ride through town for refill.  For $8000 Colombian pesos each way, it was the ultimate cultural experience.
$3000=$1 USD by the way!
Quick snap out taxi window.

The taxi driver skilfully zoomed and weaved us down streets lined with mango trees, in between bikes, buses, cars, horse and carts, he seemed to know the precise dimensions of his car and where he could squeeze it!
Horse and cart still prevalent in the busy city streets.

Inside a walled compound backed up against lush green hills,  a 20 minute relay ensued between us English and the lovely young Spanish, talking to the translate app, deciphering the translated message, negotiating gas fill prices and delivery as there was a delay.
Back to the marina, we met the agent, began filling in forms, handing over documents when Kelly pointed out our clearance  paper from Curacao states our next port of call is Portobello, Panama. We explained the autopilot situation.
Much Spanish between Kelly and Agent Jonathan.
So, because it's really essential to go to your next 'port of call' as stated on last port of call clearance form, and because of the whole Colombia drug issue thing, we really needed to go.."manana".
My eyes must've widened somewhat with a gaping mouth I repeated what I'd translated...tomorrow? ?!!
More Spanish.
Dave mentioned we needed to claim safe harbor under maritime law.
More Spanish.
If they put clearance stamps on our papers, it will open a lengthy, investigation once we get to Panama.  If we are treated as "in transit" with no paperwork and leave asap then things will go much easier for us.
More Spanish. Agent Jonathan said we could leave no later than Wednesday morning. Phew!
This turned out to be a bonus costing us much less by not paying agent fees and staying less time in the marina.
The day disappeared with loads of washing, cooking meals for on passage, Dave's fix-it jobs, etc. The following day we had a very interesting town day getting extra supplies.
There was a football game between Colombia and some other country. Every shop it seemed had a few people milling around their TV watching the game, cafe's were filled with possum-eyed spectators and you could hear the uproar in the street when a goal was scored!
It's all about the game...

Gardener taking his siesta in the hammock - every
work place should have these!

Streets flooding after a pour

Aside from some technical ATM delays, we successfully drove up to the fuel dock for our first time ever and refilled. (The last time we refueled was two years ago in Trinidad,  running multiple jerry can dinghy relays over a couple of days to fill our tanks!!). This was so fast and efficient, no wonder so many cruisers prefer this method! !

We left the spectacular Colombian coast late morning and was even able to sail under all four sails for a couple of hours.

Panama, here we come!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Boatyard Slumming No More!

Best Mother's day ever! 
The stresses arising from the ongoing rigging dramas actually paled in comparison to the bit of fun we've managed to have over the last few weeks.
Due to our visa running out I didn't want to run the risk of posting online our whereabouts until we were in the clear,
being illegal immigrants and all!
Firstly, the latest in the rigging saga..with one day left on our visa, the local freight rep. called to say yes, one box has arrived, by plane, but two more packages are still on their way, via... boat. -Wha?!
Last day of visa, Lelle thought it best we go make our case known to cusoms and immigration. Armed with an explanation letter and a letter of intent, we nervously made our way down. We waited for two other couples to clear in, having just sailed in that afternoon.
Thankfully, the official was very gracious and allowed us to stay on to get our work done. We don't know if any details were written down, so it was a slight bitter-sweet situation, knowing we would have to do this all over again and hoping there are no further repercussions for overstaying.
At least they weren't giving us 24 hours to leave the country, as Trinidad had done a few years prior, in spite of the mistake being theirs.
Lelle drove across island like this: boot up, full load!
Back at the boatyard an hour or so later, Lelle drives in, car boot open, honking profusely, coming to a halt with a big grin, he says, "finally!" It was a rather peculiar sight, seeing a myserious looking large wooden box, surrounded by bags of ice and a box of beer! Suffice to say, celebrations were had that evening, but some caution loomed in the deep recesses. Next day revealed the reason for this. Dave discovered not all our pieces we'd ordered were in fact there. It had taken these parts two months to the day of payment and confirmation to arrive.
Lelle sourced some alloy plate and over the weekend Dave engineered some fitings to make a start on the rigging.

Davo up to his usual death-defying tricks.  The constant
wind is even more noticeable up there!

First thing Monday Lelle was trying to organise the extra parts but it wasn't until Thursday afternoon that he finally got confirmation of a hopefully more speedier carrier and that things were actually under way.
One week overdue visa.
While we wait...
Lots of other things getting sorted, but the projects of most interest: Dave has been making our bed more user-friendly while at sea.
Brown cushions to left now serve as a comfy full head-
room seat with storage underneath.  Where before was a large, semi enclosed storage mess.

