Monday, July 30, 2007

Juangriego-Blanquilla, Venezuela July 2007
Having completely filled all the lockers on RAFT, it was definitely time to get out of Porlamar, quit shopping and get on with exploring. We motored east, past Pompatar, which we could see this time, no haze, and then sailed up the east coast of Margarita island, past all the resorts and beautiful sand beaches to Juangriego. This is a quaint fishing village, quite the opposite to Porlamar. Although there are lots of touristy shops. We toured the fort, mainly just a scenic view point and the boat building factory. The guys there we great, letting us look around, take pictures, even took a tarp off a big Caterpiller diesel engine so I could take a picture for Ron, Bev’s brother in law who works on Cats in Canada.
Next day: off to Blanquilla, a small fishing island 50 miles north of Margarita. The only people who live here are fisherman and "guarda". so why are we here? ... to get away from everything Porlamar is...shopping, traffic, noise, city lights. Here the beaches are so beautiful, certainly rival any we have seen in the Bahamas and the Virgins. The water is so clear, you can watch the gurnard crawl along the bottom in 25' of water. We can snorkel right off the boat. And at night, the stars are fantastic, even saw a shooting star and there is lots of phosphorescence in the water.
We had a great day sail from Margarita island here. Early in the day the winds were light and from the south east (stern quarter). Ideal conditions for our spinnaker (light nylon colorful sail) which we hadn't used since we left Canada. Our inexperience showed when Bev mishandled the sheet and got a rope burn on her right hand. Really our first onboard accident. Now before everyone gets worried, we have lots of prescription antibiotic cream onboard she is using this "hurt' as an excuse not to do her usual household chores, so Ross gets to cook and clean. She can still manage the helm, type one handed, but will baby herself for a couple of days.
We are basically anchored on the the west side of the island hiding from the tradewinds. When we were in Margarita we were out to the "Trade Wind" belt. Now that we are back north we are back into steady east winds blowing 10-15 knots, no roll so very comfortable. Blanquilla has white sand beaches mixed in with granite outcrops. Looks a little like a moonscape with the craggy bits. The sand is very powdery and very comfortable to walk on. There are about 12 boats in the anchorage, all sail except one large fishing boat (Wooden 60 ft long.) This is the mother ship that all the local fisherman bring their catch (average around 25 fish a day per boat) to and then weekly they return to Margarita to sell the catch. This is the type of boats we saw being built in Juangriego.

The local fisherman only fish when the big boat is here as they have no way to store the caught fish. Once a day the small boats pull up to the mothership and off load their catch. Because Blanquilla has only a small fishing village, we have only seen about three different boats come along side. The mothership has a crew of five who don't seem to do much all day long and even less at night. The boat is in complete darkness-no music day or night. One guy cooks and four tend to lounge around on the deck waiting for the local fisherman to return. Wedon’t know whether the motherships are part of a national (gov't) operation or private. I suspect national to help the local fisherman get their product to market as this whole Agro Economy is subsidized by cheap fuel ($0.03 per litre) to keep the cost of food down. Anyway I digress.
These fisherman which are always touted as being the source of the "we Cruisers" problem. We anchored beside this boat the day the we arrived which was late in the afternoon on Saturday. During the night at 2:30 am we bumped into the mothership. We were more concerned than them but it brought all of us on deck, we let out some more rode so hopefully that would solve the problem. We thought they would be upset with us, but the next morning after we re-anchored the fishermen were all smiles and nods.
Later that afternoon two of the crew were dispatched to our boat and we both though that now we were going to hear something about interfering with their operation or that we had damaged their boat in the night. These were the type of ploys we had been told to watch out for. What they wanted after much pantomime was a to see if we had replacement brass fitting for the pressurized gas system on their boat. I rummaged through my stores and found a some partial pieces that could get them started but were not a direct match. Off they went to other boats to try and find a replacement. At 5:00 pm on our way to another boat for Sundowners they call us over to say that they got system working and here were the parts that I gave them back. We thanked them and carried on to "Dreamtime" for drinks. On our way home from "Dreamtime" they waved us back to the mothership again. This time was to present us with a 10-12 lb Tuna to thanks us for trying to help them. Looks like we will have sushi for happy hour today. Off course Ross had to clean this in the dark last night because it would not fit in the fridge whole. Bev's hand injury strikes again.
Other activities we managed to fit into our week here: dinghy picnic to Americano Bay – absolutely beautiful, must be seen, pot luck on the beach where we cooked a 36" Barracuda on a fire and shared with all the boaters (another gift from the fishermen), plus a day exploring the south bays and fiords, where once again we ended up anchoring among all the fishing boats.
Pictures: Americana Bay iguana, coral fossils, rock bridges Last Picture: unusual rock formation weathered into girl like statue, south coast of Blanquilla

