Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
2008 Presentations
Sherry did a half hour presentation on the San Blas at the East Coast Sailing Association and Melbourne Yacht Club monthly meetings.

Dave did an extensive presentation on Cruising the Western Caribbean at the Seven Seas Cruising Association 2008 Gam.

Both presentations (and some useful cruising links) can now be found on our SSCA 2008 page.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
Leaving Baru for the San Blas
Motorsailing west, Current Position: 10-04.9 76-03.8

We had a nice 2 days in the 'Shalom Bay' anchorage of Baru (see waypoints below), anchored with friends on Valentina, Que Linda, and Morgan. Plus our new friends Robert and Carmen, from 'Crow's Nest' (a house they are building ashore).

Lunch in the Water

We took the dinghy trip to the town of Baru, which looked like a very poor version of a Bahamas town (poor, low-lying, mostly dark faces).

We had a nice visit up at 'Crow's Nest' on the hill with Robert and Carmen. Robert had just gotten a brand new computer with a new cellular internet card. He didn't even know how to turn it on. I helped him get it set up and hooked up to the internet. (Hail Crow's Nest on Ch 67)

Helping Robert With His New Computer

The Killer View from Crow's Nest

We also had a fun lunch eating in the water at the beach at the entrance to the bay. The locals have picnic areas set up in the water. You sit on plastic chairs and eat (with the water up to your waist). It was loads of fun.

We could easily have stayed a week, but need to get going for Panama.

Baru Entry Waypoints

CBARUa 10-07.90 N 75-43.61 W South Approach 'a'
CBARUb 10-08.39 N 75-43.36 W South Approach 'b'
CBARUc 10-10.29 N 75-41.71 W South Approach 'c'
CBARU1 10-10.78 N 75-40.48 W Beginning of Markers
CBARU2 10-10.54 N 75-40.39 W
CBARU3 10-10.32 N 75-40.36 W
CBARU4 10-10.09 N 75-40.30 W
CBARU5 10-10.01 N 75-40.25 W
CBARU6 10-09.74 N 75-40.15 W
CBARU7 10-09.82 N 75-39.46 W Anchorage

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Monday, August 04, 2008
Baru, Colombia
Location: Baru LATITUDE: 10-09.83N LONGITUDE: 075-39.46W

We escaped from Cartagena yesterday about 8:30 am.

Since it was Sunday, we had to pay the Club Nautico diver ($10) extra to make a special trip in to get us untied from the bottom. (At Club Nautico they have a strange med-moor arrangement where you tie your outer end to some chains on the bottom).

Jaime, the Club Nautico Diver

Leaving Cartagena

We got diesel fuel at the Club de Pesca fuel dock for $3.65/gal and then headed out of Boca Grande towards the South. We decided to anchor in Baru rather than the Rosarios (both about 15 miles S of Cartagena), because we knew several friends were anchored there, and we'd never been there.

It was pretty bizarre coming into the bay (following waypoints from Que Linda). There is a big sandbar and all the rich Colombians are partying on the sandbar. Just like Marker 21. Except you can get a full meal sitting in the water.

The Sandbar at Baru

Our friends Sonny and Kay on Valentina have been haning out in the Baru anchorage on and off for a month. Plus Que Linda and Morgan are here too. It is a completely protected lagoon, about 20'-25' deep. They are here mainly just getting away from the 'Big City' and the dirty water of Cartagena.

Sonny and Kay Welcome Us to Shalom Bay

We spent OUR afternoon scrubbing bottom. Considering that Cartagena is the worst port Dave or I have ever been in for bottom growth, it wasn't too bad. We paid Jaime at the marina $20 about every 2 weeks to keep the barnacles off our bottom. He was mostly successful. I kept meaning to take a picture of the unattended boat next to us at the marina... it had 3 layers of really big barnacles growing.. about 2 inches off the hull. Dave had had Jaime 'bag' our prop when we first got there, so the prop wasn't too bad.

We were going to boogy off today for Panama, but our friends told us there may be a potluck here tonight at Robert & Carmen's house on the hill. We don't have to be in Panama until about the 10th, to get ready for Nicki's visit, and we could use another day to get ourselves organized for sea.

I'd like to get Dave to install our new AIS system, so we can play with it while we're underway. (AIS stands for Automatic Identification System, and ships broadcast a short message on a VHF frequency identifying them and saying their speed and direction... you feed this into your Navigation software and you can visualize the ships on your chart, and see if you and they are on a collision course).

