The Offshore Islands of Venezuela
11 February 2010 | From Venezuela to the ABC Islands
In the early hours of 25th October we set sail, again in tandem with Chrisandaver Dream (CD) for the half-day sail to Tortuga. A pink sunrise and a steady wind gave us an enjoyable sail and we dropped anchor at midday in a quiet, fairly large bay with only a few fishing huts at one end and 2 other boats at anchor. We didn't go ashore and after a rolly night decided to move to another anchorage where we spent two relaxing days in calmer waters, crystal clear and turquoise, behind a reef. There were not a lot of fish to be seen when we snorkelled but Dave did spot a couple of barracuda about 4ft long.
An overnight sail to Los Roques was planned to get us there early the next morning but we ended up sailing too fast (very rare!) and had to reduce speed so as not to get there too early. Lots of dolphins joined us during this trip and for once we managed to get some fairly decent video of them (I usually manage to follow just behind them with the camera!) and an unfortunate flying fish expired on deck before we'd noticed its demise (all say ahh...). Dave managed to catch a skipjack which was promptly made into his new speciality of "fish dippy-dip".
The main island, Gran Roque, is the only one that has any height and is inhabited. We loved the streets - all sand and no cars and lined with Posadas with their doorways tantalisingly open so you could see into the charming courtyards and through to the accommodation with colourful and tasteful furnishings. I would have loved a few nights ashore in one of these inviting guest houses but couldn't find an excuse! We visited an internet bar run by a very friendly Venezuelan, who could easily be mistaken for American by his looks and accent, and caught up on emails whilst enjoying a beer.
The next morning we bought some provisions, including a HUGE avocado (the best we've ever had) and headed out to another anchorage. We followed the pilot guide but found the depth of water decreasing more rapidly than expected so with Dave up the mast we "eyeballed" our way in through the reefs, dropping anchor in a beautiful spot where the water was like gin. We realised that the reason we were alone was probably because navigating into the anchorage is a fairly "hairy" experience but once there we settled to a couple of days in this beautiful spot. We were yards away from an island which we also had all to ourselves and Fi went to explore but came back empty-handed having found little in the way of treasure. A little later we went snorkelling and saw hundreds of beautiful fish. We picnicked on Fi's freshly baked bread, cheese, fruit and a glass of wine and Dave enjoyed some of his fish dip. On the second morning we snorkelled again and were surprised to find that there were not so many fish - until, that is, we came face to face with a 5ft-long barracuda hovering about a foot beneath the surface. Although there's nothing to be concerned about they do look menacing and, let's face it, they're quicker than us so I have to admit my heart was beating a bit faster than normal!
Back at Gran Roque we met up with CD and spent a morning snorkelling on a rock about half a mile from the anchorage. Again we saw lots of fish - amberjacks, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, as well as turtles.
We sailed with CD to another beautiful anchorage where yet again we had an amazing snorkel- huge parrot fish, turtle, blue tangs, cornet fish, angel fish, an octopus...... We were all in CD's dinghy and headed back to our boats when Dave said to CD Dave that he'd drop over the side and take a look at another possible snorkelling site. Unfortunately lack of communication and/or a little misunderstanding resulted in Dave dropping into the water whilst the outboard was still running and yes, it did strike something and yes, it was Dave's forehead! Luckily (and that's an understatement...) it was only a small cut about an inch long just above his eye. After all that it wasn't a good snorkelling spot anyway!
Later that day some local fishermen passed by and we traded 3 cans of beer and a bulb of garlic for 2 fish whilst Chris and Dave swapped a bottle of coke and a pack of cigarettes for 2 lobsters - Bargain! Unfortunately, the fishermen couldn't start their engine on leaving us and eventually had to be towed in by some others but it did provide a bit of entertainment. We sat on the foredeck and watched hundreds of fish jumping and watched the sundown but, as everyone knows, nothing is perfect, and soon the mosquitoes arrived with a vengeance so it was nets over hatches and down below for the night.
