Grenada to Shelter Bay, Panama.
05 May 2010
Log reading 13,302 nautical miles
Was this the Pacific already?
We said goodbye to Trevor at de Big Fish. He's off for a holiday on neighbouring islands. You have to be careful where you sit in this restaurant, certainly not under the sign that says "Reserved for eating customers"!
The chart plotter was replaced thanks to Paul Lawson, Raymarine UK, who overcame the bureaucratic impasse in the US. Shame we had to wait for over a week to get it cleared by customs but at least we were free again. The joy of being out at sea again was wonderful.
The overnight sail to La Blanquilla north of Venezuela was excellent. This was a sandy island with a small fishing camp a mile from our anchorage. The water was blue and a clump of palms on the beach made it a bit Robinson Crusoe. We were the only boat and on our guard for pirates. Our large calibre cockpit-mounted machine gun gave us some comfort - no only kidding. However, a boat roared over towards us from the camp. Three guys shouted out in Spanish if we had "something spicy". Was this a ploy? Checking us out? This is how it can start. After they left we went to "orange alert" and closed up the boat for the night. The movement sensor went off once but no sign of intruders. Perhaps a pelican.
Dolphins were now a common sight both in the day and at night. Los Roques was worth the stop. Beautiful beaches and coral everywhere. All sorts of birds nest on these islands and others on our route. Their dive bombing antics were always fun to watch. The pelicans don't mind you swimming up close nor do a few tourists that come here to relax on the beach that we chose.
Bliss you might say but not for long. During just a few days the primary bilge pump and shower pump went on the blink. The Raymarine MOB buttons played up. Vion's idea of a barometer gave up the ghost. The bimini and dodger clips seize up. The drain on the fuel separator blocked up. The head holding tank needed a broom handle to free it up. Some diesel fuel seeped onto my bunk from a faulty plastic jerry can in the cockpit locker above. An oar disintegrated and required riveting (only just out of warranty as usual). The engine alternator regulator that was checked out was still faulty and prevented us running the engine for too long or it would cook the one engine and three newish AGM house batteries. The tachometer and engine hour counter malfunction. The steering makes even louder noises than usual.
Back to bliss as we bamboozled (see earlier blog) our way west. This bamboo pole worked extremely well either goose-winged or poled to leeward. On a run, we sheet the genoa outside as for a spinnaker, including tweakers, to give greater control over the leach and steady the sail in rolls and gusts.
Isla Sur on the group Islas de Aves was ours except for a catamaran and later a fishing boat. This is a bird roosting site with all the usual suspects. Thank goodness none of their wee messages hit the boat.
Civilisation loomed up in the form of Bonaire, the first of three Dutch islands. Kralendijk's traditional Dutch architecture was painted with heaps of colour including egg yolk. We went diving. The sky was overcast but it was still very enjoyable.
The second island was Curacao, where we went inland from Pt Santa Barbara to anchor in a sheltered area. From here we bussed to Willemstad and were reasonably impressed with the "old" quarter and riverside.
Lastly Aruba which is close to Venezuela. We were boarded by the coast guard and directed to a check in dock. The boat was searched. They were very friendly and polite but it prevented us from reaching our intended anchorage in day light. Customs were happy to check Fandango in and out but immigration required me to come back the day after. The taxi cost USD40 for the 20 minute round trip and I checked it to the scheduled fare. Taxis everywhere in the Caribbean are expensive.
What has Aruba got? The top end of the island is duty free for the cruise ships and hotels. The bottom end is for the hookers working out of bars similar to Thailand's "Soi Cowboy". We didn't visit, although it would have been fun to look around and see famous Charlie's bar. Ted felt more in control of his lower region by parking it in front of the Golf Masters final on TV and pouring down Basali beer. I worked the computer from the same very nice bistro. The island was on the way for us but no wonder few yachties bother with Aruba.
A three day two night sail took us to Cartagena. On the way the water turned a murky green. Pirates and offshore drug transfers are reported hereabouts. I decided to keep roughly in the coastal shipping lanes where we could get help if needed. We saw quite a few commercial ships but no nasties.
Regular lightning lit up the clouds over Colombia as Fandango moved along the coast. This may have come from the Lake Maracaibo area and known as Catatumbo lightening.
We were doing well but late afternoon the wind dropped and we started motoring. The faulty alternator regulator mentioned earlier started to overcharge the batteries. We turned on everything electrical in order to slow the rising voltage, as well as motoring just above idle speed.
I had decided not to go through the very narrow small boats entry in the seawall to the upper part of the harbour because of the armed pirate attack that occurred here last December, at the same time as we would have been approaching. This meant a longer hike through the main entrance channel. The marina had been reported as defunct, yet two showed on the chart plotter, one was nearby and we only wanted to anchor. The batteries were cooking as we crept along, so at 2200 hrs the pick was dropped in the first designated anchorage. On shore was a stinking oil terminal but daylight next morning would help us find the other spot. However, at 0100 hrs the coast guard woke us up and recommended we move because gangs were known to attack boats - even here! The batteries had cooled a little during our stop but the alarms were going for the last half hour as we followed the CG up to the second marked "marina" and a suitable anchorage. Dead batteries and fire were possibilities so we worked the windlass to help the engine battery.
After an enjoyable walk around the old town we relaxed and people watched from a few spots where a cold beer and shaded seat were available. Old Cartagena was well worth a visit. There seemed to be little damage to the old colourful Spanish buildings.
My whiskers were starting to frighten the horses pulling tourists about, so I decided to get shorn at a unisex salon. It was the worst haircut in my life, by a woman who would have been better suited to an outback sheep station. In the end I told her to stop, took some scissors and tidied the job up myself.
We dined in the old town and walked back to the dingy which was chained to a guarded pontoon. Everyone was friendly and no badies in sight. At night, the towering new city on the other side of our anchorage looked surreal in the shimmering glow of millions of energy guzzling lights. It couldn't be captured on camera but I won't forget it.
We left early the next morning for the overnight trip to the eastern end of the San Blas Islands. The approaching islands looked like floating haystacks and we anchored in the appropriately named Snug Harbour. The next morning, a Kuna man in a dugout canoe offered us undersized crays for fifty cents US each, as well as mangoes and avocadoes.
The next few days would seem like we were already in the Pacific. Golden sandy beaches with driftwood sculptures, overhung with jostling coconut palms that seemed to gaze down at the aquamarine water lapping beneath. Perhaps they stared in fear, waiting to join others already submerged by rising sea levels.
On the islands, small hermit crabs scurried about like football teams in matching shells. A group of green, then beige, then red but I could never find the game. The snorkelling was good, especially around a wrecked freighter. We looked over some thatched huts. Classic views and sunsets.
Checking into Porvenir Island for customs and immigration at the western end of the group was interesting. The island is a small runway. Torn boxes lay about one of the dilapidated offices spilling out years of paperwork. The immigration officer was lying on a bed watching TV. The nearby Kuna decorated restaurant served the smallest of fried fish, full of bones. A DVD fed screen broke the spell when the waitress thought it would be appropriate for our enjoyment.
Back on Fandango anchored nearby was a dugout displaying Kuna patchwork and paddled by two elderly women. Too expensive for their patient brown eyes to sell, we bid them and their gentle world goodbye.
Timing was perfect and dawn the next day saw us creeping through the big ships, waiting their turn outside Shelter Bay to transit the canal. Some were resting after a long voyage and some were also creeping about. An exciting watch for me. By 0800 Fandango was tied up in the nearby marina.