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
Lots and Lots of Pics Posted

OK, all you armchair travelers, I have spent most of the last 3 days uploading all our photos from January to now to our Picasa photo album, including all of the San Blas. We have taken at least a few photos in every place we stopped.

Enjoy! Our Photo Album

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Saturday, June 28, 2008
Day Trip to Barranquilla & Passport Renewal
Barranquilla is a big city up the coast from Cartagena.

When Dave inquired about getting his passport renewed while in Colombia, the U.S. Embassy said that it can be done from Bogota, where the Embassy is (a very long way away), or via the Consular Services office in Barranquilla. Since Barranquilla is only a 2 hour drive up the coast, we decided it would make a nice day trip, to go and drop his paperwork off.

To get to Barranquilla (without your own car) there are 2 options... there is an express bus that goes that way, and there are 'shuttle vans'. The problem with the bus is that the Cartagena bus terminal is far outside the city. So you have to take a taxi there, then take the bus, then a taxi in from the Barranquilla bus station. It ends up costing more money and taking more time.

So we chose the MarSol shuttle bus, which picked us up at the door of Club Nautico and dropped us off not too far from our destination. It is 19,000 pesos per person one way (about $11 USD). MarSol Cartagena: 656-0302 MarSol Barranquilla: 369-0999

The road part of the trip was pretty uneventful. The road between Cartagena and Barranquilla is a nice 4 lane highway, with few cars on the road. We went through one toll booth and at least one very serious-looking police checkpoint (we didn't have to stop). The road runs along the coast, so you can get glimpses of the ocean. For the most part, the land is farm or ranch land, punctuated with a few very upscale housing developments. If you didn't know better, you could be in South Florida (about 30 years ago, before it go so built up).

Though we thought the shuttle bus was supposed to be 'door to door' service, they let us off on a main drag in Barranquilla, and most of the passengers continued on to Santa Marta. We had a vague idea of where we were and where the Consular Services office was (the streets are conveniently numbered). But it was a hot day, and we had to get all our paperwork done by 11:30 when the office closes, so we took a taxi for 5,000 pesos ($3) to the office.

The office was in big building called something like Centro Commercial Americano. In the lobby, you had to give up your ID to receive an electronic pass key that lets you in and out of a turnstile at the base of the elevators. There is a guard who is supposed to be watching the turnstile to make sure that there is no funny business with the pass cards. I guess they would not give a passcard to anyone who looked like a 'bandito', but there was so much coming and going at the lobby desk that it can't be a real security measure. At least using this system they can theoretically tell if anyone is left in the building when they go to lock up at night.

The consular office is on the 5th floor, and in their lobby is a nice and polite Colombian policeman, just hanging out.

When we entered, a lady behind the partition said in heavily accented English, somewhat rudely, "Sit down." So we did.

But we had not gotten Dave's passport photo done yet... Dave had been warned by another cruiser not to do it before we got there. So he went up to the little window and tried to ask about the passport photo. It was already 10:30 and we were worried about getting the whole thing done by 11:30 when the office closed for the day. He was told, rudely again, "I am busy with the other guy, sit down."

So we asked the policeman where the photo place was. He didn't really know, but after a discussion in Spanish with him and another guy waiting, we knew of a photo place very near by. Assuming that the closest photo place to the Consular Services office would know of the correct requirements... we walked off in search of photos. Well, that place was closed.

We then grabbed a taxi for a 4-5 block ride to another photo place (Photo Japon, a chain in Colombia). We asked for US Passport photos, they said OK, and after about 10 minutes, we had 6 copies of Dave's smiling face in our hands.

We walked back to the Consular Services office and the lady said "Why didn't you wait for me, those photos are no good!" I am still not clear why. They looked like perfectly good passport photos, within all the proper size limits, etc. But she wouldn't accept them.

NOW she hands us the list of 'approved' photo shops and gives us detailed directions how to get there. (Sorry, we lost this paper, but be sure to call the Consular Services office to find out, before you have pictures made. There is one in Cartagena, one in Barranquilla, and one in Santa Marta).

It is 11:15 now, and Dave hasn't even started filling out the paperwork. But she said she'd wait for us. She told us that we didn't need to wait for the photos to get printed, but come right back with the receipt, and she would pick the photos up from the photo place later.