Having the bed running parallel with the stern when the boat is heeling on passage, or rocking at anchor means that you have the sensation of slipping up and down in your skin. Either you feel like your free falling into a wedgy or, on the other angle, your body is trying to merge into your head.
The base slides out from the seat, while the cushions
are the perfect size to stretch out our legs.

The cushion covers were left on board from the original settee and we enlisted the help of the boatyard couple who run a business called Phish Phactory.  They were able to provide the very comfy foam inserts. They also replaced our window zips for the cockpit bimmini which means we can now have better ventilation, but also will hold out waves and weather better.
Another project that makes a massive difference: two small storage cupboards either side of our aft head vanity.  What once had a small hole for a cupboard, actually had loads of wasted, unused space.
The elephant!

Elephant with ears flapping! Jokes aside, storage is awesome! !
We came to notice the necessity of water-proofing our newly extended cockpit area. The cheapest option being, cut up our precious heavy duty rain-catcher tarpaulin that was given to us a few years ago (thanks Eric and Cathy!) This has proven to be a very effective addition, not to mention the two skylights we scavenged for a deal in the boatyard, that Dave has added to the roof.


Closed in between two roofs.

Rolled up. Roof also water catcher.

On the fun side of things, one guy that turned up with his boat recently, very generously gave the boys a much needed soccer ball and also took us to a cave. Not far from the boatyard, next to a subdivision, he led us on a "track" through scrubby, thorny bush, over volcanic looking (although nobody knows of volcanic activity), rocks to a hole in the ground.

Bonaire landscape and track to cave.


Going down.

To look in is pitch black, but with torches and someone who knows where to go, we edged down into it's depths maybe 1-2 storeys' deep. Where he pointed at a small black patch, looking not much larger than a puddle, and said, "there's the water." This was surprising as he had mentioned beforehand to bring snorkel and masks.

But sure enough, it led up and over rocks and into a very large, underground pool, surrounded by rock. In some places we could stand up and the bottom felt sandy. We were told to make as little movement as possible, so as not to stir up the clarity of the water, which was a green-blue, crystal clear. The diving could go 5 metres further underwater into another large opening, but you really had to know where you were going! There's no spring, apparently it just fills from the small amount of rainfall that seeps through.

One of the surprising things for us as Kiwis', whenever we go into a river, we brace ourselves for the very refreshing cold. An underground river would definitely require a full wetsuit, and you may still be cold, depending on the quality of the wetsuit! This, was refreshing "sweet" water (fresh), but we happily swam in it's warmth in only our summer beach wear, it was a very peculiar, but incredible experience.

Mother's day, I was treated to a very nice breakfast and homemade cards. Then, we were off, we had been invited to join Lelle's family on their newly fixed speed boat for an early morning visit to Klein Bonaire ("little Bonaire"). The island we look over to every day from atop our land-stuck yacht.

All of a 5-7 minute boat ride, it was so nice to step onto a sandy beach. Lelle had made pancakes, much to the boys' delight, and even coffee.
Inga, Luca, Eden getting his order in!

The boys dug holes, swam, buried Luca and turned him into a mermaid, snorkelled, played soccer, dove off the boat, ate some more food and swam some more!

Inga, (Lelle's wife) took Dave and I for a walk to the more Eastern end of the island where we walked out through a gap in the reef and drift snorkelled our way back down. A large black, nosy angelfish swam up close to me, then circled and hovered around for a good 15 minutes! Dave dove down to check out a large school of blue fish, but to his surprise, rather than them dispersing, they just continued as normal.."it was like I just became part of the fishy school," Dave said!

Nice shot by Salem.

The highlight for us though was discovering and following a green turtle, as it glided along the ocean floor, then came within a couple of metres of us as it rose to the surface to catch some air. That was definitely the Mother's day bonus. Then, just as we were back to our picnic spot, we discovered we were surrounded by three different varieties of silver fish, circling us! The boys had said earlier, they had managed to touch several of these fish!
Once we were all packed up back in the boat, Eli, Salem and Luca also got to have a go at wakeboarding.. nothing like a bit of adrenaline to top off the day. But, wait, there was in fact more.. we even had a special treat of gelatos and pizza later that Mother's day, ever!!
Nearing the end of the following week, we heard our bits had crossed an ocean and were close.  Hopefully by Friday the package would be here. Friday came and they were still in Curacao, hopefully they will come on the Monday plane.
Took an afternoon off knowing swell was up and went on a surf search mission..
Friendly locals road blocking
for some attention. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

While we wait, sword fighting at the slave huts.

