21 March 2017

Mid Ocean Dives & Pirates (Maybe)

After an incredibly tardy exit process extending over four days, we finally got our zarpe (exit papers for Milly).  We usually manage this process ourselves in about 5-10 minutes but in Columbia the bureaucracy of exiting must be done by an agent which adds yet another layer of officialdom.  Through no fault of the agent, the port authority eventually told him that they were denying our exit because hurricane Otto, long passed, was creating "dangerous" current in the sea.  The explanation was suspicious - Otto was then in the Pacific, we deal with currents all the time and boats in Cartegena, down the coast, were able leave.  Made us wonder: What else was going on in the sea off this Colombian coast?

We left Colombia with mixed feelings.  There is so much to see and experiences to be had there  - we felt we had only touched the surface.  Although we saw much of the north and Caribbean coast, the cities, mountains and Amazon will have to wait until we head to the Pacific.  We were also leaving our friends on five boats who we had cruised and adventured with for more than two months and had played with in Grenada over the long hurricane season.   

Janice hosted, yet again, a good-bye breakfast on Livin’ Life and then a sad farewell at the dock with noise makers and lots of waves and blown kisses.  The group were off to Panama, some to cross to the Pacific and others undecided as to their next move.  One of the difficult things about cruising is saying good-bye without knowing when, or even if, we will meet these kindred spirits again.

Waves, airhorns and blown kisses sent us on our way.  We miss you guys!

Good bye, Santa Marta.  Note, wind is nil.  
On the other hand, we were off to new territory, Belize, to meet our children for Christmas!  We only had joy, fun and more adventure to look forward to.  

Peter noticed on maneuvering out of the slip that our motors did not have much kick in them.  We managed at high r.p.m., an unusual whirring sound and lower than usual speed to motor for the first hour or so of the passage.  When the wind filled in we put up the sails and promptly forgot about the engines for the next day and a half while on a wonderful downwind sail.

And then the wind died.  Apart from the swells, the ocean was calm.  The sails were useless and only luffed and flapped in the waves.  We never like to motor but unless we wanted to drift to Providencia, it was required.  The motors turned on but we hardly moved.  Not good.  In a storm or in a calm, motors are very useful, sometimes essential to safety.

High tech rope around waist - in retrospect, it looks a little loose-, gloves for barnacles and mask and snorkel.  
Only thing for it was to dive on the prop so the brave captain tied a rope around his waist with the other end tied to Milly the diagnosis was that the props were covered with huge barnacles from our stay in dirty Santa Marta.  The props moved more like clubs then propellers.  With a lot of diving and scraping he got the major culprits off.  He got out and I got in for a dip, holding onto the ladder which was bobbing at least 6 ft up and down with the rising swells.  A squall was approaching.  The whole operation was done just in time.  Our first deep sea dip.

Here it comes!

And, here it is
We sailed 948 NM from Santa Marta, Columbia to Placencia, Belize with a three night stop in Providencia, a Columbian island about half way.  The two sails were varied as multi day passages always are - calms, squalls, ships that always seems to be on collision course even in a huge ocean, marooned flying fish.  Peter saw one pod of dolphins.  Otherwise very little fish or birds, sadly.  And worse, lots of plastic flotsam, particularly as we neared Belize.  So disturbing in an otherwise beautiful sea.

First glimpse of Providencia
Morgan's Crack - Captain Morgan of pirate fame

Morgan's head.
And Morgan's head again - I think this is lateral view?
A footbridge joined Providencia to Santa Cantaline, a tiny island where Estoban once had a large estate.  The bridge was being decorated for Christmas with assorted fish shaped from string of coloured light.  Sounds kind of ghastly but fits in the tropics.
Providencia was beautiful - volcanic mountains and authentic town.  Very little development and what was there was tasteful and very modest.  We rented a scooter and did a three hour round trip of the entire island.  We hope to return one day.

Mr. Bush, the customs agent in Providencia, worked out of his wife’s general store.  His desk, piled with papers, books and magazines like I’d never seen before, sat amongst matresses, office desks, women’s clothing, light fixtures, toilet brushes etc. etc. - very square foot of the store was piled, more like a warehouse than a store.  As our business was done, we squeezed between and propped ourselves on items for sale.

You might not be able to see it but a barracuda hung out under Milly maybe to stay out of the sun.  I would check through the emergency hatch to ensure I wasn't going to surprise him/her when going for a dip.
A favourite cafe in Don Olivio's house.

Find the heron

Snowman and Santa in 30 degree weather.

Gorgeous water, great snorkelling and long white beaches.

Cayo Cangrejo.  We snorkelled around it.  Phenomenal water.
When clearing out to set off for Belize, Mr Bush warned us that boats had been approached by fishing boats/pirates off the banks of Nicaragua.  We had read and he reiterated that we should not stop for anyone but the coast guard.  We timed our passage so that we would enter the banks area during daylight.  However, the passage through would take us through the night.  We turned off our AIS transmission which meant that we could not be seen by any ship/boat that had the AIS system.  We also turned off our navigation lights.   After sailing the coast of Brazil and the Guyanas without even considering these precautions, this was a bit off putting. On Peter’s watch, just after dawn, I was awakened when both motors were suddenly turned on.  Peter was being chased by a fishing boat.  We were close enough to see about eight guys whistling and waving at us.  They shouted in Spanish, asking us to stop.  There were several dugout canoes in the water with guys paddling toward us, also shouting and waving.  On two counts we were lucky - perhaps the guys in the canoe meant that the mother ship did not give chase for any length of time and our props were clean.  Peter was able to floor it with good effect while I quickly stashed our electronic gear in hiding places around the boat.  One of the important rules of seamanship is to give aid to other boats on the sea so we felt slightly guilty that we had sped away from those who might have needed help or maybe just wanted to sell us some lobster.  But who knew for sure?  We erred on the side of caution.
The fishermen gave up on chasing Milly as Peter gunned the engines.  We recovered as we gained distance.

Unfortunately, we passed The Bay Islands of Honduras where we had wanted to stop in the dark.  Entering an unknown harbour at night is never wise so we continued on to the southern cays of Belize dodging to cruise enormous cruise ships coming out of the harbour at Roatan.  
First anchorage in Belize at Moho Cay.  Looked like a beautiful lodge once - for sale and abandoned now, sadly.  Shortly after setting anchor, a motor boat zoomed up with three large men, two carrying semi automatic weapons, standing on the bow and midships.  After our fishermen scare, I again scurried to hide electronics.  But the demands were innocent.  We needed to pay our park fee of $5 each.  Unfortunately we only had $7 or a $20 bill.  The officials searched their pockets, guns aside but did not have change.  They said they'd be back and sped off to the abandoned hotel kept safe by a watchman.  They came back without change and accepted $5 - a half price deal from guys with guns.  Nice!