UPDATED CRUISING GUIDE FOR COAST OF COLOMBIA
Part One: Anchorages from
Bonaire to Cabo de la Vela
by Lourae and Randy Kenoffel
We, Lourae and Randy Kenoffel on Pizazz, are pleased to provide this "guide", a collection of our personal experiences, to fill in the blanks between Bonaire and Panama. If you are going east from Panama, just reverse the sequence. Please refer to Doyle and Fisher's Guide to Venezuela & Bonaire, as well as the new (March 2006) Cruising Guide to the ABC Islands by Waterson/van der Reijden; and refer to Zydler's Guide to Panama.
The information that follows is our personal opinion only. We provide the essentials of cruising; that means "where to find what you need when you are in new places". The information is sorted by category and we will give you data by location.
Pizazz, a Beneteau 500, has day-sailed along the Colombia coast four times: twice going west (in November 1997 and October 2000) and twice doing the impossible by going east (in early May 1999 and October 2005). Four trips have given us experience BUT we do not claim to be experts. Some people say "you shouldn't stop along that coast", including some guides that say your chances of survival aren't good. However, we believe there are more risks off-shore to your boat or your crew. This guide describes safe anchorages to rest and enjoy, wait for weather, and make repairs, if needed. You will see some beautiful spots along the coast and meet some very friendly people, or you can by-pass all the wonderful anchorages and go direct to Cartagena or the San Blas Islands. You make your choice.
Notes of Caution (a.k.a. 'CYA')
All GPS readings vary slightly depending upon your equipment and selective availability of satellites, as well as input error. The GPS waypoints given are listed in degrees and minutes with hundredths of minutes (not seconds). These are waypoints for places to head towards or near anchor spots; they are not designed for you to connect-the-dots (do not go from waypoint to waypoint without checking your charts). People, USE YOUR CHARTS AND USE YOUR EYES!
Here are a few important factors to remember. One, be realistic and do not set a schedule that you cannot meet. Second, watch for the right weather windows (see WEATHER section below). Third, PREPARE YOUR BOAT AND YOURSELF for downwind sailing in heavy seas - tacking downwind is easier on the rig; it helps prevent accidental gybes, broken booms and poles; and is often faster and more comfortable. Be careful. Going east will be primarily a motor sail.
Weather (the Most Important Issue)
The key to cruising the Colombia coast safely and comfortably is weather. This is especially important if you plan an off-shore passage but is also important for coastal cruising.
The entire Caribbean has two seasons: Wet Season is June through November; Dry Season is December through May. If you travel in the months between the seasons - late March through early June or late September through November - you are likely to have calmer conditions. Our four passages have been completed during the so-called "change of seasons".
Generally, the farther south you go, the lighter the winds. These 400 miles between Aruba and Cartagena are known for the worst weather conditions in the Caribbean and among the top five worst passages around the world. Over the years, sea captains have learned that this Colombia coast is prone to strong winds and abnormally large waves. Look at the Pilot charts for each month and you will easily see the few times when the conditions are calmer. So plan ahead and watch for calm predictions; and, always add a minimum of five knots to any forecasted weather.
The "weather gurus" almost always say to stay at least 200 miles off-shore (they base this not on weather but upon a fear of the coast). We have found that the conditions off-shore can be bad, resulting in stories of boats getting pooped, having torn sails and scared crews. By staying close to shore (within five to ten miles, or closer) you may experience some land effect on the weather, often beneficial for your cruising; at times it is possible to use the currents and counter-currents; and, as mentioned above, you can always stop for needed rest or repairs (not an option on an off-shore passage).
Here is a list of various anchorages along this route - all are pleasant, some are excellent, others are just a rest stop. Check your pilot charts for currents. You will experience about a 1+ knot west-flowing current until you get to the Colombia coast. At times, you may see 1/2 knot east-flowing current along the coast to Cartagena (great for those heading east). Beyond Cartagena, depending upon the time of year, there can be a slight west-flowing current but most times it is an east-flowing current.
There is some great fishing along the entire route, so put your lines out.
When at anchor, use your anchor light.
You cannot anchor in Bonaire, as the entire island is a marine park. Respect their guidelines and save the reefs. Moorings are available for rent; contact Harbour Village Marina on VHF 17. The moorings are "first-come, first-served". Make reservations if you plan to stay in the marina, particularly during the busy season of August through October.