We paid the normal passport fee of $75 in cash (they will accept either USD or Pesos), and gave her a phone number and an email address. She said it would take 3-4 weeks and she'd let us know when it was back. She did NOT take Dave's current passport, but said he must bring it back with him when he comes back to pick up the new one.

By 11:45 we were finished, and were heading for lunch. Dave got a recommendation from a previous taxi driver to 'Casa del Marisco' (also known as Asados Tony), on the corner of Calle 72 and Carrera 61B. So we went there (another $3 taxi ride). There are 2 big shopping centers within a few blocks of the office, which probably would have been a better choice. We had a good (but not exceptional) 'Almuerzo Ejecutivo' (executive lunch) at Casa del Marisco... large soup, rice, meat, very small salad for 6,000 pesos ($4). This seems to be a standard weekday lunch offering in many Colombian restaurants, and is considerably cheaper (and probably faster) than anything that was on the menu they gave us. So ask for it if you go into a restaurant.

While at lunch, we called the Baranqilla number for the MarSol van, and they said they'd be there to pick us up in about 20 minutes. It turns out that they sent a small taxi to get us (and 2 other passengers on the way) rather than navigating the big van thru the busy city streets.

Again they didn't take us to our door, but dropped us off downtown near 'The Clock', about a 10 minute walk from Club Nautico.

We met 3 other American cruisers on the van... they were headed for Santa Marta for 2 nights, just to explore. One of the 3 was originally from Colombia. So she ccould speak the language fluently and knew her way around pretty well.

Dave, in his usual fashion, pumped her for travel advice, which we are now using to plan our trip inland towards Bogata and Medellin. They must have found some interesting stuff in Santa Marta, because we haven't seen them around the marina yet (it's been 4 nights now). We may check out Santa Marta when we go back to pick up Dave's passport.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008
Back on the Boat
We had an uneventful trip with Spirit Airlines. As usual, we were stressing about getting all our 'stuff' back safely and worrying about a recent change in Spirit's policy for checked luggage to Cartagena. But it was a 'no big deal' in the end.

It was a bit of a shock when the heat hit us as we stepped out of the plane. Though Florida is about the same temperature and humidity, there is a lot more/better air conditioning in Florida. The boat was closed up and very hot when we got aboard. It took hours of a/c with our small window unit to make it barely cool enough to sleep.

We can't wait to get off the dock and back out to where the breeze works for us, and we can go swimming to stay cool. But we'll be here for a few more weeks to get Dave's passport renewed at the US Consulate.

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Friday, June 20, 2008
If It's Tuesday, It Must Be...
Today's title refers to an old movie entitled "If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium", about some travelers on a 2-week tour of Europe. They could only keep track of what city they were in by looking at the date. I saw it 20... er, maybe 30 years ago, and I think of it nearly every time we travel. That's certainly the way we feel by now...

We have been gone for only 2 weeks. In 14 days we have driven over 2,000 miles, driven through 4 states, and stayed in 8 different places. (Many thanks to the friends and family we stayed with).

We made phone calls to another 50-odd friends, just to chat a little and say hi (if we didn't call you, so sorry... You can still get us on Skype (soggypaws) or on our Cartagena cell phone 011-315-367-0134).

We also went to a Melboure Yacht Club TGIF, went to a funeral, bought some land, went white water rafting, went hiking and fishing, played golf, visited the Florida State Museum, and visited Walmart (3 times!), Kmart, Target, Staples, PAFB Exchange, Office Depot, Home Depot, Circuit City, Publix, Bealls, West Marine, and 3 boat-related places in Ft. Lauderdale just yesterday.

Plus we made purchases from about 5 different online stores. We sent 3 different pieces of electronics off to be repaired.

We are doing our part for the economy! We bought a total of about 125 lbs of 'stuff'... everything from a 20-lb watermaker pump to 'extra dark chocolate' and underwear. We are also carrying back a bit of 'stuff' for the friends watching our boat (10 lbs worth of engine mounts).

We were again sitting in the hotel last night stressing over getting all the 'stuff' in our 2 big suitcases we bought at Goodwill, plus the 2 smaller ones we brought with us, without going over the 50lb per bag weight limit. Dave packed and re-packed the bags about 4 times. We finally got it all in... hopefully it will all ARRIVE with us. Three of the bags weighed exactly 50 lbs.

