Well the last week has flown by and we should write an account of it. We had a wonderful time in LosTestigos but as usual we must keep moving along. We had planned to depart Testigos at 0600 but when we awoke at 0530 there were a series of squalls moving over us so we waited until 0700 when most of the squalls seemed to have passed. We Motor sailed down wind the 48nm (nautical miles, which are a bit longer than a mile) to Porlamar, Isla Margarita, Venezuela. We caught 2 small Mahi mahi at the very beginning of the trip but let them go as they were small and we still had a freezer full of Wahoo. It was a hot sail as we were travelling with the wind which means there is very little apparent wind. We all sat squished together on the shady side of the boat. As we got close to Isla Margarita we saw a military looking ship heading towards us at a fast speed. We were a little nervous as we had heard a report via email that Venezuela had declared war on Columbia. We were unsure as to where Venezuela stood on foreign vessels entering their waters. The radio squacked to life with a hail of " to the 2 sailing vessels heading towards Isla Margarita" , it turned out the ship heading towards us was the Venezuelan coast guard. The radio operator asked us politely who we were and how many people we had on board. They asked a few more questions and then welcomed us to Venezuela and said if we had any problems that we were welcome to call them. This is one of the friendliest reception we have received coming into the over 20 counties we have been to. The worst reception to date is still held by the USA. We were suddenly feeling much better about our decision to come to Venezuela. As we got closer to Porlamar we were able to pick up cell phone service with the iphone. Gary called Juan Baro, a man recommended in our cruising guideand by fellow cruisers, to help with checking us in. He answered his phone and informed us where we should anchor. He would not be able to check us in until tomorrow but we would all be allowed to go to shore and he looked forward to seeing us shortly. We set our anchor up close to the "marina" and Solange anchored just in front of us. I use the Marina liberally in this instance as Juan Marina consists of a dighy dock and an office with a small store attached (they sell pop, beer and chips). Next to Juan Marina was the sailing center, they had docks with larger boats tied to them but a several of the boats were sinking. The bay had probably 30 boats anchored in it. As we looked onto the shore it was apparent that, of the tall buildings around, very few of them were completed, and work seemed to have stopped.
Juan Baro has been operating his Marina for a lot of years and he is a great resource for cruisers. He told the children to go off and play and the grown ups to pull up a chair. He said " I am going to give you a lesson and afterwards you can ask questions." So he proceeded to tell us that Margarita was a place like any other, that we had to be careful and not give "the Wolves" an opportunity to make us the victims . So we should not leave anything out on the deck of our boats, we should put or dinghies up on our boats every night and we should close our doors at night. When we are walking on the steets we should always be aware of who is around us. These precautions are no different than what people do everyday living in any city. I'm sure most of you lock your cars away in garages at night and lock your doors when you go to bed. Juan told us where we should go to change our money into Bolivars, the local currency and it wasn't at the bank. Venezuela operates with a black market so you will get a rate of exchange using it that is 2x the bank rate. So we were able to get 10Bolivars for $2US. We sat and had some beers with Juan and listened to some of his many stories. Before long the kids let us know they were hungry so we returned to our boats for the evening with the plan that we would go into town tomorrow to change our money and see what there was to see.
We decided that regular school today would be replaced by a field trip. We gathered all our ships documents and passports which we took into Juan and his assistant Tulio so they could fill out the paperwork and take it all to the appropriate authorities. Melissa, from solange, started talking with an English speaking taxi driver who turned out to be very helpful. He found a 2nd taxi as we wouldn't all fit in one and drove us to the money exchange place. To protect the innocent I will not publish where this was. He suggested we should just take the public buses from here and that Pampatar would be a good place to go as there was a fort and a church there worth seeing. We stood on the street to flag a bus and were befriended by an elderly drunk who was determined to help us find a bus. Finding a bus was not that hard as they passed by every couple of minutes and had the places they went to spray painted on the window. We figured our elderly drunk friend would want some sort of hand out but he was thrilled to just give Janine a hug and kiss her hand. He didn't smell very good but his big smile was worth it. Riding on the bus we were able take a good look at the city. It was a real mix of quite nice store fronts and shabby looking places as well. A lot of the apartment buildings don't have glass in the windows just bars. It was about a 25 minute bus ride. A couple of nice ladies got curious about us and asked where we were going. One of them would be getting off at the same stop as us so she would show us where to go. Of course this was all communicated in our limited Spanish. The bus stropped right in front of the fort so it wasn't difficult to find. we have seen a lot of forts through our travels, this fort was not that big and was in the process of being renovated so didn't rate that high on our list. The thing that always stands out when we are visiting these forts is that the visitors are able to walk anywhere they want including tall walls with huge drop offs. In any North American fort these areas are fenced off, to protect people from the danger. In all the places we have been people are expected to take responsibility for themselves. It actually is refreshing. As a parent of boys it is sometimes a little nerve wracking! A restaurant beside the fort was emitting wonderful smells, and got everyone's stomach rumbling. When we inquired about lunch they didn't open until noon and it was only just after 11, o we headed across the street to find the church. Before we found the church it was determined we needed to find el banos (washrooms) so we all traipsed into a gallery. There were paintings by a local artist on display. We got chatting with her husband who spoke English very well. He told us some stories and then informed us the church was right next door. We also asked him for a recommendation for a lunch spot. The restaurants on the beach front were his choice saying they had wonderful fish. We stopped by the church which was a nice little cathedral, but frankly I think we were all more interested in lunch. So to the beach we headed where we found a series of restaurants with tables and chairs set out on the sand. Ordering off the Spanish menu was a bit of a guessing game but with the waiters help and a platter of fish brought out from the kitchen we were able to order. The food was all delicious. Vendors kept coming by selling necklaces and bracelets. We negotiated with a vendor for a bracelet and got it for the equivalent of 3 dollars. We probably could have done better but Janine is not much of a help when it comes to negotiating.
