Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Isla Tortuga and Los Roques

October 24, 2006   Tuesday 
Playa Caldera, Isla Tortuga, Venezuela
10.57.319N, 65.13.608W        Sailed 57.9 NM

We are in a beautiful horseshoe shaped anchorage with gorgeous white sand beaches.  There are less than a dozen boats anchored here.  We plan to stay here only one night, so are not bothering to put the dinghy into the water so that we can explore the beaches; it is too far for us to swim into the closest beach.  Just a beautiful place with the sound of light surf breaking on the beaches.  Should sleep well tonight.

There were at least 17 ships anchored or moving slowly just off Puerto La Cruz when we left this morning – all waiting for their turn to fill up with Venezuelan crude oil.  BTW, when reviewing our clearance paperwork yesterday, Judy discovered a minor detail that the US might like to know.  The US Virgin Islands are not really the USVI; the Port Captain of Puerto La Cruz considers St. Thomas to be in the Virgin Islands, West Indies.  We thought that was a bit funny and so typical of this particular close-minded little man.

The passage here took 8 hours at an average speed of 7.15 kts. It was a pleasant sail for the first half of this passage, close hauled with winds of 18-20 kts off our starboard bow in 4-6 ft. seas.  Then the wind died down and clocked a bit forward, but we were still able to motor sail for the third-quarter of the passage.   Then the wind died down to only about 3 kts and was straight on our nose, so we furled in the sails and motored the final quarter way in flat calm.

The last half of this passage was not pleasant in any way.  Only good thing about it is that it wasn’t raining!  It was a beautiful sunny day with very unusual white and light-grey clouds as far as we could see.   Judy saw one cloud formation that looked like it belonged in a Star Trek movie.  Wispy clouds formed up together to form the shape of an acorn or top and began spinning counterclockwise very rapidly.  Would have worried about a water spout forming except that these clouds were high in the sky.  This formation spun rapidly for about 5 minutes and then dispersed.  They then re-formed into the same shape, but about 4 times larger; and began to spin rapidly counterclockwise again.  That lasted several minutes and then it all dispersed again.  Really weird looking.

This passage was unbelievably rolly for such flat seas.  We have a gauge at the helm that indicates the degree of roll that the boat experiences.  We were constantly rolling 15% to each side, with a 20% roll about every fifth time.  Could not understand why we rolling so much in such flat seas.  Try doing that for four hours and see how it makes you feel!!  Judy was wishing we had some plain saltine crackers.  Bill wasn’t feeling any too spiffy either.  But neither of us actually got seasick; just did not particularly enjoy the passage. (BTW, provisioning note to those sailors thinking of heading to the southern Caribbean:  we have been looking for plain saltine crackers for at least the last 8 islands/stops.  Not to be found down here.  Crispix crackers are the closest you can find.)  It is not a good idea to sail with an empty stomach because it makes you feel more seasick; luckily, we had a loaf of French bread aboard that we shared for breakfast/lunch.  

Judy took a rotisserie chicken out of the freezer for dinner.  She has ten of them vacuum sealed in the freezer for days such as this.  It is hot and a little rolly even here in this very protected anchorage, so cooking does not sound like such a great idea.   We can pop a couple of potatoes into the pressure cooker for five minutes; heat the chicken in the microwave; add the stir-fried green beans that we saved from the marina pot luck dinner last night, and we will have a nice dinner with little effort and without heating up the galley too much.

A side thought:  public nudity is illegal in Venezuela.  This includes women in topless bathing suits.  Some of the Europeans apparently have a bit of difficulty with this concept.  There were warnings at the marina in Puerto La Cruz that they must adhere to Venezuelan law and keep their tops on.  And that they absolutely could not shower naked at the open showers next to the pool; those showers were for rinsing off only.   Funny to us that it became such an issue.  Seems like a simple sign in Spanish, English, French and German out by the pool should have solved the problem.  But some of the Europeans couldn’t seem to grasp the concept that their exposed flesh was offensive to the locals, as well as illegal.  Sort of like wearing shorts in a Muslim country.  Cruisers and travelers need to be sensitive to the local customs and act accordingly and not act like they do back home.

