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Venezuela tracks

Here is our track through the Venezuelan offshore islands.  Again – first part was reconstructed due to loss.  Enjoy.

View 2009 Venezuela in a larger map

Aves de Barlovento

These days I wake up around 5am. Not sure why. I used to think it was in line with sunrise but right now sunrise is some time later. We’re keeping our clocks in line with Eastern Standard Time, not Venezuelan time, which is half and hour later – by decree from Chavez a couple of years ago. One reason is my digital watch doesn’t have the new timezone in built. I can change the internal time but then all references to other timezones, including UTC, will be wrong. That is, until it receives a radio signal and corrects itself without us possibly knowing.

Usually I like to write my blog shortly after waking up. When we’re off the internet I usually don’t get to send it until 7:30am. This is because the 20m short wave radio band opens up around this time for use. Longer bands are open earlier but they interfere with on board equipment unless I go down to the lowest power setting. This works in some cases but it’s usually harder to find a working station. Hence 7:30am is my time for email sending and receiving. This includes all our downloaded text weather forecasts from NOAA. Helen will be awake by this time so we’ll discuss the weather together and make any decisions based on what we receive. Incidentally, our recent westward travel is now having a noticeable effect on the propagation chart that helps me plan which stations and frequencies to use when using the sideband radio. It lists the stations by order of distance from our current location. Stations are now beginning to reorder quite obviously and I’m beginning to see real differences in the effectiveness of some stations.

When we received the weather yesterday the recent story of decreasing winds was reinforced. Yesterday was the last day forecast around 15 knots with today expected to have 10-12 knots. So far, we’ve managed to pick the low wind days for our longer passages and sat out or short hopped the stronger wind days, more out of timing rather than planning. We were getting fed up with this as we like to sail in the stronger winds.

So the decision yesterday was to have our planned conversation with Jackster, go for a walk across the sandy spit joining the two Caya de Agua islands then head of for Aves de Barlovento.

We had an interesting chat with Jackster. We shared what we’d learned about their spare part and made decisions based on that. We learned they had had 20+ knots of wind off the beam sailing up from Tortuga (as opposed to our 10-12 from right behind) which made us quite jealous. They’d been persuaded to leave earlier than they wanted and had to reef right down to keep their speed down to 5 knots. They had come with a group of boats. One of them, a veteran cruising couple looking to end their cruise very soon in the ABCs, entered Sebastopol at 6:30am. Jackster passed on our warnings about the need to have good light but they were confident they could find their way in at that time.

They had ran aground.

So I chatted with Jackster about what we did with Alofa and they had similar plans to help out once they’d safely made it through the boca.

After this welcome chat we swam ashore for our walk. After swimming with fins its always a bit of a surprise how much extra effort swimming without them is. But this was a good work out. We then walked east to where the land dipped beneath the sea surface and waded across the spit. This turned out to be harder than expected. The water was hip deep at times and waves came at us from left and right sometimes converging with a high splash. We made it over and walked the beach on the far side. The sand appeared to be made of aero. It was spongy and full of bubbles. Out feet would sink in several inches on each step. It was a nice feeling but tiring. We were able to avoid this by walking in the surf or climbing up to the dry sand.

We eventually ran out of beach and didn’t relish clambering over the dead coral in our bare feet so we headed back. The tide was a little higher by the time we recrossed the spit, at least it seemed so.

Back on the boat we immediately prepped and set sail for the Aves. As luck would have it the wind was again right from our stern. On the main and head sail we could only jibe our way to our destination. The head sail loses the wind when the apparent wind is much less than 45 degrees off the stern so our progress would be slow unless we pulled out the Code Zero. So out this came and we we made good time. The wind couldn’t quite make up it’s mind where it was coming from forcing us to jibe a couple of times. Jibing on the Code Zero requires us to furl it then reopen it on the opposite tack. On one tack the wind was up to about 17 knots. We tried jibing without using the motors to reduce the wind pressure for a while and totally failed. Once I’d received a couple of burns across my finger from slipped lines we decided to make it easier with a push from the motors to ease the apparent wind. (When the sail is half furled, the boat speed drops bringing additional pressure on the sail making the halfway point the hardest point to furl). It was much, much easier.

We arrived in Aves de Barlovento shortly after 3pm with the sun nice and high. The waters at the turn into the lee of the reefs were crystal clear although once in, the waters lost a little of their clarity. The Aves are named due to the very many birds that roost in the mangroves here and fly above. We weren’t disappointed in this respect.

