[Public-List] The final leg; Trinidad to Cartagena Colombia.

Kirk Little kirkalittle at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 3 16:28:47 PST 2012

Trinidad to Cartagena Colombia report; Final leg of the circumnavigation.

On Monday November 19th I cleared out with customs and immigration in Trinidad shortly after saying goodbyes to a few good friends I have been sailing with and bumping into since Madagascar, possibly never to see again.  After giving up on waiting for a few rain storms to pass  I just set off a few hours before sunset for a 4 mile trip to Scotland Bay located about a mile before the pass leading out to open water hoping to get a good nights rest and an early start the following morning.  I still got nailed with some heavy wind, rain and terrible visibility but this was all more or less in protected water and under motor so no drama yet.   Scotland bay is a nice protected anchorage but there were strange wind and currents for such a small bay and the unfamiliar noises actually kept me up a good part of the night.  I was able to get everything stowed nicely and the anchor up by 8AM heading out to sea after a long grueling 6 week marathon living on Salsa in the marina, on land, much like a tree house, with plenty of repairs, maintenance, and a few upgrades/modifications.  I was truely looking forward to this passage.

The first day was a very nice and fast sail under full genoa on a beam reach making over 6kts with the current helping a bit. It was also a bit hands-on sailing and trimming as the wind speed and direction were a little flukey this close to land so I was happy to be getting an early start as there would be no sleeping under these conditions if I wanted to make reasonable speeds.  I was also heading further offshore to the north than necessary to make some distance form the coast, knowing that there had been a few recent problems with Venezuelan pirates and armed robberies/boardings  in the area.  Just before dark I turned a little more to the west and down wind so that I could sail wing and wing with 2 reefs in the main making things easier on the boat and me hoping to get some rest, and I think the sails stayed just like that for next 3 or 4 days.   Back in Trinidad there were squalls passing through and even as I headed offshore I could see a few around but somehow they all seemed to miss me and things didn't change hardly at all with winds from 8 to 15kts out of the Eastern quadrant untill day 5, except for the water slowly turning from the brown coastal colors to green and then the deep blue.  Here is a one minute video from the first half of the trip; 


Day 5, 7AM,  13.10N, 68.54W, heading 277, Speed 5.2kts 477nautical miles under the keel and 507nm to go, nearly half way.  With the winds now 15 to 20kts and coming directly from my stern, I was down to the third reef in the main and still making nice progress with at least 1/2kts of current.  By 5PM I was making 6kts and could see squalls filling in the horizon and decided to drop the mainsail completely for the night so I could rest easier.  

Sunday Nov 25th Day 6, 7AM 13.15N, 71.02W, heading 267, 4.7kts on the gps, about 4kts over the water, gained 125 miles in the last 24 hours, winds had built to 25kts and I was down to just a very small piece of jib poled out.  Things got rougher throughout the day, mostly from the passing squalls but the average wind speed was on the rise as well.  I didn't worry much as my forecast was for 25kts today moderating to 20kts for the next two days (that forecast was like a bad joke).  In Salsa, even in these moderate conditions you can still usually keep the forward hatch open as long as your running straight down wind, the odds of a breaking wave that far forward on the boat is rare but the odds eventually caught up with me when a big roar and then bang followed by a quite a flood of water coming in the forward hatch.  I was semi-prepared for this and had the sail cover laid out in way so that it would catch most of the water and it actually worked surprisingly well, the water just hit the water-proof sail cover and rolled further in onto the salon floor and into the bilge, not nice really but nothing important got wet so I was happy enough.  Except that conditions were still building and this meant I had to close the hatch now, it was going to get even hotter inside the boat.  After that I don't think I ever turned off the fan, even after it eventually died on me I pulled out the spare (which is running right now as I write this in Cartagena!).   By 430PM boat speed was up to 5.7kts and I was running through a squall and only wrote in the log "in squall, $h!#x weather" .  

By 7PM the winds were around 30+kts, and I was laying in my bunk reading a book when I heard another wave rolling over the boat, in spite of what was going on outside it seemed very serene inside of Salsa.  I wondered if I should be doing something.  I looked at the compass and I was on course.  I turned on the Radar and saw the huge black veil covering nearly everything within 6 miles all around me.  I looked at the GPS and I was making 5kts.  I didn't have more than a postage stamp of sail up to take down, so I went back to my book, thinking how lucky I was not to have any wind instrumentation to tell me exactly what it was blowing outside, my poor bimini and dodger didn't look so happy.  I suppose after 4 days of basically perfect conditions it was time for the weather to give me some grief.  

