Now that its not an option to have an Australian Flag with the name of my Footy team (Fremantle) on the back on the boat, we need to have a good think about where to register our new Saba 50. Australia is not an option as Dee and I will be jointly owning the boat and for it to be an Australian boat it needs to be majority owned by an Australian.
So we need to look around for an alternative. And there are a few that spring to mind.
But there’s a few factors to consider:
Cost – Initial and Ongoing Year to Year
Risk – Can we use a US Limited Lability Company or do we need to set up a Company in Country. And how much does that cost?
Radio License and EPIRB Registration
Insurance options for the various flags.
Reputation and Coverage.
And finally….Do we like the actual flag? Does it have an annoying Union Jack in the corner?
A USA Flag out of Delaware is the easiest and cheapest solution – we can set up a jointly owned Limited Liability Company in Delaware and have Wilmington as our home port all for $947USD (using http://www.boatandyachtregistration.com). However, I’m not so sure I want people to think I’m from the USA.
As far as a homeport goes, Bikini from the Marshall Islands sounds rather cool. However, we would need to set up a Marshall Islands company. Every Marshall Islands LLC must appoint a registered agent and maintain a local office address. Not 100% sold on either an LLC in a far-off land; or the flag for that matter, but at least it doesn’t have that annoying little Union Jack in the corner. Interestingly, the Marshall Islands Registry permits private yachts to be chartered out for up to 84 days per calendar year, provided that some additional requirements are satisfied. Fees are: $2800.00 Year 1 (Company setup and Boat Registration) and then $1800.00 (Year 2 and onward – Company and boat renewal).
A good looking flag is important and we really like the Maltese Flag. However a Maltese flag means we cannot get VAT exemption if we are in the EU. So that rules it out in the short term whilst we are in Europe. Registration Fees are 115 Euros, plus an annual fee of 425 Euros plus VAT. To this we need to add costs for a Radio license and an MMSI number. Plus the cost of local representation.
Multihulls Solutions are very experienced with registering boats in the Cook Islands and Captain Cook is pretty much up there when it comes to sailors. Fees are $800 for one year, $2100 for 3 years. The easiest way to register a boat in the Cook Islands is to join The Cook Islands Yacht Squadron (CIYS). Members of the Cook Islands Yacht Squadron (CIYS) are eligible to have their yacht registered in the Cook Islands without having to register a company. The definition of person includes companies and trusts as well as individuals or partnerships of individuals. In this way foreign corporation can become a member of CIYS without having to register that corporation in the Cook Islands. However the Cook Islands flag has that annoying little Union Jack in the corner. Cook Islands is the only option that my current insurer, Topsail Australia (who I am very comfortable with) will cover, however interestingly they can’t provide cover when we actually sail into the Cook Islands because of some strange licensing quirk.
We saw a lot of boats with Jamaican flags and again Montego Bay has an air of the exotic as a home port. Jamaica also has a Private Limited Charter option where the yacht may charter up to 84 days per calendar year where permitted. Ownership can be with any legal entity in good standing or an individual. There is no requirement to create a new owning entity in Jamaica. Fees are The Private Yacht Only (PYO) option is $1950. The Private with Limited Charter (PYLC) option is $2500 (plus $4100 for a survey). Ongoing annual fees are $750, and if chartering an annual charter survey is $3,575. These fees include vessel registration, radio license, tonnage, registered agent, all documentation, and a flag.
Quest, a fellow Saba 50, went with a Cayman Islands flag and that’s not a bad choice (except for that annoying little Union Jack in the corner once again). A USA LLC can own a Cayman Islands Registered Vessel so that’s a tick. However, a foreign LLC must appoint a representative in the Cayman Islands (at an additional annual cost no doubt). Like the Marshall Islands, the Caymans also have a Yacht Engaged in Trade (YET) program for yacht operated privately that provides the option to charter their yacht for up to 84 days per year. Costs are $1200USD for initial registration and $530USD for each year after that (according to https://www.cishipping.com/feesandcalculators).
Having digested all this, I’m not sure there is a clear cut option for us, so some more thought is required. Once again, all suggestions and further information will be gratefully received.