Friday, July 20, 2007

Venezuela General Info July 2007
We are really enjoying Venezuela. However if you plan to visit here, there are a few things you should know before you arrive.
Money Exchange
The official exchange rate (Up to date Info at Veneconomia site)at the bank is 2200 B per 1 US, but the are many people/businesses who will exchange US$ at 3500 B. Big difference. they want larger bills ($20 min, $50-100 bills even better), and there are also places who will take a personal cheque, $500.00 minimum drawn on an American bank, and some have an American acct that you can wire money into, and still give you the higher exchange rate. So what this means, is bring as much US cash in larger bills that you can get your hands on, before you arrive here. You need to ask around to find the money exchangers, but it isn’t all that difficult. You don’t want to use the ATM’s because they only exchange at the official rate.
Things you cannot buy get here:
peanut butter, butter, white sugar, pancake syrup, batteries -- we have been trying to get 6volt ones, unsuccessfully, BBQ lighters. Eggs are only available in the small markets.
Picture: Diesel being delivered to RAFT
Beer is 800-1000B a can, Chilean wine is good value, Vene. wine was cheap and okay. Rum is 5000-10000 B per 750 ml ($2-$3) Gas/diesel so cheap, less than $.30 a gallon delivered to your boat. Water is available delivered to your boat in Porlamar or jerry jug from Juan (.10 per gallon).
In general, if you pay the official rate, most other things in Venezuela cost about the same as in US or Grenada. It is when you get a good deal on your exchange, that you see great savings.
Juan charges $70 US or 210000B to do the check in, therefore you are better to change your money before you do your check in. Nearly everyone still uses Juan, but there are some complaints that it is too expensive, and now you can do it yourself, but it still is a fair amount of work.
Taxi's are cheap...10000 to 15000B for most rides, we never did take the buses, although there are many in Porlamar. Happy hour at Juans after 4pm, starts earlier on Friday. There were over 100 boats in the harbour. Sigo’s (a very large grocery/department store/mall runs a free bus from Juans every Mon, Wed, and Fri.
We have had no problems with security, Porlamar is relatively safe, However we had security bars made for our hatchway and are using them at night, and always raise and lock the dinghy. These will go missing regularly if not well secured, or if left at dock after dark.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Los Testigos, Venezuela July 2007

