There are many ways to sail to the San Blas Islands and many places to clear into Panama. Some people clear in at Puerto Lindo or El Provenir while others sneak into the San Blas islands and clear in further up the island chain. The problem with clearing in at Puerto Lindo and El Provenir is that you have to pass by most of the San Blas islands. So, where does Puerto Velero come in?
Since we didn’t want to take the risk of sneaking into the country and we didn’t want to circle back, we had to find another choice. Our best option was to clear in at Puerto Obaldia which is a small village and a fairly unique entry point. It’s located on the border of Colombia and Panama and is not a popular clearance location. The guide book and noonsite have confusing language about who is and isn’t allowed to clear in at this port. Most people just avoid it due to the uncertainty and poor anchorage.
The sail to Puerto Obaldia is roughly 260 nautical miles. We could either sail 3 days/2 nights directly from Santa Marta, Colombia to Puerto Obaldia, Panama or we could sail to Puerto Velero one day and sail the remaining 200 miles in 2 days/1 night. Puerto Velero seemed like the best choice.
After leaving the comforts of Marina Santa Marta at 630am we noticed immediately that there was something wrong with our props. Matt was at the helm and was not getting much forward propulsion even though we had prop wash. We decided to forge ahead and carefully navigated our way out of the bay. We raised our sails with two reefs in and headed south without the engines. The winds were gusting over the forecast to 35 knots and predicted 1-meter waves were over 3-meters. We settled in for a fun sail down to the Magadelana river in Barranquilla.
As we approached the Barranquilla river we watched the beautiful blue water turn greenish brown. The water became more polluted with tree branches, logs, and trash. We even saw a man’s shoe. Which is scary as the rumor is the cartel dumps bodies into the river to be carried out to sea. We started to cross at about 6 miles offshore, into the light brown water, then into the dark milkshake waters. The depth gauge started reading 3 meters when it should be hundreds, so an immediate about face back to the 3-color water highway.
Thank goodness, we had strong winds and a broad reach / run which enabled us to sail fairly quickly without the engines. However, we had to use our engines as we entered the Puerto Velero bay which was painful at 2 knots with both engines pushing 1800 rpm (normally that would give us 6 knots). Once we arrived into Puerto Velero, we dropped anchor and Matt hopped in the water with the hooka to clean the props. We had offers to clean the bottom of the boat but we did not think it needed it since the water line was pretty clean. Big mistake! Matt spent an hour cleaning off 1” of hard and soft growth from the props. No wonder they could not give us forward propulsion – poor things. Matt prepared a really nice pulled pork dinner in the pressure cooker which turned out amazing!
• Total Daily Miles: 68
• Max Speed: 15.2
• Avg Speed: 7.2
• Hours Moving: 9
• Wind Avg: 25–30 knots
• Wing Angle: Broad Reach to Run
• Wave Height Avg: 3-4 meters
Up next, the completion of this voyage and arrival into Panama…
Matt took this photo in Santa Marta and it missed a post…
This is how the sun is delivered in Columbia.