Now that we are reduced to watching sailing videos on Youtube, Delos pointed out that there are 50 people who called Delos home; and that got me thinking about how many people stayed on board La Mischief during her time on the high seas.
Countries/Islands Visited: Barbados, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Monserrat, Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin, St Barts, St Eustatius, St Martin, Saba, St Barts, Anguilla, BVIs, Bermuda, USA (Newport, RI to Maine to Florida)
Total People on Board: 16 (New 9)
2018 (Florida to Colombia)
Countries/Islands Visited: USA, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Culebra, USVI, BVI, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Bequia, Mustique, Mayreau, Tobago Keys, Union Island, Petit St Vincent, Carriacou, Grenada, Tobago, Guyana, Trinidad, Bonaire, Curracao, Aruba, Columbia.
Total People on Board : 13 (New 6)
2019 (Colombia to Rio Dulce to Mexico)
Countries/Islands Visited: Colombia, San Blas Islands, Panama, Panama Canal, San Andres, Providencia, Guanaja, Roatan, Rio Dulce, Belize, Mexico
Listening to music is a really important part of our boat life. On our old boat we used to download music to our phones or tablets using Google Play Music so that we could access it offline …internet or no internet. We also had an old iPod with music downloaded on it that was connected to our Fusion Stereo. But most of the time we would connect up our phones or tablets and play the downloaded Google Play music.
The biggest problem with this was bluetooth’s short range and one user at a time restriction. Quite often we would sit out the back and suffer poor or no bluetooth connectivity. With the Saba being a lot bigger this was going to be even more of a problem.
Enter Sonos with its capacity to play music over a much better (than bluetooth) Wifi connection (provided by our Pepwave router). Our Saba comes with the same Fusion Marine Stereo as before and our plan is to hook up a Sonos Port unit to the Fusion and voila…we can use Sonos to play all our Google Youtube music over Wifi from ANYWHERE on the boat. Likewise our guests will also be able to download the Sonos app and hook into our system so we can listen to their music as well. And finally, we can download all our music that sits on our hard drives (and in Google Play Music) to our DS118 NAS that sits on our boat network so we can access this from Sonos as well.
I loved my previous Sonos system from my time as a dirt dweller, and I’m keen to use it once again.
The Sonos Port is an upgrade from the Sonos Connect and I should now be able to turn the Fusion Stereo on and off from the Sonos system – how cool is that. And it will also control the volume of the Fusion as a whole, but I don’t think it will control the volumes of the individual Fusion Zones.
The other purchase will be a Sonos Move, the new Sonos outdoor battery powered speaker, that has got rave reviews. We have gone ahead and purchased one Move (we plan to get a second in France) and are loving it. The Fusion System that comes with the boat only comes with speakers in the saloon and the cockpit and the Sonos Moves will fill in the sound gaps – the upstairs lounge and the front deck in particular. And we won’t have to drill holes in the boat to provide for additional wired speakers. As the Sonos Move uses both Wifi and Bluetooth we can also take it to the beach where there is usually no Wifi.
The final piece of the puzzle is a Sonos soundbar for the TV downstairs. Upstairs in the saloon, we will have a Bose system (same as before) and I need to think about whether I hook this into the Sonos system via another Sonos Port or just leave the Bose as a standalone movie and TV system. Kim suggested that Music sounds so much better with a subwoofer, which the Bose system has, or is our money better spent just buying a Sonos Sub? And do I need a Sonos Playbar upstairs with the Bose system for watching movies? Ummm. A little bit more to think about. Especially since I need to consider battery draw in the equation.
Even with the Bose System upstairs, TV sound was always a problem downstairs and a good soundbar will make movies much more enjoyable. Plus we can use Google Assistant or Alexa for voice controls.
The beauty of using an all Sonos solution is that we can play the same music throughout the boat across both the Fusion stereo, the Sonos Playbar and Sonos Moves.
I’ve just ordered a Sonos Move to use at home so it will be interesting to see how the first piece of the puzzle goes. The rest of the Sonos components will be sourced from the Sonos dealer in La Rochelle.
