Pizazz has daysailed along the Colombian coast twice; we've gone in both directions. But, everyone says "you can't do that", including some guidebooks that say your chances of survival aren't good. Well, we aren't in Kansas, that's for sure but, this isn't the 80s anymore, either. One point to note is that all GPS readings vary slightly depending upon the equipment, satellites' adjustments, and/or input error. In other words, you are on your own in using these waypoints. They worked for us.
West of Bonaire, you can enjoy the other "alphabet" islands. Curaçao's Spanish Water is a large lagoon protected from sea swell. This area is approximately 35 miles from Bonaire, a nice downwind daysail. To enter Spanish Water, stay close to the beach which is still 90 feet deep and you can easily see the shallow reef edge to the north; then zig-zag through the channel. This channel is not lit so you must arrive before sundown.
Aruba, a nice sounding name and great place. However, it's 70 miles to Oranjestad; just about too far for a daysail. So, take a sail along Curaçao's west coast. The water is deep close-in and there's great sightseeing interesting cliffs, big fancy homes, and pretty beaches. Go to Santa Kruz Baai at 12·18'55N, 069·08'77W which is about 25 miles northwest of Spanish Waters, an easy daysail. You anchor in 10 to 12 feet of sand and coral at the mouth of the bay; it's a great area for snorkeling along the cliffs and an easy place to depart from in the dark. Aruba is now only 45 miles away.
Aruba has several anchorages. The first is Rogers Beach, just south of refinery in Sint Nicolas Baai. Enter between the buoys at 12·25'34N, 069·53'96W (green buoy on starboard), head 090 to next green buoy at 12·25'38N, 069·53'51W; then head 115 to anchor wherever you wish in 10 to 12 feet in sand and grass. This is a little rolly in SE winds and eerie at night with the lights and flames of the refinery (you are upwind of smoke and smells). Oranjestad harbor is well lit if it gets dark before you get there. Aruba Port Authority requires you to tie to the dock to clear with Customs/Immigration call on VHF 16 for instructions. They often tell you to tie to cruiseship dock which has big black tires that leave smudge marks on your topsides, so use lots of fenders and try to get to the north part of the dock, sheltered behind the terminal building. They have no one to help take your lines, so have "Carl Lewis" ready to jump to the dock. After clearing in, go anchor. The airport anchorage is 12 to 16 feet deep either northwest of the runway or in the lagoon south of runway. It's good holding and close to downtown, but noisy. The alternative anchorage is about 3 miles north of Oranjestad near the high-rise hotels. Go to the red buoy (which has a white light at night) at 12·34'87N, 070·03'34W; leave buoy to port and head approximately 090 to beach. (The Mariott Hotel and condos are the left two buildings along this stretch.) You anchor in 7 to 8 feet, on sand and grass. This is away from downtown shopping but near lots of beach sports and access to hotel services casinos, expensive shops, and expensive restaurants. Aruba is Las Vegas on the beach. There is easy access to buses ($2 round trip) to supermarkets for anything you need. After all this civilization, you are ready for some out-of-way coastal cruising.
The first stop is Monjes del Sur (about 53 miles). The sketch chart gives layout: This rock is part of Venezuela (get your courtesy flag out) call Guardia Costa on VHF 16 for permission to anchor; "no problem" is usually the answer. The anchorage to the left of center is 65-plus feet deep heading towards the rock dam in front of you. There's a huge dock with tires which maybe you can tie to ask. This is a good rest stop; we stayed a few days enjoying fabulous snorkeling all around the rock (crowds of barracuda and large lobsters). The guys stationed there get lots of fishing trawlers stopping and they love to have visitors with fresh fruit or veggies. This is also a very easy departure point in the dark, which you'll do as the next leg is 80 miles.
The next waypoint is 45 miles to Punta Gallinas at 12·28'80N, 071·40'02W in 50 feet of water about 2 miles off shore. It's not rough, as you are going downwind with the current pushing you. If a stop is needed, go to 12·24'00N, 071·49'00W for Bahia Honda (another 12 miles) swing back to the port side of the bay entrance as there's a visible rock towards starboard side; anchor in 30 feet. But, with the current pushing you, go on to Cabo del Vela to waypoint 12·14'50N, 072·10'00W to get a picture of the anchorage. There's an island to go around (although it's 15 feet deep between coast and island) then to 12·12'27N, 072·10'69W to anchor in 20 feet with good-holding sand. This is an open bay with plenty of wind (Cabo de Vela means Cape Sail) but you are out of the swell in a good comfortable anchorage. No one will bother you although fishermen will come by to stare at the big sailboat.
You may even see some tourists hiking to the light tower, and sheep searching for shrubs. Stay as long as you want and rest up as the next leg is 120 miles, the only overnight passage you'll have to do. Leave before sunset and arrive before noon.
