Saturday, February 2, 2008

Assume Nothing, Trust No One and Always Get It in Writing

Our mast’s boom attachment point weld had been developing a crack that had progressed and so we sought a welder in Cartagena. Our agent, David, (everyone needs an agent to check in), made arrangements for a welder. He came, looked it over, gave us a price of $40 in Spanish. Angie repeated it back to him and wrote it down. The day of, David informs us that our welder could not make it and that “Torres” would do the job for the same price. Torres was who we wanted in the first place. We were greeted at the dock by a “Torres”, his brother in law, his father, and a couple of others. Gees, just to weld a couple of spots. They were all smiles and ready to get started when I had that “assume nothing, trust no one, and always get it in writing moment come over me”. Angie confirmed the price in the office and this time had him write it down. She called the original welder who changed his tune. Suddenly the $45 welding quote was a $450 family celebration. Just think, they were going to reap a month’s wages in less than 2 hours! Alto!!! Well no problem we have to go get the equipment anyway and will be back this afternoon.

Well this sucks. Now that our BS antennas were up, Angie marched up to the office to learn these guys were not part of the marina and were not the “Torres” we had heard of but some distant cousin. Since this was an all day fiasco, we ended up negotiating with the yard and used their welder. The welder stated it would take no more than 2 hours but they insisted we pay for 3, plus “equipment transport” of driving the arc welder a 100 yards to the dock, blah blah blah. So for $150 they did the job. For an extra $10 in the welders pocket, I got him to rework three rounded out bolt holes connecting the vang and boom. Now I’m starting to get the hang of this Latin thing. Slip ‘em a little extra and the world is yours. As for David our agent, I had a lesser opinion of him after that. We should have known when he was always “Johnny on the spot” and making courtesy phone calls on our behalf. We’d go to the marina office and he was there, at the grocery store and hey look it’s David, then a few hours later on the sidewalk and there he is again always checking to make sure all was set for tomorrow.

The checks and balance of it all lies with the marina manager John who assembles and EDITS the cruisers guide for services. Most all cruisers coming to Cartagena stay at Club Nautica and in turn get a copy. If someone has a problem and it’s not resolved, they get “black listed” in the pamphlet and they are out of work. Those who have a good reputation, which is most, work very hard to uphold that honor. Columbians are very resourceful and proud people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Columbian Welcoming Committee

After a few days we sailed with Crystal onto Rodedero Beach just west of Santa Marta, Columbia. Following the Pizazz guide, they recommended we sail between a rocky island just off the point and the point…to save a ½ mile! Approaching under full sail doing almost 10 knots we noted the breaking waves of the rocks next to the island. “Two breaking rocks? But I see three!” We are fast approaching just mere seconds from sailing into the pass when I see waves now swirling over two large boulders in the middle of the channel! “Holy $%**!!!” and thank goodness I’m wearing brown shorts. No way and how am I doing this one! Quickly we swing the boat around, fire up the engine and tack out of there. I honestly have no clue why anyone would suggest a cruising boat try to sail through this cut with hull munching rocks on both sides!! We have Lisa and Yanna of Crystal on board to boot.

In Rodedero beach, high rise apartments and condos surround the sandy bay backed by arid mountains. On shore, we are again greeted by another one-man Columbian welcoming committee for international relations, English-Spanish and French speaking Maurice. His plans are to revamp the ocean side bar off his condo and place a dock for cruisers’ dinghies. Though he has a land concession, the Latin “bureaucracy” is getting a little too greedy. Not willing to pay off the officials, we will see when the bar will open. . Beach-side high rise condos like Maurice’s can be purchased for under $40,000.

Ashore we witnessed a true Colombian resort town devoid of all gringos. The people here love music! Every night groups of locals gather on the beach, along the sidewalk, or on a street corner and just start playing pick-up music. They expect no money and welcome you to just have a seat, kick back and relax to the Latin rhythms. Artisans and street vendors hawking their wares line the beach promenade and streets. Instead of cars, the streets have some taxis and romantic horse drawn carriages. We enjoyed the music with Crystal and purchased some of the local cuisine and artisans souvenirs.

Maurice shared with us that within the last 20 years there was a civil war in the streets. Back then, trucks would come down out of the mountains loaded with bails of marijuana right onto the public beach. Locals would load the US bound ganja boats for tips. “There you go Gringos!” Maurice said they’d shout as Americas’ drug obsession fueled the Columbian underworld. Since those days, Columbia has adapted a “0” tolerance policy. Over the last few years, they have worked very hard to rid themselves of their international reputation as a corrupt, drug dealing, money-laundering, lawless society. We found Columbians to be friendly, proud, industrious people. While the weather was still good we made our way west avoiding yet another near disaster.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The notorious Colombian Coast

Everyone warned us that we were going to get our butts kicked by the Christmas winds. The stretch of ocean off the Colombian coast has its own weather system with a combination of trade winds, a semi-permanent Colombian low, a 2 mile high snow capped mountain and warm ocean water all factoring into the weather. Winds over 50 knots and waves over 25’ are a regular occurrence. Fortunately for all us, the weather gods looked after the two families making the passage. One day, we motored in glassy calm seas that looked like oil. Other days we had a gentle breeze. One of the top 3 worst passages on Earth, yeah right!! Get me the pontoon boat honey, got another passage to make. Our rhumb line was very close a lump of Venezuelan rocks that some cruisers stop over at. The Costa Guardia there e very lonely and so contact any vessel that they see asking them for tons of information ….all in Spanish. Questions such as: “How long is your vessel?”; “What is your flag?”; “How many people on board?”; “Are you carrying weapons?”; “When is your birthday?” etc. etc. Fortunately, another vessel interjected trying to help with the translation. Poor guy ended up getting the 3rd degree on his boat also. “So, who are you?” “Where are you going?”

The only cruising info is a word document by a boat named Pizazz. Now Columbia is one of the safer coasts with people on shore welcoming you to Columbia. Having such a bad international image for so long regarding corruption and drug trafficking, the people are trying very hard to change it. Our first land fall was 5 Bays next to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. At daybreak, the clouds had not cleared yet so we missed one of the coolest sites around, a snow capped mountain right next to shore! Crystal, who was behind us by a few hours, did see it and said it was spectacular. Ashore one of the bays were subsistence housing occupied by a co-op of fishermen and their families. Redaldo befriended us as he does all the arriving boats. We signed his log book and left our boat card. As a regalo (gift) he gave us a fragment of an old clay pot he found near by. This particular area is loaded with historical artifacts of an ancient civilization that once occupied this area some 1000 or more years ago.

What made this area particularly exciting were the infamous wind gusts created by the huge adjacent mountains that would trigger wind to come BLASTING down into the anchorage at nearly 40 knots at random moments. Crystal, who store their dingy on the deck, had to take their dog Henna to pee on shore at night. The dingy, while being lowered into the water, acted like a kite and caught the wind with such force it snapped the line and sent the dingy moving rapidly out to sea. BLAST, BLAST, BLAST goes their air horn at 2:00 a.m. With no dingy, they can’t get their own boat. We jump out of bed thinking we were dragging while Crystal shines the light on their dingy. Marc, in such a hurry, tripped on a line and fell face first, dropping our only spot light into the salt water. Luckily, he caught himself. Marc quickly races to get their dingy, which luckily finds a cove or it would be in Panama. Henna still has to go potty and seeing Marc, jumps into our dingy full bore. Kurt has to grab the dog and pull him out of our dingy. The joys of buddy boating.. we are there to help each other out. They were feeling particularly chagrin as earlier they had run out of fuel and need to siphon off of us.