September & October 2008

San Blas thru Cartagena, Columbia

General Overview - Leg VI

This log marks the beginning of our 9 month trip that starts in Panama, heads 1,200 miles east to Grenada, then up the Caribbean chain of islands and eventually into the Bahamas and Florida by the summer of 2009. Much of this trip will be done with sister Jo & Adie (Wandering Star) and Les & Rose (Voyager.) Over this six week period of time we traveled from Panama thru the San Blas Islands and into Cartagena, Columbia, a favorite old city and cruiser destination. Photos of this leg and our entire web site can be viewed at

After spending a great two months at home catching up with family and friends, we were off to begin the next leg of Ken & Dottie’s Excellent Adventure! Although it was a little more difficult saying goodbye this time – probably because we will be so much further away this leg – we are really excited about seeing what escapades the Caribbean brings our way!

Our adventure seemed to start as soon as we touched down in Panama when we hooked up with Jo & Adie, who had flown in at the same day we did. Seems that in recent months, there had been banditos scoping out targets at the airport and robbing taxis along the remote areas between Panama City and Colon, where our boats were moored. It was well after dark when the four of us loaded our 12 oversized bags into the taxi. We’re not quite sure, but we think possibly we looked like a likely target!? Ya think? We decided it was wise to pay the extra fee for the police escort they were offering, however it was difficult to tell whether we really had one or not because they were unmarked cars!? The driver drove us off the beat and path in sections and then all of a sudden there was another van and headlights that showed up – hard to tell whether they were supposed to be our escort or the bad guys??

All apprehensions were for not and we arrived at the marina safe and sound. There to greet us, at 10:30 pm, were Les and Rose who were ready for "opening ceremonies." They had Wandering Star’s fridge stocked with goodies and vino and given us each some party napkins/plates, to set the mood. Jo & Adie made up "Trawler Trash – Class of 08-09" shirts with the picture of all three boats tied together going thru the canal on them. To add to it, she brought pom-poms for the girls and sailboat lunchboxes for the guys to start the new "semester" off right. Nice touch!! We didn’t crawl into bed until 2am – which is pretty late for old folks!

The next week to 10 days were spent at Shelter Bay preparing to cruise for the next 9 months. Lot’s of preparation to do – shopping, provisioning, cleaning, maintenance, etc. After sitting in the rain for the last 2 months there were lots of green things growing in the strangest places! We met many new people, like Eddie & Glen on Tuthill, who’ve cruised the Caribbean extensively and who were not only a great couple, but a wealth of information about places to go and places to stay away from too.

We reconnected with friends Georgio and Irene on Argo for a kick off dinner the night before we "set sail," knowing that we will see them again "somewhere" along the way. Argo, Tothill and a few other buddies were there to untie our lines as we cast off with Wandering Star and Voyager for our Caribbean adventures. Felt great to float free again!

The San Blas Islands were just as impressive this time through as they were during our first visit with Kim and the Cecil’s in June. Once again we were visited by many of the Kuna Indians who make San Blas their home. It is so cool to see them paddle out in their Ulu’s (a small canoe that is carved out of a tree) to greet us, sell us fish and their handmade Mola’s, and to trade for things they needed.

Fresh water is something that is hard to come by in these islands. Our boat is equipped with a water maker that turns saltwater into fresh water, at a rate of about 35 gallons per hour, which we then store in a tank. This time Kuna families paddled up with whatever containers they could scrounge up and we’d fill them for them. We felt like a water truck as we gave water to so many groups one day that our tanks almost ran dry and we jumped into super conservation mode!

As I mentioned in a previous log, the San Blas consists of hundreds of little islands, some larger than others but most are very small and uninhabited. One such island was dubbed BBQ island and was about 5 acres in size. It had many palm trees, a white sand beach and a makeshift picnic table on it. BBQ island - a perfect place for a picnic lunch .... and a treasure hunt! Adie & Jo made up a treasure map and the rest of us played survivor as we ran around the island looking for clues to the "hidden treasure." We were each given the same map..... yet all four of us took off in different directions?! Four creative minds at work here - all running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Obviously we would have a tough time on the "real" Survivor! I won the grand prize – a warm bottle of beer if I remember right?! In spite of the rain we had a great little picnic on BBQ Island.

