Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Venezuela, Oct-Nov 2005 - A visit from Eli & Rigmor and

Visit from Eli & Rigmor.

The next 24 hours, we spent getting the boat ready for our next Norwegian guests, Stein’s mother Eli, and our friend Rigmor. Again, planes were in time and passengers happy and we could leave the expensive marina almost at once, and had a new brisk sail up to Los Roques. This time we entered the Boca de Sebastapol channel between the reefs on the SE side. Halfway up we stopped for a swim at a sandy islet hardly bigger than our boat and populated by terns and pelicans. The first night we anchored at Cayo Pirata, an island quite near Gran Roques. After dark Robert and I went snorkelling with flashlights. There was a little wind and drizzle but all seemed well as we turned in for the night. But at 2 a.m. I woke up as the wind had freshened, caused the awning to flap and seemed to come from a new direction. Out on deck in the brilliant moonlight, I got a minor shock as a beach was only a few meters away from our stern! It was a narrow sand-spit originally a good way behind when we had anchored - we had dragged! Diana joined me quickly, we got the engines on and the large awning off (it was catching the side-wind as a sail), and fortunately got both anchors up without any problems. The moon made it easy to motor the short distance across to the safe anchorage off Gran Roque. All sailors need a bit of luck sometimes!Otherwise these two weeks went very smoothly, revisiting the best of the anchorages in Los Roques, in which we were now beginning to feel at home. Rigmor had in the past not done any snorkelling. She had grown up close to the sea, learned to swim, but was somehow imprinted a fear of having her head immersed. But with Diana’s instructions she made a brave attempt to learn, and managed to see some of the wonderful life on the reefs. Eli had a couple of swims from the stern, but at nearly 90 and legs not so good any more, preferred to remain in the cockpit. Here she enjoying the warmth and the views and was always available for preparing potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

Night sailing with a difference.

Late autumn is normally a period of little winds in this part of the Caribbean Sea. The dreaded hurricanes that made life miserable in New Orleans and other areas up north never touch the Venezuelan coast. The only way we noticed distant storms was when the swells occasionally were bigger than usual. But on the sail south with our last guests for the season we had really rough conditions. This time, as we were going to Higuerote, east of Caracas, we headed out of the archipelago straight into a force 5-6 stiff breeze. Well off the windward reefs we could turn south, turn off the engines and sail close-hauled, but it was rough and uncomfortable. My mother has been through similar conditions before and took it stoically, but for Rigmor this was a new and scary experience. As if to soften this blow of a farewell “present” from Los Roques, we caught a barracuda. Diana gutted the fish and put it in the fridge, conditions did not allow for anything more elaborate.
Heading into the stiff breeze, the engines were off and the wind-generator became so noisy that we turned it off too, and were down to battery power. The fridge and the autopilot and a minimum of inside lights need quite a bit of electricity, so with no other boats visible and a big moon up I turned off the navigation lights and just kept a careful lookout. This, of course, is not a practice we really recommend, except when crossing the empty wastes of big oceans. Not long after a red light was seen behind, apparently a ship crossing our wake and heading west. But then it turned round, a green light appeared and soon the ship was heading straight for us while flashing a powerful beacon! Putting the navigation lights on again did not stop the flashing. So after all these years of peaceful sailing, was this finally an encounter with pirates?! – But Diana solved the problem by calling the ship on the VHF radio. Through broken English and even more broken Spanish we realized that the ship belonged to the Venezuela Coast Guard, had seen us on their radar from two miles behind and became suspicious of this unlit vessel. Diana had to give them details about our identity and present journey and we were duly reprimanded for our un-seamanlike practice. – Another solution would have been, of course, to turn off the fridge temporarily.
After midnight conditions gradually improved and amazingly enough, dawn at 6 a.m. found us motoring across a gray, glassy, heaving sea. Ahead was the tall, green, coastal cliffs of the cape north of Higuerote. Fortunately Rigmor was her usual happy self again, and in spite of the rough passage still thought the whole Los Roques trip a wonderful experience.
Safely moored in Astillero de Higuerote, Eli & Rigmor still had time for some shopping and sightseeing before their plane home. On their last evening we gthered drinks, snacks, binoculars and insect repellent and took the dinghy into the mangroves. There we toasted to the nocturnal return of hundreds of birds; scarlet ibis, white, grey and blue herons, squawking parrots, and many more. An amazing sight…When darkness fell we returned by way of a seaside restaurant and a most enjoyable meal.

