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Venezuela - May 27 to June 8, 2004

Thursday, 27 May 2004 Grenada to Los Testigos

Leaving Grenada we started early morning – getting up at 3 am – breakfast, preparing the main sail, lifting the anchor as we had about 90 miles ahead of us in order to reach Los Testigos (The Witnesses), a small archipelago N of Venezuela, before the sunset.

Fiu in Prickly bay Fiu in Egmont bay

Ready to go at 4 am – still pitch dark. Leaving Egmont Bay was relatively easy – thanks to the C-map and the GPS. Susan was at the chart table giving detailed instructions where to go – left-right..a bit more to the left, she insisted!!

After 10 min of slow motor-sailing (only main, 1st reef) clear Point of Fort Jeudy and out on the open seas. Still dark, huge seas – as it is still relatively shallow, seas are high, Fiu is jumping like a wild horse but moving steadily towards the opens sea. After sailing South for a while started to turn SW – making sure to clear off The Porpoises – a group of 3 small, treacherous islands south of Grenada.

Swell very big as the depth is low – 30 m average. Very nice night, wind still 25 to 35 kn but coming down as we are going away from Grenada. Fiu is doing great! Our speed 8 to 10kn with 1st reef in the mainsail and genoa 4.

Susan made pancakes for breakfast – delicious - good change from our usual muesli and/or bread.

It is amazing that the continental shelf is extending 20 nm SW of Grenada. Riding at the edge of the shelf hoping for some fish. Due to the stronger up/down current at the shelf, one can expect more fish in the shelf regions - or is that just Ivo's wishful thinking??

Ivo is very optimistic today - trolling three lines – two at the stern fishing poles with the reels and one line is suspended on the end of the boom – using boom as an extended fishing pole – sailing downwind so boom is far out on the starboard. After trolling the whole day, no fish at all! The only outcome of our sophisticated fishing set up were entangled lines!

The whole day wind was good and we arrived in Los Testigos in daylight having made good time. Went to the coast guard on Isla Iguana to let them know we would be staying the night in the islands. It was extremely windy as usual and Susan stayed onboard as we had anchored just off the beach so that Ivo could get ashore quickly.

After checking in with the coast guard who spoke only Spanish which neither of us speak, we went a little further North to anchor for the night at Isla Testigo Grande in front of a small beach connecting the main island to a small islet. Reasonable anchorage.

Raining during the night and our dingy was full of water - ideal opportunity for some of us to take a bath!

Our anchorage near the beach on the Isla Testigos Grande Ivo is finally taking a bath in fresh water collected during the night squall

 

Friday 28 May - Leaving early for Isla Margarita, only 60 nm from Los Testigos. Still good wind, good sailing. Again, no fish. Early afternoon arrived close to Isla Margarita. Going to anchor in Porlamar, but found a nice, new and very cheap marina near Hotel Hilton.  

Chart with the Los Testigos (right hand corner) and Porlamar, Isla Margarita (left)

Saturday 29 May to Wednesday, 2 June 2004, Isla Margarita, Pampatar

From Sat to Wed – based in the Marina Margarita, nick-named – marina Hilton in Pampatar (as it is only a short walk from the Hilton hotel.

Marina is still under construction and very good value – approx 5 US$ per day – but there is a downside of course, there are no toilet facilities, no electricity, water is delivered by a truck (at no extra cost) road unpaved, etc. .. but still, we managed to stay there happily for 4 days!

On the beach in front of the Hilton Resort we noticed that every morning all the local vultures would arrive and stand by the water edge looking out to sea waiting and watching for dead fish floating on to the beach. A rather unpleasant advertising for otherwise beautiful Hilton Resort….

Spent a lot of time updating Fiu website with the Caribbean log (Susan did most of the writing and photo selection  and I did the last bit, integrating the whole lot into the website by using the Front Page editor). When this was done spent hours on the internet trying to publish the website but all efforts were in vain – I was not able to hook on my server and update the site – probably due to the firewall and proxy/security settings that they are using in internet cafes!? Tried several cafes and no luck – only in one café I was able to hook  and update few folders but the ftp speed was miserable – once Explorer estimated the size of the folder (8 Mb) and the speed of the transfer it gave the estimated time required for transfer of 7 days 18 hours! After transferring 20+ photos the session was timed out by the server! Decided to zip all the files and send the whole lot to Robin/Jagoda so that Robin can update Fiu website from our home in Sydney.

