Our passage on February 8th from Isla Margarita in Venezuela to St. Thomas in the US Virgins took a total of 74 hours and 475 miles across the Caribbean Sea. The first day and a half at sea was not what we had expected nor was the weather predicted to be bad. It started off ok, with 5 foot seas and the wind about 90 degrees off. It was a nice beam reach and we were cruising along at 7 knots. But as we sailed further north, we headed into a dense cloud bank that had no hope of blue sky anywhere. The cloud bank did not contain any rain or squalls but it did contain a whole lot of wind. For about 9 hours we had winds 18 to 23 knots. That doesn't seem like much but the wind whipped up the seas to a good 8 feet and some were probably closer to 10. The waves were also very close together making for a very uncomfortable ride. The boat handled the conditions well, but we could not use the autopilot due to the steep waves and the stress it was putting on the motor. Shane manually steered the boat for the majority of the time riding the waves as best he could to make the ride less lumpy. By late in the day things were beginning to settle down. We could see some breaks in the clouds and we were crossing our fingers that when nightfall came it would stay quiet and no more wind or squalls would pop up. Well, we got lucky and the remainder of the trip was unbelievably calm! We lost most of the wind and the seas died down to a nice little 4-foot swell. The stars came out and most of the clouds moved off to the west. It is amazing how much a little extra wind can make a passage miserable. Anyway, now it was so calm we had to turn the motor on to make some tracks. It was such a good passage the remainder of the way, we did boat projects underway! We pulled into Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas 3 days later around noon.
Family Onboard In The British Virgin Islands
For the next 3 weeks we played in the US and British Virgin Islands. The scuba diving was excellent and we dove the Wreck of the Rhone and the Invisibles among other locations. We spent 3 days with sailing friends Larry and Diane from Connecticut who were taking a land vacation on Jost Van Dyke. We took them out for a day sail and spent a lot of time catching up. We also had a blast with Sara's sister Susie and husband Brian who came on a two week charter vacation in the BVI. We met up with them several different times in different anchorages, sailed out to Anegada together and snorkeled off Cow Wreck Beach and also dined out in Cane Garden Bay, Saba Rock and had lobster at the Anegada Reef Hotel.
Sailing In The BVI
Now, we are happy to report that we are in St. Martin in the Leeward Islands. We made the 80 mile overnight passage from Virgin Gorda in the BVI this past Monday evening with about 9 other boats. The passage was a smooth one with a nice, easy long 5 foot swell and 13 knots of wind. It was an absolute perfect passage! But the weather since we arrived has turned for the worse and it has been very rainy, windy and cold (73 degrees) for the past 3 days. We will be here in St. Martin for about a week and then head to the island of Anquilla where we have tickets to see Jimmy Buffet in concert out on the dunes.
Cold & Rainy In St. Maarten
|Year Three October 2006 - June 2007||
It has been a while since we have updated everyone as to our whereabouts. No, we haven't spent any more time in any Venezuelan clinics or hospitals. Thank goodness!
New Years eve was celebrated in Kralendijk, Bonaire in the southern Caribbean. Bonaire is part of the ABC islands, which include Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. The week leading up to New Years and including the eve of, there were spectacular fireworks, but on a small scale. There were no government-sponsored celebrations or events, but every evening the local townsfolk would come down to the waterfront shoreline and shoot off their own fireworks displays. They ranged from small firecrackers to M-80s (or bigger) to gigantic displays. Children of all ages would participate in lighting these hand held firecrackers. We don't know the details but the people of Kralendijk have a contest to see who can have the longest string of firecrackers go off in succession. Sections of streets would be blocked off and once they start expoding, it is nonstop, continuous, extremely loud firecrackers, going off one after another, for as long as 45 minutes! They seemed to go on forever! They must go through millions upon millions of firecrackers. We went to shore once after they were done and there was literally a foot deep of firecracker papers in the street and the town people would clean the mess up with shovels. We saw empty wooden crates lying around that contained the firecrackers that were labeled "1,000,000 pieces". That's a whole lotta firecrackers!