We had a crisis moment when I was checking Spirit Airlines regulations online and saw a restriction limiting passengers to 1 checked bag per person on the Cartagena route. We had already pre-paid for 4 bags on the return trip, and so decided not to worry about it. It turned out to be a non-event at the airport (it may be mainly aimed at passengers FROM Cartagena, due to the increased drug smuggling concerns and extra security there).

Anyway, we are really glad to be heading back 'home' (to the boat) and a slower pace of life. We plan to hang out in Colombia for another 3 weeks or so, and then head back to Panama.

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Friday, May 30, 2008
1 Million Pesos!

One of the hard things to get used to, as we move around, is the ever-changing currency. Just in the last 5 months, we have had to deal with Quetzals, Lempiras, Balboas, and Pesos.

Colombia uses the Peso. The current exchange rate in Colombia is 1750 pesos to the dollar. It takes some mental acuity (or a quick calculator finger) to divide a large number by 1,750. We normally divide by 2, knock off a few zeros, and add 10%. Sometimes you get confused with the zeros.

The other confusing thing is that the Colombians (and much of the rest of the world) use a comma for a period and a period for a comma when writing numbers. So 50.000 isn't an extra-precise 50, but is really 50 thousand. I'm still getting used to reading the price labels in the grocery store.

One of the other things we've learned this week, is which ATM will give you more than 400,000 pesos (which is only $228). The 'Davidienda Bank', just down the street from Mimo's, the ice cream place, will let you make TWO 500,000 peso withdrawals from the ATM. So yesterday Dave sent me on a mission to get 1 million pesos, to pay for some work we are having done.

A few blocks walk, and two 500,000 withdrawals later, and I'm walking around with a million pesos in my pocket. Weird. The largest bill I've seen is 50,000 (the rough equivalent of a $30 bill).

The OTHER confusing thing is that in Spanish, 'one thousand' is 'un mil' (pronounced just like the beginning of 'million'). So 50,000 is Cinquenta Mil. So sometimes we hear the 'mil' and think million, not thousand. It is best sometimes when doing financial negotiations to write it down so there's no misunderstanding.

In Panama, the currency is the Balboa, and prices are quoted in B's. But, in 1941, Panama converted to using the US Dollar as their paper money, instead of printing their own. So the exchange rate there is easy... it is fixed at 1:1 to the US Dollar. So everyone in Panama uses the familiar old US 'greenbacks', but calls them 'Balboas'. Also weird.

Panama does have their own coins, but they are the same size, shape, weight, and metallic composition as US coins of the same denomination. So vending machines will accept US quarters or Balboas interchangeably.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008
Learning our Way Around Cartagena
We've been here 6 days now and are getting pretty well oriented. As usual, most of the cruisers we've met have been very friendly and very helpful.
  • We've found the laundramat (and dropped 4 loads off to be washed!
  • We have a 'frequent shopper' card at the local grocery story
  • We've learned how to walk to downtown (El Centro)
  • We've obtained cell phone sim cards and learned how to buy cell phone minutes on our prepaid phones
  • We've figured out how to dial local and long distance
  • We've figured out how to catch the cheap bus ($.62) or the airconditioned bus ($.85) in whichever direction we're going.
  • We know how much a taxi should cost to most places we'd want to go
  • We know where the 'Home Center' (like Home Depot or Lowes) is
  • We know where the trash cans are and which one to use for what kind of trash
  • We know when the water gets turned off in the marina
  • We know where the air conditioned internet cafe is (when the marina internet isn't working, or when you want REAL high speed internet)
  • We know which of the day labor guys in the marina are worth hiring, and have one guy right now working on polishing our stainless for $35/day
  • We know where the machine shop, the re-chroming place, and the sewing machine repair place is
  • We know where all the cell phone repair guys hang out
  • We know a few places to eat (Pizza, Mexican, Colombian, Mid Eastern, Chinese) within walking distance of the marina
  • We know when the weekly potluck is and when twofer night is at the bar
  • We found a computer store that sells pieces parts

Some of this is made easier by a booklet given out by the marina, with the accumulated recommendations of cruisers past and present. But some things you just have to walk around and stumble onto.

We were looking for the sewing machine guy downtown when we walked past a small market that had 2 aisles of guys in small shops that did cell phone repair.

