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Day 541 - Cartagena, Colombia (N 10° 24.9 W 75° 32.6)
18:12 hrs - November 22nd, 2008
Cartagena de Indias

We've only had two days to explore, what many argue, is the most beautiful city on the American continent, and from what we've seen, I wouldn't be surprised if this were true. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984, the walled city of Cartagena has a rich, beautiful and vibrant combination of colonial architecture, impressive churches, medieval style streets, immense forts, charming squares, chic salsa bars and warm, friendly, energetic locals. While its tragic and long tumultuous history defines much of the city, in part, it's Cartagena's resilience and resolve that makes it such an intoxicating paradoxical location. It's as though someone took the very best and more appealing characteristics of the most memorable cities we've visited since we left New York a year and a half ago - Havana, Merida, Flores, Antigua - mixed them all together, and poured them out inside a 400-year old walled enclosure. In a word, it's enchanting.

Today we toured the Naval Museum to learn more about the cities maritime history, the continuous and relentless battles and sieges that gripped the city for hundreds of years. We strolled around Santo Domingo Church with a map and a handheld audio device that gave us information about the city's oldest church - chronicling the "angel" that carved Christ on a crucifix from a single piece of driftwood that washed up on the beach behind the church to an attack by the devil himself. We ate lunch behind "Gertrudis", had coffee at Juan Valdez, smoked a complimentary Colombian cigar and drank a shot of Colombian rum at Casa del Puro, wandered aimlessly, but in awe, around the narrow streets of the Centro district, bought candy at Portal de los Dulces, shopped in Las Bovedas and watched the sun set on the Santa Catalina bastion. Yes, we did all this in a day, but it feels like we've just we've barely scratched the surface.

 

Day 541 - Cartagena, Colombia (N 10° 24.9 W 75° 32.6)
18:12 hrs - November 22nd, 2008
Cartagena de Indias... continued

Cartagena is one of those places that other cruisers have been telling us is a must see, and now we are finally here we can see why.  We have just spent the last few days wandering around the huge 15th century walled city, and along with being beautiful and immaculately maintained it also has tons of naval and seafaring history to keep any sailor happily occupied for days.  Because of its ideal location as a sheltered port the Spanish French and British fought over it for years, the Spanish won, and the place now has a distinctly European Spanish flavor, but curiously there is not a trace of the people who’s home it had been before the Spanish landed in 1501.  It’s a bustling port now with a constant stream of gargantuan cargo and cruise ships going about their ocean crossing business with a flotilla of cruising boats anchored in the middle of it all and we are happily bobbing around in it enjoying the show.


     

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Day 539 - Cartagena, Colombia (N 10° 24.9 W 75° 32.6)
10:26 hrs - November 20th, 2008
Safety at sea

The weather forecast promised 10-15 knot winds from the north-east for our 400 nautical mile south-east passage from Providencia to Cartagena, which would have placed the trade winds comfortably on the beam. What we had, however, were 15-20 knots from the east, which put the wind close on our nose for most of the passage. With stiff sheets and all three sails winched drum-tight, we beat our way down to Cartagena, dodging rain squalls along the way which brought winds briefly to 30 knots. With sails reefed, the ride was comfortable enough, the cap rails were dry, most of the time, and only occasionally, when a large swell swept under our keel, would we roll and take water along our leeward side, temporarily burying the deck in foamy Caribbean sea. Dream Time was built for this kind of sailing and made great sport of it.

Although the ride was occasionally a little lumpy, our gear stayed in place. The new teak toggles I fashioned in Guatemala kept the cupboard doors closed and their contents securely in place. The "sling", our lee cloth, kept Catherine in her berth, and the many hand-holds we have below in the cabin enabled us to safely swing confidently around like monkeys, always keeping one hand for the boat.

When alone in the cockpit we'd wear our new Life Tag systems which promise to alert sleeping crew if the device (and the individual wearing the device) should unintentionally roam outside a 40' radius of the receiver, essentially placing the crew member in the drink. We were both able to sleep more soundly knowing this, for there is no greater fear for a cruising couple than to wake up only to find that you're alone on the boat.

200 miles out of Providencia we were greeted by a little bird who, clearly exhausted from his efforts, landed on our aft deck to rest his weary wings. It didn't take him long to get comfortable with his crew mates and spent the morning hopping around the deck, inspecting every hole and compartment. Landing on Catherine's leg, flying below in our cabin, or perched safely under our dodger just inches away from where we sat, he seemed to take pleasure in our company, at least for a while. He departed as quickly as he had arrived, leaving Catherine worried for his safety.

We dropped the hook off Club Nautico at 12:00 on Wednesday 19th and spent the afternoon topping up our diesel and water tanks. Yesterday we visited the old walled city of Cartagena and will be making daily trips to explore more of this incredible city - stay tuned.



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Day 533 - Providencia, Colombia (N 13° 22.8 W 81° 22.3)
14:37 hrs - November 14th, 2008
Colombia!

After 96 hours, 397 nautical miles, one waterspout, one hammerhead shark, two tuna and one mackerel we arrived in Providencia, a Colombian-owned island off the coast of Nicaragua. Our sail around Honduras was close to perfect, wind just slightly forward of the beam blowing at a steady 15 knots, all three sails flying high pushing us along at 5-6 knots, clear blue skies during the day and a full moon at night - bright enough at three in the morning to read and write log entries outside. Catherine and I slipped easily into our 5-hour watch routine: Catherine from 10:00PM - 3:00 AM and me from 3:00 AM - 8:00 AM. Although these are long watches, they work for us. Catherine, a natural night owl, gets to stay up late listening to her podcasts without me bothering her to come to bed, and I get to watch the sun rise, sipping freshly brewed coffee, in complete peace and quiet. Yes, it's a good system.

