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Cruising Colombia West Coast

By Sue Richards last modified Aug 22, 2011 03:18 PM

Published: 2011-08-22 15:18:44
Countries: Colombia

Report from Wim van den Toorn, SY Thetis

Thetis is a Hunter 430, Dutch flag, with Wim and Annette on board.
www.thetis.ch

Bahia Pinas, Panama
From Las Perlas we headed the 18th of May 2010 for the Bahia Pinas, Panama. The bay is all-right for anchoring near the resort, where sailors are not welcome in their restaurant or bar, but ice, Diesel and canned drinks are available from the jetty, once checked-in on channel 96. We left Bahia Pinas on the 21st of May 2010 for the Bahia Solano, Colombia, and motor-sailed because of changing winds.

Bahia Solano, Colombia
To be clear about it from the beginning: we just loved Colombia, Pacific coast! Avoiding the rocks around Punta Solano (be careful), we anchored off the commercial and military docks in 25 ft. of water at low tide. People in the village of Mutis are extremely friendly, the port captain security oriented and very helpful (we bought a Colombian coastal chart) and one could even check in (and out) without the help of an agent, if one could fill out all forms without help. We used the agent Juan Carlos, of Transbahia, for 60 US dollars, who was called by the port captain to come to his office. There is a free local Guide available from the tourist office and from stores. Once a week there is a boat from Buenaventura with fresh vegetables and Patricia sells excellent smoked tuna (every tuktuk driver knows where to find her private home). There are two nice and many other restaurants. There are many small hardware and some "marine" shops in the village, but don`t fall into the hands of "Motomar"; they are totally incompetent! Diesel fuel and gasoline are available.

This Bahia Solana is really beautiful when it doesn`t rain and certainly worth a visit! In between we visited the La Huina beach (4.5 M up north-west anchored in front of Mr Jerry Ecolodge with a dive sign) and were "adopted" by Diego and his family, who provided lovely company, fresh fish, bread and cleaned the hull. The music from the two or three bars was nice and the dogs were loud. In easy dinghy reach there are some privately owned beaches, the owners always happy to chat with some foreigners!

Ensenada Utria
On the 13th of June Thetis left for the Ensenada Utria and we could partly sail in SW winds. We used the northern entrance and depth remained at 80 feet. The orange markers at your starboard side are not moorings! They mark a area of four corral patches, which are protected and cannot be visited! We anchored in 20 ft. of water at 06-01N / 77-21W, in front of some buildings. "Fabian", from the national park, arrived soon and is very nice to talk to. We paid an entrance fee of 34.000 p.p. and 10.000 per night for the boat. Three separate whales had been sighted in the bay in the previous two weeks. There is a restaurant/bar on the premises. Last year they had two boats visiting the park, while this year we are the first one! The military is omni-present and they really keep a protective eye on you; the knew exactly where we came from and where we are headed. On our third evening we had dinner in the restaurant: twice as expensive (well, relatively spoken) as in Solano and not as good, but we were allowed to bring our own wine! After five days we still hadn't seen any whales, so we decided to leave for Nuqui, some 18 miles further down south, or to Coqui, if swells would be a problem. The park officials had promised us “much fish outside!” and had reported whales on two earlier occasions.

Nuqui
The next morning we left for Nuqui, under sail for the first four hours, then on the engine, on an oily sea. We anchored at 5°42,5 N and 77°25,3 W at mid-low tide in roly conditions, just west of the village, in 10 feet of water at low tide. Soon we were visited by the Coast Guard (Frigate 162), twice (first time they forgot to ask to see the papers) and by local fishermen, pre-selling their catch of the night and extremely interested to have a look on board, which was granted. All were extremely nice, open, interested and we learned about the outcome of last months elections.

Coqui
When we left for Coqui, just eight miles to the west, we motored right into a squall. MaxSea is not very accurate in this region!

