So for 18 months since we left Florida I knew that we would end up heading west from the Caribbean and that meant the dreaded passage between Aruba and Colombia. It has been legendary just how rough this passage could be. It is said that while circumnavigating on the “barefoot route” following the trade winds west to east that there are 5 rough passages and this is one of them. The reason for this is compression. You see, as the wind and waves move freely through the Caribbean they build in speed and height since there is nothing to stop them. When they get near Columbia, the winds get squeezed by an 18,000-foot tall mountain range called the Sierra Nevada. This causes an area listed in the pilot charts of huge confused seas of 3-5 meters in height (9-15 feet), and with short intervals, it can be alarming to those who haven’t navigated those conditions before. Now picture me having this info in my head for months and when the Aruba departure date was nearing I was studying the weather 10 times a day making sure we left with the best forecast we could. Live-a-boards have the benefit of being on the boat and leaving when it’s the right time. We have to sit in our offices and look for a weather window and then buy tickets to fly in and spend a day prepping the boat and hoping that the weather window will hold.
And they’re off
As we left Aruba in the early morning the wind was honking and my fear was replaced with excitement. After all, if we wanted an easier lifestyle we could buy a house on a golf course but that isn’t us. The trip was 280 Nautical Miles. During the first 12 hours the conditions were so good with about 13-18 knots of wind and 7-9 foot seas dead astern with an 8 second interval. No biggie. The boat is made for this and we were moving good. By nightfall we were within 20 miles of the Colombian coast and although we were getting closer to the “rough patch” the coastline was comforting. Keep in mind there is no marina to stop at until you get to Santa Marta another 150 miles away.
Ship traffic in this part of the world is heavy. We were 300 NM from the Panama Canal and there is plenty of traffic along the South American coast. Since the weather was turning out good the only thing to worry about was being run down. Sounds scary but rarely a problem since both the ships and us can see each other in the dark due to modern electronics. Around 5 PM a large freighter 700 feet long came up behind us. We shifted our course SW to make our intentions clear. 10 minutes later we looked behind us and the ship had shifted SW and was bearing right for us. So…we shifted our course NW assuming he was heading toward Columbia. Sure enough we look back 10 minutes later and he shifted right with us and was bearing down. Now it seemed strange. Keep in mind I am talking about big course changes not little veering changes. He was turning that big ship 60 degrees to follow us. I didn’t call him on the radio but I was thinking this would be the sailboat version of the 70’s movie called Duel with the tanker truck in the desert. After a few more of these moves and me hiding my concern from our crew they finally slowed to almost a stop and we high tailed it toward the coast assuming he wouldn’t follow us in shallower water. He kept making those turns until dark. That was the last we saw of him. We called him Crazy Ivan after the evasive turning moves the Russians made in the submarines in the movie Hunt for Red October.
We got this
We reefed the main at sunset so we wouldn’t be caught in a squall with too much sail up at night. The waves stayed steady all night and the wind actually slowed. By 6 AM it was clear that we wouldn’t be seeing the dreaded awful conditions and everyone on the boat relaxed. Santa Marta would come into view by late afternoon.
Did I say compression zone….
When we turned the last corner and aimed for Santa Marta the winds picked up and were gusting to25- 35 knots. That is fast. We were sailing on a broad reach and the boat was sailing at 12-15 knots consistent. I didn’t think it would get stronger and you could see the cranes in the harbor of Santa Marta in front of us so we just left full sail up and raced like a Hobie Cat for the finish. What a thrilling end to a trip with so much anticipation.
Below is the link to the video of this adventure. We had some great crew come along as well!