“Santa Marta Marina, Santa Marta Marina, Santa Marta Marina, este es Ondular, Ondular Ondular, cambio.”We’ve been calling on our radio all day and so far nothing. We are anchored at a bay next to the marina in the little town of Santa Marta in Colombia. This was never our plan but after facing huge waves and 30+ winds, we had decided it was best to go into the bay and have a rest. We had arrived here two days ago on Wednesday afternoon.
At first we thought, let’s just relax for a few days, try to lay low so that no one bothers us to clear into the country, because from what we’ve heard, the paper work to clear into Colombia could be very extensive, we needed to arrange an agent to do the process for us and it would not only cost us around 200 dollars but it would also take a few days for the process to be completed. As we wanted to leave in a few days, the expense and time didn’t compute with our plans so we decided it was best to just stay on our anchor, hope that the coast guard ignored us and that sooner than later we could continue on our journey to Panama.
Today, Friday, we had checked the weather again and realized our weather window would maybe take a few extra days of waiting, so we decided to call the marina and see if they could help us to arrange an agent and at least have the answers to all our questions and see if we could clear in and enjoy a few days on land before driving each other crazy on an 11 feet boat. But so far there has been no answer. I’ve been trying to forget about it all and have spent all day reading a book. Mick has been doing a few projects here and there and now is checking the charts one more time, trying to figure out a better route to avoid all the horrible weather we have been facing since leaving Aruba.
To be honest, it wasn’t always that bad. We left Aruba at 7am on Monday 29 June. The wind was predicted to be around 25 knots and the whole day and night we had winds around 10 to 15 knots, so the first day was actually really enjoyable. Mick even caught a tuna, in the first hour of our passage so we had beautifully cooked fish for lunch, enjoyed the sunset and did our watches without a problem.
The second day was a different story. The wind was light in the morning, but maybe after lunch, the waves started to pick up and the wind did too. Our auto pilot was having trouble keeping the boat on course because of the waves so we started to hand steer. We took turns, one hour on one hour off, and it was fun for a while as we were comparing who had the most speed with each wave we surfed on Ondular.
The sunset was spectacular. We both agreed that we hadn’t seen colours like that before, so we stared in awe, but I was also a bit concerned as the numbers on the wind gear kept getting higher and the darkness was creeping in. We had put the jib away and were powering the boat by a 3rd reefed main. An hour into the night, the wind kept getting stronger and we made the decision that we had to put the main away and get the jib back out to get more control onto our boat as the waves were also getting bigger.
There we were in the middle of the night, 30 knot winds and 2 +metre waves, I had to turn the engine on and face those monsters face to face; I was terrified, I kept shaking and crying, then I would start screaming and begging Mick to come back as I saw him climbing on top of the mast trying to put the sail away. It was horrible and those 20 minutes felt like forever. We managed to put the main away and get the jib out without any accidents and we turned the boat back into our set course and continued on. By now it was 9pm and we were both really tired. We stayed together, sharing the load of hand steering for another hour and the conditions started to get calmer. Mick put the auto pilot on and could finally rest and I went down stairs and passed out on the bed. Before I went to bed though, I made clear to Mick that I wasn’t meant for this kind of stuff. He assured me that no one is!
That night we had shorter watches, Mick woke me two hours later and I did the same to him until the day light came back. Luckily the conditions continued to be calm through the night and into the morning. It got so calm that we decided to motor sail as we were going too slowly and we sailed on.
After lunch I went to have a nap and because it was so settled I decided to open one of the small hatches in the room. I was woken up by a wave landing on my face and ran upstairs to find Mick battling his way through huge waves. We were passing near Punta Aguja, close to Santa Marta and the water depth changed from its normal 1000 plus metres to 100. We looked at each other again and asked the question; what do we do?
I went downstairs and started reading the sailing guides we had about this dreaded passage known to be in the top 5 worst passages around the world. We knew that only 50 miles from where we were we had to cross a river called Magdalena and by the pace we were sailing on, we would have crossed the river around midnight. I had to double check the notes again as I remembered reading something specific about the river and when was the best time of the day to cross it.
On the notes I found the advice of trying to cross it as early in the morning as we could, because it was known for having big seas, so the less windy it was the better. I went upstairs to share this with Mick and we both decided it was time to change our course and head towards Santa Marta.
So here we are. We still haven’t heard from our friends at the marina or haven’t been visited by the coast guard. We are still here watching the city of Santa Marta in the distance, seeing the big cargo ships coming and going from this busy port and wondering what is next for us on our journey to Panama. One thing we know for sure, if we ever come back to the Caribbean, we would never do this passage again.
Final note: We were finally able to communicate with the marina yesterday late afternoon and this morning we brought our boat in. We haven’t check into the country and we’ll try not to, because it will take too many days, so we will just use these days to enjoy the comforts of being in a slip, clean the boat, relax and use the internet. It looks like we’ll be leaving on Monday night.