Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world
Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon
Sunday, 23 March, we sailed away from Curacao and had fair winds and
comfortable seas all the way to Cartagena
( 475 miles); a great relief, as this
stretch of sea along the Colombian coast is notorious for strong winds and
steep high waves and has a reputation for the ‘washing machine’
experience! But we made steady progress
through breezy sunny days and brilliant starlit nights and by Thursday
afternoon came the smudge on the horizon which was Colombia. Then we saw the standing ranks of tower
blocks which is modern Cartagena, and finally, lying peacefully in the
afternoon heat, unchanged for 300 years, the old city, the great dome of San
Pedro de Claver and the cathedral tower rising above the ramparts. Following in Drake’s wake, (he sacked the
city in 1586) we entered the bay through
the Bocagrande and (passing forts to left and right) made our way across the
harbour and anchored off the Club Nautico.
fifteen minute walk takes you over the bridge, through an impressive stone gate
into the walled city. One of the first
things you notice is the street cries of vendors, pushing carts, carrying
buckets, ringing bells. The coffee
sellers have a 3 wheel bicycle with coffee grinder, thermoses and little
cups. A ‘tinta’ costs 200 pesos
(5p). The city itself is a gem, -
convents and churches dominate, while the narrow streets are lined with 17th
century houses, - over-hanging balconies spill purple flowers and open doorways
give a glimpse of cool courtyards within.
The streets open on to charming plazas where every shady seat is
occupied as people retreat from the hot sun under the huge old trees. The
prettiest square is the Plaza Bolivar with the grand Palace of the Inquisition
and a beautifully restored building housing the Museo d’Oro where we saw gold
artifacts made hundreds of years ago by the Indians, pre Columbus.
We ‘did’ churches and convents and walked the walls… the strange thing
is that Cartagena
is not a tourist museum; the city lives,
with traffic, shops, bars, crowded buses, …. we rarely saw another
‘gringo’. Colombia being a cheap place to
provision the lockers, we also made trips to the supermarket, a long hot walk,
but overlooked by ‘La Popa’ convent gleaming white on the hilltop, and past the
truly massive San Felipe fort.
departure from Cartagena,
after 10 days, was a bit stressful.
Colombian authorities are paranoid about cocaine, and you had better
know their latest whims about procedures for departing yachts! Learning from others’ errors, we contacted
the Guarda Costas to inform them of our intention to be under way ‘a las dos y
media’. In the event it was an hour
later as it took so long to clean the barnacles off 30 meters of anchor chain - we
have never experienced anything like it.
We eventually set off along the buoyed channel to exit the bay at the
Boca Chica, informing port control of our progress and dodging the big ships
which use this narrow, but deeper entrance.
No one pursued us and we were relieved to slip between two more fine
forts into the open sea.
days later, the little green islands of the San Blas began to appear on the
horizon. These islands lie along the
coast of Panama, 80 miles
from Colon, the port at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. The San
Blas must be among the most tranquil places on earth, - an autonomous region of
where the Kuna Indians have lived for hundreds of years, doggedly maintaining
their traditions, language and way of life.
On the larger islands (ie about half a mile long!) one or two families
live in palm-thatched huts; the men fish
from dug-out canoes, the women stitch their famous ‘molas’ - intricate applique/embroidery, beautifully
worked in strong colours. They make a
living from coconuts, fish and molas and are totally in control of their domain. Gently welcoming, they barter with yachts, offering molas,
lobsters, bananas, avocados for whatever they happen to need: sheets, medicine, fish hooks, tobacco
etc. We anchored amongst a group of tiny
islands called the Hollandes Cays where we got to know Ricardo and
Benedicto. They invited us to a dinner
of rice cooked in coconut milk and lobster, served on the beach in front of
their home at sunset. This time they
wanted to trade for dollars, for they have to finance their children’s
education. A Panamanian has since
explained to me that the Kuna people sell coconuts, fish and molas on the
mainland for dollars. They go to school,
and indeed to university. But he says
they return to the San Blas to live in the old way and very rarely marry
outside. He considers this behaviour to
be stubborn! But any yacht that spends
time here speaks of a deeply peaceful, soothing experience. The people are calm and the sea is as still
as a lake. When the morning sun lights
up a sweet island; tall luscious palms, a beach to die for, the silhouette of a
canoe gliding quietly past, well! you
don’t exactly wish you were somewhere else!
we had to press on to somewhere else, namely the port
of Colon, in order to transit the Panama Canal.
Arriving here just before the Easter weekend, we have been delayed in
getting through the formalities (we could as well have stayed longer in the San
Blas!). But we now have a date, 2
May. We have both already been through
on other people’s boats, as each boat is required to have 4 line-handlers in
addition to the skipper so yachts help each other out by acting as extra crew.
This gives us the chance to see what it is like before taking Tokomaru through. It is an awesome experience going through
these massive locks in a small yacht with some huge container ship a few feet
from your bow or stern. There are three
locks at this end to take ships 30 metres up to the Gatun Lake. A deep channel weaves through this vast lake,
bordered by impenetrable wilderness where you can see crocodiles and
monkeys. It takes about 4 hours to sail
across it and then there are three more locks to take the ships 30 meters down
to the Pacific. If you have nothing
better to do, you can watch it all happening on www.pancanal.com. In fact,
there is a webcam positioned over the
Miraflores Locks (at the Pacific end of the canal) showing continuous live
coverage. Tokomaru 2 will be going
through the Miraflores Locks between 2.30 and 4.30pm on the afternoon of 2 May,
which would be between 8.30 and 10.30 in the evening, in UK. There
will be six of us on deck, including the pilot.
We may be tied to one or two other yachts, we may be on our own, or we
may be tied to a tug boat.
have time at this end of the canal we are stocking up the lockers so that when
we get through the canal we can head off in to the Pacific. Next stop, the Galapagos
you had a nice Easter holiday. Liz and Nick