Saturday, October 06, 2007

Monjes del Sur, Venezuela

Our first stop after Aruba was Monjes del Sur, an isolated rock outpost of the Venezuelan Guarda Costa. We were the last to arrive there late in the day (picture shows us nearing the island above right and on the left the view from our boat over Unplugged towards the lighthouse). Tom and Colleen on "Unplugged", our buddy boat for this trip, and three other boats, all French, were tied up to a long line stretched across the small rocky inlet and there was very little room left, two were catamarans. Luckily the guards allowed us to tie up to their dock behind several fishing boats (one small one is shown in the photo below left, taken from Unplugged).
At one AM I heard someone calling and went into our main salon to find a soldier sitting in the cockpit and shining his flashlight down the companionway. Rather startled me for sure (glad I was wearing something). Scott talked to him and checked out the lines as it appeared that was his concern. We thought that was the end of problems but unfortunately at 5 AM they woke us to ask us to leave. They said a Navy vessel was coming in.
We untied and departed in the dark, planning to sail around until light enough to return and try to fit into the lineup. Soon after departing they called on the VHF and asked what were our plans. We told them and they seemed to accept that, but a few minutes later called us and asked us to return and tie up again to the dock. When we came along side (still in the pitch dark) around 8 men were there to help us tie up. We think they believed we would manage to tie up to the line and were worried and upset that we left. Also they now claimed the Navy vessel wouldn't be in and we could stay there until our expected departure the next morning. We'll never know exactly what happened but there was a mix-up somehow and they were sorry to cause us such problems. The rest of the day was wonderful although naturally we were exhausted.
We met the commandant at their new offices part way up the rock. That's him in the white one piece in one shot and the other is of the two small bays, our boat at the dock in the distance. He assigned a guide to go with us the rest of the way up to the lighthouse. The view was beautiful (you can see from the picture above how bare the terrain is here) and we were surprised to see some vegetation growing. A clump of bright yellow flowers grew on the edge of the concrete walkway. Our guide picked one flower for each of us ladies. They had a lovely scent.
That afternoon we went snorkeling around the huge cave to the south. A squadron of barracuda guard the entrance. The cave itself is very dramatic underwater and we saw a number of beautiful fish along the cliffs eastward, including a huge porcupine fish and several eye catching queen angel fish. Scott and Tom did some fishing from the dinghy or should I say "catching" as Scott caught 2 barracuda in five minutes. They are delicious! The fishing has been as promised, excellent. Tom caught a large dorado coming over from Aruba (that's him holding it up off the stern of his boat below) and Scott caught 1 dorado and 1 small tuna on the next section of our trip to Cabo de la Vela. We left Monjes at 2 AM and sailed around Punta Gallinas, the north east tip of Columbia. On the way we got a call from Tom on Unplugged in back of us.
A fast boat with four men (two with ski masks and goggles) were circling his boat! Scary! We turned the boat around to go back (to their rescue? Us?) when a few minutes later we heard that they appeared to be Guarda Costa. After a bunch of questions they left them and headed for us. Tom told us one of their concerns was that they still had the Venezuelan courtesy flag up. We turned around and Scott rushed up to the mast to hoist the Columbian flag. They were soon upon us, still masked and looking rather ominous to us. Then we noticed that although they were all in black, they had badges on their jackets and the boat had a worn chevron of Columbian colors on the side. They spoke to us very politely from alongside and examined our papers. Then requested to come aboard. Finally the two men removed their masks before boarded us. They were very polite and professional (although they looked about 20 years old) and lightly searched the boat. We had just caught the dorado and they chatted with Scott about his fishing lures. By the way all conversations after Aruba are in Spanish. Scott is doing SO well and Tom has really been studying. It's especially hard on the radio. The rest of our sail was comparatively relaxed although we had thunder storms tailing us most of the way and one brief squall with winds up to 40 knots.

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