Sunday, 20 November 2005

Back to White Admiral - Los Roques, Venezuela, Sept. 29th

Norwegian summer; jobs and socialising.

Summer in Norway went by too quickly; what happened to all the walks in the mountains, visiting more friends and relatives around Norway and decorating our bedroom? (We were back in our house again after renting it out for nearly two years.) But professional jobs worked out well. Stein enjoyed his third period back in the Cardiology Department of Sørlandets Sykehus, Kristiansand, learning more of the secrets of cardiac ultrasound, and refreshing old pacemaker skills - and taking many extra night-duties. Diana did a locum in private eye practice for a colleague in centre of Kristiansand. Working almost the whole summer gave limited time for other activities, but we did manage to see some of our lovely grand-children’s development, which is a great privilege. Hedda is now three and a half, and Johan one year old. Stein also spent some time with mum Eli at her summer cottage at Veierland. Also we managed to redecorate our ground floor into a flat for renting out as we left; Elisabeth’s old bedroom now being transformed to a kitchen.
Diana’s brother Jim came for a week from Canada, his first ever visit to Norway. He has wanted to come for a long time, but looking after an invalid wife for many years had prevented him, so this was a great pleasure for us both, and Norway showed itself from its best side with lovely summer weather, even Oslo looked like an attractive city!
Living partly on our boat in far-off parts makes it important to be with family while we are home, and we were pleased that Robert came to stay for a few weeks after finishing his maths degree in Bergen, and we had a big family reunion at Eli’s summer cottage with all three of our off-spring and partners, Hugh and Camilla (Robert is still single).

Off-road biking and veteran rowing.

On the sporting side, Stein took part in Birkebeinerrittet, an off-road cycle race 89 kilometres over mountains from Rena to Lillehammer, along with 11.000 others (!), including Martin and Camilla. They were all pleased with their times, even Stein taking 4hrs10 min, but was still beaten by his daughter-in-law by 14 minutes. (But she is a very fit and tough lady!).
Stein turned sixty just before we returned to Venezuela, another occasion to gather family and a few good friends. We had a fun evening with good food and speeches, songs, violin playing by our friend Günter, and Stein had to take a bit of good natured teasing about his extremely healthy life-style. In return he got a brand new off-road bicycle! So that is us both past the six decades, but still going strong, in good health and enjoying life very much.
En route to White Admiral we had some days in Glasgow at the World Masters (veteran) Rowing Championships combined with seeing relatives of Dianas and old friends from student days at Glasgow University. Stein entered three events and was pleased to come away with a win in double sculls together with Hans Petter Rasmussen from Drammen. A repeat from many events before, the latest was in from Montreal 2001, when he last took part. The FISA World Masters, as it is officially known, is a huge event, this time with 5000 men and women from 37 nations racing in 8000 seats. One day the races were delayed due to rain and cross winds at the Strathclyde Centre, but everybody still praised the Scottish organizers for an extremely well run event. At the official opening we also got the chance to shake hand with an old hero, Sir Steve Redgrave, now retired after five Olympic golds. He is the most successful rower ever, and a sympathetic person, too, doing a lot of work for charity in addition to figure-heading rowing.
The Saturday night banquet in Motherwell was as expected a real “row” down memory lane with many familiar faces among the rowers from both Norway and UK. Among them were David Ward and Tony Cassidy (Glasgow in the late 60’s) and Ole Østlund (Norway, early 70’s).
In London we had a quick stop with Elisabeth & Hugh, and a huge lunch with Kenneth & Tatiana (Ocean Rowing Society) before heading SW via Miami with British Airways and American Airlines.

Burgled!

Our return to White Admiral late September 13th (!) was not as happy as we had hoped, owing to a break-in 3 weeks earlier. The marina owner had not wanted to worry us by mailing us earlier; she sat up waiting for us to give us the bad news. We got to the boat at 2.30 a.m., after waiting at Caracas Airport for three hours for our luggage (which had been held back in Miami for security check) to find that most of our loose electric and electronic equipment was missing... The thieves had taken plenty of time to go through our cupboards and stores, and had gone off with what they could sell; TV, radios, two GPS’s, inverter, generator, outboard engine, emergency beacon, electric tools, binoculars, anemometer, torch, search-light, tools, even a little iron and kitchen mixer! So we went to bed a little depressed and didn’t sleep too well or long that night. However things brightened in the morning. For a start the Coastal Police nearby had just found our Mariner outboard engine and the Honda generator, two of the biggest items, and we got back the generator at once. The outboard engine was more of a problem, as this had already been passed on to the bureaucrats, who even the police seem to have no control over. The marina owner Yezabel visited the Fiscal’s Office in Higuerote four times, with a policeman each time and and with Stein twice, before finally getting the engine back! First of all it was no good coming on a Wednesday as they only hand out items on Friday. And the office will serve no more than 30 requests on any given Friday! (People apparently start lining up at 5 a.m. to claim back missing items...) The impression is that the Fiscal’s Office wants to keep stolen items for themselves, hence make many problems so that people give up trying to get them back!
Yezabel was also willing to take some responsibility for our losses, as of course their nocturnal, armed security guard had failed, and instead of trying to work out the value of everything, we have made an arrangement for free lifting and storage the next time we come home (in November). This we are all reasonably happy with - just hope their new security measures work! Fortunately the thieves had done no structural damage (apart from the door, which the marina already had repaired), and did not take the instruments which were fixed in place like radar, VHF and satellite telephone, so things could have been worse. But some items are a particularly sad loss, like the Jotron emergency beacon that saved Elisabeth’s life during her failed row in 1999, and accompanied both our solo Atlantic rows in 1999 and 2002. Also the missing PC with all the electronic charts now makes navigation more difficult. And with the printer gone, we can no more process digital pictures of fishermen and other locals for gifts… So our previously good impression of Venezuela is a little tarnished. But they did leave the guitar behind, so we can still strum up the occasional blues and evergreens in the cockpit. And getting over the misery of burglary, we were finally able to admire the beautiful paint - job of deck and coach-roof. All is now white or off-white, no more burning feet in the tropical sun and no and no more skidding on wet deck and cockpit. Well done, Gabriel and your men of Astillero Higuerote.