Sunday – web updating and shopping. were not keen to do much sight seeing in Isla Margarita - place looks very dry and poor. Our Finish neighbors, Ari and Eija who alredy spent several weeks in this marina gave us many hints and tips where to shop and what to see. 

Monday, 31 May, shopping and tiding up Fiu – again and again as Peter is joining us tonight for 6 weeks, all the way to the Galapagos.

Tuesday – Peter and Ivo went to the immigration agent to check out and to register Peter as a new crew member. Met Susan in the CM shopping centre and Peter & Susan then spent most of the day shopping – more provisioning – this time fruit and vegetables, etc.. although we found Isla Margarita very cheap we spent again some 300 US$ on provisioning – hope some of the stuff will last us all the way to Sydney??! However, as we soon realised, all fruits and vegetable we bought here lasted only a week or two, everything was of fairly poor quality or perhaps had been refrigerated during transit from mainland - another factor that might contribute to this is very high humidity and heat.

Diesel /petrol is very cheap in Venezuela so decided to take as much as possible – unfortunately there is no petrol station in any of the marinas in Pompatar/Porlamar so have to go by taxi to the petrol station and fill up the jerry cans – we had 3 jerry cans on board, in total 60 l plus received as present from our local neighbour in the Marina additional 3 jerry cans with the capacity of 80 litres (30+30+20) so filled all these 6 jerry cans with approximately 150 l of diesel plus 150 l in our fuel tank, so in total 300 l (three hundred) of diesel for a symbolic price of 7 US$!! Although taxi is also cheap here (typically 1 to 2 $ for a ride) this time we paid for taxi additional US$ 8 as we had to go twice to the petrol station.

Susan tried to send express mail from Hilton and few other shops but found the service very expensive – 40 to 50 US$ for a small envelope!

Thursday, 3 June 2004,  Archipelago Los Roques

Finally ready to leave Marina in Isla Margarita on June 2nd– prepared sails, tidied up the cabin and left at 11:30. Wind was initially ~15  kn E and we motored-sailed with genoa 4 out of Pampatar to the open sea. Was contemplating hoisting the big genoa (150%) but soon wind increased to (its usual!) 25-30 kn and decided to sail with our usual configuration – main sail with the 1st reef and genoa 4! Good I did not switch to the big genoa as the wind was really strong and we were flying with  8-9-10kn, max 11 knots registered after midnight.

Today had our first food poisoning case – Ivo got finally affected by some bugs – most likely a too ripe pineapple which we ate this afternoon. After few hours felt sick, lay down in the evening and came back with a high fever and shivering cold. Our medical kit was finally opened (after 8 months that Mirjana packed all the goodies that Anatolija prepared for us in Omisalj). Ivo used medical carbon and few aspirins to calm down the fever and stomach infection – also drinking tea and eating biscotti the whole night – felt better in the morning. (However this colic eventually lasted nearly a week).

Beautiful night – full moon, wind 25 to 30 kn, going like a fast train at 8 to 10 kn – 11.9 was our max for the night. Arrived in the proximity of Los Roques at 11 am – average speed 8.5 kn – very good run!!

Friday, 4 June, 11 am - Approaching Los Roques - the biggest and the greatest archipelago in this part of the world. Made 185 miles in 24 hours. Good visibility .. good wind .. in front of the SE entrance to the reef put down the sails. C-map does not show a good position – got confused and messed up entry to the reef – instead of entering behind the outer reef we entered behind the middle reef and nearly got grounded!! Crazy,  we must have nearly touched the ground as the depth meter showed 220 cm water - and our draft is 230 cm!!

The chart of Los Roques Archipelago - this marvel of coral reefs has size of 40 by 20 nm and represents one of the biggest and the best preserved coral reefs in Caribbean waters. Blue-green areas are coral reefs and white area represents unchartered water.

So instead of sailing north between the outer and middle reef we continued sailing behind the middle reef  - once we realised the mistake it was easier to find our way north ! On the way N stopped behind the middle reef for a swim and cool down session – needed a break after a long night of sailing and navigation error we made – huh – happy we did not get grounded! 

