Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Venezuela Oct 2005 - More friends, more Los Roques.

Diana and I were on our own for the over-night sail from Los Roques to Caracas, Thursday Sept 29th. We were close-hauled, but comfortable. Only as we approached the continent in the early hours did the wind fail (normal for this area), and we motored along the coast to find a safe anchorage, preferably a marina not too far from the airport.
The main excitement on this trip was two hours after leaving Gran Roque in the afternoon. We were sailing through the west side of the archipelago and had two fishing lines trailing. First one huge dorado (dolphin-fish or “gullmakrell”) hooked the portside line, and then another of the same size hooked the starboard line! Both the lines were pulled out to their limits as the monsters made huge leaps displaying brilliant colours of gold and blue. It was difficult to slow down the boat in the following wind, and we had to put on leather gloves to slowly pull them in one by one. Close to the steps, a rope around my waist for safety, I tried to grab the first when he made another big jump and was free. When the other dorado was finally close I tried to hook him instead, but only with the same result! Both the fish had the tall, flat foreheads of male dorados and were magnificent beasts. At least they left our hooks – and hopes of fish for dinner - behind… And at 15-20 kg each, what should we do with all that meat? Still, a little disappointed we set the lines again. Diana was just getting ready to open a tin for dinner when we caught a barracuda of just the right size for two. So as the sun set and we carefully navigated through the last islands we again enjoyed the bounties of Los Roques.
Finding a suitable anchorage near Caracas prove to be quite difficult. The large port of Guaira is a busy commercial harbour not safe or suitable for yachts and a nearby public marina was still closed after damage years ago. Finally the small, but luxurious, private marina of Playa Grande Yacht Club let us anchor for one night. The cheerful port captain charged us US$ 100, but it was well worth it: Safe and close to the airport. But as we were not members we had to motor to another private yacht-club to buy diesel and fill water. Filling up 105 l diesel and 10 l petrol cost Bolivares 10.000. The tip to the dock-master was B 20.000 (he asked for 50.000). But as 1 US$ is worth B 2.500, the total amount was only US$ 12! The Venezuelan fuel is still the cheapest we are ever likely to come across...

Family Five

Diana went to meet our friends and colleagues Kirsten Sola and Matthias Fisher with their three children, Eirik (17), Andreas (14) and Helene (11). They arrived on time after a good flight and stepped out into pouring rain! A brief, tropical shower, not the best welcome, but that was the last drop of rain for nearly two weeks. After we had rowed their luggage safely aboard and had worked out who should sleep where, Diana and Kirsten went to nearby Catia del Mar for a final taxi-load of shopping. I took Andreas and Helene for a swim and snorkel at the yacht club beach. They were delighted with the warm, but brownish water and the few fish we could see through our masks, so I knew that these kids would be easy to entertain out in the islands were the sea is crystal clear and teeming with life.

The overnight trip back up north was broad-reaching in good trade-winds. In spite of the big load, White Admiral was really showing off her speed and averaged more than 8 knots for the 75 nautical miles. Early light revealed Cayo del Agua dead ahead, and soon we could anchor in shallow water off a white beach, behind which were lots of nesting boobies (gannets). Swimming to the beach we passed a coral head surrounded by multi-coloured fish. Adults and kids were equally delighted. Eirik got out a big kite and board brought all the way from Norway, and after a lot of practice had a couple of runs parallel to the beach. But this would unfortunately be the last time he had the right conditions for this new and technically demanding water-sport. So what did we do these two weeks? We swam and snorkelled, we walked on beaches so white that they reflect the sun, we gathered shells, we photographed and tried not to get sunburned – an almost impossible task. Apart from that we had buffet meals in the cockpit three times daily. This continued through several of the many anchorages in Los Roques. Some we knew already, others were new. Aboard there was time for games (especially Perudo), some art-work with sea- and turtle-shells, even the occasional sing-song. Other activities were wind-surfing and diving from the stern deck (our visitor are skilled on the trampoline), and snorkelling with torches after dark. Add a visit to our new fishermen friend Ezekiel on Cayo Carenero and two visits to the little village of Puerto la Roque (on Gran Roque – charming sand-filled streets, many bars and posadas, but only fresh food at long intervals), and you know how time flew with these energetic visitors. Back in Caracas (same expensive, but friendly and conveniently situated marina) all the youngsters wrote nice entries in our guest-book, especially highlighting the underwater fun. In particular a couple of night dives when we saw sleeping parrot-fish, lobsters, sting rays, moray eels, squids, puffer- and porcupine-fish. We even managed to irritate a big porcupine-fish so much that he with loud grunts puffed himself into a very spiky and comical ball completely off balance! Naturally we have a lot of pictures from the visit of this family and we will use these to tell more of the story – please check the picture gallery.

Return of Robert

The last two days were made most enjoyable also by a visit from Robert, who is now working in Venezuela with a tour operator, improving their web-site and helping to look after students who come to learn Spanish. He arrived in Puerto la Roque on an evening flight from Caracas, and with three youngsters to play with, spent the days mostly in the water. On our final departure from Cayo Francisqui, he and Eirik took turns on Eirik’s kite-board, pulled along by a rope from the top of the mast – apparently a great thrill!
So the whole trip was an unqualified success, no nasty weather, everything going to plan… Well, almost. For on the trip back south, the nocturnal lightening which we normally see flashing above the high main-land, where it rains practically every night, decided to move off-shore and meet us. For about three hours there was an impressive show of thunder and lightening round about us, the rain bucketing down and the wind coming in gusts from different directions and kicking up a rough sea. We had a plane to reach and pressed on motor-sailing. But when the starboard engine overheated and had to be turned off, it did not look as our guests would make their homeward flight. I was hand-steering through the squalls and in spite of oilskins became wet and very cold. My faithful companion in the cockpit was Matthias who felt he would become seasick inside. He was like me soaking wet, but covered by a wet towel somehow managed to get some sleep on the cockpit bench.
However, after the storm came the calm and we could again motor at nearly full speed with both engines purring happily, and we reached the marina with time to finish packing, row a happy family ashore and order taxis with no panic.

Next update:
Visit from Eli and Rigmor, and about our Tortuga Challenge
20 Dec 2005 by Stein & Diana