Paradise revisited.

We worked quickly to get White Admiral back in shape, stocked up and into the water, before our good friends Frode and Susanne Filseth arrived two days later. They brought a new GPS, an inverter, an old lap-top PC and an electric drill, so we had the necessary basics to go off sailing again. After a bird-watching trip to the mangroves the next evening we were off in the gentle, warm breeze for an overnight sail to Caya Herradura, one of the small islets off the coast of Tortuga. We are familiar with the Tortuga anchorages from earlier in the year, and enjoyed showing Frode and Susanne three of these lovely places. Immaculate, white beaches, good snorkelling and spear-fishing (still permitted here), and also took a couple of long walks along the coast. We revisited our old friend Moncho, the only permanent inhabitant of Punta Delgado. This time we were not in the lobster season, so he had to grill fish for us as we sat watching the sun set over the reef, glass of wine in hand. Not a bad life!
Sadly Frode received the message that his mother had died (nearly 92, not unexpected), and that they would have to cut their holiday short to get back for her funeral. We wanted to take them first to Los Roques, also new territory for us, supposedly a paradise for sailors and one of the biggest atolls in the world. On the 21st September we had another easy overnight sail, partly motoring as the wind was so gentle. We reached the enormous lagoon the next morning and motored up along one of the inner reefs to the main island of Gran Roques. As we went into the SE reef entrance at Boca de Sebastopol we caught a large barracuda on the line, a vicious looking, still beautiful torpedo of a fish weighing about five kilos. We killed it with a little alcohol into the gills, a great tip which we got from other sailors last year; it kills instantly without any struggling or mess. So that was dinner that day and lunch and dinner the next day secured! The town of Gran Roques is a brightly panted little holiday town with sand streets, no traffic and lots of small guest-houses (posadas). We shared the anchorage with a few fishing boats, a couple of tourist catamarans, two or three foreign yachts, and lots of pelicans, gannets, gulls and terns.
The whole area is a marine national park, so there is a bit of bureaucracy to get checked in, and a relatively high fee to be paid (about £6 or 75 kroner per person and £40 or 500 kroner for the boat for 15 days). We had to go the rounds of four offices in the extreme afternoon heat, to get all the correct stamps on our form - which has to be returned before we leave. But everybody we met in these offices were relaxed and friendly, didn’t appear to have much to do, and gave us no problems. We managed to visit two of the nearby islands with Frode and Susanne, wonderful places with lovely beaches and calm lagoons. Susanne had been a little unsure about snorkelling, but here it is such a pleasure that she quickly learned to relax and enjoy the sights of large, multi-coloured parrot fish grazing on the corals, exquisite small aquarium-like fish, shoals of dark-blue surgeon fish or schools of inquisitive squid gazing at you with big eyes!
Frode and Susanne left on the 5 p.m. plane to Caracas on the 24th September, a bit sorry to have to leave, but very happy with their exotic 10 days in this part of the world. They were most appreciative and easy-going guests.

Plans ahead.

Now we have had a few days to ourselves, before Diana’s colleague Matthias Fischer and his family come for a two week holiday. First we motored around to the West side of the atoll, eyeing our way through the shallow areas, and anchored in Dos Mosquis, two small islets, one with a research station with turtle hatching, and the other a perfect little deserted tropical island with three palm tees. During that sail we caught another big fish, a tuna this time, enough for four meals now we are alone aboard. On the Dos Mosquis anchorage there are no fishing-camps and hence the fishing ban seems most effective, so for the first time ever we have seen an abundance of the giant West-Indian queen conchs. During a swim in clear water it was possible to count 15 of these monstrous snails at once. Caya Carenero and Crasqui are two more pretty anchorages, and after we have returned here with more friends we will report in more detail. Tonight we have an overnight sail to a marina near Caracas, arriving tomorrow morning, Sept 30th with a day to spare before our next visitors.
But apart from enjoying the surroundings and lots of good fish meals, there are always lots of jobs to be done on a boat. Some that have needed our attention this last week: The burners on the paraffin stove, the fresh-water pump, a non-charging alternator on starboard engine, a damaged cockpit bench-cover. So life is never dull, but we still have managed to read a couple of books since arriving – one of the luxuries of life afloat!
Finally an outline of plan ahead: Cruise around Venezuela water, first with the Kristiansand family, then with Stein’s mother Eli and friend Rigmor. During this time we also hope to see Robert aboard. Nov 7th sees White Admiral being lifted back on the hard at Astillero Higuerote. Nov 10th-20th we spend in the exciting islands of Galapagos taking part in a historical cruise with 12 others and giving a lecture in Puerto Ayora on the Norwegian immigration to these islands. And in late November we are back in Kristiansand to work for a couple of months again. In late February 06 we leave Venezuela and sail to the Dutch Antilles, Cartagena in Colombia and probably the San Blas Islands. No lack of fun or challenges ahead!

20 Nov 2005 by Stein & Diana

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