After lunch we found a return bus to Porlamar, we stopped at a mall on the way to try and find Bradley and Tavish a pair of shorts, the shorts were ridiculously expensive. There was a McDonald's in the mall so we all had an ice cream…yum!
We found our way back to Jaun marina. He had told us we must be back by 3pm to complete our check in, so when we got there at 2:45, we were not suprised that the new time for going to the authorities was 4pm. We sat, had a cold beer, and chatted with some other cruisers while the kids were introduced by Jaun to a 5 week old puppy that he has. Of course the begging started to take the dog with us. The answer was a very firm no with a stern look thrown at Jaun. He told the kids that since their parents were so mean he would keep the dog but he asked the kids to name the dog, that way he would always be partly theirs.
At 4pm Gary and Kevin went with Jaun and Tulio to complete our check in. they were gone for about 4 minutes. Pretty painless.
Fridays Jaun Marina has a bus that takes cruisers to a shopping mall with a large grocery store. The five of us and the Solange crew got on the bus at 9:15 and headed off to the mall. The grocery store was huge. There were some familiar brands but they were twice the price of the local equivalent so we deciphered the Spanish labels and had a shopping cart that was over flowing by the time we reached the check out. We were thrilled to have the total come to half the price this amount would cost us anywhere else. It would have been good to buy more at these prices but already I don't know where we are going to put all this food on the boat. We wondered through the mall to find Bradley and Tavish some shorts as they left Vancouver with one pair each and these shorts have fallen apart. We were successful. The prices were good. Our stomachs informed us it was lunch time. There was a cafeteria in the mall where all the locals were lined up so we joined the cue. The food was fantastic! There was your choice between 5 or 6 different main courses including roast chicken, roast pork, and skirt steak. You could then choose 2 sides which included lasagna, rice, another pasta dish and 5 or 6 different salads. When we got all our choices to the table it looked like a thanksgiving feast. Unfortunately our bus was leaving in 20 minutes so we had to eat quickly.
The rest of the afternoon was spent stowing away the food, filling the water tanks and various other boat chores. Jaun Marina has happy hour at 5 pm so we headed in for that. This was also when we had to complete our checking out procedures, collect our laundry and our filled propane tanks. From Isla Margarita we will be heading to the out islands of Venezuela where there is not access to any supplies.
The Sailing center, next to Jaun Marina was hosting a cruiser appreciation night with free drinks, food and live music. They do this once a year and it just happened to coincide with us being here. What luck! We met a bunch of cruisers, a lot of them had been in Isla Margarita for a several of years. It was fun, the parents having a great time but the kids got hungry and it didn't look like any food would be served until quite late. So off we went to the boats to feed the hungry offspring.
There had not been a lot of actual school work done over the last few days so although it was Saturday the kids had to get some school time in. After school the kids and Janine went to say good bye to the puppy. The kids had picked the name "Rico" for him. Jaun thought this was a great name. In Spanish it has 2 meanings; rich and also tasty. In the afternoon we went to the beach with Solange. The beach had a bunch of restaurant shacks serving oysters and beer. No oysters were had by us.
We were all in bed by 9pm as it was going to be an early departure tomorrow. The music coming from the bars on the beach was really loud but fortunately it stopped by midnight.
The alarm went off at 0430. By 0500 we were underway heading down the South side of Isla Margarita. The mainsail was up but we were motorsailing with the wind behind us. The seas were so calm there was no motion to the boat. It felt odd as the anchorage in Porlamar was quite rolly. It is often referred to as Roll-amar by other cruisers. We cleared the end of Isla Margarita at about 1000h and the seas and wind picked up. It became a romping good sail in large seas doing 9 to 12 knots. High Five felt like she had her racing shoes on.
