Flights from Santa Marta to Medellin are very reasonable and it is one of the major cities in Columbia with a notorious history, at one stage having the dubious title as the most dangerous city in the world..
For us it was a chance to see something of the interior of Columbia rather than just the coastline. It is now a much safer place to tour than in recent years.
One of the notorious residents of the city was Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria who was born in December 1949. He was raised in the city of Medellín and is thought to have begun his criminal career as a teenager, eventually becoming involved in many criminal activities running petty street scams, selling contraband cigarettes, fake lottery tickets, and stealing cars.
In the early 1970s, prior to entering the drug trade, Escobar acted as a thief and bodyguard, allegedly earning US $100,000 by kidnapping and holding a Medellín executive for ransom. He began working for Alvaro Prieto, a contraband smuggler who operated around Medellín, aiming to fulfil a childhood ambition to have COL $1 million by the time he was 22. Escobar is known to have had a bank deposit of COL $100 million (more than US $3 million), when he turned 26.
Beginning in 1975, Pablo started developing his cocaine operation, flying out planes several times, mainly between Colombia and Panama, along smuggling routes into the United States.
In May 1976, Escobar and several of his men were arrested and found in possession of 39 pounds (18 kg) of white paste, attempting to return to Medellín from Ecuador. He tried to bribe the Medellín judges who were forming a case against him. After many months of legal wrangling, he ordered the murder of the two arresting officers, and the case was later dropped. This began his pattern of dealing with the authorities, by either bribery or murder.
As there were no drug cartels then, and only a few drug barons in Peru, Pablo would buy the cocaine paste, which would then be refined in a laboratory in a two-story house in Medellín. At first, he smuggled the cocaine in old plane tyres, Soon, the demand for cocaine increased, and Escobar organised more smuggling shipments, routes, and distribution networks in South Florida, California, and other parts of the country developing a new trans-shipment point in the Bahamas, an island called Norman’s Cay about 220 miles (350 km) southeast of the Florida coast. We had visited here when we’re in the Bahamas! Escobar and Robert Vesco purchased most of the land on the island, which included a 1 kilometre airstrip, a harbour, a hotel, houses, boats, and aircraft, and they built a refrigerated warehouse to store the cocaine.
From 1978 to 1982, this was used as a central smuggling route for the Medellín Cartel. With the enormous profits generated by this route, Escobar was soon able to purchase 7.7 square miles of land in Antioquia for several million dollars, on which he built the Hacienda Nápoles. The luxury house he created contained a zoo, a lake, a sculpture garden, a private bullring, and other diversions for his family and the cartel.
At one point it was estimated that 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the United States every month. In the mid-1980s, the Medellín Cartel was shipping as much as 11 tons per flight in jetliners to the United States (the biggest load shipped by Escobar was 51,000 pounds mixed with fish paste and shipped via boat. Roberto Escobar, his brother, also claimed that, in addition to using planes, two small submarines were used to transport the massive loads.
Escobar was the official representative of the Colombian government for the swearing-in of Felipe González in Spain. He quickly became known internationally as his drug network gained notoriety; the Medellín Cartel controlled a large portion of the drugs that entered the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Spain. The production process was also altered, with coca from Bolivia and Peru replacing the coca from Colombia, which was beginning to be seen as substandard quality than the coca from the neighbouring countries. It is alleged that Escobar backed the 1985 storming of the Colombian Supreme Court by left-wing guerrillas from the 19th of April Movement, also known as M-19. The siege, a retaliation motivated by the Supreme Court studying the constitutionality of Colombia’s extradition treaty with the U.S., resulted in the murders of half the judges on the court. M-19 were paid to break into the Palace and burn all papers and files on a group of cocaine smugglers who were under threat of being extradited to the U.S. by the Colombian government. Hostages were also taken for negotiation of their release, thus helping to prevent the extradition.
During the height of its operations, the Medellín Cartel brought in more than US $70 million per day (roughly $26 billion in a year). Smuggling 15 tons of cocaine per day, worth more than half a billion dollars, into the United States, the cartel spent over US $1,000 per week purchasing rubber bands to wrap the stacks of cash, storing most of it in their warehouses. Ten percent of the cash had to be written off per year because of “spoilage”, due to rats creeping in and nibbling on the bills they could reach.
When questioned about the essence of the cocaine business, Escobar replied with “the business is simple: you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back.”