Two weeks overdue on the visa.
Every now and then the Alice syndrome hits: where you feel like you're in the big, dark hole and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight. You're going forward but there's no evidence of wonderland. Don't get me wrong, I hugely appreciate the fact that we are in a very amazing place, having a wonderfully extended summer. I'm grateful for the opportunity and time to be able to have a bit of fun and exploration.
The rabbit-hole syndrome refers to the pressure we feel sometimes, knowing we are eating into a significant chunk of our savings, yet not having left yet. The season narrows, and as a friend recently reminded us, we have some 10,000 or so nautical miles to cover in the next 5 months, in order to return home in our boat! This is do-able, we just won't be chilling at so many islands along the way.
Trying not to let the doubts consume us of achieving our goal: sailing to surf destinations on our way home, so once we've returned home, we can live on her, set her up and continue the journey for more sail to surf destinations.
In spite of the fact that there is a direct flight on KLM from Holland to Bonaire, which is what we'd been pushing for with every package, our parts still managed to take 4-5 days to get over this side of the world. They arrived in Curacao, a 20 minute flight away. Somehow, they've managed to go on vacation there for a week now.
We received the news that rather than arriving two days ago, they've missed every plane and boat, tomorrow is a holiday so hopefully Friday they will be in our possession. This sent Dave and I into a bit of a somber, deeply overwhelmed space.  I sent out a quick urgent plea for prayer due to our concerns.
In a very bizarre twist of circumstances, two very long hours later, we were elated to find out the parts had in fact arrived before the holiday and we got to work that evening!
Three weeks overdue visa was met with quite a bit of drama.  Without going into lengthy details, the rigging arrived and was conpleted, we were loaded onto the trailer where Lelle did some last minute welding in the dark.
Using the crane to hold welder
in place!

Tried the engine for the first time and thankfully started with ease, filled the water tanks, launched that afternoon, taking up Lelle's mooring close by.
Riding over to the boat ramp.

Bowsprit jump

Finally on the water after 4 months boatyard slumming!

Boys went for wakeboard with Lelles family while we worked away.
Knowing we were four days out from being a month overdue and having a decent two day weather window, we went to clear out with customs and immigration next day. They weren't overly pleased and said the penalty would be US$250 per person, therefore,  $1250!! They would however waive the fee with evidence of receiving the parts so late. I raced around retrieving copies of receipts etc while Dave prepared the boat.  The toilet had stopped working and so had our outboard.
1pm we had friends at the jetty waiting to wave us off, Dave was still doing last minute jobs like running out jack lines for his harness to hook onto.  It had been such a rush, we still had a lot of gear not properly stowed away but we shoved off anyway, running east between the main island and Klein Bonaire to get the best wind angle. I was feeling so tired it was hard to keep my eyes open and kept getting waves of heat, feeling like I was going to pass out. 10 minutes later, I quietly nudged Dave in the direction of our chart plotter: it had blacked out, with the odd glitch appearing.  Our plan was to pick up a mooring at Klein Curacao, 10nm before Curacao, approximately 24 nm from Bonaire. Departing much later than we'd hoped, meant we would be pushing it to make it to this flat, unlit, unfamiliar island in the dark with no charts.  Given the stressed state of mind we were in, we decided to grab a mooring in Kralendijk, Bonaire, get some rest, sort out our alternative charts and get better organised.

Eden on a mission to swim round buoy!

Best decision we ever made.  Two younger ones swam ashore, played for hours between beach and playground. We tried to rest then went about our jobs, which turned out to be a significant amount, the sail in our rush, hadn't been laced correctly, lots of things became apparent to our relief we hadn't left that day.  Interestingly, we left the chart plotter on, it reappeared and hasn't had a glitch since!
Had our first good night's sleep in a while, left mooring 5am.  All a bit queezy but was a very successful, enjoyable sail. Loads of flying fish, one so big it looked like a flying Kahawai!  Two lots of flamingos flew past us, crazy looking things, and just when we'd said there wasn't much shipping around, a navy ship came charging up from behind us!  The cockpit extension proved to be an invaluable asset, providing much needed shade, comfort and security.
Entrance heading into Spaanse Waters, Curacao.

Another stellar job done by Dave.

Poor flag seen better days, down to two stars!

It was great for our nerves to have a first, small day sail to a familiar place.  Made really good time arriving at 12.30pm.
The anchorage has been nice and still, helping us to relax and prepare for the next part.
Free water taxis for when floating pontoon bridge pulls
aside to let ships into Wilemstadt harbour.  

Clearing in procedure downtown.
Wilemstadt waterfront.

But that can wait until next time, thanks for enduring this long post!