Cartagena was where we dropped our anchor next. Although Columbia is not known for being a very secure place to travel, we found Cartagena itself very safe. Our first night there we reconnected with our friend Susan & her son Mattias on Phantom, who gave us our first tour of the old City. WOW! What a fabulous place! It was everything it promised to be. We felt like we were in Europe, perhaps somewhere in Rome or one of the other many places we have only read about, but have never really been to – except when we were armchair traveling that is!

It is an old Provincial city built in the 1,500’s with a large (20’ tall and 6’ thick) rock and cement wall built around it … meant to keep the pirates out - and the gold in! Although roads surround it now, initially a moat encircled the city with the only entrances being a few draw bridges. Buildings are tall and very colorful while the cobblestone streets are very narrow. Music and dancing filled the many squares within the City and the town was bustling as we made our way around.

Club Nautico, the cruiser’s "hangout," is where we anchored and made our base camp for the week. We toured the city and surrounding areas, with our own "captain hook" (see photos,) did boat repairs, rendezvoused with Jo & Adie and Les and Rose , actually had some "girl time" and met several new cruisers. It was in Cartagena where we first noted that the majority of boats we saw cruising now were primarily from foreign ports around the world, rather than just from the Pacific Coast.

Our "group" made Hors de ouvres and spent a great evening on Phantom, where Susan introduced us to "Mojitas" the local favorite drink. She is traveling with her 16 year old son, a chef, an engineer, and a crew member in her 96’ steel boat that they converted from a work boat to a beautiful "trawler" – She has the most amazing mural and bathtub - only a photo could capture how ornate it is. They are both wonderful photographers and are making documentaries as they travel. Phantom is pretty awesome but made us appreciate traveling on our smaller boat ..... the bigger the boat, the bigger the problems! We also appreciate our burning 1 ˝ gallons per hour rather than the 10+ gallons per hour they have to burn! Yikes!

After sleeping in one morning, we awoke to find that a large tug boat, that had been anchored 150 feet from us for the last three days, was now about 60 from us and had a second tug attached to it. Ken quickly let out another 50 feet of chain – almost every foot we had in order to keep a safe distance from them. He tied a rope to the end of our anchor chain and a large buoy to it just in case we had to cut and run to keep from getting run over. Next thing we knew, they had drifted to within 30 feet of us and a third big tug was attempting to tie to other side of it. Waaay too close for our comfort! We attempted to move three times and each time realized there was no way to retrieve our anchor...... the tugs were anchored on top of it!!! We couldn’t seem to get anyone’s attention as they were all working inside the tugs and it was too noisy for them to hear us hailing them. We finally got the 3rd tugs attention and they went below to get the captain, who seemed quite surprised when he came on deck. They tried to move tugs so that we could retrieve our anchor but were unsuccessful. The only alternative was to have them untie from one another and pull up their anchor and hope that they didn’t snag ours in the process. An hour later they untangled themselves - we retrieved our anchor and we relocated as far away from them as possible!!

Before leaving Cartagena we just had to do the tourist thing and take the ever popular "Cheva Bus." It is an open air bus, with 50 of your closest friends, touring the old city, all the while musicians were blasting their music and Rum and coke flowed freely. As a "warm up" each row had to pick one girl to stand up and represent their row in a shimmy contest .... Guess who got picked on our row? Jo – who else?! When it came her turn, she modestly stood up.... quite obviously the only white cracker in the bunch .... and proudly shook her booty along with all the Columbian hotties. We finished the evening at a great nightclub where the band was playing Cuban music and we were all able to dance and shake our own booties to the music. A fun evening was had by all – Cartagena style!

The next leg of the trip will take us East, 850 miles from Cartagena to the ABC’s, thru Venezuela and into the island of Grenada. We know this should be the roughest leg of our voyage and anticipate it taking us about 5 weeks to complete, putting us into Grenada by around Thanksgiving if the weather cooperates! So until next log, we hope you all are doing well and having a great Autum!

Love & Dreams,

Ken & Dottie

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