In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated Escobar to be one of 227 billionaires in the world with a personal net worth of approaching US $3 billion while his Medellín Cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. It is commonly believed that Escobar was the principal financier behind Medellín’s Atlético Nacional, which won South America’s most prestigious football tournament, in 1989.
While seen as an enemy of the United States and Colombian governments, Escobar was a hero to many in Medellín. He was a natural at public relations, and he worked to create goodwill among the poor of Colombia. A lifelong sports fan, he was credited with building football fields and multi-sports courts, as well as sponsoring children’s football teams.
He worked hard to cultivate his Robin Hood image, and frequently distributed money through housing projects and other civic activities, which gained him notable popularity among the locals of the towns that he frequented. Some people from Medellín often helped Escobar avoid police capture by serving as lookouts, hiding information from authorities, or doing whatever else they could to protect him.
The Colombian cartels’ continuing struggles to maintain supremacy resulted in Colombia quickly becoming the world’s murder capital with 25,100 violent deaths in 1991 and 27,100 in 1992. This increased murder rate was fuelled by Escobar’s giving money to his hitmen as a reward for killing police officers, over 600 of whom died as a result.
Eventually, the government negotiated with Escobar and convinced him to surrender and cease all criminal activity in exchange for a reduced sentence and preferential treatment during his captivity. Declaring an end to a series of previous violent acts meant to pressure authorities and public opinion, Escobar surrendered to Colombian authorities in 1991. Before he gave himself up, the extradition of Colombian citizens to the United States had been prohibited by the newly approved Colombian Constitution of 1991. This act was controversial, as it was suspected that Escobar and other drug lords had influenced members of the Constituent Assembly in passing the law. Escobar was confined in what became his own luxurious private prison, La Catedral, which featured a football pitch, giant doll house, bar, jacuzzi and waterfall. Accounts of Escobar’s continued criminal activities while in prison began to surface in the media, which prompted the government to attempt to move him to a more conventional jail 1992. Escobar’s influence allowed him to discover the plan in advance and make a successful escape, spending the remainder of his life evading the police.
Following Escobar’s escape, the United States joined the manhunt for Escobar. They trained and advised a special Colombian police task force known as the Search Bloc, which had been created to locate Escobar. Later, as the conflict between Escobar and the governments of the United States and Colombia dragged on, and as the numbers of Escobar’s enemies grew, a vigilante group known as the”People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”) was formed. They carried out a bloody campaign, fuelled by vengeance, in which more than 300 of Escobar’s associates, his lawyer and relatives were slain, and a large amount of the Medellín cartel’s property was destroyed.
After becoming wealthy, Escobar created or bought numerous residences and safe houses, Escobar also owned a home in Florida and a massive Caribbean getaway on Isla Grande, the largest comprising Islas del Rosario, located about 22 miles from Cartagena.
16 months after his escape, Pablo Escobar died in a shootout on 2 December 1993, amid another of Escobar’s attempts to elude capture he was hiding in Los Olivos, a middle-class barrio in Medellín. He was shot and killed by Colombian National Police whilst trying to escape. Soon after Escobar’s death and the subsequent fragmentation of the Medellín Cartel, the cocaine market became dominated by the rival Cali Cartel until the mid-1990s when its leaders were either killed or captured by the Colombian government.
We were interested to learn more about what it was like during this period. The people we spoke to preferred to not give notoriety to Escobar, as they felt this was funding his family.
Medellin had much to offer, it is build in a valley and expands up many hillsides. To help residents get to work, various transport systems have been built, including cable cars and escalators. It was fascinating to ride them and explore the different regions of the city.
After a couple of days exploring metropolitan Medellin we ended by heading out to Guatapé (Pueblo de Zocalos), home to the magnificent Peñol Rock (La Piedra del Peñol) on a 12-hour tour.
As well as ascending the 742 steps leading to the summit, we visited traditional villages such as Guarne and Marinilla, and enjoyed a sightseeing cruise on Lake Guatape.
Many of the houses are painted brightly often with scenes depicting the trade of the inhabitants
Our friends, Steve and Fiona on Supertramp kindly offered us a lift to Williamstrade to do the check in (a relatively simple process but one that involved different offices on different sides of the water), which saved us an all day trip on the bus and meant we also had time for a trip to Island Water World, Budget Marine and the hardware store – bonus!
Lesley’s daughter and a friend visited us and enjoyed a few days of sun and relaxation with us. With many rally participants already there, the social activities had started and we joined in the noodling and SUP (Stand Up Paddle board) yoga exercise groups.
