Sunday, July 8, 2007

Isla Margarita to Bonaire

July 5, 2007  Thursday
Isla Cubagua, VZ
10.49.903N; 064.09.730 W          Sailed 24 miles, Average speed 6.86 knots

We left Porlamor, Isla Margarita, about 9:30 this morning.  Had a gorgeous downwind, down-current sail; and anchored at Isla Cubagua atbout 1:00 this afternoon.  Winds were 27-30 knots but they were from behind us.  We were sailing flat and smooth with poled out genoa and preventers on both main and mizzen.  Perfect sailing conditions.  Didn’t even notice the high winds until we furled in the sails and turned crosswise to the wind to enter the anchorage.  Then it was like:  Man! Where did all this wind come from!

Winds have continued to stay in the 30 knot range all afternoon.  We are really pulling on the anchor snubber line.  Winds are supposed to die down during the night and should be about 20 knots tomorrow.  So we are expecting another great downwind sail to Tortuga.  If we are enjoying the sailing we might just continue on to Bonaire and not stop in Tortuga tomorrow night.  We will make that decision tomorrow evening.

I have had a slight fever all day and slept a lot.  Hoping to sleep a lot more tonight and that I will feel better tomorrow.  Bill is on his own for dinner tonight.

There have been a couple of armed robberies at Cubagua over the past few years.  Advice is to lock yourself inside the boat at night, and that is exactly what we plan to do when it gets dark.  With our loud alarm system and flashing bright lights, we really are not the slightest concerned about a possible robbery.   The only structures on this island are a dozen or so homes of fishermen.  But it is only about 15 miles from the western end of Isla Margarita and that is where robbers supposedly come from.  At any rate, we aren’t worried about it at all.  Besides, we are flying our very large “we have guns onboard” flag, a/k/a the USA flag.  Funny, absolutely none of the boats that have been robbed that we have heard or read about were American boats.  All have been European boats; the last one was from Iceland.  The native inhabitants of the Eastern Caribbean and coastal Venezuela believe that all USA boats carry guns.  Fine with us if they believe that.  Just encourages them to target other boats instead of us.

Isla Cubagua was the first European settlement in the Americas.  It happened because Christopher Colombus saw some natives with pearls.  Within a year, two adventurers, Christobal De La Guerra and Pedro Alfonso Nino, discovered the source of the pearls to be the pearl beds off Cubagua.  In 1492 fifty fortune hunters arrived and founded Nueva Cadiz on the eastern side of the island.  They took Indians as slaves and forced them to dive for pearls.  They worked them so hard that hundreds of Indians died.  At the height of the pearling industry Cubagua pearls provided Spain with a wealth almost equal to the gold transport from the Inca lands.  In one year alone Cubagua exported 820 pounds of pearls.

In 1520 a force of 200 well-armed Indians attacked the town and forced the Spaniards to leave.  The Spaniards came back in force and rebuilt the town stronger than before, fortifying their houses against attack.  A fort was also built over the mainland to secure a water supply.  After a few decades of heavy exploitation the supply of pearls decreased and new beds were sought in Coche and Cumana.  On Christmas Day in 1541 an earthquake and tidal wave destroyed Nueva Cadiz.  Now Cubagua is uninhabited except for a small research station and a few fishing camps.  Pearl fishing has been prohibited since 1962.  And the Europeans think the Americans are bad about butting into other countries.  They literally raped the Americas of natural resources and murdered thousands upon thousands of Native Americans simply to gain wealth.  Do as I say and not as I do (or did).

Off the northeastern tip of the island there is a partially sunken car ferry.  This ship caught fire and the cars it was carrying began to explode.  It was quite a fiery site.  Advanced divers can dive on this wreck and see the cars still inside the ship.  It is far too windy to do this today.  We would have liked to snorkel this area as there are supposed to be something called basket stars and large star fish.  We are quite familiar with large star fish of all colors, but we have never seen anything called a basket star.

