There’s really only one way to start this blog — with the weather.
For those unfamiliar with living and cruising on a sailboat, there’s a common misconception that we can sail wherever we want, whenever we want. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case—mostly because of the weather. From winters in Alaska to hurricane seasons in the tropics, we are well versed in this area.
In our current situation, it’s the wind. Too much wind.
Before coming to Cartagena last year for hurricane season, Jill and I were keenly aware that once we got going on Yahtzee again, there would be a good bit of waiting in our future. The place we wanted to wait was Santa Marta, on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia and after two upwind hops, we made it here just before the new year. Santa Marta is a mountains-meets-the-sea city with a fascinating and somewhat brutal colonial history, and plenty to see and do nearby.
But when sailors speak of Santa Marta, you’re likely to hear stories about the WIND. It’s super windy here most of the time. Gusts come down from the nearby Sierra Nevada that can hit 30 to 40 knots and regularly top 50. As such, it’s not so easy to safely move a sailboat. On top of that, the consistent easterly trade winds sweeping across the Caribbean Sea have been accelerated this year, which means that any progress on a sailboat to the east is going to be extremely difficult and uncomfortable.
Here’s the best synopsis I’ve found of the trade winds this season in the Caribbean basin, via Marine Weather Center’s Chris Parker.
If you’re in the Caribbean, especially if you’ve tried to move near Colombia (looking at you, Yahtzee!) you may have noticed how consistently brisk the trade winds have been this season.
Although it is typical for trade winds to be stronger in the winter, breaks in the pattern have been particularly hard to find this winter. Both of these anomalies are related to La Nina (larger scale) and a corresponding tendency for high pressure in the western Atlantic.
Persistent upper level ridging and associated surface high pressure in the western Atlantic prevent most cold fronts from exiting the eastern US. Rather than a cold front every few days, we are in a pattern of a front every 5-7 days. Additionally, high pressure is quick to rebuild, resulting in limited impacts for the Caribbean from any fronts which are able to penetrate into the SW Atlantic.
That brings us to two questions: 1) What have you been doing?
One of the reasons we chose to come to Santa Marta is that there is a lot to do in the city and surrounding areas. If we’re going to wait somewhere for an extended period, this is a great place to be. Yahtzee is based in a marina, and during the week we do our normal routines of school, work, and play, and then we’ve taken weekend trips to the mountains and coast. Honestly, I feel like we’re spoiled here. There are delicious, inexpensive food options and an excellent grocery store just blocks away. We continue to work on projects aboard Yahtzee and she’s truly in the best condition since we bought her. We’ve met other cruisers and travelers, and have become friends with the incredibly friendly marina staff. A perk of marina life is that we have access to a beautiful hotel pool and gym. All of our Spanish continues to get better and we’ve all learned a lot about the local history and cultures. We love it and we’re soaking it all in, because we know we won’t be here forever. Which leads us to the big question…
2) Where are you going next?
The only answer we have for this is: We don’t know. And we’re good with that. Are we eager to get going? Yes, but we’re not wishing away time. We are patient and content, and know a weather window will come to allow us to go somewhere besides back where we came from (Cartagena and Panama). We’re just not sure where that is yet, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, enjoy these pictures from lovely Santa Marta.