September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

Cholon Bay, Colombia
09.73 N, Long 75 39.63 W

Tom Morkin

Cartagena Colombia is fantastic but it does have its downsides. The biggest for us was the polluted waters of the harbour where barnacles proliferated and propagated with such ferocity I swear I could hear them making ‘woopie woopie’ through the hull at night. They didn’t seem to care that they were building their homes on bottom paint that was only two months old. Why did we spend $600 on anti-fouling? In Cartagena it was like health food to them.

This, coupled with the fact that my beloved ship mate and I, highly hydrophilic, have a need to immerse ourselves thrice daily in the ocean to cool off, bathe and get our exercise. It was time to ‘get ‘outta Dodge.’

Getting out of Dodge meant checking out of Colombia and getting our passports stamped. Panama was to be our next country but amazingly, the Colombian officials are very lenient about how soon one must depart Colombia after check-out. They seemed perfectly at ease granting us a full month to visit Colombian islands and bays en route to Panama.

Our first stop was only 18 miles south, to the sanctuary of Cienaga de Cholon. This little piece of paradise is a totally landlocked waterway surrounded by mangrove clad islands and islets. The depths are uniformly 18- 22 feet with lovely anchor grabbing and holding mud.

If that were not enough, it is also home to the famed Robert Winter and his Colombian wife Carmen Helena Castro, arguably the most giving and hospitable land based folks in the Caribbean. It has become their tradition to throw open their incredible hill top home to host Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for all anchorees in the bay. We couldn’t get there fast enough.

It was a windless morning when we exited the Boca Chica of Cartagena, putting one of the half dozen forts surrounding the harbour to starboard.

Within two hours we were nervously standing off the reef strewn entrance preparing to follow the GPS waypoints that would hopefully take us through the maze. Like a voice from heaven, Robert hailed us on VHF from his hill top home appropriately named “Crow’s Nest.”

Feel Free, this is Crow’s Nest. I got ‘ya, you’re doing just fine. Stay 75 yards off those flat rocks on your port side, then line up the antenna and keep it on your bow. If I see you straying off course I’ll let you know.

It was like having a ship’s pilot piloting us from shore. I could get used to that.

Once inside the bay, which seemed more like a lake, we were surrounded by exquisitely appointed homes that discretely and tastefully dot lush tropical rainforest.

Allegedly, a handful of these multi-million dollar getaways are owned by some of Colombia’s finest drug barons from the country’s interior.

The next day, after a 60 minute bicycle ride there and back into the nearby town of Baru with my buddy Steve of Music, Steve took me to Crow’s Nest to meet Robert. Steve first met Robert ten years ago when they were both solo sailors so they had a lot of catching up to do. I was more than happy to be a fly on the wall as Robert told his story. After serving 28 years as a motorcycle cop with the LAPD, he was to set sail on his 41 foot Formosa sloop Gaea’s Way (Greek for Mother Nature’s Way). That is, not until his wife decided the sailing life wasn’t for her and left him a solo sailor. He headed south, got as far as Colombia and hasn’t left.

He lost Gaea’s Way and almost lost the lives of his Colombian crew and his own in 2000 when they set sail from Cartagena to Aruba. The boat took on water and sank off the Colombian coast. They were rescued by a passing freighter. He wasn’t boat-less for long when he bought Fresh Air, a 43 ft. Roberts designed sloop.

In 1999 he met Carmen, a lovely young Colombian gal who continues to be his life mate.

After a series of run-ins with the management of Club Nautico in Cartagena, Robert and Carmen sailed to Cholon Bay where they lay on the anchor for one year. He liked it so much he rented a waterfront house with a dock, tied his boat to the dock and put down roots.

After scouting out the area, which meant sometimes bush whacking through some rugged terrain, he found a hill top property for sale, 2 ½ acres of it. Machete in hand, he whacked his way up the hill.

On top of the hill, the vegetation was so thick he needed to climb a tree to see what kind of view his prospective cabin would have. He was flabbergasted. The view was and is a stunner. He had to buy it.

Problem was, money- half a cop’s pension (the other half going to his ex) and minimal savings, and don’t forget he was supporting a sailboat. “Under protest” his son, also a cop, loaned Robert the $10,000 he needed to close the deal in 2004.

To raise cash he sold Fresh Air and delivered her to the new owner in New Orleans. Six days later, Katrina struck. Miraculously, Fresh Air survived Katrina, in fact, the new owner moved aboard the boat following the destruction of his New Orleans home.

Construction of what was to be a 7,000 sq. ft. house began immediately. Robert thought he was getting a 2,500 sq. ft. house. The dimensions he gave were in feet. The architect took them to be in meters. So Robert ended up with a house three times bigger than expected. The bad news is, it will take three times longer to be able to afford to finish it. But hey, that’s okay because even unfinished he has an amazing place.

It appeared that in 2009 he figured he didn’t have enough on his plate because he headed to Florida and came back with a 75 foot shrimp boat, the Manatee.

The plan was to use Manatee to get into the Colombia-Panama backpacker trade. Let me explain. There is no road connecting Colombia with its western neighbour Panama, so travellers must either fly or take a boat from one place to the other. Furthermore, there is no large ferry service. There are however, about 40 vessels of varying sizes, sail and power, all privately owned, that will transport this mostly backpacker crowd from one country to another. (The going rate is about U.S.$380.)

Unfortunately, after a couple of months in Colombia, the engineer bailed out, leaving Robert alone with a boat too big to operate alone.

So at present Manatee lies anchored in Cholon Bay, the social focal point and party central for cruisers in the bay- not such a bad fate. Wednesdays and Fridays are ‘Happy Hour’ nights. The open air after deck provides a great way to get acquainted with the folks in the ever changing neighbourhood.

Stan and Lynne Homer of the Canadian vessel Homers’ Odyssey were two such newly made friends. When they heard we were heading for the San Blas islands in a few days time, (and this was within 30 minutes of meeting us), they pointed out that we would not be able to withdraw money once we got there. Oh dear, and we were counting on that as we had very little U.S. cash on hand. They immediately offered a loan of three hundred dollars in cash. How often do you find that kind of trust in the regular world? Needless to say, we took them up on their kind generosity.

Word of Robert and Carmen throwing their home open to all the cruisers in Cholon for a gala Xmas party brought no fewer than 25 boats to the bay. The event included live music in the form of electric guitar, mouth organ and keyboard provided by talented cruisers in the group, as well as a gift exchange with a difference- gifts had to be items from the boat but not used or purchased recently.

The ‘piece de resistance’ was the potluck dinner consisting of 2 ½ large turkeys with stuffing, a large ham, mashed potatoes with gravy and cranberry sauce, and a minimum of 25 side dishes, requiring a buffet table fifty feet long.

We spent ten peaceful days in the Bay of Cholon. It was all good- swimming, cycling, hiking, socializing. Best of all though, was meeting Robert and Carmen and seeing how Robert made the transition from the life of cruising to the life of living on land. Maybe in the back of my mind, after so many years of wandering about the oceans of the world, I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like for Liz and me to emulate in a small way perhaps, what they have done. A little piece of undeveloped land somewhere, hopefully near a body of water, in an area of natural beauty. Yeah, sounds good- someday but not yet. Too many places to see still, new friends still to make.