A short walk from the dock there was great snorkeling at the Tug Boat Bay and under the fort, and we even managed to test out the new dive gear we had brought out from England.
Derek installed the solar panels and two wind generators on the arch, connecting everything to give us fantastic power production. He also enjoyed building the stainless ladder and Bimini tightrope, to enable main sail preparation and packing away – just like a big boy’s Mechano set. The design was inspired by Suzie Too when we met them in Martinique last season.
We enjoyed a range of Suzie Too socials including the quiz night (but didn’t excel in our knowledge of the island) and a great beach bbq and dinner at the Boca 19 resort. The information session was good and it was great to meet the manager of Shelter Bay marina in Panama that we will be visiting, and hear how our friends Caroline and Bill are getting on there.
After a shopping trip for some fresh groceries we were ready for checking out. This was made so much easier by having customs and immigration at the resort rather than having to trek into town. Just one of many benefits tirelessly organised by Susie.
Refueling for the next part of the trip should have been a simple procedure but had a little surprise in store. Whilst waiting for the fuel dock to empty, we were close to the shallows just drifting. When we got close, we tried to motor clear only to find that the engine, which was running smoothly on idle refused to increase revs and power us away. Luckily engaging reverse allowed the revs to reluctantly increase and we avoided the shoals but we had to re-anchor to establish the cause.
It transpires the problem was the refurbished alternator we fitted in Trinidad. It produces a huge amount of power at low revs but also a lot of drag on the engine. Since the batteries were fairly low, it was trying to develop maximum electricity and the engine did not have the power to overcome the drag on idle. Luckily we have a sophisticated regulator so we were able to throttle the output a little which meant the engine could rev freely. A simple but unexpected fix that could have caused a nasty situation.
All fixed, we left for Santa Cruz, a bay on the western side of the island ready for an early departure to Aruba the next day.
Sadly we didn’t get to explore much on the island, but we did manage to get all our parts fitted and attended some great social events, and met new rally friends.
We woke at 5:30 and left the anchorage at Santa Cruz, following the earlier departures. We followed the trail of navigation lights, like ants in a row to our next destination, Oranjestad, in the dutch island of Aruba.
The wind was initially too light to sail but once we cleared the land and the sun came up we popped Pippa the parasailor up and away we went. A comfortable average of 8.9 and hitting 10 knots surfing down the waves. We were overtaking other boats and loving the sail to the southern tip of the island.
On arrival at the designated check in port we were turned away at the entrance and told to sail back upwind to a different port to check in there – rather frustrating.
By the time we beat back other boats had already docked to proceed with check in. The paperwork had to be collected from all the boats and driven to the main offices. We rafted up and joined the wait. Eventually the documentation was completed and we sailed back to the anchorage, right under the runway and by the cruise terminal.
After a couple of days we decided to find a quieter anchorage in the north of the island. Not however before we went as a large group to see the excellent film Bohemian Rhapsody at the local cinema.
In the northern anchorage we spent a few days diving and exploring the lighthouse and catching up with other rally participants.
We returned to the runway anchorage for check out. Much smoother as paperwork was collected for all of the boats, processed and returned without us needing to go alongside their awful docks – geared up for commercial ships not yachts.
From here, the next stop was to be Santa Marta in Columbia, with an overnight stop scheduled in the bay of Ensenada Huaritcheru, just around the Cabo de la Vela.
So we both made it back on the planned date leaving England on the 14 October. The airlines were fantastic, accommodating all of our extra luggage, even if one bag did follow on the next flight from Tobago to us! By the time we had our car hire the bag had arrived so no big drama, just a worrying hour as it happened to be the case containing the most valuable boat parts.
Customs glanced through the cases in Tobago and we had to present ourselves at the office in Chaguaramas for the official paperwork for ‘yacht in transit’ status to be formally concluded for all of our parts.
We arrived early evening and managed to find a ladder and haul everything up the 20 foot to the deck.
We were relieved to find the boat in good condition, no obvious mould or bug infestations. We headed to Zanzibar restaurant for food and then sleep.
For the next 25 days it was a grueling schedule of work to put the boat back together and prepare her for sailing. It was disappointing to find the work we had commissioned before leaving had not progressed in our absence. This we had read about so we started to chase up the contractors. In the end our delay was down to waiting for the solar panels and wind generators to arrive. We were able to track the cargo ship across the Atlantic and down the Caribbean chain of islands. We even identified it anchored in the bay behind us waiting to go into Port of Spain to unload. Once the ship had docked it took several days to get unstuffed and for our parcels to be released. In total 11 days from docking.