The trip between Bonaire and Curaçao (approximately 35 miles) can be a nice downwind sail going west or a good beat to windward going east. Like Bonaire, the Curaçao coast is very deep close to shore. You can sail close to the southern tip or stop for a visit at Klein Curaçao.
The primary "cruiser" anchorage is in Spanish Water, which is a large, almost land-locked, lagoon. To enter Spanish Water, approaching from the southeast, stay close to the beach (estimated position 12.03.50N & 068.51.00W) which is still 90 feet deep and you will easily see the shallow reef edge to the northwest; then zigzag through the channel. This channel is not lit or marked so you must arrive in good light and well before sundown.
When you are ready to depart, take a sail along Curaçao's west coast; the water is deep close-in, the current is favorable, and there's great sightseeing - interesting cliffs, big fancy homes, and pretty beaches.
We have gone to Santa Kruz Baai at 12.18.55N & 069.08.77W, which is about 25 miles northwest of Spanish Water, an easy day-sail. You anchor in 10 to 12 feet of sand and coral at the mouth of the bay (avoid coral patches); it's a great area for snorkeling along the cliffs and an easy place to depart from in the dark. This anchorage provides protection only from the east so be careful using this spot when there is a chance of wind reversals.
Aruba is now only 45 miles away, with wind and current behind you.
There are also several other areas on Curaçao's northwest coast that are pleasant stops, including Santa Marta (unsurveyed on the chart but 11 feet deep at entrance and mostly 10 feet or more on into the bay; a very nice and interesting place, the dive shop people are great and offer good food at their restaurant). Knip Baai and Westpunt are two other potential anchorages.
The island of Curaçao runs southeast to northwest with wind and current running primarily northwest. Those coming from Aruba should head for the northwest point of the island, spend a night or two or more before beating against the wind and current to get to Spanish Water.
Another note for those going east: go around the north end of Aruba. This may not sound right, but you will spend less time bucking headwinds and current than you will if you motor or sail along the lee side of Aruba before trying for Curaçao.
There are several anchorages along the lee coast. Just like Curaçao, the island of Aruba runs southeast to northwest with strong northwest-flowing current. The island also generates its own wind (the trade winds get heated by the land) so prepare for stronger winds the farther northwest up the coast.
The first anchorage at the southeast end is Rogers Beach, just south of the refinery in Sint Nicolas Baai. Enter between the buoys at 12.25.34N & 069.53.96W (BEWARE! GREEN buoy is on STARBOARD), head 090 magnetic to the next green buoy at 12.25.38N & 069.53.51W, then head 115 magnetic to anchor wherever you wish in 10 to 12 feet in sand and grass. This can be a little rolly in southeast winds and eerie at night with the lights and flames of the refinery (but you are upwind of the smoke and smells).
As you sail up this coast, watch for stronger winds coming off-shore.
Oranjestad harbor is well lit after nightfall. An approach waypoint from the southeast is 12.3.50N & 070.02.50W; watch for the red buoys on your right. (If entering the harbor from the northwest, GREEN on STARBOARD). See notes below under CUSTOMS.
After clearing in, go anchor. The airport anchorage is 12 to 16 feet deep either northwest of the runway or into the lagoon south of the runway. There is good holding sand and it is close to downtown, but noisy.
The alternative anchorage is about three miles north of Oranjestad near the high-rise hotels. Go to the unlit white float at 12.34.87N & 070.03.34W; leave the buoy well to your port and head approximately 090 magnetic course-over-ground towards the Marriott Hotel/Condos (the left two buildings along this stretch). Do not let the wind/current set you north. You anchor in 7 to 8 feet in sand and grass. This is away from downtown shopping but has lots of beach sports and access to hotel services - casinos, expensive shops, and expensive restaurants. There is easy access to buses ($2 round trip) to downtown for anything you need. After all this civilization, you are ready for some out-of-way coastal cruising.
Another reminder - refer to the March 2006 Cruising Guide to the ABC Islands for up-to-date information about all of the above mentioned anchorages as well as many others.