We arrived at Playa Cardero, Tortuga at 1700h. There were 2 other boats in the anchorage and a few fishing boats. It was a lovely bay with a beautiful sunset.
Although the next morning was a school day, the usual apathy was replaced by a great motivation to get the school work done. The kids were eager to try boogie boarding on the windward side of the island. Unfortunately when we got there the shore was too rocky. We had a nice walk around the point. We had lunch on the boats and then weighed anchor at 1300h headed to Cayo Herradura. It was a nice 2 ½ hour sail. The fishing line raced out when we were just heading out but it turned out to be a large Barracuda. We don't eat these as they can carry a toxin that is very bad for people. Besides that they have big ugly teeth and we think eating them would be bad Karma.
Our depth sounder and gps decided to take a holiday when we were entering cayo Herradura. Fortunately the water is crystal clear and the lighting was good so we could see the bottom clearly in 60 feet of water. There were a few more boats anchored here and the fishing camp seemed quite large. We set the anchor and went to snorkel on it. It was nicely buried in the soft sand bottom. Gary and the kids went to the beach. They came back immediately for the boogie boards saying it is an awesome beach for boogie boarding.
We had sundowners on solange. When we got back to our boat Bradley and Tavish started doing their school work while dinner was cooking! They decided they could do school work after dark but they couldn't boogie board then. If they got most of their work done tonight they would be able to go boogie boarding sooner in the morning. Wow imagine how much school work would get done if there were pretty girls going boogie boarding!
The next morning Tavish was finished school by 0830h, so he and Gary went to the beach. The rest of us joined them by 1000h. We all had a great time surfing the waves on the boogie boards. This is a beautiful spot with a calm anchorage clear blue water and soft powdery sand. By 1300h we had worn ourselves out and needed lunch so headed back to the boats.
After lunch the kids rigged our hammocks up on the boom and swung the boom out to the side so the hammocks were hanging over the water. The boys from Solange came over and they had a ton of fun swinging in the hammocks and off the halyard.
That night we grabbed a couple hours sleep before getting up at 2300h to head to Los Roques.
When we woke up the wind was howling through the anchorage. We decided to stick our noses out because the wind was probably just accelerating over the land. Getting out of the bay was a bit tricky as 3 sail boats had anchored behind us while we were there. We couldn't follow our track from coming in and our depth sounder is still on vacation. Solange had trouble with their windlass (the winch that pulls up the anchor) so we spun around in circles avoiding boats and the bottom while we waited for them.
Once we got underway the wind was blowing about 17 to 20 knots. We were travelling under reefed mainsail. The seas were quite confused with a swell of 6 to 8 feet and a wind chop of 4 to 6 feet. The motion of the boat was awful. Hand steering in these conditions was exhausting. By 6 in the morning the wind had eased a bit which at this slower speed made the motion of the boat so bad Janine felt ill even when she was steering. Gary came up at 0745h and we unfurled the jib, this increased our boat speed by 2 knots to 9 knots and made a huge difference to the motion of the boat. It felt like it was cutting through the water instead of wallowing in the waves. We arrived at our entry into Los Roques just before noon. The cut through the reef was quite narrow with the swell crashing on the shore on either side. It was fairly obvious by the colour of the water where to keep the boat. Once inside the reef the scene was incredible! I don't think we could do justice to the beauty of it with words. The water is shockingly blue in every shade you can imagine, we have never seen so many shades of blue in our lives.. It might be like living in the blue section of paint samples at Benjamin Moore, but the whole section is glowing. We had to be mindful to watch for the shoals but we were completely transfixed by the vividness of the water, and the shoals were very easy to see.
We anchored behind a mangrove island called Buchiyaco. There was a nice breeze to keep the boat cool and the seas were flat because we were behind the large outlying reef.
Janine decided to try her hand at bread making. It all went well until it was time to bake it. When she turned the oven on it made a funny noise and upon further investigation she found flames shooting out the bottom of the oven. Not good! Gary and Bradley were off snorkeling so she shut all the propane off and hoped the bread wasn't ruined. Luckily Solange were kind enough to bake the bread in their oven. It didn't rise as high as it should but everyone said it was delicious. As for the oven it was just a loose connection that once tightened had the oven working perfectly again.
After a resrfull night, We moved from Buchiyaco to another spot a few miles down where there is a blue hole in the reef. Yet another brilliant shade of blue. The snorkeling was good with some vibrant coral and lots of big fish. Our depth sounder seems to be broken not just on holiday. The water here is very clear so we are guesstimating how deep it is…so far so good.
Mostly the bottom is soft sand that grabs and holds the anchor tight the first time.
The tradewinds continue to blow at about 20 to 25 knots which keeps the boat nice and cool.
PS We are posting this through e-mail, and the sat phone. We will post pictures after christmas when we are able to get internet.