It was complicated by the fact that the value exceeded a certain figure and so normally a clearing agent is required. However, depending on who you ask, the value is irrelevant for yacht in transit. The conclusion was we needed an agent which we commissioned, and after all the hassles they arrived at customs to be told they weren’t needed! We finally got the goods anyway so were happy to be able to leave.
Our list of jobs got longer rather than shorter as we discovered new priorities whilst checking through everything. We were told that the boat bilge pump had been pumping out a lot of water when it rained. When it rains in Trinidad it is torrential, causing flash flooding in some areas and even a landslide over the road into the city. This is fairly normal for this time of year here, however this year was worse with prolonged periods of rain and devastating flooding where businesses and homes were completely flooded. We discovered the stanchions were leaking very badly, one of the reasons for our varnish work deteriorating in places.
We delayed our launch for a week to get through the below waterline jobs and to try and get the arch fitted on land (which didn’t happen!)
Working in the 30 plus degree heat is energy sapping and we were so glad of the portable air conditioning unit keeping the interior of the boat cool. This became our workshop.
The watermaker was fitted with its new pump and membranes but once we launched and tested it the circuit board blew a chip and we needed a replacement from America. There is a great freight forwarder called Ezone which we used to import the part. As we waited for the arrival of our new solar panels and wind generators we used them for several additional items.
One of the jobs we needed to do was to replace the bolts that were fitted to the reinforcing plate for our skeg (the protrusion that supports the rudder). This was rebuilt by Princess Yachts (who built our boat), when we bought her, and for some ridiculous reason, they used mild steel bolts. Steel rusts, and we could see a slight movement on the plate so we dismantled the rear cabin, emptied the lazarette and extracted the bolts. There really was not much left of them – shame on Princess Yachts for such cost cutting, it could have led to a much worse situation, had we not noticed.
Peake Yacht Services’ yard came highly recommended and did not disappoint. It has to be one of the best yards we have ever visited and certainly looked after us and the boat. They even have a shopping bus which runs on several days a week and can be booked for other trips like airport transfers and trips to customs etc.
It was a shame that we did not get to explore the island. Chaguaramas is fantastic for getting things done on the boat but is not a lovely Caribbean anchorage. The hard is hot and dusty with the accompanying noise of people working on boats from 7 until 6, with the ladder to negotiate regularly for practical events such as bathroom trips as well as work on the boat. After 11 days it was a relief to go back in the water.
We made friends with a cat that appeared to be abandoned.
It greeted us every morning and evening with the hope of being adopted we thought. In the beginning it tried to follow Lesley back to the boat but got the message as she circled back to the buildings each time and eventually stopped following her.
The water around Chaguaramas is clear but the colour of weak tea, there is so much debris, mostly man made, swirling around the bay including large pieces of bamboo and other tree trunks washed down after the flooding. As this is an area where the fishing boats offload their catch the is frequently a dead fish amongst the flotsam and jetsam. There is often a film of oil on the surface and a cloudy muddiness after the rains.
After launching, we stayed on the dock at Peakes for 10 nights before they needed the space and we moved to a buoy.
If there is space, you can stay on their dock for free for up to 5 nights after a launch – another great service they operate.
Three days after moving to the buoy, we stowed the solar panels and wind generators, checked out and sailed the 420 miles straight to Curacao
For anyone visiting we can recommend the following:
We left the Abacos via the North Bar passage and sailed directly to Eleuthera entering via the Little Egg Island passage. We made good time and sailed most of the way in glorious sunshine doing 6.5-8 knots, champagne sailing we call it!
We anchored in Royal Harbour, a protected anchorage entered through a narrow cut between rocks, with several other boats and hurried off the next morning to get through the Current Passage at high tide and supposedly slack water.
Unfortunately we had 2 knots tide against us but we managed through without incident and arrived in Governors Harbour by the afternoon.
Passing through Current Passage, we saw one of the oldest existing mailboats, the Current Pride, still in operation, delivering food and goods to the Islands
Governors Harbour is reputed to have very poor holding with a thin layer of sand over rock, but luckily for us the winds remained consistent in direction and the anchor held firm.
The aim of the dash to Eleuthera was to be there to collect the service parts for the Procon vane pump for the water maker. The delivery service provided by X-Press It to the islands is great, especially the communication about the progress of the package’s journey. Unfortunately it was delayed so we decided to have a change of scenery and move around the headland to Laughing Bird Cay. It was much nicer than being in a town by the dock and it was very protected from the East. We were able to paddle-board around the bay and to identify a good landing place for the dinghy to get access to the X-Press It shop for the next day’s delivery/collection. We also took a walk across to French Leave beach on the Atlantic side of the Island.