Connecting to the world wide web and the boat wide web is an important part of our cruising life. The Badboy system we had on La Mischief is no longer an option, a victim of Covid19, but we were never really a great fan and believe we can both do a lot better, whilst at the same time broaden the scope of our next solution.
First things first, we needed to understand our complete requirements, which are documented as follows:
Extend the range of our mobile devices for when sailing or anchoring away from cell towers.
Connect to Wifi Hotspots whilst at anchor or in marinas.
Provide a network in the boat to hook up computers, phones, tablets, security cameras and TVs, with network attached storage to store movies, music, personal photos and video.
Play movies from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube etc as well as from network attached storage.
Play music from phones and tablets as well as the web and network attached storage.
A GPS system that can track the boats position, when at anchor, with alerting to show if it moves when it shouldn’t.
Use Alexa or Google assistant for voice controls.
I’m quite happy with using a combination of Iridium Go and InReach for Satellite.
I’ve also thought about integrating the boats ethernet network into the MFDs – mainly for Cameras – as there is a few blind spots when backing a big cat into a tight slip but I think just using a tablet to view the cameras is good enough. I use OpenCPN on my Tablet also but don’t think I need to integrate Radar and AIS onto OpenCPN as I use it only when navigating around reefs in poorly charted areas.
I had originally thought Glomex’s Webboat 4G LITE COASTAL INTERNET would be my Badboy replacement but I hadn’t really done much research. Thanks to Gilbert from Vent d’Ailleurs who suggested that this was probably a bad choice, and his advice turned out to be spot on. So I needed to get serious and ramp up my research in an effort to at least become a youtube expert. Special thanks to Jeff from SV Quest, a fellow Saba 50, who shared the details of his gold standard solution for his boat. I also found some great information and advice from Steve on www.seabits.com. Finally, there are a lot of RVs out there who are trying to do the same thing and there are some excellent videos on how they are set up.
Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I was able to distill our requirements down into a list of components, that in total will meet our requirements. These are as follows:
Either a cell booster or an external antenna that can boost or reach out to remote cell towers.
A Wifi Shore Extender (a la Badboy)
A Router in which we can insert a SIM card for LTE Wifi access, when away from shored based Wifi hotspots. This router needs GPS capability and an app to track the boats movements.
A network switch that is 12V, which we can connect TVs, Network Attached Storage and SONOS.
A Network Attached Storage unit to store music, movies, photos, video and security camera images.
Now for some decisions.
The heart of the system has to be the LTE Router. Everybody that I talked to or watched on youtube seemed to use Pepwave routers. Pepwave have several price points with varying levels of functionality, but I’ve settled on the Peplink Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 at around $599US. This is an enterprise grade solution offering redundant SIM slots with automatic switching between Shore based Wifi and SIM card Wifi, 12V DC power capability, advanced GPS tracking (anchor alarm?), and remote management, all packed into a durable metal enclosure. The downsides of the BR1 are that you cannot bond the 2 sims for better throughput where the cell data speeds were not great; and the BR1 has a 400mb backplane, not gigabit speeds. We decided we could live with this given we don’t get great throughput from shore based Wifi anyway and we don’t chew up out Google Fi Wifi with movie downloads, etc that need lots of streaming bandwidth. We tend to download movies offline onto my tablet using Netflix, Youtube or Amazon offline functionality, when we are hooked up to free shore Wifi. We found a great little Android/iPhone application called “PlayOn Cloud” that allows us to copy movies and shows off Netflix, Youtube, Amazon etc and get a hard copy to load up onto our NAS so we can watch them using the Plex application on our NAS without internet.
I’ve now purchased the Peplink Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2I and connected it to a separate MikroTik Shore Extender and the Poynting 5 in 1 Antenna, all running at home for the time being. I have plugged in a Google Fi SIM, which works all over the world (provided Google don’t disconnect our service because we are out of the USA too often), and maybe use the extra slot for local SIM cards if this makes sense in a particular country. Our Pepwave router will provide access over Wifi throughout the boat as well as Cat5 connections to TVs, our Synergy DS118 Network Attached Storage and the SONOS system, via an attached network switch (which I have yet to buy).
