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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Sailing to Cartagena

Updated: Dec 7, 2020


Morning came too early, but we had breakfast and soon saw the Stahlratte chugging its way towards the island.

We boarded by launch and were on our way for a 3 hour sail to a small island where the afternoon was spent swimming and playing in the water. Just the short trip on calm waters had a few people turning grey-green and reaching for Gravol or Dramamine.

Adrian, an engineer for BMW Motorrad in Germany

Charlie said it handled like the 1200GS

Not too shabby...

That evening about 9, after a fresh lobster and fish feast, we set on for Cartagena. Normally, another day is spent in the islands, however Captain Ludwig was needing to make up for lost time due to the boat repairs and we left that evening. There wasn't enough wind to sail, so we chugged along by diesel into the night. Most went below to the bunks, but I stayed on deck in a lounge chair, sleeping on and off through the night rain-free. I awoke to stars and a brilliant moon several times, watching the swaying mast above me and rolling side to side on the deck chair with the plunging ship. Alber, one of the crew, shook me awake at some point in the night to excitedly show me dolphins alongside the boat, jumping high into the air in the moonlight. It was an epic night under the stars.

One by one, folks from below would appear in the night and try to sleep up top, then go back. The next morning found many reports of seasick folks who'd done the Technicolor Yodel that night. Probably 2/3 of the group were seasick or queasy, despite the calm waters Captain Ludwig reported.

I was quite happy to find out that I don't get seasick and didn't need any meds. Hearing stories and seeing others launching lobster all night required me to block thinking of it however, to avoid a sympathetic hurling.


The next day was spent avoiding sporadic rain amidst bright sun, the slow chugging rhythm of the diesel lulling one to drowsiness.

16 bikes under tarps on this side of the ship, 5 on the other

Benjamin from France and Riccardo from Italy

Robert from England, Bas from Holland, Doug and Scott from the US

Late that afternoon, the first sight of the white skyscrapers of Cartageña peeked slowly over the curvature of the earth and excitement rose.

By dark we'd arrived in the harbor to anchor and had our final meal on board, surrounded by a beautiful night skyline. Again, the night was spent on the deck and I awoke surrounded by some of the gang the next morning.

We were sent by dinghy to the shore with our overnight bags to find ATM's and our hotels for the day and night. We were due to return to the same dock at 6:20 am the next morning for delivery back to the ship and a sailing to the industrial docks for offloading of our motorcycles, gear and cases.

That next morning, it was exciting to stand on the dock and watch each bike being handled on the deck then lifted off to the pier. The Stahlratte crew did a great job handling so many bikes in such tight quarters and getting them off quickly. My bike fell over on the deck while others were off-loaded. Luckily only the crash bar was bent in a bit but it felt good to watch it finally touch down on the crowded pier, one of the last two bikes!

My baby!

We got all our gear and cases back on the bikes in the morning heat, struggling to dig things out of the piles and find all our stuff. Bas had some excitement when he locked his keys in his tail case and had to run to one of the dock repair crews who had some small bolt cutters. He and I struggled with it until finally the big Masterlock hoop was cut through. We managed to bend the handles of the bolt cutters but there was no way in hell Bas was giving up! He'd broken off a key in the top case a few months back and they no longer locked, so he bought a big Masterlock that would go through the handle. He'd had to unbolt all his cases earlier for the ship, which had been rigged on, and in the craziness of the scene had tossed his keys in the top case and later just snapped the lock together.

We finally rolled out for the DIAN building in traffic a few clicks away. After a couple of roundabouts on one way streets we finally found the gate and were ushered in as a group. Stragglers arrived a few minutes later and we congregated in the main parking area for paperwork. After a while we received our Temporary Import Permits and Immigration stamps in our passports. All the details had been taken care of for us by the Stahlratte. Though the wait was long, avoiding all the insanity was nice.

From that point we waited for our insurance papers. As the frenetic morning rush subsided, I finally had time to savor the fact that I was indeed in Colombia and South America. It was a milestone for my trip and life. Now things would change, readjustments would be made, distances traveled would be substantially longer. It would take some time to adjust to after crossing entire countries in two days.

As we waited for our insurance papers for hours, people were getting grumbly and the fixer the Stahlratte had hired to handle our paperwork was telling us there were problems with the insurance agencies lacking the official paper forms required by the government. It became apparent late in the day that nothing was happening and the fixer didn't seem to care. Tempers began to flare since we'd been sitting in the heat an entire day, with no real information being told us. When the fixer was asked questions he basically blew everyone off and it got ugly and tense. None of us knew what to do, since we couldn't legally ride our motorcycles without insurance and Colombia was famous for seizing motorcycles and cars never to return them.

We all finally began to search on our phones for any offices that said "Seguro" and the 3 Canadians and I began our quest. I found about 8 offices on Google maps and we walked to 2 before closing, only to be told they couldn't issue policies. We finally gave up and rode to out AirBNB for the evening to try again the next day. That next day was spent walking the city to several more insurance agencies, only to be refused for various reasons. Our texts with the other riders all proved the same - they couldn't find insurance either. Another day was lost and at the end of the third day, in a high end shopping street we entered the last agency. Instead of immediately telling us no, the main person there indicated she might be able to help but we'd need to come back the next day. I'll skip the details but we managed to get our insurance papers late that evening. It was a huge relief. We found out some riders had gone ahead without insurance to try and find it in Medellin or other cities.

Later, we found out that the insurance agencies were angry at the Colombian government but couldn't strike legally, so instead they were using all sorts of excuses to avoid selling policies, thus hurting the government financially in retribution.

The politics being played cost us in stress and several days of looking, not to mention time lost and extra lodging costs...

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