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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
The Rack
02/06/2008, Isla Margarita

Today was our prep for departure day. We had Juan working on our clearance out with my Parents being added to the crew list. The women went off shopping. Dad and I were left onboard to get the rack installed and pick up the water sports gear from El Yaque.

The rack was designed to mount up under our hard bimini. The backing plates that go on the roof were designed to match the existing SF50 plates which have captive nuts. This is where the nuts are welded to the backing plate bottom so that only the shiny polished plate shows on deck.

If I were to do this again I would not go this route. Having the captive nuts forces you to carve out a lot more of you strong fiberglass upper skin so that the nuts can sit down in the laminate leaving the plate flush. Also welding the nuts on can mess up the threads requiring you to re-cut them and it is hard to get everything lined up perfectly. The harshest bit is the fact that the bolts then need to be the exact right length to come up from below and seat into the nuts tightly without bottoming out. This inevitably means you need to cut the bolts.

You can not file bolts down. At least I can't. I mean you can but it ruins the threads and the bolts need to be hand repaired with a sharp triangular file. If you need to take a lot off you have to cut them. A grinder with a cutting blade works great for this but it is fairly dangerous unless you are very careful.

After a gallant effort, Hideko, my Dad and I got the rack up but it was a ways from complete. We could only find 302 stainless bolts in Margarita so those would all need to be replaced with 316. Until that was done we couldn't finalize the install and caulk everything with 5200. I was nice to see the rack up there and have it out of the way. It was going to be perfect when it was finally done.

In the mean time we tied the wind surfer up in the dink and put the rest of the gear in the garage (the Starboard aft cabin). We were set to sail for Tortuga on the morn.

Margarita Island Tour
02/05/2008, Isla Margarita

We spent the day today touring Isla Margarita. We visited the popular beaches and some of the wonderful pueblos nestled into the mountains where we enjoyed freshly made empanadas and fruit smoothies for pennies. Juan Griego, the only other notable cruisers port, was a nice town with a large harbor. Our favorite bit was the boat tour of the mangrove lakes in the southern portion of the island.

On the way home we stopped by El Yaque. This is the famous wind surfing beach in Isla Margarita. Hideko and I have been in the market for a wind surfer and a kite board. We found a wonderful little shop in El Yaque that had everything we were looking for. Collette, a former world champion wind surfer, helped us pick out our gear. We would have to return tomorrow to pick everything up.

As we returned to Swingin' on a Star I was confronted by our waters ports rack laying on the trampoline up front. Hmmm. Better quit putting that project off.

Mom and Dad join the Crew
02/04/2008, Porlamar

My parents flew in from San Francisco today. We picked them up with Tulio from the Margarita air port and returned to Juan's dock. It took us two trips to get the folks and their luggage back to Swingin' on a Star.

One of the bigger bags was a Christmas present that Hideko and I bought ourselves. We often watch movies in the salon. This is great and the home theater installed on the SF50 is very nice. That said it is an AC system and requires the inverter and a fair amount of power. We have been looking for a system that we could install in our cabin. Our requirements were: 19" wide screen LCD, built in DVD player, rugged, VESA bracket mountable, and DC powered (the trickiest part). We finally settled on a Skyworth unit we found on Amazon. It is made in China and was fairly inexpensive. We installed it easily the day my folks arrived and it has worked flawlessly and at a much lower amp hour level than its big brother upstairs.

It was Monday and the Margarita Carnival was in full affect until Tuesday. Thus we couldn't clear out and leave Margarita until Thursday because it would take all day Wednesday to clear out.

After Mom and Dad got settled we took them out to a nice dinner in Porlomar. It was good to see the folks again and we had a wonderful time talking about our plans for visiting the islands ahead.

A Day Off
02/03/2008, Margarita

After a few weeks of hustling to get from one place to another and get things done on the boat we decided to take a down day. My parents were flying out to meet us for a couple weeks of cruising tomorrow and we always like to make sure guests see a lot and have fun. It might be our last down day for a bit.

