Cartagena in Colombia 2013



Cartagena, Colombia, 2013

At Seven on a lovely clear morning, Sunday the 8th of September 2013 we upped anchor from the San Blas island of Airdup and headed for the East Colombian Rosario Islands, 155 miles to the East, twenty miles South of Cartagena. We hadn't had a lot of luck on the fishing front for some time so i was eager to get the line in the water to try and catch a Barracuda, great eating and no ciguatera poisoning in the San Blas. within half an hour the reel screamed and in came a nice big Barracuda right to the transom before it spat the hook. Much cursing and general unhappiness! Over the past couple of days Sasha had had some unexplained swelling of her eye, mouth and lip. It would come up and go within an hour or two. We had bought two whole chickens in the San Blas and roasted them as we had run out of other meat. The first night out we had again another pre-prepared chicken meal and again Sasha had mouth swelling but this time her throat also began to swell, not fun at all when at sea and breathing becomes effected. Luckily the swelling subsided without incident. But why, I had no effect and surely chicken should be no problem. Sailing started OK but we lost wind and had to motor for many hours until the wind came up again.


Not long after we had started sailing again the reel screamed again. A big fish, looked like a Marlin or something took a big leap, I grabbed the rod while Sasha headed Ednbal up into the wind to slow us down. With line streaming out I increased tension more and more until, with only metres of line left, it was at absolute maximum. The fish then took a dive and I managed to start gaining line. At about this time Sasha got the Gopro camera onto my head to record the action. In a very much combined effort we got the fish to the transom to find the hook well imbeded in it's beak. Couldn't work out what sort of fish it was only it was bloody big, over two metres long and seemed to have a small sail, bit like a sailfish. It was too big and too beautiful to kill so next trick was to get the hook out and release. Sounds easy but not so perched on the transom under way sailing. Eventually I cut the trace to the hook as it was a common steel hook that would dissolve, rust away in a short time. A lot of fun and the whole thing caught on video. For non-believers, there is a youtube - This is the fish.

We arrived in the Rosario Islands mid afternoon in time to anchor opposite the famous aquarium and filleted there and then, and a crab. Fish frame for dinner, beautiful. Next morning we had eggs, bought in the San Blas, for breakfast, again Sasha's mouth swelled, something was wrong somewhere, time to hot foot it into Cartagena and see a doctor. In the mean time Sasha went back over the occurrences to try and make a correlation. The common denominator, San Blas chicken and San eggs. We knew that the Kunas fed the chooks on all sorts of crap, including Conch offal, maybe something was causing an allergic reaction. The last couple of times Sasha took antihistamine which seemed speed recovery. As soon as we got to Manzanillo Marina we called a doctor. Predictably he suggested an allergic reaction, prescribed antihistamine and suggested she not eat chicken or sea food, for the grand sum of $100, an exorbenent amount in Colombia. The last lot of chicken went in the bin and I ate the remaining eggs. She hasn't had a problem since!

Next trick, check in. In Colombia you are required to use an agent as the port captain will only deal with agents. In 2007 we had employed a guy by the name of David who was being trained by his uncle, helpful and honest. The people at the marina recommended David so we of course accepted. Next day he came pick up our papers and we agreed to pay costs based on receipts and his fee of 200,000 cps (Colombian pesos), a bit over $100, up from the $60 we paid in 2007, but OK even though it was at the highest end of the reported agent fees. There are three check in requirements, immigration (passport stamps, no cost) port captain (400,000 pesos for two to twelve months) and customs. The later involves so called temporary vessel importation, no cost. Imagine our surprise when David presented a bill for 800,000 pesos, 200,000 his fee and 200,000 for temporary importation! We refused to pay and tried to discuss a reasonable compromise but no. He had already returned our passports so no problem there, he then said he had been to the port captain and we could go direct to pay the fee. Also we could do our own temporary importation. So, first stop, Aduana, customs for temporary importation. Again it's all people, one guy in particular spoke excellent English and was quite pissed off that an agent would try and charge 200,000 for temporary importation for which there is no fee and relatively little paperwork. He even took it to the man in charge who rang David to sort him out. Needless to say from then on we never heard from David again nor would he answer our phone calls. Next stop, port captains office. No we could not pay direct, they only receive money from an agent. We tried to call David but of course he would not answer. The secretary called him but he was not interested. I called another agent we knew of, a German guy, Manfred. When I said I was having a problem with David, his response was "what has he done this time"! Manfred agreed to help us out.

We met with Manfred later on in front of Carulla, chating about various other things that happen in Colombia to the boats, really just checking that all will be OK with decision to "chage the agent". There I cought a glimpse of a real good DIY "electrical" bicyle - Colombian way.


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Our plan was to haul Ednbal out as we needed an out of water survey, for continuation of our insurance, by the end of September. Maurice, the marina manager and son of owners didn't have enough room on the hard stand four us immediately and so we stayed in the water, ideal as we needed to change our standing rigging anyway. Over the next few days we changed one stay at a time, me climbing the mast, Sasha controlling things on deck for each stay change over. All went like clockwork until the first cap shroud. The cast pin aluminium cap shroud fitting came out of the lower spreader ok but the 16mm stainless steel blind pin in the fitting was well and truly frozen in. Not only that but being a blind pin there was no way to knock it out nor was there any part of the pin protruding to get a hold of. I drilled and t tapped a small hole in the pin to put a screw into but only succeeded in breaking the screw. Time to go to the professionals. There was a very good machine shop just two blocks away where we met owner partners, Vincente and German. After some time one of their men managed to extract the pin. Small cost but all ok. Of course the second CSP shroud was the same only this time the machinist cracked the fitting while trying to extract the pin so welding and remachining was required but again all ok in the end.


But Cartagena's old city certainly holds a lot of charm and beauty. We only had few days to appreciate it, the things were very busy in the boatyard.

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Cartagena is a good place for all sorts of boat work. We had new cushion covers made, the Bimini reinforced, a cover for the wheel made, anchors regalvanised, fittings rechromed amongst other things to make ten year old Ednbal sparkle again. The Tapicero (upholstery guy) William did a good job but was interesting to deal with. He came and wrote down measurements in his book. We wrote out the requirements and translated to Spanish but he just didn't seem to take any notice. He then took the paper to the marina secretary who read it to him. Turns out he ran his business not being able to read or write! On September 25 Ednbal was lifted out onto the hard standing and we contracted a marine surveyor who took a few photos, had a cursory look at Ednbal, modified the original soft copy survey report that we gave him, added in the equipment we had installed since the last survey from the soft copy list Sasha gave him, charged the exorbanent amount of $600 and produced a new survey report delivered to us on the morning of day, 30 September.