Curaçao to Colombia

Sailing Curacao to Colombia on Sava

We did it! After numerous delays caused by human and mechanical breakdowns, we did our longest passage yet. We sailed 320+nm from Curaçao to Colombia. Currently comfortable in the welcoming Marina de Santa Marta, we are rested and content after an eventful voyage.

Sunset on our second night sailing to Colombia
Sunset on our second night sailing Curaçao to Colombia

Waiting to Go

Since February, we’d been ready to leave Curaçao. While we loved the island, the hikes, culture and vibes, Colombia was calling. After 4 months, it was time to start sailing again. And we’re ready to see more of Colombia, which we loved the first time we visited. But when our dinghy engine broke, Brian ordered another part, not thinking we wouldn’t need it in a marina in Colombia. The part took weeks to arrive and we missed a couple of weather windows and buddies to boat with during that time.

Weather Window

The sail from Curaçao to Colombia is downwind and the wind can be strong this time of year. Known in the region as The Christmas Winds, these northerlies kick up anytime after late December and bring high waves and sometimes rain with them. Since I get motion sick, I try to avoid high waves when sailing. It mostly worked!

Once we had our new dinghy part, Brian saw a calmer than normal weather window, and we planned to take it.

Passage Prep for the Sail from Curaçao to Colombia

Before any long sail, we have to get ourselves and the boat ready, called prepping for passage. We now have a checklist to make this easier and hopefully not forget things. The 320 nautical miles would be our longest distance yet, so I was anxious and wanted to get everything ready properly.

With Covid still a concern, traveling between countries is more complicated than it once was. We need to fill out forms and get PCR tests with negative results before we leave for a new country. It’s not that much work, but it takes extra time. Checking out of Curaçao was quick and easy, and our first PCR tests were better than expected, although they did make us gag.

Since we’d been planning to leave Curaçao for a while, just waiting on the part and weather, we had plenty of time to stock up on all the good food for sale in the supermarkets. Just a few last minute purchases of cheese and signature liqueur, and we were good to go.

Oh! And then friends came to visit! Yes, it was last minute, but they were only flying in from Aruba for a couple nights, and maybe an extra night at the end. It was hectic but worth it to see friends we hadn’t seen in a while and get one last big exploration of our favorite things to do in Curaçao.

Stuff Breaks

After a Monday full of PCR tests, checking out, last minute shopping, and sightseeing with our friends, we spent Tuesday morning prepping to sail. Our first stop was Santa Cruz Bay, just 25nm up from Sava’s anchorage, and that much closer to our ultimate destination: Santa Marta, Colombia.

We bid farewell to our friends in the bay, lifted anchor, and started the trip. It didn’t go well. Our radio and autopilot both failed early. We need new batteries so hoped these were related to that and with a fully charged engine our electronics would work. Brian tested both when we got to Santa Cruz, contacted some experts and didn’t have good news. Our auto-helm was dead and would need to be replaced. We had to decide whether to stay in Curaçao and wait weeks for the part, or take the calm weather window and hand steer the 320nm to Colombia.

Our track from Curaçao to Santa Marta, Colombia

Autopilot Makes Life Easier

I love our autopilot so much I wrote an entire post about it, so I won’t get too detailed now. Our steering wheel is big and heavy, especially when it’s wavy and windy, and it’s a lot of work to keep us on course, even downwind. I don’t like a lot of work when I am trying to avoid seasickness and get through a dark night by myself. I really wanted to do this passage with a working autopilot, but I also wanted to go. We voted to go to Colombia and get the replacement shipped to us there.

Sailing in a Washing Machine

The trip was was a 2 day + 4 hour sail, and the first day was the worst. We left around 9am, and the waves weren’t huge, but they were frequent and coming from multiple directions. In sailing parlance, we call it confused seas. Another fun description is a washing machine, because it churns, and it made my stomach churn too! I wasn’t a happy camper, and Brian had to steer a lot that first day and night.

You will notice the angle in my photos. This is what it’s like sailing in wind and waves. I feel a little sick just looking at these photos.