Continued sailing north and after a while decided to anchor - dropped anchor on 3 m of water to ‘hang off’ the shallow water towards the depth of 8 to 10 m. Wind increased during the night and we let more chain off – all together 70 m!! So far never let so much chain off – but this time the wind was so strong and 30 m behind us there was another reef and we did not want to come closer to it. Peter and I set up our handheld GPSs for the anchor watch but soon realised that whatever setting we put the alarm goes off every so often – mine was set up on 100 ft drift and it was going off every half an hour and we actually did not move more than 10 to 20 ft sideways as the boat was swinging on the chain – so we finally turned off and ignored the alarm for most of the night.

   
Near this little island was our first anchorage in Los Roques Fiu viewed from the island

Wind increased again at 4 am – everyone was on the deck! Fiu was standing still and did not come closer to the reef – wind was strong, with few drops of rain .. after few moments returned back to our cabins for few more hours of sleep... what a night!!

Friday, 4 June 2004 - Los Roques

Started as a beautiful day on a picture perfect reef – anchored beside a small island /reef – wind was raging the whole night 20 to 30 kn. Anchoring - ‘hanging off’ a 3 m sandbank and having about 8 m of water under the keel.

7:30 breakfast – tortilla with fried bananas, jam, … some had muesli and fruits – mango, banana, pineapple  - fruits that we bought in Isla Margarita few days ago are ripening rapidly and have to eat large amounts of fruit every day to avoid throwing it overboard – it is very hot and humid (29 to 30 dC and ~80% humidity) and difficult to keep fruits in good condition. Ivo toasted all the bread left over from Isla Margarita  (as bread is quickly deteriorating) .

 
To avoid damaging the coral Peter is placing the anchor with the traditional German precision on the sand, just few mm of the coral! Crystal clear water and beautiful white sand, the trade marks of the Archipelago Los Roques

8:30 Snorkeling and walking across the island .. took many photos of the beach, reef, Fiu. Storm approaching at 10:30, rushing  back to Fiu in the dinghy. In a minute the sky was dark and it rained ‘cats and dogs’ with 30 to 40 kn wind! In a minute the sea was all white and choppy .. dark clouds, crazy, scary ..reef is only 20 to 30 m behind us - for the first time discussing emergency procedure – how to leave the anchorage if the anchor drags and if the stern gets too close to the coral reef! Explained to everyone how to let the chain off and how to tie a buoy at the end of the 10 m line which is for that purpose attached to the end of chain (we have 100 m of a pre-tested chain – 10 mm ring diameter, total weight 250 kg!). Hope it will hold during the storm  …. and it did, again! After one hour of heavy squalls, rain and wind the sky finally cleared and the wind came down to a ‘usual’ 20 to 25 knots.

Stormy clouds approaching with the wind of over 35 kn And just few meters behind our stern there was a dangerous reef awaiting for us!

 

2 pm - After a quick lunch decided to move to another anchorage, another picture-perfect reef/island .. this time we were looking for a better protected anchorage. We have selected another small island, only 6 nm to the west named Noronqui Ambe. After a wonderful sailing with the genoa 4 only (speeding again with 7 to 9 knots downwind) we entered the bay at ~15 pm.

Fiu speeding through Los Roques with genoa4 only Small bonito caught along the way

Beautiful bay with a nice white sand beach and a dozen of tourists – obviously well known beach as tourists from the main town come here by taxi boats – but soon after we arrived they left and the whole island was ours again. Boys went snorkeling on the reef. Initially reef looked quite damaged but a bit further from the beach arrived to one of the most beautiful reefs I have ever seen – and so rich with the fish – have seen coral fishes of all sizes, shapes and colors. The most impressive were big groupers, parrot fish and snappers – and all so curious and unafraid of divers - would be so easy to spear gun one or two 4 kg groupers for dinner!!? But this is a national park and fishing is prohibited and besides we are not really a fish-hungry bunch – still struggling with the tuna we caught yesterday.