On our final approach to Isla Tortuga, a catamaran named Evensong crossed directly in front of us.  They had left the marina an hour or so before us and were going to the same anchorage.  We had watched them all day, crossing back and forth across our route.  They would be 15 degrees off our port bow for awhile and then meander off to be 10-20 degrees off our starboard bow, then be on the same course directly in front of us.  We could not figure out what in the world they were doing, as they were not tacking on this straight course.  Near the top of Tortuga where we would both turn west to round the reef point before entering the anchorage, they again crossed our path, directly in front of us.   As soon as they crossed our path then the guy started frantically motioning for us to watch out for the fishing line he was trailing.  What poor seamanship!  He is the one who should have been watching out for his fishing line; he is the one who cut across in front of us.  Glad we have a line cutter on our prop shaft so unobservant captains like that can’t make their problem become our problem.  We suspect that he never even realized that he had crossed so closely directly in front of us.  Maybe he was taking an afternoon nap.  Before some of you send us emails to tell us that we were the give-way boat in this situation, we know that.  But we would be required to yield right-of-way to the catamaran, not his trailing fishing line.  He was not displaying any of the day symbols to indicate that he was fishing or trawling.  Just poor seamanship.

The stars and the sound of the surf made for a beautiful evening.  We sat in the cockpit and listened to an old Simon & Garfunckel cd.  Old farts that we are!

October 25, 2006  Wednesday
Cayo Herradura, Venezuela
10.59.450N, 65.22.830W        Sailed 12 NM

This morning a French couple came over to our boat in their dinghy, just to visit.  They also own an Amel; neither of us remembers their names or their boat name.  The conversation was very limited because the woman spoke only French and her husband spoke only very limited English, but we managed.  They purchased their boat new in 1998 and did a five-year circumnavigation; said they wished they had taken ten years to do it.  They completed their circumnavigation in the Mediterranean, but he said that the Med is not a good place for sailing; so they sailed over to Venezuela and have stayed in the Caribbean ever since.   They sail to wherever interests them in the Caribbean and then leave the boat in a boatyard in Puerto La Cruz while they fly back to France to visit for several months each year.  We will likely end up doing something similar in five years or so.

Today we moved to a tiny spit of an island at the northwest end of Tortuga, named Cayo Herradura.  This is a lovely spot, totally flat and narrow, with a bit of reef off the south side.  There are a few temporary fishing huts constructed on the north end of this little island.   They look like they would be washed away in a high tide.  This is the prettiest spot we have seen the Tobago Cays up in St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

S/V Sealoon arrived in Playa Caldera late yesterday afternoon.  They had left Puerto La Cruz early Monday and sailed NE to Isla Cubagua to pick up a boat part that a friend delivered to them from Trinidad.  They said they had a nice downwind sail from Cubagua to Tortuga.  Goes to show you what a difference a different angle of sailing can make on the same seas.  We rolled all day with current across our beam and were uncomfortable; they coasted downwind with the current and had a great sail.

There was no wind today, so we didn’t even attempt to raise sails; just motored the whopping distance of 12 miles.  This is a better location to leave from when we head to Los Roques tomorrow night (weather permitting).  Sealoon also moved to this anchorage, although they plan to spend a few more days here than we do.  Today was Nicola’s 14th birthday.  We took the dinghy over for swizzle, wine and snacks.  Judy had a birthday card for Nicola and also gave her a computer game as her birthday present.  There was a gorgeous sunset with large blue vertical streaks as we were in the dinghy going back to Security.  Tried to take a photo, but it didn’t show up very well.

October 26, 2006   Thursday
Cayo Herradura, VZ

We awakened to a gorgeous day but within a few hours the winds had clocked to the infamous westerlies so common in this part of the Caribbean.  The current mostly runs toward the west and southwest; so when the winds blow from the west then this creates large rolling seas or steep choppy seas, depending on how long and how strong the winds blow from the west.   This made the lovely anchorage not so lovely anymore as we rolled from side to side for most of the day.  We both tried to sleep as much as possible in preparation for the passage to Los Roques tonight.

