CRUISING NOTES ON PROVIDENCIA AND SAN ANDRES
These notes are a result of a short cruise in this area in May 2013 on “Alba” our Hallberg Rassy 42. Our draft is 2.0 metres (6’ 8”).
A copy of this document can be downloaded from http://www.thehowarths.net/albacronicles/cruising-notes.
This is a lovely little island about 100 miles off the Nicaraguan coast, which strangely belongs to Colombia. The island is sparsely populated and the locals are very friendly and helpful. They mostly speak a version of patois, but English and Spanish are very common. The tourist office is very helpful and, when we were there, they were handing out free copies of a "Cruising Guide to Colombia", which is well worth asking for because it contains reduced colour copies of the major charts for all of the Colombian coastline.
The lighthouse on Low Cay to the north of the island is supposed to be white flashing every 10 seconds, but it's actually white flashing twice every 8 seconds.
The main channel into the anchorage is well buoyed and well lit, but the Navionics charts are incorrectly positioned - all features are actually 0.25 miles further west than shown on the charts. We entered at night and had no problems - we trusted the buoys and ignored that chart plotter which showed us going over a very shallow reef.
The main bay is very large, but less than three metres in most places. Ferries come into the bay, so it's important to stay to the west of a line from the green buoy to the ferry dock. We anchored in 3 metres depth, 100 metres to the north-east of the green buoy. It's quite far into the town by dinghy, but we had a good breeze all of the time and no mosquitoes. The outer parts of the bay can get a little rolly when the wind is in the north, but in the two weeks that we were there, we only had one day where we had a slight roll.
There is a very good dinghy dock to the north west of the main ferry dock.
There is only one way to clear in and that is through Mr Bush of Bush Agencies - the port captain is unlikely to respond if you hail him on VHF. Instead call "Mr Bush" on channel 16 and if you're lucky he will respond and arrange to meet you at the dinghy dock. Otherwise, dinghy ashore, turn right at the dinghy dock and left at the only road junction in town, walk 400 metres up the road past the supermarkets and you'll see a general store on the right with a sign for Bush Agencies on the first floor. Mr Bush owns the store and his office is in his apartment above the store. It's all very relaxed and everyone knows Mr Bush.
Mr Bush will take your documents including passports and you'll get them back in a couple of days. He will issue you with a cruising permit and immigration visas, plus your exit zarpe for a total cost of $80US clearance fee and $30US per person for immigration visas. You pay him when you're ready to leave.
This is a larger sister island to Providencia and much busier being a major holiday destination for mainland Colombians.
The outer sea buoy is correctly positioned on the Navionics charts at 12°32.35N 81°41.46W. The buoys in the shipping channel are slightly different to the positions shown on the chart, but as this is a major shipping port, we trusted the buoys.
We found the Navionics charts to be accurate. The anchorage shown on the charts is to the north of a small island called Cotton Cay. Most of this anchorage is filled up with fishing boats on moorings, but there is space to anchor to at the east end of the anchorage, just off Nene's Marina.
There is a more picturesque anchorage to the north-east of Cotton Cay, just off the San Andres Yacht Club (12°34.67N 81°41.55W). To get there you have to go back out to the shipping channel and around the south of Cotton Cay - the depth is less than 1 metre between the anchorages.
The approach to the Yacht Club Anchorage starts at red buoy No.6 and follows a 4-5 metre deep channel to the south-east of Cotton Cay - it's easy to navigate in good light. We used the following waypoints - 12°34.187N 81°41.793W; 12°34.417N 81°41.583W; 12°34.577N 81°41.515W.
The anchorage shallows very quickly on all sides and is crowded. When we were there, we shared the anchorage with a floating night club, a pirate ship, a small cruise ship and the catamaran ferry which goes to Providencia. In addition, countless pirogues, jet skis and party catamarans speed through the anchorage making you wish you were back in the tranquil bay in Providencia.
There are not many places to leave your dinghy because most of the shore line appears to be private and is fenced off. You can leave your dinghy at Nene's Marina for $2US per day or the Yacht Club for $12.50US per person per week (non-negotiable)
You clear in using the services of Mr Rene who can (sometimes) be contacted on channel 16. He will arrange to meet you at either Nene's Marina or the Yacht Club. If you are paying to use the Yacht Club facilities then they will ring Mr Rene for you and arrange for a time to meet him. He's a busy guy and may not be a punctual as you - take a book to read while you are waiting... He charges $50 for his clearance fee.
This is an isolated atoll with two small cays approximately 25 miles south of San Andres. There is a small military outpost on the northern island and an fishing camp on the other one. The snorkelling is good on the small reefs dotted around the area, but the fishermen have stripped the place clean of anything big enough to eat. The water colours are stunning.
The position of the islands is approximated 0.3 miles further south east than shown on the Navionics charts, so I assume that the whole chart is similarly offset.
The approach from the north is straightforward in good light. On the approach while heading east, the depth drops to 4-5 metres, but then increases to 8-10 metres inside the atoll. There are numerous shallow coral patches on the 2 mile route to the cays, so a sharp lookout is called for. We used the following waypoints that mostly kept us out of trouble, although we had to skirt around a few small reef patches - 12°11.131N 81°53.292W; 12°11.178N 81°52.422W; 12°11.007N 81°51.773W; 12°10.088N 81°50.809W.
We anchored directly to the west of the north cay at approximately 12°09.93N 81°50.594W. The water was 8 metres deep with soft sand and occasional coral patches. The holding is excellent, but we had to keep freeing our chain when it caught on coral patches. If you have a shallow draft then there is a fantastic sand patch to the north of north cay, which has depths of six feet. Even in average wind conditions, this is a choppy anchorage with waves hooking around the island.
As soon as we anchored, we were hailed on channel 16 by the military post and asked to go ashore with our papers. A soldier in shorts, bare feet, a flak jacket and a wicked looking shotgun met us on the beach and took us to the commanding officer. He was very pleasant and just wanted to look at our ships papers, making a few entries in a note book about where we'd come from and where we were going. We could stay a week without any problem.
See http://www.thehowarths.net/albacronicles/2013-western-caribbean/may-2013 for our blog on what we did in these places.