Wifi Shore Extender
The choice of a Wifi Shore Extender was a bit more difficult. Badboy was out so I started looking at the Wave Rogue Pro at $633 US. This seemed like an ideal solution except for the pricetag. I had a look at Ubiquiti airMAX Bullet M Range at Simon’s suggestion, but the problem here is that Bullet has either a 2.4Ghz model or a 5Ghz model that you need to choose between, rather than one unit that does both.
Steve from Seabits uses the MikroTik solution at around $100. It was also encouraging to see someone else on the Internet pointing out that the Rogue uses the MikroTik solution under the covers. The downside of the MikroTik is that its supposedly complicated to set up; but I managed it using the Seabits Step by Step instructions.
The next step was to find a solution to give me better wifi when there was a weak signal from cell towers. This came down to using either a cell amplifier or an external antenna or both. The WeBoost Drive Reach cellular amplifier was the unit that most seemed to use and recommend. This was around $500 and you needed to leave it off most of the time, only turning it on in remote situations. Leaving it on when there is good signal was detrimental and therefore I decided that spending $500 on something that could turn out to be a pain in the rectum was not where I wanted to go. So that meant using an external LTE antenna on the spreaders to give me the extra range that we require. The Poynting Omni 0402 was the gold standard but at $400 US I kept digging. Seabits used a Wilson Antenna at $200, but Steve did a review of the Poynting Omni 400 at $209, which he rated higher than the more expensive 0402 unit. $200 seems a reasonable amount of money to get better internet access when hopping along the coast or nearing a new country.
To round out the solution I will need a Gigabit network switch, to allow good streaming of Movies from the NAS to the TVs. Could go with one from Trendnet that Seabits recommend, but this is pretty expensive and I will do a bit more research first. I went with a Synergy DS118 Network Attached Storage solution, with a 6TB NAS Drive, as the data I will store on it (Movies and Music mainly) is not precious enough to justify the additional expense of $100 at a time redundant drives. I also bought a Reolink Lumus camera as they don’t require a base station and work over Wifi direct to a tablet or phone and this looks good enough for as a backing camera, doubling uo as a security camera.
After getting a lot of feedback from you lot; I’ve gone ahead and ordered all the above components (except for a network switch) and have built out my solution on land. And I’ve got to say everything is pretty good and well integrated at the moment. I will then pack them up in our luggage and cart them off to France, where we can install them on our new boat. This was a fun little project to keep me amused and get me ahead of the game.
In buying our new Saba 50, there are lots of decisions to make. We used the configuration of our old Lagoon 421, La Mischief as a baseline, trying to make sure we weren’t going backwards on any items and by and large we have managed to do this.
The big exception is the batteries. In the end it just didn’t make sense to go straight to Lithiums given that Fountaine Pajot don’t offer this as an option and this meant throwing out a perfectly good set of AGMs (600AH). Instead we are purchasing one additional AGM to bring the house bank up to 750AH (12V) and hopefully with 2000 watts of solar out the back, these batteries will keep their voltage up and the beer cold. We will still provision a Victron Colour Controller and a Victron BMV-712 Smart Monitor to keep a good eye on the state of the batteries, both when we are on the boat and remotely when we are on shore.
Continuing on the power theme, we decided against going Victron Quattro invertor/chargers because of a space issue in the engine room. Instead we will supplement the supplied Victron Multiplus 2000W with a second unit of the same spec; in parallel; to give us enough oomph, together with some redundancy (albeit with some manual reconfiguration). What we lose is the seamless cutover from genset to shorepower and vice versa that the quattros provide, but I think I can live without that. I haven’t been able to find out what else I’m doing without by going down this path; but one of the reasons I’m writing this blog post is to get feedback from people that know a lot more than I do.