Since Bonaire is a marine park and known for the spectacular diving we did a little bit of scuba diving ourselves. We could dive right from the boat since "Dream Chaser" was moored on the edge of the reefs. We also got a chance to try out our new scuba compressor so we can now fill our own tanks with air. We celebrated the holidays with other cruising friends new and old, and celebrated Lucia's fourth birthday on New Years Day. One day we went bike riding, and on another rented a car and did our own island land tour. On our land tour we discovered that the northern half of the island is very dry and covered with cactus and low scrub, and in the southern portion it is covered in mangroves, wetlands and salt flats where the pink flamingos wander around. We also saw pairs of Yellow Shouldered parrots flitting around and wild donkeys roaming the desert areas.
Although much of December had been relatively calm, the winds really picked up by the end of the month. These winds, known as the "Christmas Winds", were already blowing at points west of the ABC's at a good, continuous 25-30 knots. This built the seas up to 15 feet, just where we wanted to head. So, with no significant relief in sight until spring, we decided to postpone our trip going west for the time being. Columbia and Panama were not in the cards for us this cruising season. In order to go west with less wind you should travel before November 15 or after late March or April and we got a late start with the accident at Angel Falls. It is possible to get a weather window to go west, but it is rare and we didn't want to remain in the ABC's possibly waiting for many months. We have decided to go back east/north and sail the Virgins Islands, the Leewards and the Windward Islands for now. Our challenge at this point is how to head back east comfortably against the ever-blowing north easterly and easterly trade winds. Our destination is St. Thomas, which is roughly 475 miles or 3 ½ days at sea.
From Bonaire you can either head north into the wind and the seas for 500 miles straight or you can island hop back going east and then make a long passage north from somewhere further east. Because we could never get a good angle to head north we decided to head back east island hopping to get a better departure point.
On January 8th at 2:00 AM we departed Bonaire and set sail to back to the Aves for the outer anchorage at Aves de Barlevento. The weather report was for lighter winds and calmer seas so we set out. But of course, no sail is ever perfect and on our way we ran into significant squalls with 30-knot winds before sun-up. Since we were going into the easterly trade winds, we had to tack (zigzag) our way to keep an angle on the wind and the sails full. This added a lot of additional miles to our trip and we finally arrived the next evening at 6:30 PM. We dropped the hook in an outer anchorage specifically because it was easy to get into with little light left in the day. We knew that the reefs did not propose a problem in this anchorage.
After a few hours of sleep we left the anchorage at Barlavento the next morning at
2:30 AM for Cayo de Aqua in the southwestern part of Los Roques. Los Roques is similar to the Bahamas with crystal clear, aqua blue water, lots of small islands to explore with good diving and snorkeling. There we spent 4 full mornings sanding and re-varnishing teak on the portside (left side) rub rails and toe rails of the boat since the anchorage was nice and calm. The job done by the boys in Puerta La Cruz was not a good one and only after 2 months the wood needed to be re-done. Then after just one week we got another weather window to keep heading east. At this point we had come 170 miles east from Bonaire but we still didn't have a good enough angle on the wind to sail north.
On this window we set sail from The Roques on January 18th in the morning for our 30-hour trip to Chimana Grande, which is an island just outside of Puerta La Cruz, Venezuela. The seas were relatively calm but there were squalls that we dodged and then by the last third of the trip the wind died and we had to motor sail the rest of the way. On the way we caught a small tuna and a nice mahi-mahi and also had a pod of about 20 dolphins swimming in our bow wave for 20 minutes. We took turns during the night on 3 hour shifts so we could each get some sleep.
Approaching Chimana Grande
The next morning we left from Chimana Grande and motored the last 6 miles to Puerta La Cruz. We stayed at the same marina again and over the next three days we topped off on provisions and did some good 'house" cleaning on the boat while we had unlimited fresh water off the dock. Of course, the marina water supply stopped working after the 1st day and so our dirty boat stayed pretty dirty and salty. Oh well....