Our fancy Motorola Razor died on us 2 weeks after we bought it last fall on EBay. But when we tried to submit it for repair to Motorola, we found that they said it went out of warranty 6 months before we bought it. (even though we bought it as 'new in box'). Motorola wanted $75 to repair it, plus shipping. The guy we found in the 'cell phone repair' alley fixed it in half an hour (reflashing the software), for $17, while you wait. And he sold Dave a new sim card for $4, so now we have 2 phones and can call each other when we split up.

We found that the best sewing machine repair guy lives far away, but makes 'house calls'. He was camped out at the marina all morning today tweaking sewing machines.

We are still looking for a good map of Cartagena. When we're on a mission (looking for a specific place), it's much easier to have a map. The only one we've found is a free tourist map, and it doesn't cover everywhere we want to go.

For example, 3 of our 4 cameras aboard have developed some kind of a problem in the last year, and they're all out of warranty. I've researched 'camera repair' on the internet, and they all start at $75-$100, just to open it up and look at it. So we've been looking for a camera repair place here where the labor rate is cheaper and the overhead is less.

We asked at one camera store, got referred to a warranty repair place (that didn't handle our brands), and THEY referred us somewhere else, etc. After three places, we ran into a dead end. But Dave thinks he's found another little shop in a market somewhere--he walked past it when he went back to get the cell phone repaired.

My travel laptop (the one we plan to carry with us back to the States) had a memory problem, and we visited 3 places before we found someone who carried the memory we needed.

And remember... we are doing all this on foot... no car!

Our transportation options here are: on foot, cheap bus, air conditioned bus, taxi, or 'moto taxi'. If you are just one person, you can hire a motorcycle guy to carry you where you want to go.

The moto taxi's are all over the place, and the cost is about half the price of a regular taxi. We wouldn't even think of renting a car... between the crazy drivers, unfamiliar roads and road signs, and cheap public transportation, who wants to drive!?

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Sunday, May 25, 2008
And We Slip the Schedule Again
When we left Bocas del Toro in March, we'd been moving steadily for 3 months, and we had a pretty tight schedule laid out for the next few months, before going thru the Panama Canal as planned in July.

We had a bunch of maintenance items piled up that we just hadn't had time to get to. We should have stayed in Bocas for several more weeks to catch up on that kind of stuff. But we just felt that we didn't have the time.

As I looked over our schedule for the next year, I realized that it was very ambitious... a lot of moving, some inland travel, and no boat maintenance time. Also, no 'acclimatization' time... it takes a week or two when you move into a new place, to get the lay of the land, figure out where stuff is and how to find and do what you need. We hadn't figured any of that slop time in our schedule either. Or much 'waiting for weather'. (We have no idea what the weather patterns are over on the Pacific
side).

Finally, I had started looking through Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes book, to validate Dave's original plan to end up in Hawaii after our first season in the Pacific. What I found there was that we needed to GET to Easter Island in February, and not April as was on our current schedule. AND we needed to allow for a considerable amount of 'passage time' in our schedule planning. The trip just to get to Easter takes about 3 weeks.

Another consideration is the timing of the 'inland travel' in South America. We want to avoid 'high season' because of prices and the fact that everything's fully booked, so it's not easy to just show up in a town and find rooms available. And 'low season' in South America is very cold. So there's a 2 month window on either side of winter and summer that are good times for traveling inland.

Another consideration was the timing of our arrival in the Galapagos... if you go when everyone else goes, the anchorages are crowded, the officials are harried, the price of everything goes up, etc. So we wanted to get there a little before everyone else does (March).

The final result of a couple of weeks of talking about it, is that we've slipped the schedule about another 9 months so that we leave for the Galapagos in January. This gives us more time to see Costa Rica and South America, and still fit in a considerable amount of boat maintenance time. We've posted an updated schedule on the website at http://www.svsoggypaws.com/cruisingplans.htm

If any of our friends are interested in trying to join us for any of the inland travel, drop us an email and we'll keep you in mind when we lay out our plans.

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HAPPY ONE YEAR CRUISING ANNIVERSARY!!
We left Satellite Beach one year ago today. Whew, we've come a long way! Oooh, we haven't gotten very far!!

We are only 9 months behind our original schedule (to be in Cartagena for last Hurricane Season)!

Miles Traveled So Far in 2008: 1,624
Miles Traveled since leaving home May 25, 2007: 2,860

Total Nights: May 25 - May 25 365
Nights Spent On Passage: 10
Nights Spent on Anchor: 159
Nights Spent in a Marina: 196
(6 mos in Rio Dulce!)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008
Arrival in Cartagena, Colombia

We finally made it to Cartagena (only 9 months later than our first plan)!