July 6, 2007 Friday
Pta. Arenas, Isla Tortuga, VZ
10.55.518N; 065.25.450W           Sailed 77 NM; 10.5 hours; average boat speed 7.33 knts

Today was our first experience sailing with double headsails.  We used both headsails for about 2/3 of the passage from Cubagua to Tortuga; then the winds shifted slightly more to the north; so we took down the starboard headsail and left the port headsail poled out with preventers on the mainsail and mizzen.  There also were following seas for the first 2/3 of the passage, but about the same time that the winds shifted more northerly, the swell also changed to be off our beam.  Still, it wasn’t too rolly and we made very good time.  There is normally about 1 knot current in your favor when sailing westward along the outer islands of Venezuela and that seemed about right today.

The double headsails are supposed to be used in winds not to exceed 20 knots.  We were right at that limit all day.  These poled out double headsails are designed to be used when the wind is more or less directly behind the boat, a point of sail that normally cannot be sailed.  Using both headsails made for a very comfortable ride with the following seas.  We both could do that for weeks.  It is a very flat and fast form of sailing and makes cooking and doing regular boat stuff very comfortable.  We hope to do much more of this type of sailing when we reach the South Pacific.

Putting up the second headsail was quite an experience.  Like everything else, it will be easier the next time since now we know how it works.  Our forestay has 3 tracks; most boats have only 1 track.  Ours has the normal genoa installed in the port side track.  The starboard headsail goes into the starboard track and locks into place at the top of the forestay when the sail is hoisted fully and correctly; then we insert a “mouse” into the center track and hoist it to the top of the forestay to release the starboard headsail when we are finished with it.

First we had to remove the second headsail from the foredeck sail locker and bring it to the cockpit.  We had to flake it so that it would feed upward correctly.  Then we carried the flaked sail back to the bow.  Bill fed the sail into the starboard track on the forestay while I hoisted it up with a halyard on the mainmast.  Neither of us could tell if it had clicked into place at the top of the forestay.  Bill gave it a couple of really hard yanks and we assumed that it was clipped into place, so we tightened the sheet and poled it out to the starboard side.  Wrong! 

It was not clipped into place correctly at the top of the forestay and within a couple of minutes it started to come down.   I released the tension on the sheet and went forward to help Bill try to contain the sail as it lowered down onto the foredeck.  About 4 feet of the foot ended up in the sea for a moment, but we managed to get the entire sail back onto the deck.

Second attempt.  This time Bill again fed the sail into the track and I hoisted it up with the halyard.  By the time the sail was at the top I was too weak to pull it hard enough to make it clip into place.  Bill decided that this time we would put the halyard onto a winch and give it a turn or two to make certain that the darn thing was actually clipped in place at the top of the forestay.  Our instruction book says to do this part by hand, but it did not work the first time we tried doing it by hand so we felt that a winch was in order.  It worked perfectly.  The sail stayed up this time and we truly enjoyed sailing with the double headsails for about 7 hours.

Then the winds shifted too far north (starboard side) to allow us to continue to use double headsails.  The instruction book said to turn toward the wind until the wind was on the beam before dropping the sail; this should make the sail drop onto the deck instead of into the water.  We tried this once, but something wasn’t right – not sure what, but something wasn’t right.  So I turned the boat back to the original course and we started the dropping procedure all over again.  Bill sent the mouse up the middle track until it was almost to the top of the forestay.  Then he moved as I turned the boat toward the wind to move the wind up to the beam,   I also let out 5 meters of the sheet so that the sail would have no outward tension as it came falling down.  I hit autopilot and went forward and stood down inside the starboard deck sail locker and pulled the sail down while Bill pulled down on the opposite side.  This time it worked perfectly.  The sail came down smoothly and was easy to stuff down inside the sail locker.  Flaking it and stowing it in the sail bag will have to wait until we are in lower winds in Bonaire.  According to the weather forecast, we won’t be using the double headsail configuration during the rest of our passage to Bonaire.

