Monday, April 30, 2007

The Aves

The Aves are two separate groups of islands about 10 miles apart. Aves means birds in Spanish and there are many of them there. They live in dense mangrove forests on some of the islands. They crowd the branches; boobies, seabirds and herons. It had been a rolly passage that day and we were tired after lunch but the aqua water called to us. We swam over to a nearby reef and snorkeled for an hour. There was a lot of current so the trip back was slower. We had the rest of the barracuda for dinner and watched the last DVD in my Indiana Jones set, documentaries on the making of the series - really fun.
It blew hard overnight but was calmer in the morning. We borrowed Dave and Val's satellite phone to call our movers at their request. We were being moved out of our Lake Rescue home, Tall Timbers, into a storage unit today and tomorrow. We spent the day kayaking around to see the birds: baby boobies are so adorable, fluffy white balls. They and their parents didn't seem frightened of us at all, but just stared at us as curiously as we did of them. We had a lovely Sunday brunch on Angel mid day; scones, muffins, pancakes, Canadian bacon, fruit salad and peach cobbler. Fabulous! Later we explored over to the next two anchorages. A small landing allowed you through a gap in the mangroves to the open grassy east side of the island.

There a wall of painted rocks and wood testified to the many cruisers who have been through this area - a boater's shrine. We had seen a similar one back in the Exumas in the Bahamas. The snorkeling was very good as well and we saw a number of new species.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Los Roques to the Aves

There is a beautiful walk from our anchorage down to the sand bar connecting Cayo de Agua to West Cay and then across that cay to the lighthouse at the west end. We did it twice, once with Val and Dave, swimming every half an hour or so off the pristine white beaches on either side. The snorkeling and kayacking were all wonderful. Just sitting in our cockpit and watching the view beats most anything.
Sunsets are a ceremonial occasion for cruisers. The traditional "sundowners" are prepared and the crew lounges in the cockpit watching the show. Sometimes the sound of a blown conch shell heralds the last rays of the sun. Val is a talented conch musician and Scott is still practicing. The elusive "greenflash" is supposed to occur when the horizon is perfectly clear, with no land, clouds or haze. Perfection has still not occurred for us as we've never seen it!
As beautiful as our anchorage was, we still wanted to get going to the Aves so after a few days we got the boat ready for a rolly trip and set off at 8 AM, following our track out on the computer navigation. We had 15 to 20 knots of wind and it was directly from behind, so we tacked downwind, jibbing the sail with a preventor when necessary. It was a fast trip and soon we were circling the lighthouse at the Aves de Barlovento and followed "Angel" through the long passage into our anchorage behind Isla Sur. We were anchored by 2 PM and had a late lunch, seranaded by hundreds of birds roosting in the surrounding mangroves.

The noise level was deafening up close but we were forewarned and anchored far enough off. Two birds claimed our dinghy as theirs despite Scott's earnest efforts to dislodge them. They look here like they're having a heated discussion about it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Los Roques, Venezuela