After a beautiful day the clouds started to gather and obscured what had promised to be a wonderful sunset. A storm was brewing and although the wind direction should be taking it away it was clear that the thunder and lighting were increasing and the storm was circling. We went to bed to faint rumbles and the odd flash of light and woke to a squall and rain at 1:00 am. We did the naked dash around the boat closing windows and settled back into bed. Only 5 minutes later and the anchor watch alarm went off. The wind had completely turned and was now blowing us on to the shore. The lights of the restaurant that had previously looked charming now looked threateningly close. As the 30 knots squall blasted us and the rain poured the thunder and lighting were now overhead. With 30 cm under the keel we needed to move quickly in case the anchor dragged taking us closer to the rocks. Lesley quickly doned a waterproof jacket and life jacket and braved the weather to pull up the anchor while Derek did well to try and steer the boat into the wind and away from danger in the pitch black, with no visual reference. We re-anchored further out in the bay and monitored how we lay. Happy that we were far enough from the shore, Derek went back to bed whilst Lesley made a cup of tea and waited for her hair to dry! With minimal water usage currently Lesley should have had a midnight shower on deck!
The storm rumbled away but kept circling as did the boat as the wind swung 180 degrees regularly. At 3 am there was a power cut on shore and complete darkness apart from some very bright lights which were running on an emergency generator. Alarms then sounded everywhere once the power went back on. At 5 am the wind and storm came back again but the anchor and 50 m of chain held well!
In the morning the wind had gone and our parts had arrived. On the dinghy ride to the beach we saw two enormous rays. Derek set to rebuilding the pump.
Successfully making water again we decided to explore more of the coast and move to Ten Bay beach for the night. A beautiful beach with crystal clear water. We had a good sail and were accompanied into the bay by a large pod of dolphins.
In the morning the wind started to move more southerly and the anchorage got more rolly. Lesley was baking in the galley but started to feel seasick, so it was a clear indication that it was time to move, or was that the effects of her cooking?
Rock Sound in South Eleuthera became our destination and a good departure point for heading for the Exumas when the wind eased. We spent another windy night at anchor and in the morning motored cautiously into towards the town. The guide book says that you can follow the furrows through the shallows ploughed by the mail ship that comes once a week! It wasn’t very complementary about the area. We found good provisioning and friendly people although clearly the economy currently looks in decline with several boarded up and neglected properties. We were not able to stay long as we needed to get back out to deeper water and shelter from the strong westerly winds the next front was about to bring before the tide ebbed.
We had a relatively peaceful night despite the front that came through, anchored with at least 80 cm of water beneath the keel, which by now was quite unusual in the shallow waters of the Bahamas. In the morning, we set sail for what many describe as the jewel in the crown of the Bahamas – the Exumas.
After a peaceful night’s sleep we woke to the warmth of the sun that we had been missing and craving so much lately and headed the few miles to check in at New Plymouth, on Green Turtle Cay. Unfortunately we needed $300 in cash which we didn’t quite have! Another yachtsman that we had never met before offered to lend us some cash (that’s the type of camaraderie you get with sailors) but in the end the local grocery store gave us cash back when we did some shopping. The island bank closed permanently in June apparently!
New Plymouth is a picturesque Caribbean village with everything you need at hand, except a bank! Several grocery stores, a hardware store, phone shop, liquor stores, restaurants, bars, a school and marinas.
We enjoyed wandering around, stocking up with fresh produce and bought some clear sealant to fix the leaking sink (again!).
Lady Rebel arrived and joined us having traveled a slightly different route to us on the way from America. We spent the next few days exploring the local sights together whilst waiting for our other friends to join us and to celebrate their safe crossing from the USA.
We went for walks to explore Green Turtle Cay and found a bar for sundowners, beaches where you can feed the turtles and (small) nurse sharks.
We took the dinghy into the mangroves and deserted bays to find more rays and turtles and we fed the swimming pigs on No Name Cay.
Apart from the masses of ‘no see ems’ bites that we got when ashore on what looked like an idyllic beach for a sundowner, Green Turtle Cay was Lesley’s favourite place in the Abacos. A useful local website for information is https://littlehousebytheferry.com/2017/08/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-swimming-pigs-of-abaco/
We also managed to meet up with long term cruisers and Lesley’s ex work colleague on their catamaran Juffa which was very exciting after such a long time!