A larger cat means we can have a larger dinghy. We wanted something a bit more comfortable – maybe we are getting old. The Saba 50 allows for a 3.8m dinghy, which meant the Highfield Ocean Master 390 was 10cm too long. New Zealand’s OC Dinghy looked interesting but it’s too small and does not offer a centre console. We kept coming back to a Highfield as Uchimata is an agent and Uchimata can get us stuff VAT free. We came down to either a Hypalon Highfield CL380 Deluxe tender (181kg) with a Yamaha 40 HP (97kg); or the Classic CL380 tender (80kg) with FCT console and Yamaha 30HP. Even with the extra weight, we are leaning towards the Deluxe version because its a bit more comfortable and is drier with a self draining floor. Yamaha seems to be the logical choice for an outboard based on the availability of parts around the world.
Coupled with the dinghy decision is choosing the right hydraulic lift platform for the dinghy. We look like we will go with the Tenderlift platform rather than the one that Fountaine Pajot offers, because:
it supports a heavier dinghy. This is even after we found out the FP model supports considerably more weight that its spec says, based on feedback from Quest who have a similar Highfield CL380 Deluxe dinghy with a Evinrude 40HP outboard (we will go a Yamaha 40HP) on the FP Platform.
It has a grab bar that we can use in rough anchorages to steady the dinghy.
It offers the ability to ride up in the dinghy (we saw a video suggesting you need to get out of the dinghy before lifting it with the FP Platform. The video shows that you need to stand on the submerged platform – something that doesn’t thrill me coming back after dinner).
We also suspect it might be better built.
The downsides are the significantly extra pricetag and the fact it will not be factory fitted, meaning another contractor to manage – albeit Robin Marine who we are familiar with from our Lagoon commissioning days in Sables D’Olonne.
Wifi on a boat is very important to us and we wanted something better than the Badboy system on La Mischief. SV Ghost put us onto Glomex’s Webboat 4G LITE COASTAL INTERNET, which is both a Wifi extender a la the Badboy; and a 4G booster, where we can insert a Google Fi SIM and get Internet further out to sea than just with a phone.
One of the most important items is a watermaker. We liked our Dessalator watermaker on La Mischief, but this time we have decided to go with an Aquabase 12V 105l/h Watermaker. They come well recommended from other FP owners; and it is the brand that FP offer as a factory option. However we didn’t like either of the two factory options (the 60l/h unit was too small and the larger unit was only 230V – we like to make water using the solar panels). So we opted for the 105l/h model that Lady Roslyn has and as a company called Uchimata is doing a lot of our aftermarket items and they are an Aquabase reseller and installer, this made sense. We will get the Auto Flush feature as well.
Manoeuvring a much larger cat got us thinking; and I have asked for a quote for an extra set of throttles to be installed on the rear deck to help me back into marina slips. These don’t have to be electronic (expensive) as Lady Roslyn has a second set which are mechanical. Lets see what the quote comes back. I will also pick up and install a Garmin GC100 wireless camera, interfaced to the chart plotter to help with backing into tight places.
For those of you who are wondering what’s happening with regards to the delivery of our new Saba 50, which was due to roll out of the Factory in June, here is the latest update from Multihull Solutions, our Fountaine Pajot agent in Australia….
I hope you have had a good week since my last update. The situation overseas is as follows:
France is still in lock down. They are reviewing the situation and renewing the isolation in fortnightly increments. I have been told they are likely to extend again, following the fortnight they are currently in. They are optimistic the work force will start to come back from the 4th of May. This ties in with the schools in France returning following the Easter Holiday.
The Fountaine Pajot factory is in the Charente-Maritime department of the region Poitou-Charentes, in the north west of France. Romain is in lock down in Quimper in Brittany, further north. The west/north-west of France is the least affected by the COVID-19 virus. The east being worst affected, as it is connected to the rest of mainland Europe. The yard Managers are optimistic that the region is contained and they will be one of the first back to work……. We will have to wait and see?
Please call me or e mail me if you have any questions regarding yourorder.
(Note. I will not have any updates on delivery times until such time that the French Government allows the production lines to start work again)“
With La Mischief sold, its now time to turn our focus onto our new Saba 50 catamaran. With the world in lockdown it’s a little tricky to put hard dates into our project plan, but there is still much planning and decision making to be done.