As you head to the next waypoint at 11·22'00N, 074·03'50W, sail downwind as comfortably as possible tacking downwind is suggested. There are no obstructions along the coast (just an oil rig near Rioconcha). This waypoint gets you northeast of Bahia Cinto, the first of five wonderful little bays that are great stops for as long as you want. If swell from north, Bahia Cinto gets rolly as the strong willy-waw winds off the Santa Marta mountains come from southeast. Two bays down is Bahia Guayraca with more swell protection and some shore exploring and snorkeling. The fifth bay is Ancon Chico which has the most protection from swell and nice people on shore. The sketch above gives you some idea about these bays which are on DMA chart 24493A (which is no longer available).
When you are ready to move on to civilization (about 15 miles away), go through the cut between mainland and Aguja Island go between south jagged tip of island and the exposed rocks in the middle between the mainland and the island. It's 45-plus feet deep at 11·18'46N, 074·11'60W. The current and waves from the east may seem scary but once in the middle and then to the west of the cut it is flat calm. Continue south along the coast past Santa Marta (okay to go between Morro Grande and El Morro Chico) to Rodadero (shows as Gaira on charts). Suddenly there are tall buildings, condos, and beaches (almost a small version of Puerto La Cruz). Anchor at 11·12'10N, 074·13'75W in 30 to 40 feet or go in closer to the swim buoys to 20 feet. Find good restaurants along the beach and Olympia supermarket for fresh supplies. Sometimes the Port Captain will come by and limit your stay but otherwise, no problems. This is a resort area for Colombians. The agent here wants $100 to clear Customs/Immigration but you still have to pay $60 to an agent in Cartagena to do it again or even get your zarpe later. So, save your money and buy some meals ashore. Good to see civilization again and prepare for the dreaded Rio Magdelena.
Rodadero is easy spot to enter or exit in dark. You may want to leave at "oh-dark-thirty" to cross the Rio Magdelena (about 40 miles) before midday as the winds get stronger after midday which kicks up the seas and current against the outgoing river current mostly on the east side of the river mouth. It's okay to stay in close (we were 2 miles out) but farther out is a little less rough. Watch for river debris lily pads and logs for the next 10-plus miles to west. The water is muddy and ugly. There's a good rest stop near Punta Hermosa which the charts don't show well at all; but, we've been there and found it easy to do with waypoints. Go to 10·56'50N, 075·02'35W then 090 to 10·56'38N, 075·02'30W (30 feet deep), then 060 to 10·56'74N, 075·01'73W (12 feet deep). You can anchor farther north behind the reef lagoon if you want but you are out of swell almost as soon as you reach the south reef edge. Enjoy the calm (some local fishermen drive by but don't stop). Now, you are only 50 miles from Cartagena another easy daysail.
Leave Punta Hermosa anchorage at daybreak and go WSW towards Zamba Bank (it's okay to go over the bank) then towards Punta Canoas then to Boca Grande entrance to Cartagena. Use waypoint 10·23'45N, 075·34'47W (you'll be in 20 feet of water the last several miles); you'll spot the entrance buoys and stay to the right of center for 11-foot depth. Stay out a ways from the hotel beaches towards the monument to the Madonna and Child; follow "red-right-returning" buoys on either side and you'll see Club Nautico and anchored boats.
If you don't like the 11-foot depth entrance, go on the Boca Chica entrance and follow the channel markers. There are more buoys than show on charts the basic bearings are the same, the numbers continue to count higher than shown on charts. Don't anchor near Boca Chica entrance; you will be robbed. The Boca Grande entrance saves about 2 hours.
Enjoy Cartagena! You made it and it didn't take 3 or 4 days of sometimes rough downwind sailing with broken poles or booms or nerves. You did it at your leisure, saw some nice areas along the coast, and met some friendly people. You survived the coastal route! Cartagena has some great history, taxis are cheap to see the sights; the Old City is lovely at night; you can haul your boat or get most any kind of work done but don't stay too long as the anchorage is very "hot" and stuff grows on the boat bottom fast (even with new bottom paint). Remember, the fabulous San Blas Islands are only 200 miles west and you can daysail, island-hopping to get there, too; but that's another story. Or, you can even turn around and go back you've got all the stops now so it's easy to do the "impossible". Pizazz did!
A few important factors to remember. One, don't be unrealistic in setting a schedule you can't meet. Second, watch for the right weather windows. This coast (mostly between Aruba and Santa Marta) is known as the roughest in the Caribbean and one of the top five roughest passages worldwide. Third, prepare your boat and yourself for downwind sailing in heavy seas tack downwind, it's easier on the rig and helps prevent accidental jibes, broken booms and poles, and is many times faster. Of course, it is nice to have some moonlight. We list places on the coast for those who wish to daysail. For those who plan to sail direct, these are also potential stops if conditions get too rough or stuff gets broken or you need a break.
Have a safe, fun sail!
Sign up now and never miss an update from Caribbean Compass. We'll email you a copy of our monthy magazine, as well as other timely updates!
Copyright© 1998 Compass Publishing