Unfortunately we had a problem with our water maker. The vane pump that pumps the sea water went bang. Everyone was very helpful and was happy to supply us with water when we needed it but we try to be self sufficient. We have not filled our water tanks from a land source for over 5 years and didn’t really want to start buying or borrowing water now. Also it is unlikely that we would find a marina with a service dock that had a deep enough berth for Ocean Blue. Luckily we keep our tanks pretty full so time was on our side to get it fixed.
Green Turtle Cay also has good free WiFi so we were able to research and purchase the required repair kit and get it sent to the next Island we were sailing to. This meant a faster sail through the southern Abacos to get to Governor Harbour in Eleuthera. The passes out through the reefs can be treacherous and our boat is too deep to take the inner route to the South Abacos, but luckily the wind died a bit so we were able to make the trip through Whale passage and after a night catching up with friends we said our farewells and sailed into the South Abaco area. We had planned to visit Marsh Harbour but in the end spent one night in Crossing Bay before sailing on to put ourselves in the best spot for leaving the next morning.
A quick conversation with friends had suggested a difference between the different electronic charts that we have been using and the preferred ones for the area. Comparing the two, whilst the suggested routes were the same in most places, the depths varied by as much as a metre, which when the depth is often only 2-3 metres is huge. Needless to say we now have both charts!
We did stop for lunch off Dickies Cay, just outside Man-O-War Cay and went ashore to explore the area that had a strong boat building tradition. We saw a huge spotted eagle ray from the dinghy.
We planned and timed our passage between the winding, shallow Pepper Cay and Witch Point for as close to high tide as we could manage with enough light before the setting sun to see the shallows! Success and confidence in our new charts got us to Tiloo Pond anchorage for the night. We set the alarm for a 05:30 wake up for the next days sail to Eleuthera.
After heading back south through the Cape Cod Canal we decided to explore some of the anchorages at its mouth in an area known as Buzzards Bay. An area 28 miles long by 8 miles wide with many small bays and anchorages. Buzzards Bay was named by colonists after the birds they saw and called Buzzards. The birds are actually Ospreys, and some remain.
We had a relaxing two nights in Onset, a bay just to the southwest of the canal. We took the dinghy up some of the inlets and also spent some time getting used to the paddleboard. Going ashore with the bikes one day we found ourselves in the annual Cape Verdean Festival – With over 70 vendors, music and a great party atmosphere, groups of descendents from the Cape Verdes celebrate their heritage the other side of the Atlantic. Cape Verdean communities come from Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio and as far as Ontarion, Canada to join in the fun.
A short trip east took us to Phinney’s Harbour, another quiet pretty anchorage but with a little less to explore.
Leaving Phinney’s Harbour we headed for Fairhaven, a town on the east bank of the Acushnet River, directly opposite New Bedford on the west bank. Our reason for visiting here was to collect a spare skin fitting which might help us with our ongoing issue of the fridge losing gas.
There is a tidal barrage across the entrance of the river and having entered the river we could find nowhere to anchor for the night so left and anchored outside since the harbour master was not responding by radio or telephone. In the morning we called and were pleasantly surprised to hear that we could use one of the mooring buoys inside free of charge as long as we left before night time, and there was a dinghy dock we could use close by. How welcome we felt. We picked up the buoy and took the bikes ashore to collect the fitting and enjoy an afternoon exploring the towns. The New Bedford Whaling Museum was fascinating and even included a 30 minute movie – the first time we had been to a cinema for a long time!
We had arranged for some spare parts to enhance our battery monitoring to be delivered to Newport so we left the next day for the sail southwest. As Newport appeared in the distance we spotted a delightful looking bay that looked like it would give us a pleasant sheltered evening, so we changed our plans and dropped anchor off Third Beach, just north of Flint Point on the Sakonnet River.
The next morning we sailed the short distance west to Newport where we had first arrived in the USA a month or so earlier.
Since the large supermarket was right next to the place where our parts had been delivered to, Lesley was in her element re provisioning in a familiar store.
Previously in Newport we had visited one of the mansions and our ticket allowed us to visit a second one, so we duly took the opportunity to see more opulence at The Elms which was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. Mr. Berwind made his fortune in the coal industry. In 1898, the Berwinds engaged Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to design a house modeled after the mid-18th century French Chateau d’Asnieres outside Paris.
