August 15, 2013-Report from Club Nautico
Imagine our surprise when, after months of hearing rumors that Club Nautico, in Cartagena, was out of business, we arrived in July and found Club Nautico to be a bustling and busy marina in full operation, with sturdy docks, good moorings and water and power. Despite what the cruisers in the rest of the Caribbean were saying, Club Nautico is not defunct, out of business, decrepit, falling apart, or controlled by cartels. It is packed full, all abuzz with activity of all sorts including significant progress on the new buildings, which are close to being ready for occupancy, and which appear to be quite upscale. The office will probably occupy its new space in the new building by late August. The bar and restaurant, based on the progress at this time, will open later in 2013. Unfortunately the showers and bathroom for the cruisers look to be completed last, as they are dependent on razing of one old structure which is still in use (the office).
Knowing that Club Nautico was going to be the best spot to base ourselves if we wanted to explore Cartagena, we were happy to find Club Nautico up and running and we were determined to get a spot here. The only alternatives were to anchor in the harbor or try Club De Pesca, which is also full and reported to be more expensive.
Not being able to reach anyone in the office by phone or VHF (this is probably a language issue), and not wishing anchor out and put together the dingy in Cartagena's heat and humidity, we wondered how to get a berth at the dock. However, we spotted a place at the corner of the dock where we thought we could squeeze in and we simply dropped the hook and backed in. A boat worker nearby took our lines. Ashore we located the marina owner Pablo Bennett, and found him to be helpful and speaking excellent English ( rare in Cartagena,). He chuckled when he saw where we were tied but he allowed us to stay there, had the power box modified to give us a connection and meter, and even had his guys put down a new mooring screw and heavy lines to make us safer when the squalls come (more on the squalls below). They helped us recover our anchor which we didn't want to leave down due to the reportedly rapid and thick growth which would accumulate on the chain.
It turns out that few cruisers come into Club Nautico, most choose to anchor off the marina and use the marina dingy dock for access to the town and for fresh water; we are not sure why, maybe backing in is just too hard. The mix of boats here makes it interesting and busy. Many of the boats in the marina are either long term live-aboards, parked yachts of wealthy Colombians or Panamanians, or charter boats shuttling backpackers to the San Blas Islands.
Club Nautico is Pablo's family's business, has been for a long time, and it looks like it will be for a good while in the future too.
Culo de Pollo (Serious squalls in Cartagena)
Wave action and weather conditions can make Club de Nautico unpleasant at times. The worst problem are the occasional Culo de Pollo which means "Ass of the Chicken", which is the name that has been given to the violent squalls which hit Cartagena during the wet season, as often as once a month. They come suddenly and carry winds of 40 knots or more, but last only a few minutes. Other squalls, less severe, but more frequent, last long enough to allow a wave action to build. In addition, there are constant boat wakes which rock the boats at Club Nautico (and, to a lesser degree, Club de Pesca). Fortunately, except for the Culo de Pollos, which seem to prefer 04:00 for their arrivals, the nights are calm.
For all these reasons tying up to the concrete piers at Club Nautico is tricky. There is room for about 50 boats, most tied either stern to or bow in with the outboard end on underwater moorings. Boats must be well secured and far enough away from the dock to prevent damage when the wind and waves come. Fortunately the marina has good mooring blocks and "tornillos" (mooring screws). Most boats are tied up about 6 feet from the dock and long "diving board" planks are used to allow access. This makes coming and going from your boat quite an adventure and makes one think twice about arriving home inebriated after a night in the town. It is important to have multiple lines to the moorings. The marina helps with this.
Lines left in the water accumulate heavy growth in about one week. Rotating lines and cleaning them is a good idea.
The Manga Neighborhood
The possibility of these Culo de Pollos makes us very leery about leaving the boat here, or even in the anchorage where dragging is common. For inland travelling we think Santa Marta or Puerto Valero would be safer. In fact, we keep an eye on the sky when we are in town and if thunderstorm activity looks likely we hurry back.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Cartagena