24 Jan 2019

24th January 2019 - Santa Marta

Well we woke this morning to calm-ish weather, but apparently we are in a small pocket of tranquillity. The local Coastguard have issued a warning to small craft as out in the bay there are still high winds and very steep seas, so the departure has been delayed again until 10:00 am tomorrow. The earlier start will enable us to get past a notoriously bad patch of water off the coast at Barranquilla (about 40 miles down the coast) which is the estuary for the largest river in Columbia and which frequently has tree trunks floating in it, so to be able to pass that area ion the daylight is preferable.

This does of course mean that we will have one day less to enjoy the San Blas islands which is a bit of a blow as we still need to arrive in Colon at the head of the Panama canal on the 31st January. Still, we will have plenty of other islands to experience in the Pacific, so we have to take a pragmatic view of the second delay. I spoke at length with one of the organisers this morning and am now convinced that it is the right thing to wait.

That said, some of the skippers in the fleet have made the decision to go today. Typically these are the racing boats that have several crew on board and which are built to withstand severe conditions under full sail. We are only two crew and so we have to be a bit more cautious as you might expect. Plus the fact that we are here to enjoy the passage, not beat ourselves up, either in the physical sense by putting ourselves unnecessarily in danger, or mentally for looking as though we are wimping out. The local Coastguard knowledge is king and we respect that.

We are the radio net controllers this evening and tomorrow, so we will be talking to the crews that are leaving today to find out 1) if they are safe, and 2) what conditions they are experiencing out there on the water. It will be an interesting conversation!

23 Jan 2019

23rd January 2019 - Still in Santa Marta

We haven't left Santa Marta yet as the winds have been so high and seas so rough that it was considered unsafe to start. You might think "but they are oceangoing sailors, they should be able to cope with rough weather" and you would be right, but there's no sense in us courting disaster is there?
We had already made up our minds that if the rally was to continue today as planned, we were going to sit it out in port for one more day to let things settle down a bit. We weren't alone either. Several other crews had reached the same decision.

What is causing it all is a high pressure area that is pushing southwards to Cuba and a low pressure over Columbia south of where we are, and the two systems have created a wind tunnel, pushing the wind strength up into the forties. One boat recorded 50 knots in the marina last night, and Tumi was certainly feeling the strain on our dock lines. In fact, we had a dinner last night and on our way back, we noticed the boats were really pulling at their lines, so we doubled up on several just to be sure. Our only concern was that the finger pontoon didn't break under the strain of heavy boats being pushed sideways against the mountings.

We slept OK through the tempest, and despite the rocking and rolling of the boats, and woke to a layer of sand everywhere. It is all pervading and we have been sweeping, swilling and hoovering to try to remove it.

The damaged ring for the whisker pole has been repaired and is back on the mast, the pole end has been re-riveted  and we hope it will last us through to Panama when I can replace it again. Having an extra day in port now means that we have one day less in the San Blas islands, which is a shame. We're looking forward to taking lots of pictures of the most idyllic islands, but as one of the rally members said, we'll have lots of opportunities to do just that in the Pacific, so we mustn't grumble.

We set sail at noon our time (UK time -5 hours). Hopefully we will get the parasailer up again once the winds settle. Watch this space!

22 Jan 2019

Monday 21 January 2019: Minca, Colombia

We joined an excursion today into the mountains behind Santa Marta, to a village called Minca and beyond to an organic coffee plantation.

I guess the choice of vehicle should have given us a clue about the state of the roads ... 4WD off-road jeeps! To be fair the road as far as Minca was a proper surface but thereafter it was once again a rutted, mud track with sheer drops on one side. Not for the faint hearted!

The coffee plantation is owned by a German lady who is slowly improving efficiency to try to survive in today's economic climate. While the equipment is old, she has introduced a series of water pipes to carry the harvested beans down the slopes to the processing plant, thereby reducing the number of people she has to employ. Pickers are transient, and have to be precise in what they pick: only red fruit is ripe so it is not a matter of stripping the entire cluster off the plant, but hand-picking only that which is ripe.

