In Curaçao some old and some new crew joins me: Selma and Denis, the young Dutch couple, are back and Judy and John from Canada want to gain some bluewater experience.
After we stock up one last time on European groceries (unfortunately at European prices as well) we cast off to anchor at the west end of Curaçao for the night. The next day we sail to the west end of Aruba and anchor in the shelter of the island to rest for a day. On the passage to Santa Marta, Colombia all my guests suffer from varying degrees of seasickness. Judy ends up spending 37 of the 38 hour passage in her berth which actually belongs to Denis. He was nice enough to let her have his saloon berth as it is closest to the center of gravity of the boat and therefore the calmest. Unfortunately not even this helps her much.
We like the lively Santa Marta right away. We leave the boat for a few days in the safe marina to travel overland by bus to Cartagena for a great visit. The old town in Spanish colonial style is a sight to behold, albeit rather touristy. We grow fond of it, especially of Getsemani, the suburb where our Air BnB apartment is situated. There are a lot of houses falling apart with cool restaurants, artist’s ateliers, and the finest street art! It is quite possible that this neighborhood will be gentrified within a few years as happens so often.
Back on board we undertake a trip to the backcountry of Santa Marta. The northern end of the Andes mountains with their 4500 meter peaks come very close to the shore here, which in turn drops off quickly to 4000 meters of depths. These circumstances make this area one of the toughest cruising grounds worldwide. The winds can get accelerated greatly by the proximity of the mountains which causes high waves sometimes exacerbated by the current going against the direction of wind and waves. With this in mind I decide to postpone our departure until wind and waves drop a bit.
Naturally, we have been following the rapid spreading of the Corona virus and soon it is to catch up with us: On 11 March the first case is reported in the far off capital and in the evening, hours before our departure, we receive the breaking news that the autonomous San Blas Islands in Panama are closing their province for newly arriving sailboats to protect their indigenous people.
Despite all the restrictions we cast off to arrive after a 36 hour passage with a fresh breeze and 2.5 to 3 meter waves to anchor in the protection of the reef and supposedly uninhabited island called Olosicicuidup (Yes, I had to look that name up again). The approximately 200 meter long white coral sand island with just as many coconut palms turns out to be inhabited by a single man. He lives in a palm frond thatched hut and comes rowing out immediately in his dugout canoe with hand carved paddle to sell us lobster. We have arrived in an above and underwater paradise! As we had to be expecting after two days the coast guard and health officials show up to send us away with determination and kindness.
John und Judy have booked a flight from Panama home and we decide to drop them off there even though it means to go into quarantine for 14 days for all of us. Beginning 16 March we are anchored outside Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, Panama at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal and are not allowed to leave the boat. The Canadians miss their flight because of this restriction. After a week they are able to disembark and be escorted by an embassy official straight to the airport to fly home. Selma, Denis, and I are left to hold out. We can’t even enjoy a swim around the boat as there are crocodiles reported in these waters!
But the marina staff is taking good care of us providing us with groceries and local SIM cards with data plan which secures our survival… On Saturday, 28 March we are finally allowed to come in and dock in the marina where we are welcomed warmly by the other cruisers and the staff.
In a matter of just a few days the world has changed: The airport, the canal passage for cruisers, and shops are closed with a stringent curfew in place. But we consider ourselves lucky as Shelter Bay Marina may never have been as deserving of its name as in these difficult days. It is situated in an old American military base which is surrounded by a tropical forest nature park. The nearest town is far away and we can shop our groceries in the marina store. We can be protected as a community if everyone participates. Luckily, most cruisers here seem to be of the reasonable and flexible kind and it is a great if even involuntary community helping each other out.
As for most humans at this time it is a waiting game for me, a time for position reckoning in one’s own life and to be open to what opportunities come up. Crisis is always a chance!