In addition to the heavy weather in the middle of the night and very much by chance and luck I spotted my first fishing boat for days.  Very large, lots of lights (but still I couldn't make out any navigation lights) and not transmitting AIS either.  Normally I would have  picked this up on the Furuno Radar but I've stopped using that for collision avoidance ages ago since the alarm and watchman mode does not work and Furuno wouldn't (more like couldn't) repair it even though it was under warranty when I first contacted them.  More on that under my equipment review section of the website.  So I spot this large fishing boat a few miles off and appears to be on a collision course.  I couldn't slow down not having any sails up, I couldn't quite make out which direction to turn to increase our distance and since he wouldn't answer my calls over the radio in both English and Spanish nor did he seem to notice my spotlight, the only option that made sense to me at the time was to put up a little jib and increase speed which worked even though it was a bit hairy and he eventually passed just behind me close enough to hear and smell his engines.   I curse Furuno every time I end up in one of these situations after spending a disgusting amount of money buying, installing, repairing, upgrading, (and eventually replacing) the radar and always at a cost to me that should have been under warranty, and the bottom line, it still doesn't work  like it should, in fact best I can tell, none of the Furuno radars have consistently working alarms or watchman zone settings.  I also often noticed several hits a month directed to my website from people searching google with the keywords "Furuno, Alarm, not working"   go figure, and sorry for the mid-passage-report rant.  

On the 26th winds were a steady 35kts gusting higher even though the forecast was for 25kts for the next 2 days, I hadn't given up hope for moderating conditions but I should have.  At 4pm I estimated the wind to be gusting over 40kts, I had no sail up at all, and I even took down the bimini and opened the windows in the dodger to reduce windage, still averaging over 4.2kts and I started trailing a long warp of heavy line.  I probably didn't have to go through all these extremes but I could see the windvane was working very hard when the boat was surfing down the waves somtimes at over 10kts just from the swell.  Prior to dropping the Bimini and stringing warps the boat was not running a straight line and causing more waves to break over the transom than absolutely necessary.  I began to get nervous at this point.  The wind alone was not the concern.  My pilot chart was showing that I could get into a counter-current at any time now, my sailing guides said not to attempt this passage in winds or forecasts greater  than 30kts, and I could easily imagine the how these currently manageable waves would turn very ugly with the affect of a little current running against the wind.  

Video just after things began to moderate but still quite rough; http://s192.photobucket.com/albums/z110/kirkalittle/VIDEOS/Passage%20Trinidad%20to%20Cartagena%20Colombia/?action=view&current=PB270003.mp4

Nov 27th day 8,  11.50N, 074.22W, 4.5kts,  after winds around 40kts most of the night it was starting to moderate to 25-30kts, luckily the current never turned on me and I even put up a tiny tiny piece of jib again but left the warp out and bimini down.  Seas were 3-4m (10 to 13ft), still rough, but easing noticeably, and my spirits were really picking up with only 126 miles to go (one day!) to Cartagena. This last night during my approach I would not get any sleep at all.  It turns out that the ships waiting to enter Cartagena do not anchor so they drift in this area until they are getting close to land, then they motor up wind a few miles and start drifting all over again.  At one point I had 6 ships all within 5 miles of me never knowing when they are going to start motoring or keep drifting, something like an obstacle course and with the rough seas most of them I could only see on the AIS, one of the best investments I made regarding equipment.  Even though things seemed to be moderating by morning the wind came back up to 35kts sustained again and this time on the beam now that I had turned south to approach Cartagena, the wind was really howling through the rigging and the waves smacking me on the beam with every thing closed and locked down tight in what I call 'full submarine mode' I wrote in my log "Feel like I'm just waiting for something to break" but nothing ever did and by sunrise at 7am I was only 15 miles from the harbor and mostly just tired and feeling beat up.  Over the next few hours during my approach the wind got lighter and lighter down to around 10kts, I had the full genoa out again for the first time since the day I left.  

Overall the trip was 950 nautical miles, and took 8 days plus 3 hours averaging 4.9kts.

On November 27th 2012 around 10AM at 10.23.386N, 075.34.244W I started my motor just before crossing through the Boca Grande small craft channel entering the harbor in Cartagena Colombia.  Just over four and a half years since I departed the U.S.A in March 2008 and almost exactly 4 years since I departed Colombia in December 2008, Salsa and I had crossed my old path and COMPLETED the CIRCUMNAVIGATION.   

Kirk Little, Alberg 30 #504, Salsa, Cartagena, Colombia.  


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