It's a beautiful city, with a skyline reminiscent of Miami Beach (big tall buildings).

We are anchored off Club Nautico, with reservations to go into the marina on Tuesday, for a month. We hadn't had the anchor down for 10 minutes before some friends-of-friends (Sonny and Kay on s/v Valentina) came by in their dinghy and invited us ashore for lunch. We ended up hanging around the marina bar/internet cafe all afternoon, and went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a group of friends. And of course, we had to stop after dinner at Mimo's, with the best ice cream in the SW Caribbean.

Dave at Mimo's

None of this group of 10 had we actually physically met before--we had 'met' them via the cruisers nets (both VHF and SSB and Ham) that we've been participating in.

But this is one of the truly GREAT things about cruising... instant friendships with people 'out doing it' just like us.

Dave has already started working on his list of 'fix and improve' in Cartagena, including fire extinguisher recharging, a new dinghy cover, some re-chroming.

And I've been non-stop on the internet, trying to catch up with bills and news. We also have a fairly long list of things we want to order and have waiting for us in the States when we fly back. And I need to spend a couple of days going back over old blog posts, correcting spelling, categorizing, and posting a few pictures.

We can get wifi out on the hook from the marina ($15/week), but the marina internet is sometimes incredibly slow. There is an internet cafe up the street that some people use when they have to do Skype or big downloads.

There is a really really nice grocery store right up the street. It rivals any Publix. We went in to sight-see but have yet to actually buy anything (eating out is almost as cheap as fixing it yourself). We don't want to buy too much right now, because we will want to leave our freezer empty when we fly home.

There is lots of sightseeing around the town... old forts and things like that. We'll have to block out a week in our schedule to play tourist. Dave has also been looking at the Lonely Planet, and we might do some inland travel. (I think he's finally gotten the idea that I'm not wild about doing the 6 day hike to the Lost City, so he's looking for something else).

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Friday, May 23, 2008
Colombian Caribbean Coastal Map

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Thursday, May 22, 2008
Rosarios Islands, Colombia
We stayed for a day in the Rosarios, a small group of islands and reefs, about 25 miles SSW of Cartagena.

The big attraction near our anchorage was a public aquarium, formally known as the Centro de Investigaciones Educacion y Recreacion San Martin de Pajarales.

They had a nice big glass aquarium full of fish, plus a bunch of varieties of fish out in pens in the water. They even had a brief dolphin show. We enjoyed spending a few hours there. And were glad to see Colombians preaching conservation.

Most of the visitors were Colombianos and all of the exhibits and explanations were in Spanish.






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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Safely Anchored in Rosarios Islands, Colombia
After an uneventful trip, we are safely in the Rosarios, about 25 mile SW of Cartagena.

We were able to sail for about 5 hours yesterday. But the wind died off in the late evening, and we ended up motoring most of the way.

We'll stay here tomorrow, to do a bottom scrub and put the watermaker to bed, and then head for Cartagena on Friday.

Here are the waypoints we used:

CROSAR - Approach from SW
10-09.206 N 75-45.924 W

CROS01 - Beginning of shallow area
10-10.002 N 75-46.204 W

CROS02 - End of shallow area
10-10.620 N 75-46.550 W

CROS03 - Anchoring area
10-10.660 N 75-46.550 W

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Headed for Colombia Today
Location: Mulutupu, off the airport at 08-56.321N 77-43.938W

We just put our friend Jim on the plane this morning from Mulutupu. As he put it, it's the 'travel schedule from hell'. He won't arrive at his house in Satellite Beach until about noon tomorrow. He has a whole day to kill in Panama City, and flies out on the Spirit Air flight from Panama City at 1am, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale about 5am. But he's looking forward to having a few hours to spend today looking around the Panama Canal and some of the old parts of Panama City.



We are planning on leaving here, about noon today, for an overnight trip to the Rosarios Islands, about 25 miles off Cartagena. We'll spend 2 nights in the Rosarios, getting the boat ready for the 'big city' (things like pickling the watermaker, etc). Then we'll be back in internet-land. (yay).