October 27, 2006  Friday       
Francisquis, Los Roques, Venezuela
11.57.615N, 66.39.074W        Sailed 96 miles

We left Cayo Herradura at 5:45 p.m. yesterday and sailed all night, arriving here about 9:15 a.m.; total trip 15 ½ hours, averaging 6.2 kts.  We could have made this passage faster but chose not to.  In fact, shortly after heading out we realized that we were going too fast at 8.5 kts and would arrive before daylight; so we reefed the sails and slowed the speed down to 6 kts.  You definitely want to arrive here in bright daylight as there are reefs and coral heads literally everywhere and you must pick your way through them.  Also, all the charts are off by as much as one-half mile, both electronic charts and paper charts.  You really must eyeball your way around here.

We opted to enter through the northeast entry point.  There were two entry points farther south where you enter through the reef and then proceed northward between two very long reefs.  But those entrances had heavy waves breaking and we didn’t see any reason to risk entering there when this entrance is broader, deeper and safer.  We first moved over to El Gran Roque to anchor there, but it was too busy and did not appeal to us.  Neither of us wanted to be anchored where small power boats are zooming all over the place between the anchored boats.  So we upped anchor and moved to Francisquis. 

The entry to Francisquis is a little tricky between coral heads and shallow sand and then around two patches of coral heads and two small reefs and dodging a couple of half-mega-yachts (what we used to call the “doctor boats”); but it is nice and calm once you get settled in here.  We are anchored behind a large reef, facing the open sea.  Really beautiful view but the water is too deep to be clear and there seems to be a lot of small clumps of sea grass floating around us.  So far, Judy is a little disappointed in Los Roques.  It was hyped by other sailors as being just wonderful.  It is pretty and very different, but very far from Judy’s definition of wonderful.  Maybe it will get better when we move to another island tomorrow.  There are dozens of tiny islands in Los Roques.

The passage last night was uneventful.  Judy spotted four falling stars and Bill saw another one.  There was a bright slip of a moon until it set about 10:30 p.m.  Then it was stars only for the rest of the night.  It is funny how the seas seem larger at night and the winds sound louder than during the daylight. 

You just have to have faith in your boat that she can handle whatever happens at night because you cannot see a darn thing.  This was the first night passage when we tried to stick to a specific watch schedule.  Judy was on watch from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. and Bill was supposed to sleep so that he would be rested for his watch from 1 a.m. until 4 a.m.  Of course, he could not get to sleep.  Twice he came running back up to the cockpit to see what we had hit when there were loud bumps.  Like mentioned previously, you cannot see a darn thing at night on the open sea and no moon.  So we have no idea what we might have hit; probably small pieces of wood or tree limbs, but could have been something as small as coconuts.  Who knows.

Now that we are anchored and showered and fed, it is time to kick back and rest all day.  Neither of us got much sleep last night.  Judy began to feel slightly queasy late in the night and didn’t get back to normal until after the sun rose and we could see again.  Cannot imagine how we are going to be able to do this for days and nights on end as we get farther west.  We must to learn to sleep during these passages.

October 29, 2006   Sunday

We haven’t moved, except from one side of this anchorage to out in the middle when space became available as boats left yesterday morning.  We were hoping to get away from the flies as we got farther away from shore, but it didn’t help much.  The flies are driving us crazy.  And Judy is being eaten alive by noseeums (tiny, tiny, tiny mosquito-type insects). 

We have two noseeum/mosquito hatch screens.  Bill put these two screens over the forward hatch and the hatch over the forward head.  Then he taped cheesecloth over the doorway to the front part of the boat, and we slept in the forward vee-berth last night.  No new bugs got into our little protected area, but Judy is miserable today from the itching bites that she got Friday and Saturday.

To all those people who said we would LOVE Los Roques: you didn’t tell us that we would be swarmed by flies and blood sucking insects.  So far, this place is definitely not in our top ten favorites.  The water is quite deep, right up until you reach extremely shallow water.  It immediately goes from forty feet to five feet, so you need to be very careful where and how you anchor.  We are anchored in ten meters.  If the winds switch to westerlies then we will be dangerously close to the shallow area.   Last night and today we have had strong winds from the east.  We had hoped to move to another anchorage today and try to get away from these flies, but the wind is pretty strong so we likely will just stay put.