A slow process but good pickers can harvest over 100 kilos a day.

An interesting visit set in a stunning setting.

On the trip back down to Minca we stopped to hike into the jungle to a local waterfall,

before continuing down to Minca for a late lunch. A great day out and insight into life in the mountains.

20 Jan 2019

Saturday 18 January 2019: Tayona National Park

The WARC organisers arranged a beach BBQ for us all today in a local national Park. We duly assembled at 9am for the coach transfer to the beach and off we set.

Santa Marta is a relatively progressive and modern city, albeit with an historic centre (it's the oldest city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia) and we assumed it would be reasonably representative of the wider country. How wrong we were. Once we left the suburbs of Santa Marta, the towns and villages we passed through told a very different story, one of hardship and poverty, with ramshackle homes, stray dogs, and unmade roads, barely more than mud tracks. It was quite upsetting to see.

After bumping along one of these roads for approaching an hour we finally arrived at a beautiful and unspoilt beach surrounded by scrub covered mountains coming right down to the sea, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Stunning.

We watched local fishermen dragging in their nets from the beach, and the paltry catch their hard labour achieved. Barely enough to sustain them and their families. It really underlines how lucky and privileged we are in the western world.

Our day passed very pleasantly, enjoying the surprisingly fresh sea and the bbq before returning to the marina tired but happy. A quiet night in beckons!

19 Jan 2019

Friday 18 Jan 2019 - Santa Marta

It's been a busy day today. This morning we woke refreshed after a full night's sleep (no-one even got up to pee in the night) and got stuck into reviewing the boat after the journey from St Lucia. I inspected the whisker pole as it had taken something of a beating in the high winds to find that the end of the pole was damaged, and the masthead ring had been bent out of shape.

The bottom ring should be straight by the way. The force of the wind acting on the pole bent the steel upwards. It just goes to show that even high grade steel is no match for the power of mother nature.

We have ordered new parts to be sent out to Jackie and Dan, our friends who are joining us in Panama and I will fit them then. In the meantime, I have asked the boatyard to heat the ring and straighten it out so that we can pole out between here and Panama.

This afternoon, we went on a guided tour of the city, calling into the hacienda where Simon Bolivar died at the tender age of 45. He was responsible for the liberation of Columbia from the Spanish and only arrived in Santa Marta 11 days before his death. He also liberated Venezuela, his country of birth, Ecuador and Peru, and Bolivia is named for him. No wonder he is known as El Liberatador.

He died of consumption, (does that mean that he ate too much perhaps?) but he is certainly revered in Columbia.

After that we visited the cathedral where Simon was interred twice before being returned to Caracas,

then on to the gold museum to see some of the artifacts from way back when. The skills of the Goldsmiths is plain to see:

This evening we had a drinks reception, with rum punch and nibbles, then a group of us went out for dinner at a really nice place called Lolu. The food was very local but very good!

Around the table we have Brits, French Canadians and Austrians, how often in life do you get the chance to mix so internationally in a social setting? The rally group are already bonding into one big family unit, all looking out for each other. It's wonderful to be a part of it.

18 Jan 2019

The first leg of our journey - St Lucia to Columbia

Saturday 12th January

We pulled away from the dock at 11am and went and anchored in Rodney Bay in readiness for the midday start. From about 11.30 onwards, boats were motoring around with just their mainsails up and then at 11.50 the first horn sounded. Genoas were unfurled and boats started heading for the start line, weaving between each other for pole position. The second horn sounded at 11.55 and then at noon, the final blast on the horn, and we were off, crossing the start line on the first leg of WARC. It was an incredible spectacle seeing 28 boats all heading off West, some with spinnakers flying, others poled out and a few with conventional sail configurations.

