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June '09: Fantastic Island World with Reefs - Venezuelan Islands

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When we were mentioning our idea to sail West and stop on some Venezuelan islands, many sailors looked at us and asked us if we hadn’t heard about the piracy in Venezuela – well, of course we heard like most others about numerous incidents. The stories range from simple thefts to robberies including being shot at. Just before we left we even had the chance to see some bullet holes. BUT, 95% of all incidents occur along the Peninsula (mainland coast from just West of Trinidad to East of Puerto La Cruz), often to boats which stayed alone overnight. And another problem is, that the stories about any incidents usually keep on going for a long time and through multiple persons with always something added or changed or forgotten by everyone... we wanted first hand information, and that information could usually be very well analyzed.

So we stuck to our decision to sail Venezuela. With good sailing friends Eva and Horst from NELE we sailed to the Testigos and Isla Margarita. To avoid the “dangerous” Peninsula we just sailed first about 20miles due North (to the oil rig Hibiscus between Trinidad and Grenada) and then only turned to a Westerly course – quite simple.

For a long time it was the first sail again, well we motor-sailed for 15hours also to keep up with NELE. Everything went well, also with Kyle – we just needed some entertainment program for him…And then the Testigos, how beautiful! We anchored off a beach in the West of the island group and had a great 48hours stay (international maritime law: international transit stop up to 48hours without clearing in). There is not too much, some hills, several beaches, some dunes, and a little village with fishers and the coast guard station.

Further west we stopped in Porlamar, Isla Margarita. NELE, being frequent visitors here introduced us to some main topics and we soon were part of this small sailor’s community. Clearing in and out is easiest done via Juan and he also has three runs a week to the big supermarket (one has to see the prices to belief how cheap it is, especially alcohol), water, a guarded dinghy dock and many more info. Porlamar is not a very beautiful town (or then we missed it) and poverty is visible everywhere like in many other countries. But life is cheap (for us) and due to Melanie trying to get rid of her cold and Marc trying hard to finally finish the new watermaker (desalinator) and the mobile solar panels we stayed about three weeks. Here we also found out that our engine became loose (bracket nuts) and the seawater pump was leaking – we managed to realign the engine ourselves (as good as possible) but realized that our shaft might be slightly bent (major issue, but not solvable here) and of course that spare part of the seawater pump we don’t have on board and couldn’t get here!

Since towards West the clear-out ports are only on mainland and we didn’t want to do such detours, we cleared out in Porlamar and continued to sail under the above mentioned international transit stops rule of 48hours. And to stay on the safe side, we headed directly for the Venezuelan island Tortuga. The very first bay Caldera was nicely sheltered and the beach was beautiful. At first the few fishing boats in the evening made us a bit nervous/uncomfortable, but in course of time we got used to them – and once again, 99% of the Venezuelans are very friendly. By the way, especially when they saw Kyle walking naked on our decks they all started waving and smiling.

With Kyle and his daily routine (getting up at 6am, taking a nap at around 9am, lunch at 11:30, next nap at 2pm and evening routine starting at 5pm) we usually enjoyed mainly the beaches and small excursions with the dinghy or by foot on the island. Cayo Herradura was a next stop, then the Tortuguillas where we witnessed net-fishing of the locals including pulling the net underneath another anchored sailing yacht (another Amel) – two strong boats pull like hell on both sides of the net, about four smaller boats help steering the direction and about two to four men swim and dive along the net. Pulling the net that way from the close-by deep water onto the shallow shelf they got themselves quite a number of fish…

For us we sailed another night through to the quite large island group of Los Roques. On the map it looks like a huge atoll with many islands and also an uncharted area. Exactly like this it must be in the Pacific: a reef which protects from the sea and swell and inside nice calm water – but the winds blow unhindered across the area, no landmass really rising high enough to give some protection from them. We entered Los Roques on the South-East corner and stayed at several anchorages for over a week to the West side.

Did I mention reefs? Well for us we had really to get used to the sudden depth changes and the necessity to accept only half a meter or less (few feet) under the keel to enter a nice calm lagoon or bay. Usually the adrenalin levels on board were quite high and we didn’t succeed always to anchor in the planned spot. You might say, well with today’s GPS it’s no problem – yes, well no! The GPS without any additional calibration might show perfectly right throughout the world, but not on Los Roques: we had a position error of about 0.4miles to the South-South-West-by-South. And then you will not find charts detailed enough to show every coral head. So “eyeball navigation” was the way to move around.

After the Los Roques group we stopped at the two Aves main islands. What a paradise for bird watching! The ones which shoot into the water to catch fish impressed Kyle the most; since then for him all birds are “iiiiuuu pshshshshsh”…

pictures to this logbook entry: South Caribbean I - Venezuela - Testigos South Caribbean II - Venezuela - Isla Margarita/Porlamar South Caribbean III - Venezuela - Tortuga & Tortuguillas South Caribbean IV - Venezuela - Los Roques South Caribbean V - Venezuela - Los Aves

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