Momma Leatherback turtles buried in the sand, laying their eggs. (taken with 2 different cameras) Tracks from ocean to nesting spots, Ross measuring track width -- up to 80" wide. We estimate these turtles to have shells 3-4' long, weigh 400+lbs.
Northern ocean beach where turtles came ashore
Downwind sailing, it is hard to believe, that we have finally made the time on our adventure that we are venturing west….and the winds behaved themselves and were on the stern quarter and sometimes right from behind as we made our passage from Grenada. It was a lovely sail, under the full moon. We got underway about 5 pm, a group of 4 boats leaving Prickley Bay, and another group of similar size leaving St. George’s. The wind was very pleasant 15 knots, and we were doing about 6 knots with reefed sails. The current came and went, but really wasn’t an issue, we just sailed east of our rhum line so we could let it take us, if it wanted. Once we approached Los Testigos, the current certainly did pick up, and was pushing us towards west towards the islands, as we wove our way into the central passage. We anchored in front of the Guardacosta station by 9am. Check in was very easy, and we were given permission to stay until Monday (arrived on Thursday). We reanchored off Playa Real, rested for a short while, before going over to walk on the beautiful beach.
Navigational note: If you are using the Doyle/Fisher guide, 2002 edition, chartlet on page 70. The way point off I. Noreste 11 25.0N 63 02.0W puts you dangerously close to the island, especially with the easterly trade winds, easterly swell, and west setting current, all encouraging an unexpected visit which after an all night sail is the last thing you need. We had to adjust our course southerly.
Friday morning, after a wonderful hike around Testigo Pequeno, we moved the boats just north of Isla Langoleta, in preparation for our noctural turtle expedition. We walked over the sand dunes, and waited under the full moon, hoping we would get to see the Leatherback turtles laying their eggs.
We had been waiting from sunset (7pm) and about 10 pm we were just about ready to give up, when we discovered that the moms had decided to use the next beach to the east, and one was buried in the sand. We sat for the next 3 hours and 2 more big mommas waddled up out of the sea surf, proceeded to dig a hole, larger than their own diameter about 1-2 ft deep using only their flippers, drop their light coloured eggs, and then meticulously bury their important treasures. It was fascinating. These turtles are about 4 ft in diameter, probably weigh 300-400 lbs. Their flippers look as long as our arms. With the full moon it was easy to see them against the white sand background.
We went back to the beach area the next day, took pictures and measured the tracks. We also discovered that three more turtles had come to the beach last night after we left. They seemed to arrive around High tide which makes sense since it is a shorter distance to the high water mark, above which they lay their eggs. Hauling that bulk about soft sand must be a real chore for these moms. The total time out of water was about 3 hours. We found out from another boater, who had been on an organized trip that the turtles lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs (30%), about 120-150 in each nest. The unfertilized ones act as space makers in the nest so the baby turtles will have room to dig themselves out. The fertilized eggs are light brown coloured and the spacemakers are white. One of the nests that was laid the night before was deposited too close to the surf and unfortunately the high tides accompanying the full moon, washed it open. We measured the span of the fore limbs on the turtle we saw the night before from the tracks. The largest one left tracks 80" wide, another was 72". They look like ATV tracks in the sand.
Bev got to go turtle watching again the next night. That was after we had our first Venezuelan beer in the only local bar (actually the porch of the owners' home) with the cruisers in the anchorage. Beer was 2000 Bolivar (less than $1 US) which is an outrageous price we were told, as it is usually 700 B in Margarita Island. But is was cold, served in a can, on a plastic patio table....who can complain. We actually didn't even pay, because we don't have any Bolivars yet!! Some of the other cruisers, who had been to Venezula before and had B's, picked up the tab.
After our liquid refreshment, 12 of us went back to the sand dunes to wait for the turtles. Another beautiful night, full moon, and a fresh, warm Caribbean breeze. We waited until about midnight before the first Mom lumbered out of the sea. Then we watched for an hour while she chose her spot, dug her hole, laid her eggs and buried them. No other moms had arrived, and the group decided to let her return to the sea in peace, so we departed. Ross, Mike, and another Dutch boater were our water taxis for the night, and dutifully came when called.
Next morning Bev woke briefly at 0630 to check the SSB weather, find out nothing has changed and no "bad" stuff is headed our way, and then slept soundly until 0900. Two late nights in a row, had tired us out!! We were sitting having coffee when we started to hear a lot of chatter on the VHF radio, the coast guard was being called in Spanish and some French, but really weren't paying much attention. Then Bruce on R Phurst called Drumbeat (Mike and Marlene). Bruce had left about 0830 heading for Margarita Island, so we expected he was just calling back a wind/sea report. No, Bruce was diverting his course, to heading north toward a motorboat (3 miles further north and 10 miles from Los Testigos) that was on fire, and would we make sure that the coast guard was aware of it. We could see the plume of gray smoke from RAFT. Next we saw about 4-5 guys running with gas cans and jumping into one of the larger open island boats, about 22 ft long with double outboard motors (75+). The boat took off right away with one motor, and with a little persuasion (maybe some gas) the second one fired up. Seeing this, plus M&M checking with the fishing boat anchored beside us, it was determined that the coast guard and locals knew and were responding.
Bruce called back to say that he had rescued 3 persons from the sea and that the local boats had picked up one. He transferred his 3 to a local boat, and that he was continuing his trip to Margarita island. Hopefully someone there will give him the hero's welcome he deserves. Once the local boats returned, things got much quieter. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the powerboat is burnt down to the waterline and left to drift at sea. More garbage to avoid in the night.