Lots of waves near Aruba sailing
Lots of waves from all directions near Aruba

If you are doing a passage where you have to focus on steering, I highly recommend downloading audiobooks. Brian and I got through the first night listening to an audiobook about Canadian comedy troupe The Kids in The Hall. He steered, and I napped outside and took over a couple of times, but Brian was the hero of our first day and night on the passage from Curaçao to Colombia.

It Got Better

Fortunately, the waves calmed that first night and Thursday morning was beautiful. I took over the driving and was visited by dolphins twice. I’ll tell you, it really sucks being visited by dolphins when you are single-handed with no autohelm! Every time I tried to take photos or videos the boat would go off course away from the dolphins! Last time we saw dolphins we could leave the cockpit and spend 20 minutes watching them. That was when our autopilot worked.

dolphins on the passage from Curacao to Colombia
I did manage to get a photo of the dolphins before our boat steered us the wrong way

Brian missed the dolphins completely, but he caught up on sleep in the daytime and we traded shifts through the night. Things looked up for getting to Colombia without much drama.

The second night was a little rough. We had one huge wave hit us so hard Brian came upstairs asking what we had hit. Since I just got wet and the boat was still sailing we knew it was just a wave. Nothing broken and still going in the right direction? Check!

Conditions on the Sail From Curaçao to Colombia

We left Curaçao with winds around 18 knots. We didn’t see any boats until Aruba, and they were tankers which were barely moving. Wind was mostly behind us except when we approached land, and then it shifted to behind us angled from the land.

Sunset on a sailboat on the ocean
Sunset from the boat

Because the waves were so bad on the first day, we opted to sail outside of Aruba, not inside between Aruba and the mainland. We thought waves to shore would be worse than on the outside.

I was surprised how quickly we got to Colombia, but how far we still had to go! Once we saw the coast of Colombia, it was another 24 hours to Santa Marta, the first place for sailors to check in. Apparently you can anchor further up the coast, but it didn’t look protected.

Colombia Caribbean coastal mountains
A tanker near shore in Colombia with mountains in the background

To Santa Marta

Fellow sailors warned us about the turn into Santa Marta and wow were we glad they did! The wind comes down from the Sierra Nevadas and picks up lots of steam. We were warned to arrive during daytime because the wind is worse at night, and to reef our sails before making the turn.

We came during a very calm period, and turned the corner in the daytime. For the entire trip, we only used our jib, which we reefed in more as the trip continued.

Our average speed was a little over 6 knots, but we did peak at 12 knots for a second. The highest wind we saw was in the mid 30s after the turn into Santa Marta. It was also quite wavy in that area, but fortunately we only had a couple of hours to go. Based on accounts of fellow sailors, our trip could have been so much worse. We timed it well. The winds in the marina have gusted as high as 54 knots the last few days!

Santa Marta ocean waves Colombia coast
Waves all around us on our last day outside Santa Marta

What’s Next?

Remember I mentioned the battery problem and our radio? We wouldn’t have left without a working radio as that is unsafe. Since we have a backup portable radio charged and ready to go, we could make the voyage. We kept charging as we went, and then all of a sudden on day two, our radio came back to life! We are pretty sure the fail was connected to our battery issue, and are getting new batteries in Santa Marta.

We’ll stay in Santa Marta for a month, enjoying the town, the marina amenities, and taking day trips to explore this beautiful region while we get Sava fixed. We’re ready for Colombian coffee and inexpensive meals.

Thanks for reading to the end of this long post. We survived our longest passage and hopefully it’s our last without a working autopilot.

Do you have any recommendations of things to see and do in Santa Marta or Colombia? Please share in the comments.

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

4 thoughts on “Curaçao to Colombia”

  1. No autopilot! That sounds awful, but makes sense you needed to grab the good weather window. This is a fascinating lifestyle! I have no idea how to sail, so I’m impressed by the ocean passage! Do you have to reserve anchorages ahead of time, and imagine you are visited by border control as soon as you dock?

    1. Good question, Rachel. For anchorages, it’s usually first come, first serve. Checking in to new countries used to be just show up and check in. Now in the time of Covid-19, there’s a lot of emailing forms and pre-approvals before arrival. The new normal ????‍♀️

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