The search for a name for our new boat goes on, as does our search for the best country to register it in. Australia is out as the boat will be owned in joint names. The USA is an option but I like the idea of a neutral country. We like the Maltese flag but are unsure of putting the ownership of our major asset into a Maltese company, where corruption is a known problem. A lot of the other options – BVIs, Cook Islands, Cayman Islands – still have that annoying Union Jack in the top corner – something that also bugs me about the Aussie flag. The Marshall Islands is an option, especially when you can have “Bikini” as a home port, but the Flag is a bit so so. At the moment, I am leaning towards the Cook Islands as I love the Pacific and Multihulls Solutions, our Fountain Pajot agents are well versed with registering boats there.
The choice of dinghy is also top of mind. We are down to two options, both Highfield. We like the OC Dinghies from New Zealand, but they don’t have a console option.
Our first choice appears to be the Highfield Ocean Master 390 tender (190kg) with Yamaha 40 HP (97kg). This will set us back about $27,000 US. We like its ocean-going capabilities, as we love to go exploring in our dinghy. We also like its false floor that will keep our gear dry. It will mean that we need to go for the more expensive Tenderlift option to hold the extra weight and getting it onto a beach will be more of a challenge.
Our second option is a light grey Highfield Classic CL380 tender (80kg) with FCT console and Yamaha 30HP. This is considerably cheaper at approximately $15,000 US, plus we can save an additional $3,000 in a cheaper, smaller, lighter Tenderlift option.
On the planning side, I went hunting for a good free project planning tool and came up with Wrike. I’ve managed to build out a lot of the tasks and dependencies around two guessimates of when the Factory will open back up (maybe start of June) and when we will get our Saba ex factory (my current guess is end of September). It looks like we will be spending Winter in La Rochelle doing the fitout and then leaving in April next year for the Mediterranean (on the same timetable as La Mischief in 2013).
As well as the gantt chart in Wrike, I also have the following documents and lists in various stages of completion.
Aftermarket specifications in MS Word – 93 items that need quotations from Uchimata (some of which we’ve since removed – eg. Lithium batteries as we will go with the supplied AGM’s until they die).
Test Plans in MS Word for each individual item (didn’t do this for La Mischief and we missed a few things).
An Issue Log in MS Word – there’s always issues!
A Detailed “To Do It Ourselves” List in MS Word – all those things we need to do ourselves when we are on the boat in France.
List of Contents of Boxes Shipped from La Mischief to France – we have packed 68 boxes of stuff (personal effects, line, lifejackets, drogues, etc. etc.). Now know why we need a bigger boat.
MS To Do List for stuff we need to buy in USA and take with us (eg. Rangefinder – old one stopped working).
MS To Do List for stuff we need to buy in France (eg. Dinghy anchor)
MS To Do List of possible boat names.
So as Dee and I sit out the virus in isolation at Dee’s Mums place in Somerset, California, there is enough to keep me occupied. Can’t wait for the world to return to its new normal so we can get off land and back on the water.
Above is an excellent review of the 421 Catamaran from Multihull World. It explains how the Lagoon 421 corrected the problems of the Lagoon 420 that was designed to motor sail rather than sail. To quote the opening paragraph of the article….
“Here is the revised and corrected version of the 420. With its less bulky lines and more hydro-dynamically efficient hulls, the 421 should make a name for itself as one of the most widely-distributed catamarans on the market.“
THIS IS AN ARTICLE I WROTE LAST YEAR THAT I”VE JUST GOT AROUND TO POSTING
After two seasons cruising the Eastern Caribbean aboard La Mischief, our Lagoon 421 catamaran, it was time to look westwards and check out the “other” side of the Caribbean. When we heard about the Ocean Cruising Club’s Suzie Too Rally from some of our cruising friends, we jumped at the chance to explore this part of the world in the company of both old and new friends.
The Suzie Too OCC Rally is the brainchild of Suzanne and David Chappell, who first ran the rally in 2016. Our rally started in November 2018 from Curaçao, visiting Aruba, Colombia, San Blas, Panama, San Andres, Providencia, Roatan, and Utila before finishing in Belize in April.
