The historic tall-ship `Gloria'

Sailors and aficionados of sailing ships visiting Cartagena should take the time to visit the tall ship Gloria, usually moored just a few minute's walk from Cartagena's historic Centro district.

The Gloria is the official flagship and sail-training ship of the Colombian Navy, and her home port is Cartagena.
Purpose-built in 1968 as a sail-training ship in the Celeya shipyard in Spain, the Gloria is over 56 meters (257ft) long - one of the biggest tall ships still afloat. She is steel-hulled, but there is plenty of polished wood and brass and her four masts and 23 sails give her an appearance of being even older than she is (every step on the ship has the name Gloria embedded in the solid brass escutcheon scuff-plates). Her figurehead, coated in glittering gold-leaf, is called Maria Salud, reputedly after the sculptor's daughter.

The Gloria has a full crew of 176, of whom up to 120 can be cadets. Our guide told us the last voyage, completed just a few months previously, was an anticlockwise circumnavigation of the South American continent via the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan; on that occasion the Gloria carried 6 female cadets.

Although from the outside the Gloria appears to be somewhat outdated, once inside the guest will be amazed. The Gloria can motor under her own power with her MAN diesel engine if so required. Computer monitors and electronic navigation instruments are used in the steering room, and air-conditioned coolness is but one surprise awaiting visitors to the officer's mess at the rear. Around the beautifully polished wooden bar, set into glass display cabinets like museum exhibits, are scores of pre-Colombian gold and ceramic artefacts. Since the ship is often invited to Tall Ship regattas around the world, the Colombian Government uses the ship to showcase its history to the foreign dignitaries who step aboard.

To visit the Gloria is quite easy. When she is in port her tall masts are visible from just about anywhere around the Bay of Cartagena, Manga, or Bocagrande. You can get there by taxi, bus or by walking about ten minutes. Walking from the clocktower towards Bocagrande, keep to the left-hand side of the road, past the kiosks that sell fruit juice, past the old pirate ship, past the gas station, Naval Hospital, and when you come to a building called Seguros Bolivar, you're there. The entrance to Colombia's Atlantic Fleet is opposite the oversize steel statue of the blackbird. Armed soldiers in full battle fatigues will direct you to the visitors gate where you must produce some ID, which will be exchanged for a pass in the form of an electronic card. A further short walk will bring you past some submarines, and some vessels painted in green camouflage: these are boats that are used in the riverways of Colombia, and they often come under attack from the guerrilla insurgents in these areas. When you see some grey ships,( vessels sourced in the USA - the original names can still be seen under the paint on some of them) you are almost at the Gloria which is open to the public form 9am to 6pm. A Spanish-speaking guide will accompany you once aboard, and with a bit of luck you might get to meet Captain David Moreno, or better still, Morgan, the Gloria's friendly Labrador mascot.

Glen David Short is a freelance writer based in Cartagena. His new adventure travelogue, `An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by bus and boat' has just been published by Trafford Publishing.

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Text and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short