…In Which Ole is Press-Ganged into the Colombian Navy…

Albuquerque Cays, Columbia


We are sitting at anchor in the most amazing place. The Albuquerque Cays are two tiny (less than 600 ft wide) coconut-fringed islets surrounded by a circular reef about 110 miles off the central Nicaraguan coast, and about 30 miles south of San Andres. We are at anchor between and a little to the west of the two cays, in about 25 feet of the clearest water I’ve ever seen.

The northern cay has an outpost of the Colombian Navy – 9 sailors – who man a communication station here. We were asked to come ashore and register with them, so as our dinghy pulled up, all nine guys, in uniforms consisting of khaki shorts and dog tags, came out to meet us and escort us to their commandant. They speak no English, but were gracious, charming, and hospitable, posing for a photo for us, then escorting us on a tour of the base. At the end of the tour, one of the young men asked me to go back with him to the camp, where he offered me my pick of small, beautiful shells. Apparently, the guys are stationed here for 30 days at a time, ferried here with a month’s worth of provisions and DVDs. The site of a pleasure boat, and the chance to talk to tourists, breaks up the monotony for them. 

The southern cay has a fish camp, where it seems about a dozen guys have a shelter, a generator, and a nightly bonfire. They go out to the reef in their lanchas in the morning, returning about 5:00 in the afternoon to tie off to their buoys and clean conch for two hours before finishing for the day. We’ve been here since the 13th, but haven’t seen a supply boat yet. Unlike Vivorillos, the fishermen haven’t approached us directly, but they wave as they pass in the mornings and afternoons.

Snorkeling here has been fantastic, with both shallow and deep places to explore. Ole’s finally got the right gear, and is beginning to relax and really enjoy the experience, although sighting a small nurse shark wasn’t exactly comforting. We’ve seen the usual reef fishes, but found ourselves in a current of blue tang that felt like some sort of great migration, and the gray angelfish here are the size of dinner plates. Out in deeper water, I got the chance to see a spotted eagle ray and followed him for about 15 minutes in 30-40 feet of water.

One of the highlights of being here is we’ve had company for the first several days. Attitude, with Neil and Kathy, is anchored ahead of us about 300 feet. They invited us over for fish curry the other night (the unfortunate but tasty demise of one of Neil’s snorkeling finds), but a half hour before we were due to join them, we got a radio call from the commandant at the navy base. In my limited way, I understood that he wanted us to come ashore for something, so Ole threw on his clothes, grabbed the boat papers, and when he got ashore was greeted by 4 guys in full uniform with machine guns. The panic subsided when, by clever use of hand gestures Ole was made to understand he was being pressed into service in the Colombian Navy, to ferry the four sailors to the fish camp to check on a new arrival. Unfortunately we have no pictures to document this service.

Once that mission had been accomplished and we arrived at Neil and Cathy’s, we pondered the Colombian Navy (Armada, in espanol) and the lack of water transportation for these 9 sailors — and we ate, drank, talked and laughed until late.

Today we’re just sitting at anchor, watching squall after squall pass through and thank Neptune that we snorkeled the anchor and found it buried, with a large coral head between it and the boat. Attitude left yesterday morning for Bocas del Toro, heading for the same marina as we are. They preferred the 15-20 knot winds of yesterday. We’re waiting for tomorrow, when the squalls dissipate and it’s expected to slow down to 10-15 knots, which will have us arriving in Bocas on December 20 as planned. We’ve got about 180 more miles to go, which should make for one last 24-hour passage. Emma Jo has been very very good to us so far this trip!

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