Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tortuga to Los Roques

Leaving Tortuga, the evening was clear with 10 - 15 knots of wind, mostly behind us. The boat rolled a lot with large confused swells making it difficult to sleep. Later the wind died down some and we decided to turn west away from the rhumb line to move onto more of a reach. This kept our speed up and made the boat's motion more comfortable, although it added miles. Early in the morning the wind picked up again and we turned on a direct line to the SE corner of Los Roques. As we approached the long eastern reef the wind and waves accelerated as the water shallowed. This narrow entrance through the reefs is considered an all weather entrance but it was hazy (making visual navigation difficult) with a steady 20 knots of wind and uncomfortable confused seas. Our electronic charts have been consistently off by as much as one third of a mile in this region so good light is key. We radioed Angel and both decided to continue and circle around the reef to the more protected wider entrance to the north. Several large wrecks on the reef testify to the dangers here.
It was a huge relief to turn west again after passing the long eastern reef. The waves calmed down and it was beautiful sail for the next couple of hours into the protected waters of the archipeligo. The only hilly island of the group is El Grand Roque and a small group of houses stretches along the beach on the southern side. This is the Venezuelan National Park headquarters and if we had checked into Venezuela, we should be registering here, paying the park fees and getting a two week permit to visit. Since we were flying the yellow Quarantine flag, we were technically in transit through the area.
We circled the island and sailed further west to Noronsquis. Our guide book by Chris Doyle gives detailed sketch maps of all anchorages and they were critical. Our electronic charts were only generally useful - getting us to the vicinity. We used Chris's GPS points to confirm even that. This anchorage was in a deep lagoon surrounded by three small islands and reefs. The entrance was narrow and then we had to follow a twisty path through the reefs and coral heads to the deep blue round pool surrounded by beaches and coral reefs. The distant hills of Grand Roque were still visable over the waves crashing on the reef only 100 feet away.

All of our anchorages for the next few weeks had challanging entrances like this. Scott and I would carefully study the sketch map. Then I would steer and he would stand in the bow watching the water colors and looking for the light brown/dark spots marking the reefs/coral heads. Actually as long as we made these entrances in the middle of day (preferably with the sun behind us), it was pretty easy. Leaving was also simplier as we set our course on the auto pilot to the track we made coming in.

It is a huge relief to get the anchor down after a night passage: it was 1:30 PM. Angel settled in next to us a short time later. We were the only two boats there and it was so beautiful. We snorkeled around the reef, fixed a lovely early dinner and were fast asleep by 8 PM.

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