Los Roques is a beautiful cruising area made of about 14 by 25 miles of protected, reef-studded water, dotted with hundreds of pretty little islands. The colors of the water shade from the deepest blue and greens to pastel hues over white sand. There are some 80 species of birds that live or migrate through here. It is a Venezuelan National Park and with regulations aiming on preserving the reefs and islands in their natural state. There is a small community on Gran Roque, a few fishing shacks around, and one research station. Other than that it remains pristine. The few small hotels on Gran Roque send motor boats out with their guests to the more remote islands for the day with umbrellas and coolers. They and the fishing men were the only people we saw during our stay here (and then only occasionally). There were very few other cruising boats.
We spent two nights at each anchorage over the next eight days. At our first, as at each, we kayacked, snorkeled and walked the beaches. Our second night "Angel" had us over for drinks and homemade pizza, one with salsa and cheese and the other with rosemary and olive oil. Fabulous! Our next anchorage was Sarqui, another small flat island with a lovely long beach. We tucked in behind a protruding reef close up to the beach. Bonefish and tarpon fishing is a big sport here and the rest of our stay we kept company during the day with sportsfisherman ferried out to the reefs by guides and left for hours to fly cast. Early morning and late afternoon were the most popular times. I wouldn't want you to get the wrong opinion about how crowded it was here. We saw the same three fisherman (from the States) only during our stay.
Scott made his first loaf of bread in the bread machine on board - a milk and egg bread on the fast bake cycle. It turned out great. We were inspired by Val on "Angel"'s flax seed bread. She baked two loaves a few days before and gave us one. A few days later he made an olive rosemary bread. The winds picked up again here: we were seeing consistently 20 knots, but we were well protected. At night we had "Angel" over for mexican train dominos - fun!
Our next anchorage was tricky getting into but so beautiful. Two small islands, Felipe and Remanso off Isla Carenero's eastern end, and a reef form a 9/10 circle around a deep lagoon. The entrance is divided by a 4 foot shoal. Still at 10:30 AM with the sun behind us, the deep blue channel was very clear. Once inside there was lots of room to anchor and it was very calm. We kayacked over the Carenero to walk the long beach. There we met a fisherman who invited us into his shack (picture) and Scott was able to have a long talk with him.
I made encouraging faces and noises - it was very convivial. At the end he indicated that although the lobster season was over, he'd been keeping some aside. We had to admit we had no money (no cash given our problems in Margaurita). Our friend was nonpulsed; vino tinto would be the perfect exchange. Needless to say the lobsters were fantastic and we like to think he felt the same about the French wine he got in exchange.
Besides cash our other problem was water. In Margaurita we had ferried jugs to the boat and hadn't gotten a lot. On the trip from there to Blanquilla, the faucet in the bathroom had opened slightly, but enough to drain one tank. We were low on water. Luckily "Angel" had a water maker and every other day we filled up 2 - 5 gallon plastic jugs. Thankfully this solved the problem. With severe rationing we would have managed but we are used to having a nice fresh water shower every day.
Our last anchorage in Los Roques was the most beautiful, although it's a hard choice. This most western group of islands is comprised of West Cay, Cayo de Agua, Elbert Cay and Bequeve. It's a bit of nervous navigation into the anchorage on the north side of Cayo de Agua but worth it once we got there. Again the sketch map in Doyle's guide is very accurate. We looked first at the west side of Cayo de Agua but it looked tight and rolly, although the next day several boats went in there. A huge pod of dolphins escorted us into the channel and out again several days later. We've seen dolphins of course many times before, but this was one of the largest groups.
On the way here Scott caught a three foot barracuda. We have thrown these back many times before but our guide book (and friends Diane and Mitch Korbey) have said that cigatera is not a problem down in this part of the Caribbean so we decided to eat it. On advice, Scott ate a small portion and waited an hour. He felt fine so we had a wonderful two meals of it, very white and delicious.

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.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Cayo Herradura, Tortuga, Venezuela

We left at 6 AM on Heather's birthday, April 17, to sail on to Tortuga. It was an easy broad reach with 10 - 13 knots of wind and 3 - 5 foot waves off the stern quarter. We averaged just over 6 knots until noon when the wind died down and we had to motor sail the rest of the way. Late in the afternoon Dave caught a large Dorado and radioed us that they'd be bringing some over for dinner. We were both anchored in the large shallow bay of Cayo Herradura off Tortuga by 6 PM and not long afterward toasting each other in our cockpit with rum punches. Scott had made brownies and cole slaw yesterday and now set the table with a birthday party tablecloth. We roasted vegetables on the grill and baked the fish. A wonderful celebration as I turned 62.
Tortuga is a mostly unpopulated low dry island 40 miles off Venezuela. We were staying at one of the small cays off the NW end of the island. A long crescent white beach circumscribed one side and were continued by reefs three quarters of the way around.
Only a few small fishing shacks stood on one side. In one was a shrine to the Virgin Mary and another shrine stood alone in the grass near the beach. A path of stones led up to the glassed in statue with many small religious tokens surrounding it.

These charming shrines are very well taken care of and as there are several on some of the islands, they probably belong to individual families. At the end of the cay was a red and white striped lighthouse. At one side was a small graveyard with simple crosses, shown here with the lighthouse in the picture.