We’d decided in advance to just sail poled out today and use the new parasailor from tomorrow, but the winds were so light we decided to give it a go today. An hour after putting away the genoa, our main driving sail, and trying to deploy the spinnaker, we had to give up… lines were twisted around the sail itself and it just wouldn't go up. Very frustrating indeed as several boats overtook us as we were fiddling around.

So tonight we’re sailing along poled out at around 6 knots, slower than we would like but there’s not much we can do until daybreak when we give the parasailor another go. Hopefully that will gain us a knot or so of speed.

Sunday 13th January

We were up at the crack of dawn to get the parasailor up and running. Yesterday's debacle only made me think about what we did wrong in trying to fly it. We had sorted the twists and untangled the snuffer lines, and I realised that I needed to be as far forward on the bow as possible to deploy it. Suffice to say that we finally got itsorted out and it eventually went up and inflated itself. It is now working brilliantly. We’re making good speed in light airs, and should start to overtake some of the fleet!

This afternoon we caught an Almaco Jack. It had two bites at the lure as it wasn't successful with the first strike, and we landed it shortly thereafter. Not knowing what it was, I hastily put it back. Big mistake! According to our book, they get 5 forks, really great eating! Damn!  At sunset, we assessed the weather and the clouds, and decided to keep the Parasailor flying through the night. Without it in these light airs we wouldn't make much progress. We are making good progress in the fleet, and according to our friend Mac who is following the rally, we are the second fastest monohull in our division. That came as a real surprise to us! Talking to the other boats on the radio, several are heading north and south to pick up favourable  currents. We have consulted our tidal atlas and can't see that there is any benefit in doing either. We will stay on the rhumb line and do fewer miles. Who knows, we might even win a prize!

Sitting in the cockpit on watch, the time is 11:10 pm. The moonlight lights up our path as we head pretty much due West. The parasailor is billowing out in front of the boat, inflated by the 10 knot winds that would normally leave us wallowing on the water going nowhere fast. We are maintaining a steady 6 knots, often getting up into the sevens and eights for short bursts. This is why we invested in the blouse blue sail with its white star. The sea is calm with a following swell that picks the boat up and allows ustosurf down the waves. It is so peaceful out here with just a few of the other yachts for company. The waxing moon is half way through its cycle, giving a nice glow on the water. Every night on this leg we will have good visibiliy if the clouds stay away.

Monday 14th January

I’ve just started my second night-watch (1.30 to 4.30am) and I can’t begin to describe the brightness and number of stars above me in the Milky Way. It is truly breathtaking, incredible, no light pollution, just myriad statrs twinkling in an inky black night sky. I only wish I could somehow photograph them but sadly not with the technology on board.

The other incredible thing is Tumi’s performance with the parasailor … we're flying along having passed two yachts today with another four on the horizon. Without this sail we would have been struggling to keep up with the pack in light airs.

For some reason our AIS is not transmitting our position. We are receiving the location of the rest of the fleet but they can’t see us. The inbuilt diagnostics say everything is working so maybe it’s a fault of the aerial. We’ll investigate in daylight.

I thought about the AIS system while I was on watch last night, and concluded that the aerial it was using was only good at short range (line of sight) and it is low down on the transom, so I fitted the AIS antenna splitter that I bought last year (and which incidentally we had been trying to sell in Grenada,  thankfully without success). Anyway it works!

The afternoon was spent in a relaxed manner. The parasailor kept us bowling along at a steady seven knots and we kept it up until dusk. Two of the other boats had been through some squalls today and so we took the sensible and cautious decision to drop the kite and put out our normal sails. We won't go as quick, but we will be able to sort the sails out quickly from the cockpit should we get caught in a squall or two ourselves. Getting the kite down in high winds is not something to look forward to - 144sq meters of material that is  full of wind is not an easy proposition to wrestle down. As it was, I ended up with a rope burn on my hand, so gloves are the order of the day from now on. I have two pairs of Musto gloves, one pair unused. This pair has a problem in that the retaining strap that goes across the back of the hand has perished. Musto can have them back and replace them with some new ones, but that transaction will have to wait!