S/V Sealoon arrived here yesterday morning.  They said that Cayo Herradura became so rolly that they were rolling rail to rail, so they came here earlier than they had planned just to get into a calmer anchorage.  S/V Unplugged just hailed on the VHF and they should be here in a few hours.  That just leaves S/V Do It! and S/V La Gitana that should be on their way here.  All of these boats were leaving Puerto La Cruz within a day of when we left, so they will probably arrive here shortly.  We will not pair up with any of them, but will continue to run into one another as we all proceed farther westward.  All of the other boats plan to visit Cartagena and we hope to head straight across to the San Blas Islands of Panama, weather permitting.   If we decide to follow the others to Cartagena, then we will need to contact our insurance company.  The waters of Columbia are forbidden by our policy, but we can pay $200 and get coverage for that area if the weather prohibits us from making the direct passage.

BTW, after we got out into open water the other day, we ran our watermaker for the first time since we replaced the membranes, the end caps and bobbin and both pre-filters.  It is great!  It produces water that is just as good as any bottled water that we have ever bought and better than some.  Prior to replacing the membranes, our TDS meter was reading about 460 to 490.  That barely meets the World Health Organization’s standard level of 500, and exceeds the US standard of 300.  Our watermaker now produces water that tests 95 to 97.  And it tastes very good.  That is quite a relief.  Note, we do still filter our drinking water as it comes from our water holding tank to our kitchen sink.  Wouldn’t want to risk something growing down in that water holding tank; so our drinking water is filtered to remove any cysts, etc.

One nice thing about this anchorage is the people watching – especially for Bill.  Small power boats and large day-sailor catamarans bring visitors for day trips from El Gran Roque to the beaches in this anchorage.  Bill thinks he has found perfection of the female form in a Venezuelan beauty attired in a tiny red bikini.

We enjoyed a glass of wine and several hours of friendly conversation in the cockpit of S/V Sealoon, along with Tom and Colleen of S/V Unplugged.

October 30, 2006    Monday
Crasqui, Los Roques, VZ        Sailed 12 NM
11.53.1012N, 066.44.5405W

S/V Sealoon, S/V Unplugged and S/V Security decided to move to the nearby island of Crasqui this morning.  We did not plan on encountering 40 kt winds and large rolling seas from the NE during what should have been an 11-12 mile short hop. 

The first squall wasn’t too bad and we stayed on course with poor range of visibility.  But the second squall was a solid 40 knots winds, bringing large rolling seas and zero visibility; could not see more than 10 meters past the edges of our boat in each direction.  As this squall approached we heard our friends who were well behind us talking on the VHF radio about the 40 knot gale, so Judy checked our compass and the nearby islands in every direction.  She determined that if the squall moved to our location that we would be safest to turn to a course of 310 magnetic and ride it out; that would take us away from any islands or reefs.  And that is exactly what we did about 5 minutes later when the squall reached us.  It didn’t last long as it was moving faster than we were, then we reversed our course and headed back to where we were headed in the first place.

Crasqui is a lovely anchorage; beautiful long beach with ultra-fine pure white sand and lots of shells.  There are a few dwellings ashore.  It is a very quiet beach and so far we have not noticed any insects.  We were all very tired of the flies at the last anchorage.

Judy made a cake shortly after we arrived and we brought some to share with our friends on the other two boats.  Nicola seemed to really enjoy her still warm slice of “Hot Milk Cake.”  Then we all went for a walk on the beach.  It was a very pleasant afternoon.

Anchored next to us is yet another couple that we met in Trinidad, Pat and Mike on S/V Private Affair from London.  Seems we are all following the same path on about the same schedule.

October 31, 2006   Tuesday
Crasqui, Los Roques

We planned to leave today for the passage to the Aves but weather prediction is better for tomorrow, so we have delayed for one day.  We went for walk on the gorgeous beach and saw what looked like a sea gull nursery.  There were hundreds of baby sea gulls standing on the end of the beach, all facing into the wind.  There was only one adult sea gull present, sort of like a bird day care center.  We both got a little too much sun; and came back to the boat and vegged out the rest of the day with our books.

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