FROM THE LOG
February 15 to
March 25, 2005
We arrived in Port Antonio, on the north eastern corner of Jamaica on February 16, 2005. The over night sail from Santiago de Cuba was uneventful and pleasant in spite of a particularly large NE swell. Jamaica is the beautiful island of reggae and flowers, but because of its terrible crime rate most cruising navigators pass by without making land fall. Port Antonio is probably one of the best kept secrets in the Caribbean. It has retained its charm as a rural township and the harbour is one of the most beautiful and protected in the western Caribbean.
Port Antonio was once renowned as the world's banana capital. Some claim that Jamaica's tourism was born here in the later 1800's when banana boats returning from Boston brought the first tourists to the island, long before Harry Belafonte sang about the Tally Man and the Island in the Sun. Today there are few tourists in Port Antonio, they flock to the cruise ship ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Navy Island, just off the Port Antonio harbour was once the playing ground of movie star Errol Flynn. Today it is abandoned and the jungle is quickly re claiming the property. A Canadian millionaire has plans to develop the island. Such a waste of wonderful places.
The local boys Johnny and Dog Face took well care of us. Every day they paddled out on some sort of floating debris to our anchorage and offered bananas and other fruit as well as any other services we could wish for. They were absolutely charming, witty and a delight to deal with. Nothing of the Boat Boy type that is a plague in the Eastern Caribbean. Port Antonio is now being developed as a cruising port by the Jamaican authorities. This will undoubtedly bring more tourists to this remote area but it remains to be seen if the development will have a negative impact on the town's charm and safety of today.
After a couple of weeks in Port Antonio we were joined by my old school buddy Peter, who came aboard for a sail along the north coast of Jamaica. We anchored in attractive, sheltered bays at Oracabessa and Discovery Bay. Oracabessa is a pretty bay surrounded by lands owned by Chris Blackburn, founder of the Island Records Company. One of the villas is Golden Eye, former home of 007 inventor, writer Ian Fleming. Discovery Bay probably got its name because it is believed to be the spot where Columbus made land fall. There is also a (not so scenic) bauxite factory, which was used as Dr. No's head quarters Crab Cay in the first James Bond novel to be filmed.
In Montego Bay we anchored just outside of the docks of Montego Bay Yacht Club. The city is the second in size of the country, but it is the island's tourism capital. Several large cruise ships have MoBay, as it is called in every day speech, on their itinerary. The streets are crowded, colorful and lively and apparently a constant traffic jam. It is not an elegant place, but for a couple of hours it is interesting to take pleasure in its noisy, untidy, lively Caribbean charm. Afterwards we washed down the diesel fumes with a couple of cold drinks and enjoyed a delicious lunch even more at the Pier 1 restaurant , beautifully located on the break water just off downtown.
From MoBay Scorpio, with its regular crew of two, rounded the westernmost point of Jamaica and anchored for one night in Bloody Bay, outside of Negril. The name has no connection with the violence of the island; this is where the whalers of old days used to beach their catch and cut the big animals to pieces. On the way to Bloody Beach we caught a delicious Wahoo, one meter long and 4-5 kilos heavy, too much for two persons. Luckily we were in company with two other cruising sail boats and could give away most of the catch.
We now had our eyes directed towards Cartagena some 500 nautical miles to the south. When starting to examine the charts in detail I realized for the first time that it would not be possible to lay a direct course fore Cartagena. The reason is Pedro Banks, a 100 miles wide, east to west, shallow area about 80-100 miles south of Jamaica (see blow up of the map at the top of this page). From our position at the western end of Jamaica one has to skirt the bank either to the west or to the east. In order to get a better wind angle to Cartagena in the "prevailing" easterly winds I choose the eastern option.
Unfortunately going east along the south coast of Jamaica called for a hard slog (should I be surprised?). It took us two days of tacking against 20-25 knots of wind right on the nose to get to the anchorage behind Alligator Reef. From there we thought that we would be able to steer a strait course for Cartagena. On the way between Bloody Bay and Alligator Reef we anchored over night at Black River. During these two days we did not spot a single boat. The first two days towards Cartagena were pretty rough. With the winds out of the SSE and confused seas (heavy ground swell from NE and short wind waves from SE in combination with a NW setting current) and we could not comfortably steer along the rhumb line. After 36 hours we lowered our course by 30° and prepared to sail to San Blas, Panama, instead. However, a day later the wind backed a bit to the NE, and as also the wave pattern became more organized we were able to steer closer to the wind and again point along the bearing to Cartagena.
The reception at the Club Nautico docks in Cartagena was wonderful. At least four guys took our lines and one dived to pick up mooring lines attached to weighs on the bottom. When we were all set, the Dockmaster John Halley handed us cold beers - compliments of the marina. A few days later, having washed off all the salt of the boat and filled our fresh water tanks we moved to the anchorage between the marina and the naval base on the opposite shore. This anchorage is well patrolled by the navy and as free entertainment we can watch the fishermen trying to catch the fish laying nets in circles around anchored boats.
Cartagena "of the Indies" was for several centuries the most important Spanish port in the New World, and certainly the most heavily fortified city. Its well protected anchorages could comfortably accommodate the largest sailing vessels and its strategic location made it the ideal western base for the fleet sent from Spain every other year to gather the riches of the Indies.
The old walled city of Cartagena has preserved much of its colonial charm, and is one of the most beautiful cities we have seen. We have been to many old colonial places during the past two years, especially in Cuba and Central America, but it is refreshing to see that here in Cartagena the old houses have not been left to decay. As all over the Western Caribbean, everybody we talked to were remarkably friendly and even the ubiquitous street vendors took (our third) "no" for an answer.
So here we are; moving from one of the most crime infested countries in the world to an other - of even more fearsome reputation. But neither in Jamaica nor in Cartagena, so far, have we ever felt threatened. We take normal, reasonable, precautions and try to use common sense to avoid trouble. And we also knock on wood ....