Clark Howard, our favorite cheapskate and outspoken consumer advocate, has a favorite phrase he applies to companies that fail to provide satisfactory work. He calls them “no-service” companies. Club Nautico’s menu of offerings shrinks daily and earns Clark’s label hands down.
When we arrived in Cartagena de Indias in December 2011, we took a slip at Club Nautico until we got the lay of the land, so to speak. It was our first entry into the South American continent and thought that having a local connection would make it easier for us to become acclimated to our new surroundings.
One week was enough. We tolerated near bashing on both hulls of Happy Times as power boats roared through the anchorage. (They still speed by, only now there’s room to spare in the bay.) We put up with the daily shutdown of water between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. (Do the utilities take a siesta?) Belle endured being hauled off the boat by her safety vest onto a board four feet above her head in order to leave HT. Also, we had to dodge construction work on the dock to reach the marina’s entrance or the office.
When Robert, a former L.A. cop, invited the Cartagena cruisers to his house on Baru Island for a potluck on Christmas Day, we were all for it. Cholon Bay has clean water for swimming and running the watermaker, a pretty beach and a tranquil atmosphere.
On returning to Cartagena, we anchored off Club Nautico so we could acquire security for the dinghy when going ashore, drop off our trash, refill our water tank by jerry jug (unavailable daily from noon to 2 p.m., of course) and get wifi. All that for $23US per week. Not bad.
Little things at Club Nautico began to change around the first of the year. A sign bearing a long list of do’s and don’ts appeared on the premises. Water service became erratic. One of the portable toilets, used only in desperation, was locked permanently. Recently the weekly happy hour for cruisers was upended when all the seating disappeared. Club Nautico’s owner had lent its collection of white plastic chairs and neglected to tell the cruisers.
Most of the time, Club Nautico makes changes without warning or communication. Under a new security system, the Spanish teacher who’s been instructing cruisers for years at the dock was denied entry. The unlimited wifi now requires a log-in. (Rumors flew around the anchorage that service would be limited to one hour per day. That hasn’t happened yet, but the customers will be the last to know about it.) Even the backpackers’ pleas for transportation to Panama have been ripped off the club’s faded blue walls.
Club Nautico has been under construction for nearly four years. The story goes that the city of Cartagena owns the property. A woman named Candaleria owns the lease. She didn’t get along with the former mayor, and she was accused of constructing without the proper permits. She was ordered to tear it all down.
At one time Club Nautico was a popular establishment. Cartagenians flocked to the seaside restaurant to enjoy a meal and look out over the fleet of sailboats and power boats. Today there’s nothing but a shell.
The only other choice in these parts is Club de Pesca. It’s for the 1%, offering a full range of services at more than twice the cost.
One longtime cruiser says that four years ago, about 200 vessels filled the anchorage. News of a flurry of dinghy thefts—an operation run by the local authorities—circulated among the cruising community and the cruisers cut their visits to Cartagena by half. This year the same cruiser counted only 40 vessels in the anchorage. With Club Nautico shrinking its services by the day, there may be even fewer yachties in 2012.