Ships don’t lie…Aruba to Colombia

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Fear mongering

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.

Crazy Ivan

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!


10 Responses

  1. Lindsay Smith

    We didn’t even know you were nervous about that freighter! What an amazing trip! Tyler and I loved coming and being crew and look forward to the next passage we can attend. Love you both!

    • happytogether

      Hi Lindsay,
      I can’t scare the crew with what I am thinking at all times:) You guys are on deck for the next passage for sure! Love Dad

  2. Murray Busch

    Just watched your youtube episode 24 and was just wondering how you obtain access to Windytv while sailing. Do you have internet access as I see you have the dish on your boat and if you do what is the system you have. I guess you may have already covered this in one of you videos and if so which one, I’m up to 24 but haven’t seen everyone. The reason I’m interested in this is because I’m picking up a Lagoon 42 in August this year from France.

    • happytogether

      Hi Murray, Congrats on the lagoon 42. We toured that boat in Annapolis and it was the biggest 42 we have ever seen. We have another friend with one on order as well. We have the KVH system which is high speed internet at .50 per megabyte. It sounds cheap but as I get carried away with surfing the web I burn up the megs pretty quick. We need the internet at sea since we both still work so its not an option. Emails can be sent without much concern since the are so small but the browsing takes up the space. Its currently 4 AM and I am on watch between Colombia and Panama and decided to check my website comments so here I go again burning internet:) Email me with any questions

  3. Manson & Cindy - Cat's Meow

    Hey guys. We will be at the Miami show on the 18th and 19th (Saturday and Sunday). Unfortunately we will miss the Leopard shindig on Friday night. 🙁 We will probably stop by the Leopard area when we first get there Saturday – around 10:00? We’d love to meet you. If you send me a private email I’ll send you my number – or we can just leave it to chance. Up to you. 🙂


    • happytogether

      Hi Manson, We will be there saturday morning. Text me when you get near the leopard booth. Look forward to it. I am sending you my cell via email. Randy

  4. Ken Hollis

    I was out in Mohave desert for awhile with a bad case of gout and a back that was out. Some times o don’t get notified of your videos. I loved this one, I felt the excitement, and how so wonderful to have family with you. As You and I both know Family is so important. To have your daughter and her fiancée to make this crossing is just the coolest. Hearing Cat Stephens ( morning has broken) took me back to 17. I am almost 63, and your videos of your adventures make me feel like I am 17. I am so happy for you and your family to have and share this wonderful time. I feel like your a friend sending me your adventure. I will be following you as you go on your adventures. Thank you for sharing. I bought a new c class I plan on exploring the U S in and I want to learn how to make these videos with the correct cameras and what ever so my children can follow me on my adventure. Thanks for inspiring me. Ken Hollis

    • happytogether

      HI Ken, Hope you are feeling better. Thanks for your nice note about the family. We are in agreement there. I am planning on taking the other two kids with us through the Panama canal next month so lots of family time coming. Glad you liked the music. I show my age with that stuff but I know guys like you love it! I am happy to share any advise on cameras and videos anytime. Thanks for watching and your comments make it worthwhile to produce! Randy

  5. Mona

    I live in New York and I visit Aruba every year
    Keep having fun guys , live your life and do your dance !

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