We Saw Three Ships

After two beautiful days at sea, we barely arrived at 3:30 pm on Christmas Eve to the windy marina in Santa Marta with our friends, Loch Marin and Tulu.  A trip that I had been dreading, turned out to be one of the easiest so far.  We’d enjoyed our last port of call - ritzy Aruba, where high end shopping and a resort pool had us sitting in the lap of luxury.  Granted, we window shopped and stuck out like vagabonds in a crowd of Gucci-wearing upper class vacationers, but we enjoyed the new scenery.  Aruba is the smallest of the Netherlands Antilles.  It has separated itself from The Netherlands for the most part, and has its own currency.  Thankfully, though, the Starbucks on the boardwalk accepted credit cards, and I was ordering an iced green tea/lemonade everyday (sometimes twice a day, to be totally honest).  
Bustling main road boasting upscale shops and traditional Dutch architecture

Almost spent Christmas in Aruba!  

When we first arrived in Aruba, we had to check in at a specific dock that housed customs and immigration.  The wall was filled with produce-laden boats from Venezuela, and like Mary and Joseph, there was no room for us in the inn.  A couple calls to the port authority lead us to ask one of these huge steel boats if we could tie up alongside them for a few minutes, just to get signed in.  This would be a first!  Very kind farmers grabbed our lines and secured them with huge smiles.  Mark passed over a six pack of Presidente in appreciation and a few moments later they came back with a huge watermelon and sweet-smelling cantaloupe!  The kids showed off their new pet hermit crabs and I conversed as much as I could with my limited Spanish.  What began as a worrisome situation turned out to be an exchange I’ll never forget.  

Our newest 'buddy boat'!  Tied alongside a Venezuelan produce ship in Aruba to check in
Clang, Clang, Clang went the trolley...

It happened that we tied up in a marina there, too, in the capital city of Oranjestad.  We usually avoid marinas because they offer little privacy or precious cooling wind, but we had packages delivered to the marina office that we had to pick up.  Along the docks, fishing boats would hurl their day’s catch - huge tuna and wahoo - with a thud onto the docks, making us vow to get the lines out more often!  In town, a new trolley ran up and down the main shopping area, so we had to hop on and try it out.  Since it was newly operational, they have a few kinks to work out, though.  One being an ear-curdling screech anytime it had to turn a corner or even follow any curve in the tracks.  Shopkeepers along the way were obviously used to its screeching, and they covered their ears long before it approached.

Michael didn't even notice the squeak! 
While window shopping one day, we noticed a crowd gathered.  A local church was performing the Christmas story complete with a Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, angels, shepherds, and wise men.  In three languages they sang Christmas carols - Spanish, Papiamento, and English.  It was finally starting to feel like Christmas…

Local nativity pageant, complete with hanging star!
Mark was in full weatherman mode.  The trek to Santa Marta, Colombia is known to be a doozy.  The huge mountains on shore send out strong katabatic winds causing monstrous following seas.  In general, downwind sailing is much more comfortable than any other point of sail, but it has its unnerving parts, too.  Think of looking behind your boat at a wall of water that is threatening to break right on top of you!  We became very preoccupied with watching forecasts and waiting for a window of weather that would avoid any towering waves or gale force winds.  The preoccupation paid off, and we had a leisurely sail for 2 days down to Santa Marta, Colombia.  

Our view of the Colombian coastline as we entered the harbor
I couldn't resist writing a parody for I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, as I listened on the VHF to our two buddy boats entering the harbor just ahead of us.  Our friend, Chris, got out the guitar once we all got settled, and we had a good chuckle at the appropriateness of the tune!  We’d made it just in the knick of time.  That night, the marina had organized a cruiser’s Christmas party, so the celebrations began!

Our little artist elf!
The kids had written a list of people for whom to make gifts, and they worked hard to create special Christmas paintings for our neighbors.  Since we’d just arrived, however, we opted not to open presents on Christmas Eve, but to save them for the morning and get to sleep so Santa could make his deliveries!  Stockings were set out, remaining presents were wrapped, and the kids finally overcame their excitement and zonked out in their beds.

In the morning, Mark made Swedish pancakes.  We gathered around the table and read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke and then enjoyed watching each other open the gifts we’d carefully picked out.  It was touching to see the kids more excited about what they GAVE than what they received.

Elizabeth personalized some of her shells and made necklaces for each of us
Both were so excited to see the other open gifts!  
Elizabeth and Michael donned their Santa hats and delivered their handmade gifts along the docks.  I wanted so badly to walk alongside them, but Mark held me back, knowing it was important for them to be elves on their own.  I couldn’t resist watching them from the deck, and seeing the smiles they inspired.  Michael would knock on the boat’s hull and say, “Merry Christmas!” until the folks would venture out, sleep still in their eyes and grin broadly at the sight of Santa’s helpers!  Even as they walked along, they handed candy canes to the strangers they passed and called out, “Feliz Navidad!”  It made my heart smile.

Michael delivering candy canes to their friend, Darien, from Australia
Being Santa's elves around the marina

In the afternoon, a fellow boating family came over and we feasted on Swedish meatballs (a family tradition), rotisserie chicken, green bean casserole, candied yams, stuffing, and cranberry jelly.  I’d been collecting the ingredients as I’d seen them in stores along the way from Bonaire to Aruba.  While cruising, I’ve learned that when it comes to grocery shopping, if you see something you don’t see often, buy it right then.  Who knows when you’ll find it next!  To drink, I poured sparkling cider for the kids as the adults opened a bottle of wine we’d gotten in Argentina two years ago.  It was exactly two Christmases ago that we’d moved onto the boat for the first time.  Being in another South American country again brings all of it rushing back into my mind - the sights, sounds, smells, and smiles of this culture are so rich and warm.  So it is with a full heart that I bid all our dear family and friends a “Feliz Navidad” once again.

Walking along the boardwalk with fellow cruisers on Christmas night
Kids stopped to watch a clown perform, although they couldn't understand a thing he said! 
I just had to stop for freshly popped popcorn!  Each bag was only 50 cents, or 1,000 pesos locally.
I'll leave you with Elizabeth's Santa impression in the shower and her latest joke...
"What does a Caribbean Santa say when he delivers toys?"  "YO, HO, HO and a bottle of rum!"


  1. Glad to see/hear that you had a safe passage! Next stop- Cartagena?
    Happy New Year All!


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