That first night there was one boat sharing our anchorage and the next, we were alone. But the third day was Venezuelan Independence Day and after breakfast the first of the big power boat squadrons arrived. By noon there were 40+ big motor boats lining the beach. The deserted crescent beach of the day before was lined with umbrellas and tents. Hundreds of people lined the beach, swam in the water and buzzed around in fast dinghies. It was an amazing transformation. We were off that night at 6 PM for an overnight sail to Los Roques so we waved good-bye.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Margaurita to Blanquilla

This first picture shows the "offices" of Marina Juan, the gentleman who arranges things for cruisers on Margarita and the general hanging out spot for many of the semi permenant boat crew. We left Porlamar at 4 AM in the pitch black. It is quite disconcerting to sail without being able to distinguish the horizon. Luckily a sliver of a moon came out behind the headland and helped. Scott stood in the bow until we were well off shore. Over the next two hours we saw 30 to 40 fisherman's pirogues pass us, all without lights. By 5:30 AM the sky began to lighten and we enjoyed a fast trip up the east coast of Margarita Island with a positive current. There was almost no wind and this continued, much to our surprise, all day. We had the 5 to 6 foot rollers right on our beam so the boat moved around a lot but otherwise it was a lovely day, clear and calm. About an hour away from the island we were stopped by a Venezuelan patrol boat and they questioned Scott on the VHF radio for about ten minutes. Most of the time was due to the language barrier but Scott did great. We had not checked into the country and were flying a Q flag so we were rather nervous. We explained that the reason we were so delayed in heading west was problems with our transmission coupler (thank you "Spanish for Cruisers") and they accepted that and left us. Whew! We passed through a enormous cloud of jelly fish, each 12 - 18 inches wide, for fifteen minutes. White birds in a line skimmed less than a foot above the water never losing formation. Scot caught two mahi mahi at the same time and it was a big challenge! He brought the first one in and had almost gaffed it when it jumped up and escaped. He got the other one all the way up on the deck but it too flipped off. Both were over two feet long. Around 3:30 ghostly Los Hermandos islands came into view shimmering in the heat and the light fog, followed by Blanquilla. Just then another fish bit and we had a small tuna successfully on board.
We anchored off the two palm trees on the southwest side. Doyle's guide has a sketch map of the anchorage with these trees on the beach and there they were, looking oddly out of place but charming. Much to our delight, "Angel", the Canadian boat we had met in Los Testigos was one of the three boats there. They welcomed us and invited us over for drinks the next night. How marvelous after the long day to have a cold drink and a great dinner.

The next few days we explored this lovely island. Blanquilla has a small fishing community on the south side and the rest of the island is cactus, white beaches, rock and coral. The snorkeling was the best we've seen. One day Dave and Val on Angel and ourselves dinghied up the west coast to Playa Americano where the ruins of a beach house built years ago by a eccentric American cap a rock arch framing the deep white beach lined cove. Luckily the waves were quite mild, allowing us to snorkel all around the rocks lining the bay. We saw deep drop offs and canyons lined with coral and teaming with fish through the crystal clear water. On one side we explored a deep cave carved into the limestone cliff.

Val lent us a books on fish behavior and identification and it made observation more interesting and understandable. Each species has many guises; juvenile, male, female and during the spawning or egg protection phases. Some very different looking fish are the same species.
Another day Scott and I walked the shore and found the imprint of a big leatherback turtle that had come up during the night and laid her eggs. The whole story was left undisturbed as a pattern in the sand. Later we saw four or five small needle fish surrounding a large leaf floating in the water. One at a time they lined up with the leaf and jumped over it, sliding along it's surface like the plastic slides wet with a hose our kids played on. They were still going at it when we continued down the beach. The land is covered with flowering cactus, several species of which we usually see in pots in the nursery. Sturdy shoes were needed to leave the beach.
Three nights were all we could spare unfortunately. Angel and ourselves have decided to buddy boat to Bonaire, much to our delight!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Los Tostigos