As we wend our way further westwards, the forecast is for the wind strength to increase, so ideally we want to make as much speed as we safely can now to try to get into Santa Marta before the low really gets a grip on the area. In the meantime we enjoyed the spectacular sunset and even managed to video an elusive green flash, the phenomenon occasionally seen as the sun dips below the horizon.

Tuesday  15th January

Today has been very frustrating for us. The expected squalls of last night didn't appear, so we drifted along through the night almost in a dream. This morning dawned calm and so we decided to put the parasailor back up. It promptly decided to twist itself into knots which took us an hour to untangle. Undaunted, we tried again with the same result. This time it took longer to unravel, and all the time we were falling behind the other boats around us. So we decided to put our normal sails up and pole out the jib as the wind was coming from directly behind us. This is probably our worst point of sail and we didn't make much headway. Those boats with twin head sails did best and they left us standing.

I also tried fishing and had the line out all day. All I caught was weed yet on the twice daily WARC radio net other boats in the fleet have reported catching tuna and Mahi Mahi. I will try again tomorrow!

As we sail through the night we are coming to our closest point to the Venezuelan coast, so we are ‘running silent’. All our AIS transmissions are stopped, and our navigation lights are off. We don't want to advertise our presence at all. Once we reach our next waypoint we will be in Columbian waters and normal operation can resume. In the meantime, shhhhh!

The weather forecast for sailing along the Colombian coast is not great .. high winds and big seas, all thanks to a phenomenon called the Colombian Low. We’ll greatly reduce sail and take our time for the final 24 hours or so into Santa Marta.

Wednesday 16th January

Well, we survived the night, no pirates as at 06:30 this morning. We (and several other boats) switched off our AIS transmitters just in case, one can't be too careful out here in the coastal waters of some of the more dubious countries. We passed through another rain squall this morning at about 05:30, no additional wind, just a quick downpour. It's  cloudy today, probably indicative of the low pressure are we are heading into. The barometer has dropped steadily and is currently at 1012 millibars - we started off at 1017 millibars. We are expecting high winds and more showers / squalls as we round the Columbian coast heading down to Santa Marta. If we maintain our current average speed of ~7 knots we should be there and settled down in the marina before the worst of the forecast weather hits. There are excursions planned for our time in Columbia, we just have to choose which one(s) to go on.

We rounded the peninsula that marks the start of Columbia in late morning, only a couple of miles ahead of TinTin, another rally boat, with 190 miles left to go to reach Santa Marta. All the weather forecasts we received suggested poor conditions for this final 24 hours (high winds and big seas) but by mid-afternoon we are yet to see any evidence of either. In fact it is such a calm day that it’s rather slow progress! We sailors are never satisfied!! We were tempted to put up the Parasailor again but it may be the conditions with deteriorate quite soon so we decided not to bother.

Three hours later we fully a appreciate not flying the parasailor: wind speed has increased to the high twenties, gusting into the thirties. And with wind comes waves, in our case 3 or 4 meters high. Fortunately we are sailing with the wind and waves at our back which makes it acceptable, if somewhat of a bouncy ride. Thank goodness we’re heading west in these conditions. The reverse direction would be nigh on impossible in a sailing yacht.

We hope to arrive at the marina in Santa Marta by late afternoon tomorrow, assuming we don't  lose the wind altogether!

Thursday 17th January

Just 29 miles to go now, the Colombian coastline is in sight and the current is finally against us.

We didn't lose the wind and were bowling along at around 7 knots overnight with heavily reefed sails. The two other rally yachts that were in close proximity to us as darkness fell are nowhere to be seen this morning. Our only ‘company’ overnight were two freighters and one cruise ship. The stretch of Caribbean Sea we are sailing leads to the Panama Canal and we have been surprised just how many tankers etc we have spotted via the AIS. It's a vital piece of kit for avoiding mid-ocean collisions!