We had originally planned to meet the folks in a marina near Caracas where they were flying in. After examining the options near by Caracas and considering the customs issues, we decided to being them into Margarita from Caracas and then just clear the whole crew out from Margarita. This would make out trip to Los Roques a little longer but it would give us a chance to see Tortuga and get more sailing in which my folks seem to enjoy.

Canaima and Angel Falls
02/02/2008, Canaima

Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world and has long been on our list of places to visit. There is no real way to get there quickly. You can take a tour by plane or travel up to Canaima National Park by plane and hike up that way over the course of several days.

We could only be away from Roq for a day so we found a trip that took us up to Canaima, the waterfall country high in the mountains, for a day and gave you a fly by view of Angel Falls. The trip exceeded our expectations in everyway. It would be wonderful to spend a week in the park hiking around.

The only way in or out of the park is by plane. As you fly out from Margarita you get a wonderful view of Isla Margarita and the Gulfo de Cariaco. As you progress back into the mainland of South America you first cross the coastal mountains, sharp, rugged and high. Then you move into the thicker greenery as the rivers and lakes begin to cover as much as 60% of the surface. Next mountainous plateaus begin to rise out of the jungle, so old that they have lost their pointy tops in lieu of vast flat lands coated with trees, scrub and lakes often only feet below the cloud cover. This is where you find Canaima.

Your twin prop (if you're lucky), top wing plane lands on the little air strip just outside the Canaima lagoon. All of the buildings are built in the traditional fashion of the local Amerindians (with some tin roofing hidden in there every once in a while). A guide takes you to an outdoor seating area and gives you some history in various languages. You then work your way down to the lagoon which has four or five awesome waterfalls gushing over the cliffs on the far side. An eco hotel blends into the end of the lagoon on a pretty white sand beach.

Some of the locals help you into a large dugout canoe with a 75hp Yamaha on the back for a tour of the lagoon. The waterfalls in this area are thunderous as you sputter by in your log.

On the far side of the lagoon we took a hike back to a local village and got a tour of the pueblo. It was interesting to see the communal area where families prepared food and worked together to meet the needs of the community. No power, no running water, no toilets. Amidst this the kids play with their cel phones and ipods. They do have to go to town from time to time to charge them.

The hotel and the main village near the airport are powered by a hydroelectric plant that taps off of one of the smaller waterfalls. It is a wonderfully green solution. Now if they could just replace the sputtering two strokes with electric outboards you'd have a perfectly closed ecosystem.

We hiked along the cliff and crossed behind a large wide waterfall. It was a fantastic day in the picturesque mountains of Amazonia. To wrap things up we flew through the flat topped mountains watching countless waterfalls drizzle down the steep cliffs, Angle Falls one of the many.

The plane ride is not pressurized and the ride home was pretty cold. Fortunately Hideko and I had brought our sweatshirts.

We arrived two hours late at the airport. It was great to have the extra time in Canaima and fortunately we had hired Tulio to drop us off and pick us up. Tulio's English is much better than my Spanish but that's not saying much. Regardless he happily taught me some useful Spanish and worked hard to communicate accurately with us. I was almost surprised to see him waiting for us when we landed. It was a welcome sight because we were beat from an amazing day in Venezuela.

Venezuela Diesel
02/01/2008, Porlamar

We asked Juan where we could get diesel around here and he gave us the low down. There is a fuel dock but it is in very shallow water so you need to go at high tide to be safe. It also doesn't always have fuel and sometimes when it does it wont sell to foreign yachts and if it does you will pay much more than the locals (they hit you up for the 2:1 exchange rate). Fuel dock out.

Then there's Diesel Man. Diesel Man doesn't come around anymore but his son does. They have a standard Venezuelan issue open boat with huge tanks on board and a hand pump. The trick to getting them to come by is to find someone else who is on their list and have them send Diesel Man you way when they are done.