Our night passage from Grenada was great. We had 10 - 15 knots of wind from off our port stern quarter and averaged 6.5 knots the whole way, registering 8.4 at least once. We sailed the whole way and unfortunately needed to occasionally run the generator to top up batteries as the auto pilot uses a lot of energy. It was a clear cloudless night with a three quarter moon up for most of it. We could always see the lights of our boat buddies nearby, Gypsy Palace and Orpalleur. The only downside was a lot of rolling side to side with the following waves - it does make sleeping a lot harder. By five thirty as the light began to come up, we could see the first of the islands, I. Noreste, rugged, rocky and deserted. We went between two more and then rounded up the south end of Testigo Grande. The settlement on Isla Iguana Grande across to the west was very small and a few houses lined the beaches at Balandra Bay. There were a number of cruisers anchored there and they looked like they were rolling a lot so we continued on to Playa Real further north. Chris Doyle says this is the prettiest anchorage in Los Testigos and he sure is right. A narrow gap between the end of Testigo Grande and Testigo Pequeno is bridged with a sand bar that is more or less covered with crashing waves depending on the tide and the size
of the rollers. A small home huddles on one side, the dwelling of the patriarch of the island and his wife. His descendants live nearby. On the other side is a open shack that is used by short term visitors for camping. What a lovely spot for it.
The three of us anchored there with five other boats. It was Easter Sunday! The holding was excellent and we were over the side in a short time enjoying clear blue green water. After our traditional big breakfast following an overnight trip, we were both in bed asleep for most of the morning. Later we snorkeling into the beach and explored.

Los Testigos means The Witnesses in Spanish and there are approximately 160 inhabitants. There is a small school and church. That afternoon several family groups visited to picnic and swim on the beach. There is also a vast colony of frigate birds and watching them float above and dive into the water is delightful.
The next day was so peaceful and relaxing that we decided to stay another day. The six of us took our dinghies over to the other end of the island and visited the sand dunes on the other side. The initial walk up the steep deep sand slopes was very difficult but it was worth it. A huge expanse of sand, a mini desert extends out to lovely long beach with crashing waves. The water felt so good as we were very hot by then. That night we waved goodbye to our friends who were off to Blanquilla. We had Dave and Valerie from "Angel" over for drinks. They are from Canada and like us, have been cruising for three years. They are candidates for Commodore status with the Seven Seas Cruising Association and their pictures/bio appeared in the February bulletin with "M'Lady Kathleen" and "Dreamtime", our's was in January. We've been associate members for three years and it's an honor to be raised to Commodore status. Two recommendations by existing Commodore's, live aboard status for at least two years, and rigorous distance/travel requirements are the requirements. Our names are published for four months before being inducted. We'll trade our associate pennant navy flag for the red swallow tail commodore's flag and hope to extend a helping hand to other cruisers as we have so often been helped.
The next morning at 6 AM we were off and sailing. This time the wind was a little lighter and further behind us so we were slower. Still we averaged about 6 knots overall and were anchored in Porlamar, Margaurita Island, Venezuela by three thirty. Scott went in to talk to Juan at Marina Juan (fellow offering all around assistant for cruisers) and arrange for a variety of needed services; diesel fuel, gas for the dinghy motor, water, trash, laundry and propane fuel for both our tanks. We were concerned about not checking into the country and wanted to ask his advice. He felt if we only stayed a few days, it would be OK. We went in that night to the dock our guidebook indicated as the hotel's but something was clearly wrong. It
was very dilapidated and the Rhum Bar beside it and it's customers equally so. They could have been a casting call for "bar you shouldn't walk into without a body guard". We had one drink with a German fellow who spoke English and after one rum, everyone looked friendlier. When we asked about a restaurant, the bar tender took us out to the dirt road and gave us directions. Happily we had a wonderful fish dinner at El Pesador de la Marina. No one was there that early but by the time we left after eight, there were quite a few people and live music. The band sounded a bit like my Cuban CD. The cost was so reasonable that we rather over ordered and the
portions were enormous so we waddled back to the dinghy.
Early the next morning the diesel boat appeared and we took as much as they had and arranged for another visit the next morning. Scott took in the propane, trash and laundry to Juan while I watched for the water boat. When it still hadn't arrived at 2 PM, Scott and I took a taxi downtown to the Ratan Super Marche - a Cosco like facility with supermarket and department store all rolled into one. The taxi trunk was full when we came back but unfortunately we had to pay by credit card as the ATMs wouldn't accept our credit cards and the bank needed a passport, which we hadn't brought. Our money was now very low and we couldn't pick up the propane and laundry as we needed cash. We had quite a lecture from a single handed older cruiser at Marina Juan's on paying too much for the taxi, food and liquor and not seeking the advice of experienced people (like himself) about everything. The group hanging around there at 4 PM drinking looked like the same men in the bar the night before.
As we had no propane we had a cold but delicious supper and later watched "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" - still fun. The anchorage was rolly that night and I was up early. Scott's going in town this morning to try and get some money. Meanwhile our bank account is getting very low and we haven't had internet for a while to check on it. Making a telephone call is a big production here but hopefully he'll be able to do it. I'm on board waiting for the water boat. We are really low on water!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Back in Grenada Preparing for the Trip West