The first major leg of the rally was the passage from Aruba to Santa Marta in Colombia, which has the reputation of being very challenging. Trade Winds funnel across the top of Colombia and the waves have a very long fetch in which to build up size. Folklore has it as being one of the five worst passages in the world. But having researched and now done it, I believe that the Rally got it right; and you can dramatically improve your chances of a pleasant non-eventful passage by planning to go at the right time of the year – before the Christmas winds kick in; penciling in an optional rest stop at Cabo De La Vela; staying close to the coast to make use of the beneficial land effects; and applying a little patience to wait for a good weather window.
Setting off from Aruba at 5pm with my partner DeAnne, and our crew of Richard and Christy, we ended up having rather benign conditions all the way to Cabo De La Vela (the Cape of the Wind), with an annoying one knot current against us, instead of with us as advertised. Progress was slow but okay, made worse by our overly conservative sail plan, choosing not to deploy our parasailer when conditions were perfect. The folklore had got the better of us!
As we left Cabo De La Vela, we pulled out the light wind gennaker for a few hours until the wind built to 20-25 knots as dusk approached. Down the gennaker came and in went a reef into the mainsail. Around midnight the wind completely died and on went the motors so that we could see the sunrise over the Sierra Nevada mountains, which run down to the sea and are very spectacular. These are the only mountains in the Caribbean where you can see snow on the mountain tops.
The approach to Santa Marta is stunningly spectacular. As we approached the headland, distracted by the snowcapped mountains, the wind picked up and the waves grew in size. We were having a great downwind sail, but we needed to reef. As we were close to Santa Marta, we decided to drop the mainsail instead of going through the rigmarole of reefing. We turned into the wind to lower the main, just as a large wave broke over us thoroughly soaking DeAnne as she stood on the coach roof to help with the sail drop.
Santa Marta Marina was fantastic. Kelly, who manages the office, is awesome. Colombia requires that you use an agent to clear into each port, and Santa Marta Marina provided us with an agent free of charge because of our extended booking. We soon discovered the famous Santa Marta katabatic winds that appear every afternoon and blow around 40kts. A good reason to be tucked up in the marina rather than out at anchor with reputedly dubious holding.
We spent two weeks soaking up the sites, culture and food in Santa Marta, which was celebrating its 500-year anniversary. We hired a car and drove the countryside. We spent two days exploring Tayrona National Park, which has some great walks and beaches. We checked out the Caiman crocodile floating in the river just behind the Park’s most popular swimming beach. Yikes. The marina also arranged three complimentary buses for the rally to go to another part of Tayrona for a wonderful beach day. We spend the night up at Minca in the mountains and did a wonderful motorbike tour to several waterfalls; an old coffee plantation; and Casa Elemente for lunch, complete with giant hammocks, a swimming pool and a view to die for. We went river tubing on Rio Don Diego and visited the bohemian hangout of Palomino.
Rally members organized regular rubbish cleanups to do our bit to try and clean up the ocean; Spanish lessons were organized; we had some OpenCPN sessions in readiness for the San Blas; and Suzanne had organized for the rally to donate heaps of children’s clothes, toys and school equipment to a local charity.
We also took the opportunity to do some provisioning. We found the supermarkets to be very good, with the exception of canned fruit and vegetables that some cruisers wanted for the San Blas, which they had to get in Curaçao beforehand. This was entirely understandable as the fresh produce in Colombia was extensive and of high quality.
But by far and away the best part of Colombia was its super friendly people. They loved helping, even if they couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak any Spanish. Luckily, DeAnne was fluent in Spanish and loved practicing with the locals.
Two weeks was not nearly long enough and before we knew it, we were at the farewell party put on by the Marina and on our way at first light the next morning.
The leg from Santa Marta to Puerto Velero was more like what we had heard about. Very lively with big following seas. We got caught out when a big breaking wave came over the back-starboard steps and into our cockpit, before proceeding through our open door into our saloon. From there we watched in stunned silence as it went down both sets of steps and into each of our hulls before we were able to pull up the floor boards for our bilge pumps to do their thing. We spent the next 30 minutes mopping up and rinsing everything with fresh water. Needless to say, the saloon door was pulled shut to avoid any repeat performance.