Construction of The Elms was completed in 1901 at a reported cost of approximately $1.4 million. The interiors and furnishings were designed by Allard and Sons of Paris and were the setting for the Berwinds’ collection of Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings, and Oriental jades.
Mrs. Berwind died in 1922, and Mr. Berwind invited his sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses.
Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Miss Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961, at which time the house and most of its contents were sold at public auction.
The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased The Elms in 1962 and opened the house to the public.
Sightseeing, shopping, ideas of grandeur and collections completed, it was time to start working further west into Long Island Sound.
After refuelling, we dashed across Newport entrance to Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth islands in poor visibility. When we arrived early evening we anchored next to two boats we knew and settled in for an early night. In the morning we were completely fog bound and couldn’t even see Cuttyhunk which was only a few hundred feet away!
It was a ‘full English breakfast’ type of morning so after our brunch and a morning of catching up with work we were ready to explore.
The island only has about 35 permanent residents and the small museum depicts the basic lifestyle over the years. The nearby 75 acre Penikese island, has had a variety of uses. In 1904 it was purchased by the state of Massachusetts for $25000 to use as a leprosy hospital then closed in 1921 when the state burnt and dynamited the buildings! It was also briefly considered as an isolation island for people with AIDS and from 1973 to 2011 a private residential school on the island was used for juvenile detention of troubled boys and operated a substance abuse treatment programme.
We decided to leave late afternoon as the visibility was adequate and we had no wish to be fog bound again. This is a fairly typical weather pattern for the area. We had a pleasant sail, passing some of the other islands on route to Hadley harbour in convoy with two other boats, and on arrival even managed to russell up a meal for six. It was a beautiful setting with a few grand isolated and very private holiday homes. As the sun set a deer came down to explore the small sandy cove.
We moved from the outer harbour to the inner lagoon for the next night and explored the shallow creeks in the dinghy, deciding to leave the next afternoon for Martha’s Vineyard as the weather was benign and settled.
Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island, sits in the Atlantic just south of Cape Cod. A longtime New England summer colony, it encompasses harbor towns and lighthouses, sandy beaches and farmland. It’s accessible only by boat or air. Vineyard Haven, on the eastern end, is a ferry port and the island’s commercial centre. Another village, Oak Bluffs has Carpenter Gothic cottages and an iconic carousel.
We arrived mid afternoon and anchored in Vineyard Haven. We took a quick trip ashore to get our bearings and decided to eat ashore. We had a good meal in the Black Dog pub. The story is that Robert Douglas, born in Chicago in 1932 spent his childhood summers escaping the hustle and bustle of the city at his parents’ summer home in West Chop. He watched the Vineyard ferries traversing the waters between the island and the mainland and in 1960 he left the Air Force and built a topsail schooner for himself, using early construction techniques and materials wherever possible. He later acquired a black Labrador dog and the inn.
Out of his love for the sea, his island home, and of course, his dog, The Black Dog brand was born. So says their website!
We decide to sail the next day to Edgartown on the east side of the island to get a more protected spot away from the passing ferries.
We went up the river but found there was no anchoring allowed so returned to the outer harbour. Boats of all shapes and sizes, traditional and modern were here. Including one of the worlds largest super yachts called Le Grande Bleu. She is 113 m long, 18m wide and comes complete with a helicopter pad, 72 foot sailing yacht and 68 foot motor boat, both of which can be winched into the water! Originally owned by Roman Abramovich, he reputedly gifted it to a colleague, when he bought a larger one!
We met up with some fellow ARC sailors on Supertramp who were planning to sail north to Maine. We swapped details on experiences so far and plans for the future, including potentially getting our boat wrapped and updating equipment over the remainder of the summer.
We enjoyed the facilities at The Edgartown Yacht Club which perpetuates the maritime traditions of Martha’s Vineyard and Edgartown and encourages friendly competition on the waters around the Island and ashore which was founded in 1905. The social life of the Club – so creative and active today – began in these earliest years with clambakes and old-fashioned ice cream socials.
Those first few years of the twentieth century were a time of great change in the town of Edgartown. The whaling era, which had come to a sudden end after the Civil War, still animated the memories of the oldest inhabitants, and family vacationing through the summer season, as we know it now, was some years away.
We took the bus to explore the island because apparently cycling can be a little risky on the island! We went to the Gay Head light, which had had to be moved to stop it falling into the sea from the eroding Aquinnah Cliffs — the clay cliffs, formerly known as Gay Head — were carved by glaciers millions of years ago. From the top we could see the Elizabeth islands we had previously been to. The Aquinnah Cliffs are part of the island’s Wampanoag reservation.