Another nice anchoring spot with tourists just leaving so we'll have island on our own Peter and Ivo playing with favorite their GPS toys

6 pm Ivo’s turn to make dinner – initially we were supposed to have marinated tuna cutlets (half of the tuna that we caught 2 days ago was marinated with lime juice) with the side dish ‘blitva na mrzlo ulje’ a Croatian dish made of boiled spinach? (?or even better blitva?) leaves and potatoes, chopped and fried, with the addition of olive oil and garlic. However when looking for vegetable in our veggie-locker realised that most of our veggie needs urgent attention as it was deteriorating rapidly – decided to take it all out and wash with sea water  (after a lot of struggles our sea water pump is finally operational again!! Ivo used silicon to replace broken seals/rings within the pump body) – so in a minute everyone was busy ‘cooking’! Susan and Peter washing veggies in the cockpit, Ivo cutting potatoes, carrots, beans, spinach ..

Susan and Peter washing veggies and enjoying the 'tequila sunset' Peter programming new way points into his GPS for our long offshore trip to Panama

While waiting for vegetables to boil had our usual rum-punch with a lot of lime juice, enjoyed the sunset in the cockpit and soon after had a delicious mixed-veggie dish with fried sausage and egg (‘project’ marinated tuna cutlets was abandoned as general opinion was that tuna has already suspicious smell – our fridge is not working again!?). As a starter eat few delicious avocados with the special sauce prepared by Peter.     

Saturday, 5 June 2004

7 am - breakfast – fruit salad – mango, banana, papaya .. muesli and home made yogurt.

8 am - all gone snorkeling with the dinghy – have seen more corals and fish than yesterday – really fantastic spot.

After snorkeling walking on the beach .. more swimming and then back to Fiu.

11:30 - pulled out anchor and decided to go to another reef on Isla Caranero, another spot recommended by our Cruising Guide Venezuela to Bonaire by Chris Doyle and Jeff Fisher. Easy sailing, only 5 nm - along the way, caught a small Wahoo – just over a kilo, will be enough for dinner. While sailing Susan prepared fantastic spaghetti sauce from the left over vegetable dish.

1:30 pm - arrived to another beautiful anchorage on Isla Caranero  - white sandy beach, corals and anchorage well protected by a mangrove. Lots of fish jumping out of water, occasionally water is ‘boiling’ with fish, pelicans are continuously diving for fish and seagulls are just behind them trying to grab some left over; spotted a big gray heron on the beach – walking in the shallow water and obviously trying to get his share from this.

Afternoon – Peter snorkeling, Susan reading, Ivo tried to repair the fridge – some electronic components got a bit rusty – cleaned and dried – fridge works again but not cooling too well – will have to revisit this problem again!?

Dinner – avocado with the reputable Peter’s sauce, fried wahoo filets and plenty of papaya salad with the lime sauce.

Ivo spent many hours sitting on the floor of the aft head fixing the sea water pump and the fridge compressor and electronics ... and after much effort and persistence he finally managed to get them working!

 

Sunday, 6 June 2004

And then it’s Sunday again!. Where were we last Sunday ? Isla Margarita, which means we’ve been in Venezuela just over ten days now. We’ll probably leave tomorrow for Bonaire though. Today was another long and busy day, first we got up early after a good night’s sleep with no anchor watches or interruptions. Breakfast consisted of mango for some and muesli for others. Again we discovered that our flat bread was all moldy so started feeding the seagulls again. They like to stand on our dinghy and loudly make themselves known so that when there is the slightest chance of food, we are very much aware that they are there. 

Seagulls like to stand on our dinghy and loudly make themselves known so that when there is the slightest chance of food, we are very much aware that they are there A quiet moment, alone on the beach

After breakfast we all went across to the northern reef and after a fairly long walk in very shallow water (to the ankles) at last arrived at deeper water. Great snorkeling again and very tempting to catch our dinner here too. On the way back we stopped by the only other yacht in the bay “Shades of blue” a Canadian boat and said hello and goodbye. They gave us a bag of paperbacks for our little library. These books will be good for exchanging for more reading material during our stop overs in populated places.