We did get about 2 hrs of internet in Sapzurro, but a big thunderstorm the night we got there took out the town's electricity and internet connection. They got the electricity going pretty quickly, but the internet never came back before we left. :(

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Monday, May 19, 2008
Obaldia, Sapzurro, and Capurgana
May 16-19

We left Bahia Carreto early in the morning, and our first stop was a check-out stop at Obaldia (Panama). This is supposed to be a barely tenable anchorage, suitable for a day stop in good weather only. But we HAD to go here to check out of Panama.

As we approached Obaldia, a black cloud was approaching us. Didn't look good, and we were kind of nervous about going in with unknown weather conditions.. However, about that time, Dave noticed a fuel leak in the engine room. So we decided to shut down the engine and let him see if he could stop it "It'll only take a few minutes," he said. So Jim Yates and I amused ourselves trying to sail our heavy CSY 44 in 5 knots of shifty wind. When the black cloud finally arrived, we did get about 15 knots for a little while, along with some rain. "Dave, how ya doin down there?" (It's a little scary being close in on a lee shore with no engine and unreliable wind. Did I mention that we had some current, too?)

An hour later, Dave had changed out the fuel injector pipe to stop the leak. But at least the black cloud had gone away. So we again headed into Obaldia. For an open roadstead on a coast that always has a pretty good swell running, it was suprisingly calm. We slowly approached the area, and anchored right off the town dock in about 20' sand.

We only expected to be there about 15 minutes while Dave checked out, so we left the mainsail up, and Jim Yates and I stayed aboard in case the weather changed.

An hour and a half later, Dave finally came back, with the old "good news and bad news" approach. WE were checked out, but Jim had to present himself and check out.

It was a complicated thing we were trying to do (and probably somewhat illegal). We wanted to take Jim to visit the Colombian town of Sapzurro, but afterwards we needed to backtrack 30 miles to the Panamanian Kuna village of Mulutupu to put Jim back on his return flight, before WE continued on to Cartagena, Colombia in the boat. When we first conceived of the plan, we had imagined this a frontier where nobody knew or cared what we were doing. This was the impression that we'd gotten from other cruisers, many of whom told us they never even bothered to check in to Panama at Obaldia.

But our impression turned out to be pretty far from reality. There was a military guard, with a rifle, on the dock. Obaldia had a Port Captain and an Immigration officer, and both of whom DID care about what we were doing and who we had on board. And Dave didn't want to lie, and we didn't want to get Jim in a situation where he'd have problems with Immigration when he went to leave Panama for the States.

So what we ended up having to do was... check completely out of Panama, check ourselves (but not the boat--no Port Captain there) into Colombia, then check Jim alone out of Colombia and back in to Panama. And get a second 'zarpe' (the clearance for the boat) from Obaldia to Cartagena via Mulutupu. This in two sleepy little towns in a remote part of Panama and Colombia, that barely had electricity.

If we'd known that anyone would really care about what we were doing, we probably would have just skipped trying to show Jim Sapzurro (Colombia) and stayed in Panama. Fortunately (amazingly) all that paperwork only cost us $7.50. And it was an adventure. And Jim didn't have any trouble going thru U.S. Customs after a 'day trip' to Colombia.

Anyway, we finally got clear of Obaldia about 2pm, and motored the 5 miles around the rugged peninsula to the Colombian town of Sapzurro. As we've moved progressively further south from the Holandes, the terrain ashore has changed from swampy lowlands with a long offshore barrier reef, to mountainous terrain, with only the occasional offshore island, and sparse reefy areas. Also we have moved from the sunshine you'd expect in the southern Caribbean, to rainforest style, cool, overcast, and rainy. For the whole time in Obaldia and Sapzurro (3 days), we barely ever saw the sun.

Many cruisers we talked to have raved about Sapzurro. This is why we'd gone to such lengths to reach there. But there isn't much information about it. It isn't in any guidebook we have (because it's in Colombia and not Panama). We only had a few notes and a couple of waypoints to go by. We slowly followed the waypoints in to the anchorage area and felt our way around the harbor. The waypoints from our friends on s/v Valentina had an anchorage spot, but Dave wanted to anchor nearer town (and in a more protected spot). But when we went over to check out where he wanted to go, the depth went from 40 feet deep to 5 feet deep in the space of a boatlength. (Later in the dinghy, we went over some 3' spots and reef!)

We finally put the anchor down close to the beach about a quarter mile from town, right where Valentina had put the anchor waypoint (CSAP3). It seemed to be a good sand bottom in about 25 feet, and we very carefully made sure the anchor was well set. (waypoints for Sapzurro are given below).