We navigated our way through the reefs to our desired anchorage which was deserted. After our first attempt I checked the anchor only to find we’d hooked some coral and the chain was laying right between two patches. I decided this could easily destroy the patches around us so we up anchored and found a new spot a little further in. Although the bottom is mainly sandy, their are patches of coral all over. Our new spot was much better than the first.

We did a little binocular scanning of the nearby mangroves and spotted very many roosting birds. We plan to take the dinghy out today to get a little nearer and take some pictures. We expect to stay here at least another day relaxing before heading to Bonaire on Thursday or Friday. There’s an inviting anchorage right on the reef which looks clear to leave to the west at night which looks like a good last night here. Yesterday evening someone was anchored there but if they move off we may occupy the spot.

Finally, we’ve decided we’ve lost a good deal of the stored curries and English breakfasts laid down during our recent trip to the UK and South Africa. All the recent exercise must be working.

Cayo de Agua – south side

Early yesterday morning three of the boats around us left together, including the French boat on which the horn had been sounded the night before. I suspect they were a group all together and maybe it was all three crews partying previously. Soon after, the fourth boat left leaving us all alone in the anchorage.

At 8am (7:30am Chavez time) we listened in to the coconut telegraph. We were delighted to hear our friends on Jackster and Inspiration Lady sign in for the first time. When we signed in we requested contact with Jackster after the net. We agreed a frequency and after the net had closed we had a nice long catch up. It turns out they were in Tortuga and planning a night passage, along with Inspiration Lady, to Los Roques. We were able to share our experiences with them and perhaps influenced their itinerary. Even though they’re close by it looks like we won’t be able to meet up in Los Roques. Our stay in Bonaire will be long enough for them to catch up. We learned that they needed a spare part for their generator. They had no email setup yet on their boat so were unable to get to work on this. I offered to help out. After we finished talking I sent a couple of emails off. Big thanks to Paul for identifying the dealer in Bonaire for us. I also requested a quote for the spare to be Fed Ex’d in.

After Helen had finished preparing her latest batch of yogurt, we decided to go ashore for a walk. In the dinghy we had to pick our way through a reef to reach the shore. We climbed over the dunes to the south side of the island. At this point the south shore was all broken coral. It was possible to walk over. The coral turned rock had a metallic clink to it as we walked over the pieces of varying sizes carefully watching our steps as each piece was loose. Close to the shore the pieces were smaller which made them easier to walk on.

As we walked we hoped to catch sight of some pink flamingos. We had seen three flying off while sailing towards the island the previous day. They were the brightest pink flamingos we’d ever seen, almost bordering on orange. But no such luck. We soon came upon some mangroves which forced us to follow a track slightly inland to go round. The ground was now sandy but covered in two types of plant. One being a mat with bulbous leaves, presumably to retain water. The other plant was keen to transfer spike burs into our shoes and feet. Every now and then we had to stop to pick them out.

After our short detour we could see ahead of us what looked like a perfect beach. And it was. It was clean, empty, surrounded by turquoise waters, had an interesting reef nearby and best of all, it looked to be a great anchorage. We decided there and then that we’d move the boat around as soon as we were back on. We continued along the beach to the west end of the island. A sandy strip, in some places awash, connected us to the next small island on which a lighthouse was placed. We figured we could carry on the trek after we’d moved the boat.

Carrying on round to the northerly side of the island we again came upon the regular trash washed upon the shoreline. They say diamonds are forever. They’re wrong – it’s plastic bottles. We eventually reached the dinghy and returned to Dignity. I had planned on switching the primary fuel filter as the engine had given a couple of coughs the day before. It was only a short way around to the south side so I decided to delay this work until after the trip.

Once we were motoring I began to regret this decision. The genset fully stopped about three times before we thought to switch fuel tanks after which all was fine. In some ways it’s not too big an issue. There is no loss of propulsion as the batteries supply the current while the genset is restarted. We ease off on the propulsion while restarting to conserve the charge but beyond that the resiliency of the system is pretty good. The worry now is that we picked up some dodgy fuel in Margarita. The odd thing is is that the tank which caused the problems is the one that needed a small top off. The one that received the most fuel was the one the genset ran ok on. A puzzle to ponder over the next few weeks.

Rounding the island with the lighthouse and heading towards our destination we discovered, to our dismay, that the perfect beach was now occupied by holiday makers arriving, D-Day style, in small motor boats. A beach can’t be perfect and secret.

We anchored a little further away from the beach than we would have wanted. It turned out to have a bit of a swell from the side so we vowed to move in closer when all the boats and holiday makers had departed.

I replaced the primary fuel filter. It was a bit dirty so a new one should help. However, they should last 200 hours, not 50. Not good. I can’t be sure if it’s the fuel in Margarita that’s dirty or the fuel we picked up in Petit Martinique. I’m not sure what we can do bar letting the filters strain out the crud.