Ivo had to climb the mast again to fix the screw on the foil of our (sick!) Facnor furler. Looking left we see a Canadian ketch 'Shades of Blue'. Right - a Venezuelan multimillionaire's motor yacht and down, our good old Fiu

The fridge problem is becoming our inhouse joke – yesterday Susan found a roll of toilet paper in the fridge – why and how did that get there? Well Peter had been cleaning the bottom of the fridge and forgotten the roll inside afterwards. So the joke is now that Germans require cooled down paper…. Actually the fridge registers between 25 and 28 degrees – so we say that if anything needs heating up, just put it in the fridge!

We decided to put up the big genoa Nr 1 and therefore moved the boat further into the bay and completely protected by the mangroves, it was steaming hot but no wind. Then of course as we proceeded to take down the genoa 4, it got stuck on one of the screws in the furler – same old problem. So Ivo went up the mast again to tighten it and use some locktight borrowed from our Canadian neighbors. At last the genoa 4 could come down but by then we were all so hot that we needed a break and then had delicious lunch cooked by Peter – potatoes & carrots in cream sauce, yummy! Then back to work, hoisting the big genoa while driving the boat around in the bay. At last all is done and off we go down toward the next stop over for the night. It is now about 2.30pm. We sail another 5 nm or so over to Isla Agua and on the way catch another little wahoo just right for dinner. We arrive in the bay just in time for a quick snorkel on the southern reef  hoping to catch a grouper. Ivo brings a small hook and line with the plan to find an urchin (oursin) to break up and tempt the very tame fish while dangling the hook in front of their noses.  No urchins though and its nearly 6pm now. So we go back to the boat – Susan having her second driving lesson with the dinghy, and this time going solo – well Ivo swims back to the boat, still looking for urchins.

Another beautiful beach in Isla Aqua Catch of the day

We get ready for dinner – a rinse with fresh water and then the usual rum punch to warm us up and then wahoo and cream carrots and potatoes plus some nice fish soup. Boys doing the dishes and Susan writing the log. But it is everyone’s bed time already 9.30pm.

This was the best snorkeling spot ever seen on our trip - huge corals that look like big trees and millions of fish including huge parrot fish and groupers - it all gives you an impression of swimming in a tropical fish tank - unforgettable experience!

Monday, 7 June 2004

Early morning - went for another swim on the south side of the reef to see if we could catch any fish since we had had no luck the previous evening.  The wind had been blowing all night so the sea was a little rough. Ivo had prepared a small line with a hook again and this time the entrails (very smelly) from the previous dinner’s fish. After swimming around a while where one bream did swallow the hook and bait, but spat it out again, Ivo went back and got other means to catch fish. Soon he came back with a parrot fish and a bream. We couldn’t find any mention in any of our books about whether we can eat parrot fish so ate it anyway. We also made coconut rice with plantain.

Left Isla Agua at around 11.30 am and at 4:30 pm arrived to Islas de Aves – Isla Barloventao. These islands are known for millions of boobies and pelicans which are nesting here.

The sailing was fast with wind at the stern (we are still going west) and fairly rough seas. When we got close to Isla Barlovento the seas were extremely rough due to the very rapid decrease of depth and the seas hitting the reefs. The wind also increased and for a little while we had 40 knots. Sailed under the big genoa only and did an average of 7.6 knts.

Peter and Susan eager to see all these birds Lonely pelikan still looking for his dinner

 

Fiu in Isla Borlovento Fiu and another yacht viewed from the lagoon on Isla Borlovento

Arrived into the lagoon and there were already two other yachts – no flags so we couldn’t see where they came from. Should have gone over to say hello but we were so busy – a quick lemon tea with cake and nutella then into the dinghy and over into the mangroves to see all the wonderful birds nesting. We took lots of photos of pelicans and boobies (we think), and these birds were quite tame flying very close to us all the time. When we came back to the boat one bird had obviously aimed very precisely for the forward cabin hatch and left its mark on bed sheets!.

Red footed booby Is he smiling at us?

We also went across to the nearest reef for a quick dive but it was quite murky and mostly dead coral and few fish. We now have very high standards after the snorkeling in Noronquises and Carenero in los Roques. So at about 6pm we called it a day and came back to the boat for the rum punch and settling down for the evening.  The wind was still blowing hard – here behind the mangroves we constantly had 20 -25 kn. 

Next - Leaving for Bonaire

 

 

 

 

 

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