We awoke to a rather overcast day, presumably another feature of the ‘Colombian Low’ pressure system. The clouds are breaking up a bit so we may get a sunny day yet. Yesterday there wasn't a cloud in the sky, beautiful. The generator is running to top up the batteries, seeing as the solar panel output is low today, so we took the opportunity to give Paul a haircut … he was beginning to look far too much like Captain BirdsEye, perish the thought! It wasn't the easiest of procedures as the deck is rolling from side to side (nothing to do with alcohol …. we haven't touched a drop since we left St Lucia) and so it isn't my best effort!!  Say no more ….

We’ll have 6 nights in Santa Marta, plenty of time to explore the city and its heritage, plus take a couple of tours. We’d both like to visit Cartagena if we have time, somewhere that has intrigued us since watching Michael Douglas, Danny De Vito and Kathleen Turner back in the eighties in ‘Romancing the Stone’. Every place we stop from now on is somewhere neither of us has visited before. All very exciting!

12 Jan 2019

Rodney Bay, St Lucia, Start of the World ARC - 12 JANUARY 2019

Well, the day has come for us to set out on our greatest adventure. At 12:00 noon we go, next stop Columbia. Last night we were given a great send off by our friends which was a real treat, and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

It's a quick message this time as we still have some things to do before the starting gun!

11/1/2019: Farewells in St Lucia

We're just back from our farewell party arranged by good friends Dean and Kim who together with Avril and Alan on Weoghi and Billie and Craig on Flying Loon sailed up to St Lucia to wave us off. So lovely of them all, and what a lot of laughter tonight. Brilliant!

We attended the Skippers Briefing today which talked us through the weather forecast, suggested route and arrival arrangements. All very organised, not to mention the tours and beach BBQs awaiting us in Colombia! The weather should be pretty decent for most of the sail down there, until we get to th coast of South America when the Colombian low will have a big effect on the winds. We'll make sure we reef down well before we arrive there.

As the World ARC is a race, albeit a benign one, we have all been assigned a handicap and allocated to one of two divisions, fast and slow. We're in the fast division, the only boat under 50' so we're not hopeful of finishing anywhere near the front! Most of the bigger yachts have multiple crew which will enable them to sail harder while we reef down to get some rest.

So we're about to get some sleep on our last night in the Eastern Caribbean and then tomorrow we're off!

10 Jan 2019

10/1/2019: Rodney Bay Marina, less than 48 hours to go!

It's been pretty full on since we arrived in the marina on Monday afternoon. After registering with World Cruising Club, the organisers of the World ARC, we wandered along the docks to touch base with a couple of boats we already knew and ended up enjoying rum punches on one of them, a great start.

Tuesday saw the start of the seminars with the first one being an overview of the route, it sounds absolutely amazing and we both felt very excited. The WCC organise various tours and rendezvous for us along the way, meeting local tribes people, volunteering on charity projects, sightseeing etc. Later that day Tumi had her safety inspection and with the exception of taping up a couple of split pins and replacing flares we knew were out of date, we passed with flying colours! US$245 in the chandlers soon sorted that out!

The marina hosted a welcome drinks party that evening, a great opportunity to get to know some more of the participants. Everyone seems very friendly indeed. We rounded off the day with our friends who have sailed up to wave us off. All in all a busy but good day.

Wednesday was all about boat preparations which included running the lines for the new Parasailor downwind sail, similar to a spinnaker but a lot bigger with a parachute arrangement built into the front. We did a quick Google to determine the correct length for the lines (twice the boat length) and then confirmed it with another rally boat with a similar sail. It turns out the deck hardware and anchor points we hoped to use are not up to the job, such is the force from this sail. So it was back to the drawing board with emails flying back and forth to Parasailor in the UK to determine the correct break loads for the blocks. More expense!