There are a number of ways to sail from Carriacou to Grenada. Both other times we took the route far off the small islands between them. Once to the east and last fall to the west. This time we navigated between them and the steep rocks that line the passage. Sections of this route looked so narrow and scary before but once we were
close, the passages were very reasonablely spaced. This is a beautiful spot and under full sail, a special experience.
I love coming back to Grenada. We have gotten to know it better than most places:this is our fourth visit. This little girl illustrates how beautiful the people are - chosing a carnival queen is a tough job! Their English heritage is also on display; here in their public phones!

Our weather guru had predicted some stiff winds coming up so we decided to anchor in the very protected but small harbor in St. George's. Happily once our anchor was down we found our old friends on "LoriGray II" there. Lorraine and Graham are South Africans and friends with our English cruiser buddies.
We met them in Annapolis and had a great time visiting with them over the next couple of days. Graham was also a great help to Scott with some repairs on the coupler on the propeller shaft. We also ran into other old friends, who were also heading to the Testigos. They were on a fast track west as had plans to transit the Panama Canal in a month.
We three boats anchored just outside the channel from the harbor for a few hours and then after dinner, raised the anchor and sailed in the pitch black out to sea. This was an easy passage with very few other boats spied (this is a real plus as avoiding other boats is the most stressful part of the night passages). We sailed the whole way and made fast time with a positive current. By dawn we could see the island group ahead.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bequia and Carriacou

Secured safely to our mooring between the Pitons on St. Lucia, after a good dinner and "Happy Feet" on our DVD player, we had a rolly night. Heather was up early at 5:30 restless and got the coffee and the boat ready for an early departure. It was dead calm at first but storm cells were visable around us. Big ships cross this passage regularly so we turned on our radar. Once in the dense rain we can't see far away. St. Vincent was cloud draped and misty. It's steep green hills have few houses but lots of fields clinging impossibly to the slopes. Word is a lot of ganja is produced in this northern section. We passed by and continued on to the big harbor of Admiralty Bay, Bequia. Rain storms continued all day and that night we were treated to several beautiful rainbows (sorry this picture doesn't begin to do it justice).
It was great to swim and relax in the water when the sun came out late in the afternoon and when it went down we saluted it with sundowners in the cockpit. Early again the next morning we were on our way to Carriacou. We were Q flagging it. We checked out of St. Lucia for Carriacou and didn't check into St. Vincent and the Grenadines, another country. We flew the yellow quarantee flag meanwhile. Once in Carriacou we anchored off the main town, Hillsborough, and Scott went into town to check in with Customs and Immigration. This is necessary in every country you visit, unless you're just passing through. Once that process was complete we sailed around the island to a cruiser favorite harbor - Tyrell Bay. There three other boats awaited us: "Sutton Hoo" and "M'Lady Kathleen" and "Gypsy Palace". Jo and Geoff on "Sutton Hoo" have been friends since the Annapolis GAM two and one half years ago. Winter before last they came and visited us in Vermont for a ski vacation. We then saw them in Trinidad and it was great catching up with them here. We had drinks with them on "M"Lady Kathleen" that night. We also met Roland and Kathleen at an Annapolis GAM, but October 2005 instead. They met up with "Nereia and "Casa del Mar" in the Turks and Caicos and traveled together till we saw them all again in Dominica. They were with us in Trinidad. One day we walked over to Paradise Beach and had lunch there and another day the three ladies went into Hillsborough to shop and have lunch (photo of Kathleen and Jo). Another picture here shows the narrow walkways between the buildings that lead down to the beach.

Our friends Lorie and Dale aboard "Gypsy Palace" are also old friends. We met in St. Augustine and sailed with them to Ft. Pierce. Later we saw them several times in Prickley Bay and in Trinidad. Now we hope to join them and their friends "Orpalleur" on the trip west to Los Testigos. We start out ahead of them by leaving for Grenada tonight but they'll catch up with us there in a few days. Orpalleur is up on the hard having their bottom painted. Or at least it was supposed to be done for them - the yard wasn't doing their end of the process in any timely fashion and when we saw Jerry today, he was blue from painting the bottom himself.