Once we got close to the mouth of the Rio Magdalena, we had a new potential problem to contend with. Rio Magdalena is the biggest river in Colombia and spits out large logs, whole trees and all sorts of large debris. As the water color dramatically changed, we were on the lookout for anything big that could ruin our day. On the plus side, the river water seemed to dampen the waves, making for a more comfortable ride.
Turning the corner shortly after passing the river mouth provided further relief from the large seas and we had a wonderful sail down to Puerto Velero, where we anchored for the night, under the watchful eye of our friends from the Colombian Coast Guard, who were escorting us right through Colombia, with their boats patrolling our various anchorages night and day. We felt very honored and safe in their presence.
We were off again at first light and this time the wind was nowhere to be seen. We motor sailed in calm seas, with winds less than 10kts towards the Rosario Islands, instead of heading directly to Cartagena, where you normally have to go first, as the Rally had got special dispensation for a three day stay in these islands, something that is not normally allowed.
The Colombian Islands aren’t to be missed and we were allocated an anchorage off Isla Grande in the Rosario group. We had a pleasant three days, swimming in crystal clear waters and exploring the island with its interesting pathways and beach bars. It felt good to get back to a bit of island life between city stops.
Refreshed and relaxed, we all set off together, proceeding in single file into Cartagena. It was quite a sight with 38 boats following Suzie Too past the forts and into the inner harbor. We felt like Sir Francis Drake as we lay siege to the city. We had a choice of two marinas (Club De Pesca and Club Nautico) or an anchorage that the coast guard had set aside for the Rally, just outside the old city walls. Colombia has a great attitude towards cruisers and is trying really hard to realize the potential that visiting cruisers represent.
Cartagena itself is one of the great cruising destinations in the world. It’s a must see with its old city, its magnificent fort and its wonderful architecture. And it does Christmas incredibly well with its many beautiful churches, its great decorations and a festive atmosphere unlike anywhere else. The Rally celebrated Christmas at Club De Pesca with a Pot Luck lunch and a bit of fun with a Secret Santa session, where fishing lures seemed to be the catch of the day.
New Year’s Eve in Cartagena is also an event not to be missed. Half of Colombia seems to descend on Cartagena for the festivities. To accommodate the crowds, all the restaurants spill out into the streets, and pop-up restaurants appear across the city. The Rally booked various restaurants around the town, before spilling out onto the streets to watch the fireworks at midnight. DeAnne and I then spent several hours walking the streets listening to the music and soaking up the festivities.
Colombia certainly impressed us, and we wished we could have stayed a little longer. But with the New Year upon us and the San Blas Islands calling, it was time to head West.
Ten Tips for Colombia
Try and make it to Cartagena by Christmas to avoid the Christmas Winds.
Christmas in Colombia is awesome. New Year’s Eve in Cartagena is also an experience not to be missed.
Brush up on your Spanish. Not many locals speak English.
Don’t go too shallow. The charts don’t have all the rocks. Locals suggest staying 5nm off the coast on approach to Cartagena.
Visit Colombia’s Islands – Isla Rosario, San Bernardo Group and Isla Fuerte before departing for the San Blas.
Take advantage of the cheap airfares and accommodation to fly to some of Colombia’s amazing inland cities and attractions. Medellin, Bogotá, and the Amazon Jungle are all worth considering.
Hire a Car in Santa Marta. There’s so much to see and do. Do a Motor Bike tour in Minca, go river tubing on Rio Don Diego or Palomino, and visit The Tayrona National Park, staying overnight in small hotels. Or take a four-day hike to the Lost City.
Soak up the culture in Santa Marta and Cartagena. These places are full of history.
Get a 10USD steak dinner at 13 Reses in Santa Marta. Eat out at many fantastic restaurants in Santa Marta and Cartagena.
Look at joining the next Suzie Too OCC Rally, you won’t regret it!