So we left Willemstad and sailed up the West coast of Curacao, checking all systems were working ok.
Great to be sailing again, having been away from the boat for a few months we tend to forget just how fast and powerful she is. Escapade was romping along, out in the blue again with the flying fish.
We sailed 10 miles up the west coast and anchored for the night in a quiet bay.
Next day at first light we set sail for Aruba, because it happened to be in our way. A fast 60 miles downwind in 25kt trades, broad reaching down the swells and surfing at 15kts, occasionally 20kts!
Finally, the ‘A’ in our ABC islands tour.
Aruba is just not really our cup of tea, but each to their own. If you enjoy the convenience of 24hr casinos and all major US fast food brands within a short waddle from your cruise ship, then Aruba certainly has plenty to recommend it.
We spent a few days waiting for a weather window, and it was fun to catch up with local windsurf champion Sarah Quita Offringa, fresh from her Aloha Classic win. Sarah recommended some cool spots where the locals go so we rented a car and had a quick spin around. Actually we would have liked to see a bit more, but then our weather window suddenly opened and it was time to leave.
Aruba sits just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela, and only about 60 miles from the nearest bit of Colombia, which may explain why clearing in and out of customs there is rather inflexible. We had to bend the rules slightly to be able to depart at 6am.
There are about 300 miles to sail to Santa Marta in Colombia, around Punta Gallinas which is a fair sized cabo protruding northwards into an area of strong trade winds and currents. The pilot books say that this area produces the most dangerous sailing conditions in the Caribbean. Approach with caution! The strong wind and uninterrupted fetch runs into an area of relatively shallow water just west of Aruba, just to add to the fun. Our weather forecast promised 36 hours of 20kt wind, before piping back up to the usual 25-30kts for the next week or more.
We set off with the jib and a reef in the main, the breeze gradually built during the morning and Escapade started to stretch her legs. Average speed was soon into double figures and stayed that way for about 20 hours until the wind deserted us a bit at 2am.
An Outremer 51 looks very different from most production catamarans. She has long thin hulls, high bows and high bridge deck. When she starts charging down wave faces at 15 knots you realise why. She is also about half the weight of most cats her size. Escapade has a carbon rotating mast and we try to keep her light.
So we can comfortably sail at 12 or 14 kts on flat water, but when going downwind out at sea, it can get much more interesting, sailing downhill.
She needs a bit of swell, normally 20+ knots of wind on open water generates enough wave height to start surfing. As the waves get bigger we go faster. Once the troughs are long enough for her to slot in to, she can surf for longer.
Most waves will lift our stern as they roll under us, travelling faster than we are. That’s when you get a view of the bows pointing down hill, but like a surfer paddling a board, if your’e not going fast enough at that moment, you can’t catch the wave and it slides beneath you.
On this trip we needed about 10kts boat speed and sails fully powered as the wave arrives on our quarter. If it happens to be steep enough at that moment, the bows point down in to the trough and we start to sail downhill. At this point we usually exchange a glance and then both stop what we’re doing and watch the speed dial. The acceleration is rapid, the speed climbs from 10 to 12, 14kts in a second, the rig starts to hum, 15, 16kts, now there is a vibration through the hulls and spray is firing up through the trampoline on to the windscreen like a firehose. It gets noisy, if we hit a piece of chop at this speed it sounds like a collision with a solid object. If we are still riding the swell, we keep accelerating to18, occasionally 20kts+.
Now the boat is planing and the sound is a loud hum which resonates through the whole boat and rig. As the bows finally connect with the back of the wave in front they throw clouds of fine, atomised spray, the ride is over and we return to sailing speed, but if there is enough residual speed as the next crest passes, she will often link straight in to the next ride and off we go again.
It’s an unusual experience on a cruising boat, feels more like a giant windsurfer. We still have a few heart-stopping moments, especially at night, alone at the helm as she tilts on the crest and then down we go, accelerating in to the dark trough.
The sun rose and soon we could see high green mountains sloping down in to the Caribbean. We sailed around the final punta and in to the town of Santa Marta. Here we had one of those ‘magic carpet’ moments, the boat had transported us from the decidedly North American flavoured Aruba to an authentic South American town. A bit of culture shock as we found our way around the busy narrow streets crowded with stalls and hawkers, the peoples faces, the street food, the chaotic traffic, noise and music.
Colombians are pretty keen on music. From our berth in Santa Marta we can hear it all night long, it pauses briefly around daybreak and then by about 8am it’s turned back up to 11.
If you are passing through here you should seek out a backstreet bar called El Rego. As well as being a very cool little place to eat and drink, it seems to be the hangout for every musician in the area. A continuous and ever evolving jam session with players and instruments coming and going all night and everyone else dancing. There was a lot of talent in that room.
Here’s the local Colombian remedy for headaches and sore muscles. Not sure if you’re supposed to snort it, smoke it, eat it or wear it.