We now think we have a workable solution and a very kind sailmaker made us some soft shackles out of Dyneema, a very strong rope. We bought a new block and asked one of the WCC team who regularly sails with a Parasailor on his own boat and the consensus is we're good to go. Hurrah!

The farewell drinks party is this evening (giving us all 36 hours to clear our heads before departure!) and then we're down to our penultimate day in the Eastern Caribbean. It will be a busy one as we've got some provisioning to do, the skippers briefing to attend, dishes to prepare for our first few days at sea and either lunch or dinner with our farewell committee. Oh and refuelling too once we've cleared out with customs and immigration. I hope we fit it all in!!

5 Jan 2019

5th January 2019: St Anne, Martinique

We had a great sail up from Bequia to St Lucia on Thursday, windy but from an angle that allowed us to fly along averaging around 8 knots. Fantastic. We made such good time that we decided to push on to St Anne in Martinique fully expecting to arrive around nightfall. Sadly for us the wind direction shifted north and with it the swell leaving us beating into wind and waves and making for slow progress.

When we were about an hour from St Anne we took the decision to start the engine to motorsail the rest of the way. With the fancy folding propeller we have fitted, we have to initially go into reverse, not an easy job on a yacht with sails deployed. Anyway we fired up the engine, put it in reverse and pointed Tumi up into the wind to reduce the drive from the sails until we slowed almost to a standstill and then at that point changed into drive and fell off the wind. All should have been fine except Paul noticed white smoke from the exhaust, and quite a lot of it, not what we wanted to see! So, with the thought of the World ARC only a week away, we decided to turn around and head back to St Lucia so we could get someone to look at the engine. We were both hacked off at the thought of another problem, just when we thought we were finished with all the maintenance and repairs.

We dropped anchor in Rodney Bay just before 8pm, sailing virtually all the way and only using the engine for the last few minutes when we couldn't see any obvious smoke, a good sign. We decided to check the oil and test it out the next morning once it had cooled down and that is just what we did. Oil level good and clean; no smoke in the exhaust with the engine in neutral running at differing revs. We needed to test it under load as well so we up-anchored and set off for Martinique. All seemed fine and, on arrival at St Anne we replicated what we had done the night before and again nothing.

Paul had been thinking about it overnight and wondered if we moved too quickly from high-rev reverse to high-rev drive causing the fuel jets to get out of synch. Turning off the engine as we did allowed them to settle down again. Maybe. We'll monitor the situation as we sail back to St Lucia tomorrow and if we have any doubts we'll have the engine looked at before we leave but at the moment we think it was a one-off anomaly.

We spent the rest of yesterday walking along the beach in St Anne, relaxing on board and finishing off the day with a sunset bbq. Not bad at all!

2 Jan 2019

Happy New Year: Bequia

So we're back on board with the dinghy hoisted and everything stowed in readiness for a 6am departure tomorrow morning, after a leisurely farewell to Bequia lunch with friends. We returned to Mac's pizzeria, renowned for its lobster pizza, at Paul's request and enjoyed a cocktail or two looking out over the bay. 

New Year's Eve was a lot of fun: we hosted ten of us on board Tumi for early evening cocktails and canap├ęs before going ashore for dinner. The spectacular fireworks at midnight were enjoyed from the deck of some friends. All in all a good end to 2018 and welcome to 2019.

We've walked quite a few miles during our two weeks here, enjoying the countryside and views, and spotting all the different fruits growing alongside the trails. Yesterday it was a pleasure to see three young local lads sledging down a grassy slope on surfboards, having great fun.

So with Christmas and New Year behind us, our focus has really turned to our imminent departure for Colombia on 12 January. We're really touched that three boats of friends are coming to Rodney Bay to wave us off. We'll go into the marina on Monday in readiness for the seminars that begin on Tuesday morning and will spend the weekend back in St Anne in Martinique, buying the last few items of food and bits and bobs of spares. It really isn't long now!