We departed the marina and headed back out to Chimana Grande to wait for weather again to head further east. The following morning for fun, we set out on a dinghy exploration. Not more than 75 feet from the boat we heard a loud "CRAACCKK" as the plastic floorboards in the dingy exploded splitting in two. At that point we figured we had better turn around incase there were any sharp edges that would put a hole in the dinghy. So again, that afternoon we returned to the marina. There we visited the "Dinghy Doctor" to see if it could be repaired or replaced. There were no floor replacements available and on close inspection the floor had many cracks that were just beginning and we declared the dinghy "terminal".
We hired Andres, one of the local taxi drivers, to take us to several of the
boating stores that carry new dinghies and we also checked out a few used dinghies for sale. In the cruising world, your dinghy is your car so careful decision making is required. We found a new one that fit the ticket but before our purchase we needed to get a hold of some more Venezuelan Bolivars (the local currency). We contacted "Charlie Alpha" on the VHF radio for the "meeting". Charlie Alpha, better known by his real name as Carlos, brought the money we needed in Venezuelan Bolivars to the marina. Shane met with him in his pickup, which had very dark windows, where the exchange of US dollars to B's was made. The exchange rate had increased drastically, almost 20% since we had been there in late November. This made the purchase even more economical in US Dollars. The next day while Andres was taking us back to the boating store, Autoboat, to make our purchase, Leo, another local cab driver, pulled up along side Andres' taxi and shouted to us. He said that he called the manager at Autoboat and arranged for us to get a 5% discount. Leo had heard though the grapevine that we were in need of a new dinghy and he was doing us a favor! We eventually became the proud owners of a 9-foot, rigid inflatable dingy by Caribe, which are made in Venezuela. The price was right and after everything was said and done, we probably paid half of what the same new dinghy would have cost in the states. With the dinghy on top of Andres' Ford Explorer we headed back to the marina. Next we had to find a home for the old dinghy. We donated it to Fund Amigos, which is a cruisers' sponsored program that raises money and provides free plastic surgery for children with facial disfigurations like cleft palate.
Later that afternoon on January 23rd, we left the marina (again) and set sail for Chimana Segunda only 7 miles away, to stage for our trip to Isla Margarita the next morning. Margarita is a fairly large island just north of the Venezuelan coastline. The entire next day was spent motor sailing to Margarita against the easterly trade winds and current. It took us quite a bit long than expected because of this so since we were running out of day light we stopped at an island just southwest of Margarita called Cubagua for the next two days.
Cubagua doesn't have much to offer except a very nice beach. It is an island void of any trees and it just has mainly cactus and old, dried up salt ponds. There are fishing shacks on it for the local fisherman and day trip catamarans bring tourists to come play on the beach. When we got anchored we noticed that the water was full of small, baby jellyfish with very long tentacles. Then the next morning the small jellyfish were nowhere to be seen but we now had huge jellyfish about a foot across or better surrounding our boat. That evening there was a pod of whales blowing their spouts not far from the anchorage.
Residents of Isla Coche
After two days at Cubagua we sailed the remaining 25 miles into the east wind and current to Margarita. This was our final destination before heading north to St. Thomas. The next weather window to go north was going to be in a couple of days so we took on 65 gallons of diesel fuel and 10 gallons of gas for a total of $22 US.
Margarita Fuel Barge
Fisherman & his son
We headed out on Tuesday afternoon, January 31st on what we thought was going to be a good weather window to head north to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Without going into further detail, we plain just didn't get there on that try. That is another story in itself to be written about soon!
We finally made it to St. Thomas on February 11. It took us 3 days at sea, about 74 hours and 475 miles. We are really glad to be here.
|Year Three October 2006 - June 2007||
|Year Three October 2006 - June 2007||