As we passed the south side of Tortuga near the western end, we saw many large power boats – all lined up and anchored stern to the shore behind a small area of reef.  I wondered if the rich Venezuelans who own those boats brought them up here themselves for the weekend, or if they had their captains bring them up and they will fly their little planes up for the weekend (probably with their bimbos – sort of like deer hunting back home).  There is a small airstrip on virtually uninhabited Tortuga.  The rich Venezuelans fly up for the weekends.  Wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that they might also send their boats up for their weekend use around this beautiful isolated island.   This also explains where they might be staying for the weekends.  Bill and I had been talking about this earlier today.  The guide books say that the rich Venezuelans like to fly their airplanes to Tortuga for a weekend getaway.  But there are no hotels, resorts, villas or even plain homes for them to stay in.  So we wondered where they slept.  Open camping certainly did not seem to fit the social profile for these guys.  The nice large power boats anchored on the south side answer that question nicely as they would certainly provide a level of comfort to which these guys are accustomed.   It is supposed to sometimes get “interesting” for sailboats anchored at Playa Caldera at the northeastern end of Tortuga.  Their tall masts are in alignment with the small airstrip.  The guide books say that the rich Venezuelans drink too much and it gets lively when they are taking off to return to the mainland at the end of the weekend.

We had planned to anchor on the northwest side of Tortuga tonight near Pta. Tamarindo.  But the winds were blowing like mad and were still coming too far from the north.  So we tucked in and anchored next to a Venezuelan fishing boat just off Pta. Arenas on the true west side of Tortuga.  There really isn’t much shelter from the winds and there is a bit of movement, but not nearly as much movement as there was back in the anchorage at Porlamar during tide changes.  We will only be here one night so it really doesn’t matter if we move around a bit as long as the anchor holds.  And our anchor always holds.  The Buegel anchor by Wasi is a wonderful anchor and we would recommend it highly.

The spot where we are anchored is positively gorgeous.  There is a long beach of sand that is so white and fine that it looks like sugar.  The water is clear and sparkling.  A perfectly beautiful place.

Time to cook dinner and then enjoy much needed showers.  It was a good day.

July 8, 2007 Sunday
Kralenkijk, Bonaire, Netherland Antillies
12.09.315N; 068.16.796W           Sailed 187 NM, 23 hours, average boat speed 8.13 knots

We arrived in Bonaire at 8:00 a.m.  Tony & Heidi on WORLD CITIZEN had saved us a mooring by tying on a fender yesterday afternoon.  So we are on an outside mooring in the middle of the mooring field.  No anchoring allowed in Bonaire, anywhere, any time; must take a mooring or go into the marina.  We prefer the mooring rather than the confinement of a marina.  Tony came out in his dinghy and assisted Bill with tying off the lines for the double moorings.

We left Tortuga at 9:00 a.m. yesterday, so our 187 mile passage took a total of 23 hours.  The trip was just plain wonderful.  We did have to motor sail for about 5 hours when the wind died down so low that our boat speed was only 6 knots.  Bill did not want to go that slow so we motor sailed.  The winds picked up and we sailed without engine for the rest of the trip.  The overnight part of the passage was especially nice.  We passed a total of 5 large ships but they were all at least 2 miles away so no problem.

At one point our GPS started giving us an alarm.  It did this 3 times before we figured out what that was all about.  Apparently the previous owner had set the GPS to alarm if the boat speed exceeded 11 knots.  And, thanks to the 2+ knot current, we did exceed 11 knots several times!!!!  We have never sailed so fast in any boat.  Not sure what our top speed was because we were busy trying to figure out the alarm thing instead of watching the speed indicator, but it was over 11 knots for certain.  The hull speed on our boat should be around 11 knots so we assume that is why that alarm was set.  But we felt no instability and had no inconsistencies in steerage, so it was fine to hit those speeds in the favorable sea conditions.  Could be a totally different story if we had been surfing down big seas in a storm.  But we were in almost flat seas and consistent winds.  It was great.

Already found out that several friends are here in Bonaire.  Looking forward to meeting up with them.  Time to go do the Customs/Immigration clearances.  Will upload a few photos later.

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