Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | September 21, 2012

The South American Two-Step

N 11° 14.56′   W 74° 13.08′

Santa Marta, Colombia.

Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia

One leg pleasant, one leg rough; the next leg calm, the next leg bumpy. We glided, wallowed, rocked & rolled our way from Aruba to Colombia. Forty-six hours and 296 miles later we were on a new and exciting continent.

We left Aruba in better-than-typical conditions. A forecast two-day period of 15 knot or less winds and 2 – 4 foot seas looked like a blessing in this part of the world. What we experienced was a partially-on-target forecast alternating with periods of 20 – 30 knot winds generating steep 6 – 10 foot waves and flying spray as we bounced along.

I would fire the weather forecaster, but both of us had intensely studied the gazillion weather and sea models and forecasts. Turns out the influence of tropical wave 92L waned and the Colombian low repositioned a smidge, making actual conditions heavier than predicted. I suppose that is why this passage is sometimes mentioned as one of the top 10 most difficult sea passages in the world.

We have debated getting professional weather advice from time to time. I think the more expertise involved the better. As a pilot used to making his own weather decisions, Bob is not anxious to plunk down money for a professional sailing forecaster to provide personal assistance in evaluating passage timing. One of our marina neighbors who made the same trip was advised by his pro forecaster to leave two days earlier than us to avoid the possibility of squalls along the Colombian coast during our chosen time-frame. He ended up in 12+ foot seas and 35 knot winds – a rougher trip than ours, and we saw no squalls during our passage. I think this story pretty much sealed the Captain’s argument that he has adequate experience reading and interpreting weather data to make logical decisions. Our friends who had the enviable passage and left under conditions we were not comfortable venturing into with our smaller vessel got lucky when their actual weather changed for the better. The lesson learned here was that a very conservative weather strategy works best for us to allow for deviations from the forecast.

A further complication occurred when the starboard stabilizer malfunctioned several hours out of Aruba and had to be locked down, leaving the port stabilizer working hard to keep us from rolling side to side. The problem will need further investigation and hopefully will not require a haul-out. Stabilizers on a round-bottomed power boat are a seasick-prone gal’s best friend and lacking their full capacity on this particular passage was tough. We found that one stabilizer is better than none, and probably contributes more than 50% to the calming effort. I was amazed beyond belief that I was not seasick given the exacerbated motion and have to give partial credit to Marezine, a little miracle pill.

Routing for this passage was another area we debated. Some people advise keeping well away from Punta Gallinas, the northernmost tip of South America, as there can be rougher seas attributed to cape effects, where wind and seas whip around the corner, sometimes violently colliding with opposing currents. I have learned that Bob is right more times than he is wrong in these matters, and he felt it best to stay within a few miles of shore. While I worried as we rounded the Punta in the middle of the first night, waiting for all heck to break loose, it turned out to be one of the smoother times.

How close to navigate by the Los Monjes islands of Venezuela, located southwest of Aruba, was another decision. Bob preferred to go between the islands & Venezuela to cut some distance and capture any nighttime lee effect of the large South American land mass that would make for quieter seas. I was not thrilled to be so close to Venezuelan territory and even less so when the Venezuelan Navy came on the radio making repeated Channel 16 announcements in Spanish and broken English as we went by the area. We couldn’t understand them but surmised they wanted to talk to us, since our cruising notes said they would check the intentions of boats planning to stop at Los Monjes for the night. We didn’t plan to stop and didn’t want to talk to them. Their stern-sounding broadcasts were incessant and Bob finally turned off the radio. I was stressing over this, especially since I am listed on the zarpe as the Captain of record for this passage and would be the one to experience the Venezuelan prison if they took issue with the Mar Azul. Sigh of relief. They had no patrol boat.

Good thing the boring pre-made passage food was ready to go. During really rolly times it was nearly impossible to open the fridge without stuff flying out. Supplemented by a dozen Dunkin Donuts – an extremely rare junk food extravagance purchased from the store near the Renaissance Marina – we didn’t go hungry.

Our new sailing friend Erik also arrived in Santa Marta a few hours ahead of us and confirmed that even in a catamaran it was quite a wild ride from Aruba at times. However, he said this voyage was nothing compared with crossing the spirited Indian Ocean. That is one trip that I am positive the Mar Azul will not make with me aboard.

Sunset at sea, day one, passing the Venezuelan Los Monjes islands

Sunrises at sea can be spectacular, and this one as we neared Cabo de la Vela was a treat.

We checked out the anchorage at Cabo de la Vela which would have been a very tranquil stop, but decided to keep moving. We glided along here in the morning hours with little wind and smooth seas.

Hanging out below, where we spent much of the trip. The rope on the floor was a lasso to restrain the recliner from dancing across the floor.

Day two was supposed to bring 1 – 3 foot seas. Perhaps we got feet confused with meters? This part was not so fun.

Day 2 – another brilliant sunset, this time over choppy seas

We slowed our speed during the second night so we could travel along the Tayrona National Park in the daylight. Another breathtaking sunrise.

More of the Park and the pretty Sierra Nevada Santa Marta mountains

Bandit and Lady handled the trip okay. Bandit spent most of the rougher moments standing, so she was really exhausted by the time we got into port.

Around the bumpy Cabo de la Aguja – one that deserves full respect – then smooth sailing past Isla el Morro into Bahia Santa Marta

Entire crew, pups included, are still shaking the “passage hang-over” – a fatigue that seems to follow a long trip. We are excited to be here and looking forward to getting out and experiencing this intriguing city and country.





  1. Glad you guys had another safe and successful passage! I’d love to come visit in Cartagena, if you’re up for some company.

  2. Doug, we are disappointed the Aruba rendezvous didn’t work out, but would love to see you in Cartagena!!! We’ll stay in touch!

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