Colombia targets a first-class marina

Colombia's boating potential is great, but the marine infrastructure hasn't kept pace with overall economic growth.

Colombia's boating potential is great, but the marine infrastructure hasn't kept pace with overall economic growth.

The Colombian government is soliciting proposals from companies worldwide for construction of a marina that officials hope will include such amenities as a shipyard and shopping mall. It’s the first step in the government’s push to increase the country’s marine industry infrastructure as it rapidly gets eclipsed by growing demand.

Marina owners say the development can’t come fast enough. Club de Pesca in Cartagena is the oldest marina in the region, and Pedro Rodriguez says the 200 private slips there are filled to capacity, leaving only 20 for transients. Although 15 years ago most of the business there was from visitors, now the slips are filled with local boats, mostly large center consoles. “We have closed memberships, and only sons or daughters can go on waiting lists,” Rodriguez says.

The most recent expansion there provided an additional 20 to 30 slips, but he would like more. However, the city’s desire to preserve its culture and history can present roadblocks to expansion, he says. “The problem is, the industry is growing a lot, but we don’t have the space to accommodate it,” Rodriguez says. “It’s very hard to grow. A lot of transits are coming through, but they don’t stop because they don’t want to anchor and be trapped in their boat. But if we put a pier here we will block the view of the Castillo [San Felipe de Barajas fortress].”

The club runs a sportfishing tournament, which runs annually from Oct. 31 through Nov. 4, to help promote boating, support the Billfish Foundation and encourage the tag and release of tuna and billfish. “We open our doors on those days,” Rodriguez says. “Anyone who wants to participate can.”

The marina also has launched a youth tournament in April. Children 5 and younger participate with their parents, and those from 5 to 13 participate alone. “We started with about 15, and now there are about 80,” he says.

The Manzanillo Marina Club is also full, president Mauricio Lemaitre Carbonell said at the Cartagena International Boat Show this past spring. He has another project in the works on 2 acres of land that would add 600 slips but says he is having trouble getting the proper permissions to make it happen. “We are receiving a lot of investors and working with the former minister of commerce,” but things have been held up, Carbonell says. “We lost a lot of sales, and slips are more expensive due to supply and demand.”

The outlook is not completely bleak. Greg Pelini, who travels the world with Bob’s Machine Shop, says there is definitely more groundwork here than in countries such as China. “The infrastructure here is stronger than in some regions. The water is also nice and clean here, and the statistics on boats are better,” Pelini says.

Andres Cerda Nieto, of the Cartagena Chamber of Commerce, says the city is working to address the hurdles as quickly as possible now that the government has made nautical tourism a priority. “We are aware of the moment that this industry is going through, so that’s the reason we decided to work on the nautical industry,” Nieto says. “It’s a cluster initiative to reinforce the competitiveness of the nautical industry companies in Cartagena.”

The chamber also is trying to identify the hang-ups and working to make things move more quickly. “We are in efforts to simplify construction permits for marinas,” he says. “Some are complaining about this topic, from investors, to arrival of boats in Colombian waters, to licenses for charter boats. We have not yet defined which is first to work on, but we will work on simplification.”

Germán Castaño Urrego, sales manager at Colombian boatbuilder Eduardoño, looks forward to improvements because business is getting stronger every year. “Up until 10 years ago, we mostly built boats up to 25 or 30 feet,” Urrego says, “but now it’s different. We’re building more boats between 35 and 40 feet. Yachts are in fashion because people in Cartagena have more money. We still need more marinas for boats that size. Yachts are different. If we sell one, we will need a big public marina.”

Jorge Celis, managing director of Navalcat International, says he faces the same problem. Showcasing a 450 YachtCat power catamaran that was being finished for an American couple, he says sales have grown with the industry, faster than people think. “We need more marinas in Cartagena. The infrastructure is for the past, not for now,” he says. “We see a lot more yachts than before, but there aren’t spaces to keep them.”

He was pleased with the Cartagena boat show in March this year, saying it has improved from last year’s inaugural show. “There are good prospects,” he says. “We did not think we’d sell boats here, but a lot of people are very interested.”

The country is trying to maximize the opportunity to attract cruisers. People come from the Caribbean islands, and the region would like to position Buenaventura as a stopping point, as well as a place for exporters to connect directly with the Southeast Asian market.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue.


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