We spent the afternoon exploring Providencia on a moped today. As the island is only 4 miles long by 2.5 miles wide, with just a single road running around its perimeter, it didn't take us very long. Providencia has a distinct laid back Caribbean atmosphere. Free from the hordes of tourists that visit its sister island of San Andres, that sits about 55 miles away, Providencia seems quite happy and comfortable with it's place in the world.

We plan on staying in Providencia for only a few days, just enough time to stock up on supplies and explore a little more of the island. On Sunday we'll raise the anchor and head on our final leg - 380 nautical miles across the SW Caribbean to the historical city of Cartagena!

Trip log: 3,678 nautical miles to date. Total engine hours: 1,250



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Day 528 - Roatan, Honduras (N 16° 20.2 W 86° 28.5)
20:41 hrs - November 9th, 2008
Power to the people

When the Honduran national police arrived in force, they wrestled control of the road-blocked roads back from the many angry protesters.  Some level of agreement was reached between the electric company and its furious customers, and electric power was restored to all, and we were finally free to roam around the island to our hearts content and as the island is only about 30 miles long and 2 miles wide, we planned to see all of it.

We drove as far west and east as you can on the island and saw the islands wide spectrum of living conditions from the perfectly manicured landscaping of the oblivious holiday-makers to the corrugated tin roofs of the native islander to the obsessively private and isolated billionaire homes out of reach the hills and cliffs.  We stopped for lunch in a tiny beach restaurant in Punta Gorda which was the first Garifuna settlement here in 1797, and it didn’t look like all that much had changed since then.  We went out to a west end perfect white sandy beach resort that felt like Florida and an east end cliff top resort on its own private bay that felt so hidden and secluded that we could have been the only people on the planet.  Its easy to see why people love it here, the beautiful lush hilly green land surrounded by a luminous turquoise sea, who wouldn’t love it?

Now that hurricane Paloma has made her way northeast and safely (for us) out of our path, we will be heading back out to sea again tomorrow and on to our next stop, Colombia.

 



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Day 524 - Roatan, Honduras (N 16° 20.2 W 86° 28.5)
15:04 hrs - November 5th, 2008
Honduras - Trapped!

With tropical storm "Paloma" directly to our east, rapidly developing into a hurricane, and an angry mob to our west, Catherine and I, at least for the moment, are trapped.

I'll start with the tropical storm: by now we had hoped to be anchored in VIvorillo Cay, a small reef off the very eastern tip of Honduras or perhaps even sailing south and heading to the Colombian island of Providencia. But after stopping in Roatan for some R&R, after a very bumpy 149 mile crossing from the Rio Dulce, we discovered that the tropical low hovering over Providencia, had strengthened and was moving north, directly over our anticipated route. So we've decided to sit tight for a few days, giving Paloma a chance to pass and the seas a few days to settle before heading back out. We'd like to explore Roatan anyway, a unique island where many of its inhabitants are direct descendants from the pirates and slaves that took control and settled here back in the 1600 and 1700s, but we have yet been able to - which brings me to our other concern.

Thousands of disgruntled Roatan citizens have taken it upon themselves to block the only road that leads east - west, essentially bringing the island to a stand still. A Carnival cruise ship, scheduled to stop here today, was turned away by officials. It was deemed unsafe for the tourists to come ashore. Hundreds of Honduran National Guards will be arriving today from the mainland in an attempt to break-up the group and restore order to this little tropical island. Now this isn't just a random civil upheaval, and it appears as though it's a relatively peaceful dispute, but citizens are protesting the recent 200% - 300% increase in their electricity bills. The electricity company, RECO (Roatan Electrical Company) was recently purchased by an American who, according to some, invested a great deal of time, energy and money in improving the generator system on the island, bringing reliable and continuous power where previously there wasn't any. Unfortunately, rather than adjusting prices in manageable increments, he increased charges literally overnight to cover his costs and compenate his company for late payments. Citizens took to the streets in protest, blocking traffic, closing businesses and generally voicing their displeasure in a way that they hoped would force officials to act on their behalf and perhaps negotiate a more reasonable payment schedule with RECO. Their plan failed. Yesterday when all this began, rather than immediately addressing the issue the local government, referred to by some as the "good ol' boys", took to sea and spent the day and much of the evening circling the island in a luxury yacht, with power, so they could watch a football match.

Yesterday Catherine and I had organized to rent a car so we could explore the island, but we were advised not to go. Today we met a couple from Cape Cod, Joe and Carol, and had planned to join them fishing, but the boat had engine trouble and we were forced to abort. So it seems, at least for now, we'll just sit tight, enjoy the scenery and wait for everything to blow over.


 

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Day 520 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
08:50 hrs - November 1st, 2008
Ready for change - check!

With passports stamped and our Zarpe (departure document) in hand, we're now 'officially' ready, after 95 days in Guatemala, to leave the country and begin our 2-3 week, 900 nautical mile passage around Honduras and down to Cartagena, Colombia, stopping at the islands of Roatan, Cayo Vivorillo and Providencia along the way.

We've removed, cleaned and stowed sun awnings, replenished fuel and water tanks, serviced the engine, stocked up on food supplies, entered waypoints and, most importantly, voted! Yes, that's right, Catherine and I received our absentee ballots in time, thanks to our fabulous mail forwarding service, Voyagers Mail Forwarding Service (VMFS.com) and as I type this blog, our ballots are whizzing back to America to be counted in this historical election. It's particularly exciting for me because, not only is this my first vote as a newly recognized American Citizen, but we voted in Guatemala whilst sailing around the world!

So, we're anchoring out on the Rio tonight and with a favorable weather window we'll be heading off on Sunday at high tide, slip over the shoal marking the entrance to the Rio Dulce and back out to sea.

Dream Time is clear for departure!