We mention this anchorage primarily for those going east. This open roadstead anchorage is located on the northwest side of Venezuela's Peninsula de Paraguana - approximately 30 miles south-southwest of Aruba and 40+ miles southeast of Monjes del Sur. You can anchor as close in as you feel comfortable to get some relief from the west-flowing current and easterly head winds (similar to Cabo de la Vela). It is a good rest stop before heading north to Aruba or east to Curaçao.
MONJES DEL SUR
The next stop is about 53 miles downwind from Aruba. A waypoint just to the northeast of the island is 12.21.75N & 070.52.75W. (For those heading east, a good waypoint to the west of the anchorage is 12.21.65N & 070.55.00W) Charts show the southern two islands as separate; however, the two islands have been joined together by a large rock dam. This "rock" (there is nothing growing on this island) is part of Venezuela, so get your courtesy flag out and call the Guarda Costa on VHF 16 for permission to anchor; "no problem" is the answer. In fact, they will probably contact you (when you are 15 or 20 miles out) to ask you to identify yourself and your intentions.
The anchorage to the left of center is 65+ feet deep facing the rock dam in front of you. There's a huge dock with tires which maybe you can tie to; ask. In 2000 they added a rope (1-1/2 inch 3-strand) between the dock and their center-peninsula headquarters (which has a green light on it and a loud generator). The Navy prefers that you tie to the rope (there is room for about six boats along this rope and we heard about a fishing tournament when there were 36 boats on the rope). It's a very odd tie-up situation but it works as the winds are almost always from the east. If the winds are anywhere from north to west to south, this is an untenable anchorage.
This is a good rest stop; we stayed a few days with fabulous snorkeling all around the "rock" (crowds of barracuda and large lobsters) and it is a wonderful hike to the lighthouse for a fantastic view. The guys stationed here are extremely friendly, polite, and professional and they love to have visitors and to share stories. They will want to see your passports and boat papers for their log book and to serve you a cold drink. This is also a very easy departure point in the dark which you will do as the next leg is 80 miles to the west (or Aruba is over 50 miles east).
See our sketch chart for this anchorage.
A suggestion - take a plant with you to add some green to this rock.
CABO DE LA VELA
The next waypoint is 45 miles to Punta Gallinas at 12.28.80N & 071.40.00W in 50 feet of water about two miles off-shore. It is usually not rough as you are going downwind with favorable current. (But for those going east, this will be your toughest beat into the strong current.) Bahia Honda (another 12 miles from Gallinas - at approximately 12.24.00N & 071.49.00W) is a possible stop but not recommended because there are no charts showing any depths; however in October 2001 several boats stopped and had no problems; and an east-bound vessel stopped here in July 2002 to wait for better weather.
You can possibly stop at the commercial coaling port in Bahia Portete - call the Port Captain on VHF 16 for permission. Enter through the marked channel then anchor to the east of buoy 9A in 12 to 17 feet of water at 12.15.53N & 71.57.19W.
Ideally, you should continue on to Cabo de la Vela to a waypoint 12.14.00N & 072.10.00W to view the anchorage. There is a small island to go around, or it is 15 feet deep between coast and island, to get to an anchor waypoint of 12.12.27N & 072.10.69W in 20 feet with good holding in sand. This is an open bay with plenty of wind (Cabo de la Vela means Cape Sail) but you are out of the swell and it is a good comfortable anchorage even with the wind blowing strong from the east.
If the winds are strong from the southeast, you will get wind chop and you might want to move 1.5 miles to the southeast, closer to the village (although the holding is only fair to poor). Also, if the winds are from the north or west or south, this anchorage will be untenable.
No one will bother you, although fishermen will come by to stare at your big sailboat. And, the fishermen do put out nets at night. You may even see some tourists hiking to the light tower or around the wind generators; and there may be sheep searching for shrubs.
Relax and rest up as the next leg is 120 miles. We left in the late afternoon and arrived at the next anchorage before noon the next day.
Next month, Part Two: Anchorages from Five Bays to San Blas.
Pizazz's updated Cruising Guide for the Coast of Colombia is now available on the Caribbean Compass website www.caribbeancompass.com. Or anyone can write to Pizazz at [email protected] for Lourae and Randy to send it to you; the files are big, so you must have a land-based e-mail address to get all of the information.
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