Coqui to Bahia Malaga
And then came “The Day of the Whales”! We planned to motor-sail and sail from Coqui to the Bahia Malaga, an overnighter. Just before we really passed the Cabo Corrientes at 11.30 hrs. and were some 300 meters off shore, we saw a humpback between us and the shore, at maybe 80 meters distance in some 30 meters of water. It was a big one, maybe 10-12 meters, and the water was calm. We were so excited that we forgot to get the camera! Just ten minutes later a group of three humpbacks, smaller ones this time (eight or nine meters), were following the same route and we could clearly see them passing by, sometimes waving their tails before diving. As if that was not enough, again ten minutes later a fifth whale of about ten meters long, a lonely one this time, came by, following the rest of the pack. After five days of waiting in the Bahia de Utria we were well compensated for our patience. That afternoon 15.30 hrs., some eight miles off shore in deeper water, Annette suddenly was frightened by a big tail with barnacles coming out of the water, close to the boat, and we saw two really big ones, blowing and circling around one another as we heard a deep, rumbling noise. Love sick? It was totally amazing. Not enough? No, not enough! At 17.00 hrs., we saw one or two humpbacks some two miles away, who in a time span of five minutes, jumped seven times completely out of the water, falling back in a fountain of spray. Enough!

Bahia Malaga
That evening we were anchored in the Bahia Malaga, close to the beach “Chuchero” (3°56.2 N and 77°19.3 W, 15 ft. at low tide) and the next morning received permission from the Naval Base (channel 71) on the other side of the bay to come and visit their supermarket. When we announced that we were ready, that afternoon, they even sent us a lancia (with armed guards) to bring us to the naval base jetty and back, while a car was organized to bring us to the supermarket, which is higher up on their premises: what a service!

Isla Gorgona
On Monday morning we said goodbye to the base people and were on our way to the Isla Gorgona. At 11.30 hrs. two humpback whales at some 80 meters from the boat, but not as spectacular as last week. The wind became SWW and we had a very nice sail in the afternoon, the evening and first part of the night. The Hydrovane wind steering functions beautifully.

Early morning we reached the Isla Gorgona and there were whales to be seen, further away. We spent two days at the (expensive) anchorage, opposite the restaurant. We anchored close to the northern mooring. The restaurant was good, the weather unstable and in the distance we saw many whales.

Tumaco
When we left for Tumaco we had winds and current against us and progress was very slow, even with the engine at 2.000 rpm we made just two knots, which later improved somewhat. We saw many whales in the distance, maybe some twenty during the day. While approaching Tumaco we tried to contact the Guarda Costas on the VHF, which proved to be difficult. Only when we were already in the channel, we had some confusing messages from them, but continued our way in. The channel is easy. We anchored in front of the naval base, close to the green marker, and went to the jetty to ask where the port captain is. His office is at the same naval base and he proved to be very helpful and even introduced us to the naval base commander, who allowed us to use his jetty for our dinghy. Very helpful! The military people were marvelous during our stay and their I.T people even fixed my Windows Vista, which had gone beserk. The guards on the jetty operate on VHF channel 71 and we always called them before going there. The first agent we contacted to arrange a Zarpe for us wanted three hundred dollars (!) and in the end the Port Captain was instrumental in us finding one (Servipac) who did the job for fifty! There are quite some hardware and "marine-" stores in town and we managed to buy a new propeller for our Suzuki from stock! Holland and Germany reached the semifinals of the soccer world champion ship and Holland then the finals to play and loose (rightly so) against Spain. Annette found a good massage salon.

To Bahia Caraquez
Then Thetis was off! The three day-three nights-trip tp the Bahia Caraquez was not an easy one, although we partly sailed beautifully, but the winds and currents were against us and the seas were confused and the main outhaul sheet broke again! We saw whales every day, but further away, which Annette likes, but I like to see them closer up! The Equadorian coast is much different from the Colombian one: there are roads parallel to the coast, with many villages which are lighting up the night. In Colombia there are just a few inroads to the coast, which is mainly dark at night. The equator was crossed under sail on the 15th at 16.00 hrs.! On the 16th we arrived in the middle of the night in the Caraquez “waiting room” and were picked up by the pilot at 06.30 hrs. to be guided over the difficult shallows.

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