The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Wampanoag, means People of the First Light.
In the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 people in the 67 villages that made up the Wampanoag Nation. These villages covered the territory along the east coast as far as Wessagusset (today called Weymouth), all of what is now Cape Cod and the islands of Natocket and Noepe (now called Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture.
We left Bermuda at 09:00 on Thursday 29 June. We arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, USA, another previous home of the Americas Cup, after sailing for just under 4 days on Monday 3 July at 07:00.
The hazy view and the eary sound of the fog horn on Beaver Tail Point lighthouse guided us into Newport where we anchored in Brenton Cove, where you can anchor for free outside the moorings for up to 14 days. After a quick tidy up we contacted the customs office to organise our customs and immigration clearance.
We were given several options of docks to take the boat into to meet the customs officer who would do the paperwork and potentially search the boat for items that are not allowed to be brought into America. We chose Perrotti Park, a dock which turned out to be very easily accessible and where we met another British boat also waiting for customs. The customs clearance was quick and easy – too quick unfortunately as the customs officer, who was new in her job, despite taking our money omitted to issue our cruising permit, a document legally required when cruising in the US. (Eventually after many phone calls and emails we did get a copy, but it took several days)
It always surprises us how friendly everyone is in the long term cruising world. A chance encounter provided an invitation to sundowners that evening and the opportunity to meet other cruising boats who had previously crossed the Atlantic in a different rally called the Barbados 500. We had briefly met most of these boats in Bermuda just before we left – they left together the night before us. Their occupants provided a new social circle and the opportunity to learn about other destinations, intentions and experiences.
Having cleared customs we returned to the anchorage and started by cleaning up the boat and getting settled for some time exploring, plus some sleep.
We had hoped to make it to Bristol to see one of the oldest 4th July parades in the states, however we were quite tired from the journey and woke up too late to catch the bus to make the best of the day. Instead we watched an amazing fireworks show from the boat which was one of the best spots in the harbour.
Although American independence from British rule is widely and happily celebrated there was no animosity towards us joining in the party. Houses and boats were cheerily dressed in red white and blue. Everyone was enjoying the holiday atmosphere and the events.
Newport has a a holiday atmosphere and although it is clearly centred around sailing there are plenty of other activities too. We spent almost a week here acclimatising to living in America.
There was the visit to the chandlery to purchase charts for the area, several very good bike rides with a handy leaflet marking routes, cliff walks, beaches, surfing and several historic houses to visit and also there was the opportunity to provision the boat at a fraction of the cost of in the Caribbean.
We spent a happy half day at the Breakers Mansion on Orchre Point Avenue – the grandest of many huge mansions, learning about the 1890s summer cottage, it’s construction and lifestyle.
Commissioned and owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose family fortune was made in steam ships and later in the New York Central railroad. The mansion was built in the Italian renaisance style with lots of excess, gold gilt and platinum on the walls and ceilings.
Lavish parties and the importance of being seen and dressed for the occasion were clearly the order of the day, with the women of the household changing outfits five times a day for different activities. It was a totally different world for the rich families of the gilded era.
We used the bikes to explore and shop for provisions. The more or less flat environment was a welcome change after the volcanic hills and narrow roads of the Caribbean which made cycling impractical.
We had Sunday lunch at the New York yacht club’s Newport base. A lovely old house with a commanding presence and view over Newport Sound and the anchorage.
After a few days we decided to explore the rest of the estuary and sailed up to Bristol for a visit to the Herreshoff museum.
We were able to pick up one of their free buoys and also got a discount on the entrance fee for coming by boat! A very interesting exhibition and the opportunity to look inside some of the old vessels built by the talented brothers.
We spent the night in Potter Cove, on Prudence Island, a wonderful national estuarine sanctuary with an abundance of green grass and variety of trees, another reminder of home and a complete contrast to the Caribbean.
It was time to move on so we left early to exit the river via Dutch harbour and purchase some fuel from a commercial fish quay at Galilee, in Judith’s point harbour. This was the cheapest place for refuelling our 1000 litre capacity fuel tanks, so worth the slight detour west before continuing east again towards the Elizabeth Islands.
The random names here are great. Most have been copied from English towns and villages, based on their heritage and the area was very reminiscent of Beaulieu, with the large houses set in sweeping lawns only ending at the river bank and their private jetties.
Even the weather was cooler and variable much like England! The main difference is the size, everything is bigger! It is New England, USA.