We spent the afternoon reading. I’ve also restarted my Spanish studies putting in an hour or two for the last couple of days. After most of the visitors had left the shore we did move in towards the beach by about 250ft and anchored in 7ft of water. I snorkeled the nearby reef. While the visible reef was mainly dead, in deeper water the reef was living including plenty of elk horn coral which is nice to see. Out on the far side of the reef I saw a large barracuda and wondered for a while if I should later go out in the dinghy and fish for it.

Back on the boat, with the solar panels no longer producing any power, we fired up the genset fed from the tank that appeared to cause the problems earlier, for a wash. It ran for 45 minutes without a murmer so the filter change had improved things.

The incident with the genset impressed me in terms of the systems resiliency. Many boats with one engine install parallel fuel filters so they can instantly switch to a clean one in situations like this. We don’t need this as we’ll always have the time to motor to safety on the electrics or at least change the filter in time. With a self priming genset, changing a filter is not time consuming nor difficult.

However, we do tend to tap the drive bank to cover our energy debt during the day. Now that we’re running the freezer again we never make enough on the solar. We cross charge to make up the deficit and rely on a combination of regeneration and genset running (when motoring or doing the wash) to recharge the drive batteries. This means, though, we’re using our motoring contingency to supplement house use.

This thought process is finally tipping me in favour of supplementing our solar energy with a wind generator. We may be leaving the strong trades for a while soon but every little helps. Our large capacity house bank permits a lot of give and take so I think this would work well.

Our thinking as of last night is, despite the tourists, to stay here another day. We have the place to ourselves for many hours in the day which is priceless. Not often we’re somewhere so nice and so secluded. We’ll walk (wade) over to the lighthouse this morning then play the rest of the day by ear. At 8am we have agreed to chat on the shortwave with Jackster to share what we’ve learned. I now have a quote for the part to be shipped in but no contact with the genset dealer yet. They may be close enough for VHF contact.

My charts for Caya de Agua are a little off although they were good for the rest of Los Roques. Not sure how accurate google maps are but here’s our position.

Cayo de Agua

Having eaten an early lunch at Carenero we left the lagoon on the batteries and set sail. We shook out the first reef as the wind had dropped to nearer 15 knots. We had to jibe a couple of times as our destination was almost dead down wind. The timing of our jibes was forces on us by approaching reefs. We entered the shallows north of Cayo de Agua from the west side furling our headsail as we turned into the wind. During this final mile, due to some inattentiveness, we managed to scrape a coral head. I was very displeased with ourselves for this mistake. We had enough clues to have been giving the level of vigilance required to avoid this but we weren’t. Another lesson learned. More nice new paint removed from our keel (fortunately not much and no damage to the boat). Having struck the coral head it was full attention, head north out of the shallows we were in, drop the main and make it safely to anchor.

We did not go ashore or go for a swim in the afternoon knowing that we intended to stay here for a couple of days. The land is a little different than the other cays in that it is not entirely flat. It also has a little cluster of palm trees plus another wind swept palm all on it’s own. Cayo de Agua get it’s name from the fact that fresh (or only slightly brackish) water can be found by digging down. It was used in the past as a fresh water source by the Amerindians who frequented these islands.

In the evening we had dinner followed by an hour of watching a show on the computer. While watching the show we heard a manual signal horn being blown by someone on one of the four nearby boats. As it was dark I had to use my binoculars to see what was happening. I could see a woman blowing the horn in our direction. A signal horn at night is a sign of distress. I tried hailing them on the VHF but received no response. We therefore lowered the dinghy and with headlamp and hand held VHF in hand I dinghied over to offer assistance.

It turned out it was a bunch of Frenchies having a party and the woman was blowing the signal horn for fun. They were polite enough to thank me for coming to their assistance but I made the point that blowing the horn should only be used for distress purposes only. I headed back to Helen cross that people think it could be fun to blow horns in a quiet anchorage and can be so oblivious to the cost of using distress signals frivolously. Given my two recent experiences with French boats I could see why Britain has the better naval history (forgetting at that moment our own errors of the day)

This morning we plan to explore ashore taking our face masks and snorkels in case we see anywhere interesting in the water.

Isla Carenero

We motored over here around 9:30am and anchored in the lagoon with a couple of motor boats and a couple of yachts. We’ve had a snorkel and are not overly impressed with the place. It is idyllic in many ways but a pile of trash on the beach is an eyesore. We’re going to have an early lunch and press on to Cayo de Agua.