Pictures: Local fishing boats, Bev and Ross enjoying the wonderful setting
All this before we had time to make breakfast!! Today being Canada Day, we are celebrating by raising our large Canada Flag (thanks Sheila Copps) on the flag halyard, and installing a new smaller flag on the stern flag pole. (All our flags fade and fray due to the constant exposure to sun, wind and salt.) Fortunately, the summer we were home we were able to get quite a few on sale at Canadian Tire after Canada Day, and still have a couple left.
Monday, as dictated by the guardiacoastal, we left Los Testigos, reluctantly. It is a lovely group of isolated islands, with wonderful people, and unless you have a boat, you won’t get to see them. We were enjoying a very pleasant sail enroute to Margarita Island, when we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins. Our special good luck sign.
Did someone ask about fishing?? Once we had cleared the islands, we did start dragging our two lines. All morning long, not much was happening. Just after noon, we could see the mountains of Margarita Island rising from the haze. As we were approaching Pompatar, Bev was contemplating bringing in the lines. A noise like a gunshot surprised us, and once we figured out what is was, we realized the entire fishing system on the port side was missing…the bungie cord shock absorber had broken, the 80 pound test line had broken, 250 feet of line was gone, as well as the lure. Even the clothespin alarm tied to the lifelines with dental floss was missing. We consoled our loss by realizing the one that got away was definitely too big for us!!
We continued on and anchored in Porlamar – affectionately known as Rollamar with about 100+ other boats. Another boater came around, he had been fishing on his way over, and was offering us wahoo. He had caught and landed a 50 pounder, and was very willing to share his prize. So we got to eat fish, despite our loss.
We expect to stay in Porlamar for a couple of weeks. This is the shopping meca of Venezuela, so let the shopping begin!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Grenada June 2007
Picture: Ross using cockpit table as a work station to take 4 hp apart.

Back in Grenada, it seems like "home"!! However with the exception of Sea Witch, most of the boats are new to us. But we are in Grenada with a purpose….get some work done, have some fun, and get ready to head for Venezuela.

Work list: Improve security on RAFT and dinghy….new locks, dinghy chain, "bars" on companionway
Get 4 hp motor welded -- the controller arm had broken off the main aluminum casting
Service gib winches -- salt water had welded the winch to the base plate, but PB Blaster and a lot of arm wrestling got them free. Ross was then able to dig out the drainage holes, and greased them, so hopefully they won’t weld together again.
New sewage discharge pipe on head (not on original list, but when split got priority treatment)
Fix drain from head sink (not on original list, but broken when trying to install sewage pipe)
Check and changed fuel filters – the motor trip around the south end of Grenada was very choppy as usual, so shook up the diesel in the tank.
Clean dinghy
Replace lost water jug and bought a extra gas jug
Clean head after shaving cream can rusted through and spurted cream on vanity and sink
Of course there were a lot of things on the work list that just didn’t have high enough priority to be completed, and sooner or later will need to be attended to.

Fun: Hash x2 -- were able to do 2 hashes – one at Mount Carmel and the other north of Victoria. First one very easy, last one really tough, but both very enjoyable.
Rogers BBQ – revisit Hog Island -- Rogers has installed "waterside" deck, picnic tables, & benches -- major development for his "restaurant" But Roger hasn’t changed!!
Pictures: Ross and Bev after Hash, Roger's new "look"
Not much change to Hog Island, except cleared "road" on island to where bridge is intended. Local people very upset with govt. Apparently nothing is finalized with Four Seasons re development.

Pictures: Hog Anchorage still as pretty as ever, Wrecked fishing boats still there, destruction of island

Get ready to go to Venezuala
Determine weather window to leave
Check out
Fill up with water, fresh foods
Spend all our EC’s -- did last minute shopping, didn’t have enough EC’s so had to use VISA, so l left with a few EC’s
Say goodbye to Grenada and our friends

Having done all the above, the departure date was set: 1700 on June 27th -- we were heading for Los Tostigos, Venezuela on a new continent…..a new adventure for us!!