ISLES AVES (islands of birds)
We sailed on the short distance to these islands and Dave caught his first ever barracuda which was pretty big and flapped around in the cockpit gnashing its teeth before Dave put it out of its misery. It later got shared with CD and made into a kedgeree and yet another dip!
Isles Aves is home to a large colony of boobies nesting in the mangroves surrounding a lagoon or two through which we could pass by dinghy and see the big fluffy white chicks (one per nest) up close. There are also pelicans, frigate birds and some smaller birds we couldn't identify but the overwhelming amount of boobies and the funny noises they make were fascinating.
We spent a couple of nights at another anchorage between two islands with white sandy beaches (we were getting to take these for granted by now!) and where, again, the snorkelling was excellent, The shores were covered in stacks of conch shells giving a clue to the catch of the local fishermen. There was one fishing hut on one of the islands and this was visited by a larger boat that had probably come in to transfer the catch to the mainland.
The sail to Bonaire was fantastic, goose-winged with poled-out jib all the way until we took it down in order to sheet in and head north up the west side of the island to the moorings. A cracking sail with speeds of about 7½ knots. Anchoring is prohibited in Bonaire due to the abundance of marine life which they are at pains to preserve, making it one of the best dive spots in the Caribbean. We could dive or snorkel directly from the boats which were moored no more than 50 yards from shore.
Bonaire is one of the Dutch Antilles and hence has a very Dutch / European feel to it. Almost all locals speak perfect English and were friendly and helpful, including the Customs and Immigration officers. The main export is sea salt and you can see mountains of salt of varying colours at the south end of the island. Pink flamingos are resident although we didn't see any as we opted not to tour the island . Evenings were spent at Carels bar which is situated over the water and we also celebrated Dave's birthday in Bonaire - unfortunately choosing the worst restaurant on the island for his birthday meal but never mind, it was a lovely place to spend a birthday.....
CURACAO - UK - CURACAO
After a week in Bonaire we said a temporary goodbye to CD and sailed to Curacao as we wanted to ensure a safe berth to leave True Colours on when we flew back to the UK for Christmas. The sail was fairly non-eventful and after navigating the narrow and well hidden entrance channel we arrived in the anchorage of Spanish Waters mid-afternoon. The anchorage was a real disappointment it has to be said, after weeks of crystal clear water we were surrounded by murky stuff, due to silt not dirt though so no problem swimming.
We got to know Taff, Shirley and Colin aboard The Road (Royal Order of Ancient Druids) who were great fun, very friendly and helpful, and had a grey parrot, Rubbish, as the fourth member of crew. He kept us all amused, especially if one of us was on deck and heard someone whistling to draw our attention, only to find it was Rubbish up to his tricks!
We had a spur of the moment visit by Lisa, Dave's sister, who joined us for the two weeks prior to flying home on the same flight which worked out well. We sailed up the west coast of the island for a few days during that time and found a couple of beautiful anchorages where we could snorkel, as well as a bar/restaurant. Lisa became hooked on Pina Coladas and was drinking one whilst we watched the sundown and we all saw the "green flash" - our 3rd and Lisa's 1st. It's basically a phenomenon that occurs just as the last hint of the sun sinks below the horizon. Actually it isn't a "flash" at all so much as a thin green line on the horizon that only lasts about a split second. For some reason, two people can be sitting side by side but only one may see it so it's all a bit strange really!
Dave and Lisa went on a diver together and we all went snorkelling a couple of times on a wreck of a tugboat just off the beach in another spot. During one of these snorkels Lisa touched a few fish which nibbled at her fingers for food and one of them actually bit her and drew blood, much to big bro's amusement!
The two weeks Lisa was with us went very quickly and it was soon time to take the boat alongside and leave her there whilst the three of us flew home for Christmas. Chris and Dave came over for a last drink with us as it was time to go our separate ways. We all wonder if we'll ever meet up again and where - we hope so.....