Our Tortuga Challenge.

Diana and I now had one final week before the lifting of White Admiral back on the hard. So at 2 a.m. the next morning - after our taxi-driving friend, Arias, had safely driven the ladies the two hours to Caracas International Airport, Diana and I headed out NE for Tortuga, and its tiny Cayo Herradura where we spent so much time in the spring and where we did the main preparation for the Sahara Marathon. The brisk easterlies prevailed and made this another rough slog and another overheated engine... But how wonderful to quite abruptly leave the waves behind and in the sunset anchor in the horse-shoe shaped protection of Cayo Herradura! - And just enough daylight for a swim to check the anchor, then to the beach and back before a glass of wine and dinner in the cockpit.
Two days later the wind had eased and we could motor the few miles east to Punta Delgada and Playa Caldera. Meanwhile I had given the starboard engine a thorough check without finding anything seriously wrong, but I replaced the thermostat, oil and oil filter.
In this NE corner of Tortuga there is now a military camp and next year will see the building of a coast guard station. So things will no doubt change and soon Moncho will not be the only permanent inhabitant. Two uniformed, but barefoot and friendly men from the coastal police in fact came aboard and gave us a check regarding both identity and safety features aboard. (Happily no mention of navigation lights!)
Back in March when Diana and I covered a lot of the island during our long walks we had talked about trying a walk right around the coast. We thought we could do it in two days. Already we had done some long walks alone and with our various visitors, and felt we were in reasonable form. We told Moncho about our project. He has lived on the island for 20 years, probably knows it better than anybody else, and he did not think we could do it in two days. The island is about 25 x 10 km and if we were running out of time could probably do a short-cut across the flat, but cactus-covered interior. So compass and torches were part of the pack, which mostly consisted of water, a total of 16 l. So on Thursday 3rd November off we went with the breeze and the sunrise behind us. We made short stops each 2nd hour for snacks and – in my case – shoe repairs. After six hours of active walking we were in new territory well down the west coast. We saw the occasional boat off the coast, but never encountered any humans on land, our main company being birds and ghost crabs. After we turned the SW corner we discovered a south coast that was much prettier and varied than the north. - But also more difficult to navigate! At sunset we cleared a spot for the night between two rows of mangroves, collected firewood and while the bonfire got going had a refreshing salt water wash and swim.
After a freeze-dried dinner, some snacks and a cup of tea we settled under the brilliant stars. But as the fire died the mosquitoes appeared. Our insect repellent seemed almost useless and we ended up cocooned in our silk sleeping sheet-bags, but still had a night of interrupted sleep and a lot of star-gazing… The bonfire for breakfast helped for a little while, but then tiny gnats took over from the mosquitoes and drove us nearly to desperation. At least it was a relief to be on the road again!
The terrain along the latter part of the south coast was very rough and seemed never-ending. It was a relief to see finally see the turquoise Laguna de Carenero. From now on we were on familiar ground; five hours to go and about 1.5 l water each. My shoes became more and more of a problem, but at least the backpack was now very light. When we finally reached the sandy NE coast we had a short swim, and for the last two hours I walked barefoot on the beach. I had no water left and Diana was down to the last drops when we passed the military camp close to home. Our new military friends Fernandez and Medina heard what we had been doing, congratulated us profusely and gave us cold water from a freezer. How we drank! So when we got to Moncho’s a few minutes later we were on the mend again. 18 hours active walking is what it took us to “circumnavigate” Tortuga by foot.
We did indeed sleep well that night!

Saturday night we had a final meal at Moncho’s; lobster grilled on embers on the ground at sunset, and the following night we sailed for home. Finally a gentle sail. Another big barracuda was caught, and the next morning found us safely moored in the marina.
The last two days was in a frenzy of work getting the boat up on the hard and ready for three months of storage. This time we gathered most of the valuable items and left them in the care of Yezobel Yuffa, the marina manager.
But before our return to Europe: A visit to The Enchanted Isles; Galapagos!
31 Dec 2005 by Stein & Diana

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