Sapzurro is a tiny town... we walked the whole town in about a half hour. Apparently it is a summer vacation spot for the Colombians from Medellin, and it's not quite summer yet. So only one restaurant seemed to be functioning, and we were the only patrons. But we had a nice dinner (red snapper, fried whole), and a couple of beers apiece, for about $10 per person. Dave the ice cream fiend insisted on ice cream too, which we got at a little shop up the street.

Coming back to the boat, I was happy to find that we had wifi. The connection was slow but held out for long enough to download all our email. I quit after awhile... it was quite rude of me to have my head in the computer with guests aboard... I planned to get up early and do more while everyone was sleeping in.

Early the next morning we had a giant thunderstorm roll through. This was pretty scary for awhile, because Sapzurro is pretty much an open roadstead, and it could get really nasty in there if the wind stayed strong from offshore for very long. It poured rain and there were thunder cracks right on top of us. We did clock 50 kts, but only briefly. We opened up our water tanks and filled the tanks in about 10 minutes. After awhile we could see the muddy water runnoff approaching us across the harbor. The nearly dried-up streams we had seen on our walk around town had turned into roaring rivers. In the worst part of the storm, the lights in the town went off. Damn, probably no internet!

After the rain stopped, we went to the town dock and took a lancha around to the neighboring town of Capurgana. (the lancha was about $3pp each way). This is a little bigger town... more restaurants, a gift shop or two, a dive shop, and an airport nearby. Nobody had mentioned Capurgana to us, but we suspect that this is part/most of the attraction of Sapzurro (Sapzurro is the anchoring spot).

We found the Immigration guy and got Jim's passport stamped in and out of Colombia. Dave and I stayed in the background so the guy didn't ask any questions about what WE were doing. He didn't hassle Jim at all, and we were out of there in about 10 minutes.

We strolled around town a little and then had lunch at La Luz de Oriente (the Light of the East)--several people we asked in town recommended this as the best restaurant. As we finished lunch, we could see a big black line squall coming across the bay from the South. So we hurried back to the docks and caught the first lancha back to Sapzurro, and got back to the boat just after the rain started again.

Later in the day, Dave, Jim, and I walked through the town and up to the Panama/Colombian border. Our guidebook said that it was an unguarded boarder and you could walk freely back and forth. However, it's not unguarded any more. There were both Colombian and Panamanian soldiers. When I started down the steps toward Panama, Dave asked one of the guys 'can we go there?' and he told us No (rather brusquely). Rats! Later another guard told us that if we came during the day, we could go. But after 5pm, it was not permitted. There has been some guerilla activity (from Colombian guerillas) occasionally in the area, and so they are taking the border much more seriously these days. When we pointed our boat out in the harbor, one of the soldiers said he'd seen us come around yesterday.

On the 3rd day, we left Sapzurro and headed back to Obaldia, where Dave and Jim went ashore for another 'just 15 minutes' to check Jim back into Panama. Well... Life is full of little complications. First, the big thunderstorm that we had experienced the day before had really pounded Obaldia. The Port Captain's office had lost half its roof, and there were many other signs of destruction. While Dave and Jim were ashore, a plane landed that turned out to be the Red Cross, coming to assess the situation and bring rice and water. The Port Captain and the Immigration guy had a disagreement about what to do about us (the boat). We had already checked out of Panama, but needed to double back for a day to drop Jim off in Mulutupu. We didn't want to check back in, because we'd planned to leave for Cartagena directly from Mulutupu. They finally compromised and issued Dave a new zarpe to Cartagena 'via Mulutupu'. That seemed to make everyone happy, and we got outta town without too much more delay.

Here are the Obaldia & Sapzurro waypoints we used:

POBAL 08-39.861 N 77-25.360 W Anchored in 20' Sand, right off town dock
POBAL2 08-40.601 N 77-25.488 W
POBAL3 08-41.082 N 77-25.280 W Off Rockpile (not on any chart)
PATIBNW 08-41.000 N 77-22.218 W Off NW point of Cabo Tiburon, in clear water 100' deep
PATIBNE 08-40.719 N 77-21.202 W Off NE tip of Cabo Tiburon in Clear Water
CSAP1 08-40.239 N 77-21.074 W
CSAP2 08-39.532 N 77-21.499 W
CSAP3 08-39.369 N 77-21.822 W Anchorage in SE corner of bay

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