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The Two Captains


24 October 2000 Punta Hermosa, Colombia 10*56.51N, 075*02.02W

We left Guayraca Bay about 0700 on Monday morning. A comic strip bubble over the anchorage the previous night might have captured the common thought.."We stayed one day too long!"... as a north swell rolled in the north facing mouth of the bay, setting the boats to pitching or rolling, depending on which way the willywaws had us at the moment, and then breaking in a roar on the shore behind. Sailors don't especially like a "roar behind"! Miraculously, however, the swell abated after several hours, and we actually got a decent night's rest.

But no one was especially surprised to find a swell still running from the east when we motor-sailed out the next morning. Our course took us west along the rugged coast, past two more picturesque bays, and through a pretty narrow cut between the mainland and an offshore island. You had to know we'd get a strike on the fishing line (should reeled it in!) just as Don is steering between a rock and a hard place. So, the retard mate runs back to cope, but can't get the reel to stop running out! It was down to just a few wraps when Don and I managed to swap places. He saved the line and lure, took him about 20 minutes to wind it in, but no fish!

On the other side of the cut, the seas went flat! We motored along past Santa Marta, a surprisingly large and modern-looking city, dipping inside of El Morro Grande, a steep offshore rock island with a smart lighthouse on top, where we picked up a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphin! These are about the size of bottlenose dolphin, but dark grey with fully speckled sides! They stayed with us quite awhile, which is always a joy,especially on a beautiful morning.

Our anchorage was not much farther, this planned to be a short hop in order not to have to negotiate the island in the dark on the next leg. As we rounded the bend we were pretty surprised to find another hgih-rise area, with elegant palm trees and a long beach. Rodadero, which doesn't get any mention on the charts, is between Santa Marta and Gaira and is Colombia's up-crust vacation mecca....when times are good.

We had heard we could go ashore here, perhaps buy lunch, and find a market with fresh stuff. Even though we are only two days from Cartagena, after 18 days out, the lure was pretty strong. As you might guess, though, we were all pretty leery. We had no idea what kind of reception we might get.

By the time our hook was down, an "entrepreneur" was already out visiting Enchantress, the first arrival, in, of all things, a pedal-boat! When the entrepreneur found out that Spanish was not their forte, he pedalled ashore and collected a buddy who spoke English, and so we met Carlos...who also had another buddy who spoke English, Eddie. By the time the seven of us managed to dinghy ashore, Carlos, Eddie and a whole entourage were waiting for us to land! Yikes, we thought, we're in trouble. No amount of negotiating would wring a commitment of what their guidance would cost us, but we finally accepted it as sincere. We felt like a presidential parade (Clinton's visit to Cartagena was still on their mind), first to a Cambio to change dollars to pesos (2000 to 1; no rip-off!), then to a beach restaurant (where they were quite frank about having connections) and finally to the supermercado. Our entourage included several more of Carlos's buddies, and needless to say we attracted every beach vendor in sight. It is a very South American thing, these mobile vendors. They sell everything from T-shirts, to dresses, to Armani sunglasses to fruit to bottled water, etc. etc. etc., and we were the most hopeful prospects in sight!

Carlos and Eddie were delightful. Especially Eddie who learned his very coloquial English (as well as French) from a Canadian girlfriend. Evidently, there used to be lots of Canadians coming to Rodadero. Carlos had trained with the Canadians to be a tour guide. Had an ID and a binder full of pictures of all the places he could show us. However, the pitch was pretty half-hearted, because they know better than anyone that it simply isn't safe to go inland. We think of drug operations, but apparently it is rebel guerillas that are the big problem. Not only are there no foreign tourists, even Colombians don't come across the mountains..not by car.

Our lunch was good and cheap and the market was wonderful. Beautiful produce. Best of all our dinghies were still in place (guarded by one of the cronies) when we got back and Carlos & Co. were happy to walk with $5 US per cruiser and we were happy to give it to them. All in all a very nice cultural exchange!

Our charming moments were not quite over. Along about five in the afternoon, a young boy (12) swam all the way out from shore to Sandy Lee. Sam is a pretty friendly type and she discovered his name was Charlie. Charlie was game to communicate despite language challenges, and, fueled by a Snickers bar from Sandy Lee, Charlie proceed to visit five of the six boats. We were last, by which time he was "muy cansado"! But his spirit of friendship and curiousity was a joy. The six American-flag boats were obviously something of a curiousity. As we relaxed over cocktails and early dinners, a dozen or so of the pedal boats, like red and blue ladybugs on the water, made close passes alongside all of us...I swear they were peeking in the portholes! I was too slow to get the camera, but what an image!

We all left Rodadero between 0100 and 0200. The city was not all gone to bed yet, and the lights lit up our departure quite well. Frankly I was a little sorry to leave (not to mention get UP!), because not only was it the calmest anchorage we've been in in awhile, it was one of the prettiest developed anchorages we have ever been in.

Today's leg was the crossing of "the dreaded Rio Magdalena". A big river, the Magdalena's outflow turns a large area of coastal water into a turbid washing machine, with the frightening potential of large debris lurking at or below the surface. Add to that excitement some big ship traffic entering and leaving the river, and you've a got a recipe for attention. The goal is to cross in mid-morning, before the winds pick up to really kick up the waves. The winds, however, were strong petty all night, and we all made such a fast (and vigorous!) trip that we were there two hours early..barely full daylight... and all pretty much expecting the worst!

The water goes pretty abruptly from green to muddy, and the smell of earth was startling. Lucky for us, however, despite our wind, there has been little rain in the mountains, and there was not one refrigerator-berg sighted by any of the boats. I had a nice little nautical chat with the port captain and pilot, while trying to determine what was the agenda of the giant container ship doing donuts offshore, and I was pleased that he made us feel very welcome...not to mention that he did it in English! The "corner" we turn, on the other side of the Rio, puts us into a whole different weather sector. Abruptly the seas flatten (the mud cleared up pretty quickly, too) and the winds virtually dies. Diehards that we have become on TII, we sailed and sailed and sailed, even to sailing wing-and-wing, to the last 3 miles, before we succumbed to the engine, motoring into Punta Hermosa, a large calm bay behind a long, long, long spit of land.

Tomorrow is the final leg of this journey which will bring us into Cartagena and civilization. Barring any surprises tomorrow, our trip through Colombia has been much less hair-raising than it had been pictured. Meanwhile, we have our first committed visitors to San Blas, friends Diane and Alex, who expect us to pick them up on one of the islands December 2. Pretty amazing to us that that is a mere 5 weeks away!

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