Son of Diesel Man starts his day early and we heard them yelling as they came along side at about 7AM. I quickly jumped up and threw on a tee shirt and tried to act like I had been awake and waiting.

The Son of Diesel Man and his crew of two were cheerful fellows. We discussed price up front. It worked out to a whopping $0.39 per gallon at the 4.5:1 exchange rate I was getting. Delivered to the boat! We filled up everything we had. SDM filled our tanks and happily used our Baja Filter without getting crabby (which is usually the response). I inspected the fuel before we started pumping into the tanks and it looked great. (P.S. we had no problem with this fuel anywhere down the line.)

Clearing into Margarita
01/31/2008, Porlamar

We were informed that we needed to get out paperwork to Juan by 9AM in order to get cleared in. Hideko and I made a trip ashore at what we though was 9 but it turned out to be 9:30. The Caracas area uses a half hour time zone in between the East coast time and the Atlantic time. Fortunately Juan called the car back for us so that we could make the cut.

Juan is a charming fellow who runs the cruisers outpost for all of Margarita. If you are a cruiser and need something in Margarita, you should ask Juan. Juan can change currency for you, get you cleared in or out and explain the extrme idiosyncrasies of said process to you, set up an island tour for you, advise you on tours to the mainland and orient you in any number of other ways. Juan also is one of the rare locals who speaks perfect English, not to mention French, Italian, German and lord knows what else.

His marina is a little pier in one to three feet of water, depending on the tides and where you tie up (I'd recommend the end near the steps). The swell can break all in front of the pier so while there's usually enough water for a dinghy you're better of swinging out way west of the pier on your approach.

Pedro is a large guy who watches over everything on the pier. Juan suggests a $1 US or so a day tip for Pedro when using the pier as this is his only income. Whether you pay him or not Pedro will always help you carry things out to your dinghy and make sure that nothing is ever stolen while he's on watch. Pedro is a fine gentleman and I can't imagine anyone not contributing to keep him on duty.

Veronica runs a small store in the building with Juan's office. You can get drinks and beer here as well as ice cream on occasion. Tulio works with Juan handling all of the clearance chores and also acts as a local tour guide and taxi. Trying to clear in yourself does not seem to be a fruitful use of time in this particular country, especially if you don't speak fluent Spanish. If you let Juan handle it, Tulio takes your stuff over in the morning while you do whatever you like, and by 4PM your docks are back, you sign things and your paperwork is ready by 5PM.

After dropping off all of our paperwork, Hideko and I dodged the mud puddles in the dirt road on the way out to the large shade tree in front of Juan's where the Taxi's wait. The local taxis can be anything from a beat 1984 Toyota to a fairly late model four door economy car or micro van. We rode in the Toyota into town. This cost us 8 Boulivares Fuertes. The new Boulivares are worth 1,000 of the old Boulivares. The old ones will be out of circulation by June and it is just as well. It is complicated paying for things in millions of Boulivares when you can barely count to ten in the language.

The official exchange rate is a little over 2 BF to the dollar. The actual international exchange rate is about 6BF to the dollar. Thus while Chaves wants everyone to buy Bolivares at 2:1 no one in their right mind would actually pay this rate unless forced to by circumstance. Most places will exchange cash at 4.5:1, giving you considerably more buying power and making the changer a nice profit in the process. At 4.5:1 Margarita is pretty inexpensive, at 6:1 it is very reasonable. Several of the cruisers in the harbor were basically retired here.

After a nice walk around town and a bite at one of the many Chinese restaurants (weird trying to communicate with the Chinese folks in Spanish) we returned to the harbor. The first cab we hailed wanted 25BF for the ride so we passed. The second guy had a little more beat up car but only charged us 10BF. Cab drivers seem to be the same the world over, except London of course.

We picked up our docs and joined Denali Rose and Wind Quest for dinner and Rancho de Pablo. We had a very nice Chateau Briand for two with wine, a shrimp appetizer and what have you for about $40US. It was an interesting first day exploring Porlomar.


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