Our first view of San Andres
After staying in Providencia for a few weeks and enjoying the peace, quiet and serenity of one of the least visited islands in the Caribbean we did the short 50 nm sail over to San Andres which is the exact opposite of Providence.
First sunset looking over the marina where we docked our dinghy and got services
San Andres, like Providencia, is located about 150 nm off the coast of Nicaragua and almost 400 nm from the coast of Colombia. Providencia is mostly mountainous and San Andres by contrast is almost flat but the differences expand from there.
Anchored boats with Amekaya the last boat out
Before we arrived we needed to call the Port Captain for permission to enter just as we did in Providencia. We've found that the Colombian Coast Guard watches their ports here very closely and just as in Providencia, after we anchored in San Andres, (in fact they followed us in the channel and stood by while we anchored), a Coast Guard boarding party greeted us and examined our paperwork after which they did a quick walk-through of our boat. They were very courteous and professional. They smiled, welcomed us to San Andres and hoped we would enjoy our stay.
Lighted boats in holiday display in San Andres
In Providencia the anchoring was very easy and holding was good. In San Andres, not so much. When we initially anchored in San Andres with our primary Rocna anchor it seemed to grab well although the bottom was grass. I swam down on it and though I was not really happy it seemed to be set well. The next day I swam on it again and was able to shake it and clumps of grass fell from it. We backed down on it again and it popped out. We reset it and again under heavy load it popped out.
One of the many San Andres party boats that hung out close to us everyday.
We then went to our secondary anchor a 45# CQR with 30' of chain and rode. It grabbed and held as we backed hard on it. The prevailing wind direction in the harbor is east and the harbor is open to the east. Fortunately, the reef keeps the swell down but there is nothing to stop the heavy trade winds so
We even found a sushi place that actually was pretty good.
it was important that the anchor be set well. Several days after we got here we had heavy squalls including one with winds exceeding 50 kts and the anchor held. The entire time we were there the anchor continued to dig in deeper and held through frequent gale force winds.
Looking at the shore from the anchorage
San Andres is a major vacation destination for Colombians. The island population of SAI is in excess of 75,000 or 10x that of Providencia but with the tourist traffic the population is closer to 100,000 at any given time. Almost hourly flights arrive at the San Andres airport bringing tourists from several parts of Colombia and Panama for vacation attracted by the sparkling clear water, beaches, water sports, a duty-free zone and endless partying.
Looking at the many high-rise hotels on the north end of San Andres
On Providencia most buildings were less than 2 stories but on San Andres there are many multi-floor hotels and condos. Many restaurants and cafes line the streets and the beaches all around the island. On the north side of the island is a long and broad beach bordered with a malecon lined with stores, hotels and restaurants. Truly a destination resort.
Near the beach streets were converted to pedestrian walkways lined with duty-free stores.
The island celebrates its heritage
In 1954 the government of Colombia designated San Andres as a duty-free zone so walking along the streets with stores that look like they came right out of an airport featuring high-end luggage, electronics, fragrances, accessories and liquor. Very interesting are the store hours. They usually open by 9 but close around noon until 3 and then are open until into the evening. Many businesses also keep those kinds of hours patterned on what we also found in Spain.
What's a resort without a floating boat bar?
The year-round climate in SAI is very comfortable. Temps have an average high around 90F and an average low about 78F with a nice trade wind blowing to keep the real feel very comfortable. Water temps are about 82F this time of year. However, SAI does get a lot of rain even in the dry season. Most homes and businesses use rain water for everything but buy bottled water for drinking.
Very nice beach day when we rented a cart to go around the island. Sunday brunch on the beach with 2 Pina Coladas.
Around San Andres Island is a holiday atmosphere all the time. Boats speed by us at anchor all day long taking tourists to the many sightseeing spots on this side. Several little cays inside the reef offer tourists nice beaches, refreshments and water sports. All the usual are here. Parasailing, kite-boarding, diving, snorkeling, underwater adventure boats and even a floating bar from about 1000 to 1700.
Our dive getting ready to go out. Conditions were pretty rough so I only did 6 dives.
One Sunday we rented a golf cart and drove around the island stopping at Rocky Cay for some beach time and lunch. Rocky Cay is a big tourist areas with several restaurants, a nice beach and the cay itself about a half-mile off the beach across a shallow sound. On the outside of the cay is a reef and a shipwreck that features lots of underwater attraction. The day we went the seas were rough so we didn't go across the reef after getting to the Cay.
Waffle cones that were real waffles
Life in San Andres was very easy other than the nagging worry about the anchor. But I checked the anchor daily and each day's weather seemed to enable it to dig deeper into the bottom which is what
we love to see. We were able to have laundry done but water and electric are expensive on the island. We were able to buy 5 gallon bottles of water to dump into our tank although the water company never really let us have the bottles. One of the workers went out to our boat and helped dump them into our tank.
We had an enjoyable holiday meal to celebrate Christmas and Chanukah with a real turkey from the US and a bottle of California Carbernet. Sweet potatoes and a mushroom gravy.
Provisioning was great! Food was not as cheap as the Rio but usually available and not too expensive. We were able to get a turkey from the US for our holiday meal and found all sorts of other surprises in different markets enabling us to enjoy the standard of living to which we have become accustomed. There were all varieties of stores with a wide selection of products. We found some good Spanish wine (in fact we bought a case) including wines we had purchased in Spain and brought back with us. We found cheap liquor in the duty free stores and some amazing ice cream.
The beach and Malacon. The beach was packed in spite of the high winds on Christmas.
Christmas tree at the beach.
We really could have stayed in San Andres longer but we did need to get to Panama to prepare for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica and a major weather event was arriving. Forecasts were for winds over 20 kts (with more than 30 kts for several periods) from the east for about the next 2 weeks and seas of 3-4 meters and more. With that forecast it would be difficult to leave our boat to enjoy the island and provision as needed. So we made the decision to head to Panama before the weather arrived.
We Love San Andres Island on the west side which is the leeward side so much calmer.
We contacted our agent more than 2 days before we planned to leave although he only asked for 24 hours notice. We heard nothing from him until Monday morning, 6 January the day we planned to leave and he told us that he had been sick and the Maritime Services system computer was down until Tuesday. We had planned to leave early Tuesday morning to get into Bocas Del Toro, Panama before the weather arrived. Our trip was now in jeopardy.
A beautiful anchorage at Ensenada on the west side. The towers are a Colombian military base.
West side of the island looking toward the north end.
After lots of communication we finally got our clearance to leave about 1600 on Tuesday 7 January although we did not have a hard copy of our zarpe. But we got the boat ready and headed out. As we got to the end of the channel we were contacted on our VHF radio by the Port Authority for our clearance. We gave it to them and we were on our way to Panama.
One of the beautiful beaches around the island busy on Sunday afternoon.
Only God knew what weather we would encounter on our trip but we hoped it would be fair and headed south. The weather was not what we had planned for but the late departure and the incoming weather left little choice. During our sail overnight we had wind pretty much behind us that we were able to sail for about 7 hours until it got dead behind us and the size of the waves had the sails flogging. We motored until morning and the wind came up so we could sail on just our jib. But, after several hours we got overtaken by frequent squalls that kept us from keeping up the speed we needed to reach safe harbor in daylight so we resigned ourselves to going in at night. But, sooner was better than later as the heavy weather was close behind.
A skeleton of the past.
About 35 miles off the Panamanian coast we ran into what a friend described as a vortex where the curving coast deflects the wind and currents that travel all the way across the Caribbean. We had been riding 15-20 kt winds from the north with 8-10 ft seas behind us that now were crashing into the same coming from the south. When the waves collided they provided lateral waves putting us not in the proverbial washing machine but being tossed around by waves and wind coming from every direction. That lasted for almost an hour as the northerly swell got reduced and we were left simply with the head-on swell until that gradually subsided as we got closer to the coast.
The crowded waterfront of the North End
By the time we got close to the channel in Bocas del Toro the seas were relatively flat by comparison with only a slight wind on our nose. Fortunately, conditions were benign as we began looking for channel markers that were reported on the charts but we had been warned were not there and in fact there were no channel markers.
San Andres in the rear view mirror
Using the charts and depth soundings we navigated our way safely into the channel and found an anchorage with several other boats where we would wait before reporting until we had a zarpe.
Sunset on our first night after leaving San Andres
We made the passage in 28 hours to Bocas del Toro once we left San Andres. We got the anchor down in the dark and relative calm. Now it was time to take stock of our passage and we soon found that we had water come in through our propane locker and took out our electrical inverter. We need the inverter to convert the DC power in our batteries to AC power that we use for many appliances and to charge AC devices like our computers. It seemed like that was the only damage we suffered in the violent seas but without it our only source of AC power was our generator. So, we left toasting for the next day and made an assessment of our condition over a quick dinner and went to bed knowing e had many to explore in our new destination country of Panama. So we were now in the second major destination region of our Caribbean experience.
Toasting our safe arrival in Panama