03/05/2013, Eastern Venezuela
RIO ORINOCO DELTA PILOT - Part 1
8 55.96'N:60 11.25W
Tom and Lilly Service
date - 03/05/2013
In April 2013 S/V Tiger Lilly, with crew Tom and Lilly Service, cruised over 350 miles through the Rio Orinoco Delta. Exploring the Delta was part of our larger plan to reach northeastern South America from Trinidad, cruise the Guianas, sail to Brazil, and then head for points south. Although this windward route southeast is a bit unusual, the Delta and the three Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana) could be a refreshing Hurricane Season alternative to sitting in Trinidad for five months growing barnacles in one of the world's most polluted harbors. The Delta, and the Guianas offer an easy return to the Eastern Caribbean on the strong northwest flowing Guiana Current. Boats crossing from Africa could use this route in reverse as their opening season in the Caribbean.
We spent three weeks in the Delta, cruising the Reo Macareo, the Rio Grande, the Reo Amacuro, and the Reo Barima. Along the way we explored many small canos (creeks) with our dinghy. We departed the Rio Orinoco Delta from the Punta Barima Pilot Station, sailed out into the Tropical North Atlantic and tacked down the Venezuelan coast to Guyana's Essequibo River.
For us, the Delta was much more than just a shortcut to Brazil; we were eager to see the sights of the eighth largest river in the world, explore this remote and circuitous waterway, and to observe the shy Waro Amerindian people. The bird life in the Delta is absolutely magnificent. In the span of three weeks we saw: Anhinga, Blue and Gold Macaw, Blue-Winged Parrotlet, Yellow Oriole, Brown and White Pelicans, Crested Guan, Wattled Jacana (pictured at the top of this posting), Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Grey Heron, Green Night Heron, White Egret, Frigate Bird, Kiskadee, Green King Fisher, Harpy Eagle (rare), Hoatzin, Toco Toucan, Vulture, Osprey, Red Tailed Hawk, Savannah Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill, Scarlet Ibis, Yellow Oriole, Yellow Headed Caracara, Pied Water Tyrant, and many more small species we could not identify. We are not at all skilled bird watchers, but it was such a thrill to see so many colorful and interesting birds in their natural jungle habitat. The river at night is dark and quiet with no lights, no cars, no buses, no horns, and no damn thug music - in short, it is NOT Trinidad. When we are close to a Waro camp their roosters announce the coming day. As dawn breaks, and the day starts, the chirping birds call us to get up and out of bed, and the fierce growling of the howler monkeys let us know that they are already about their business. Often we hear a faint knocking of wood-on-wood as a Waro dugout canoe quietly paddles past Tiger Lilly, out with the dawn to check his nets. Waking up early in the Delta is easy to do - life is quite pleasing and tranquil here. The timing of our Delta cruise found us here at the end of the Dry Season and we were pleasantly surprised to see how few mosquitoes were about. A half hour before sunset, and an hour after sunset was the only time we had to take precautions - and even then it certainly was not a big deal. We bought a lot of mosquito stuff before we left Trinidad, and left the Delta with most of it unused. Lilly showed up one day after a shopping trip to Port of Spain with a HUGE mosquito net that one of Chaguaramas' marina dwellers (who had never been to the Delta) professed we needed - it is still in the bag. We transformed killing horseflies in the cockpit during the day to the sport of big game hunting, with more than a few world records achieved. (Can you tell that Tom-Tom has been reading a story about Bwana Theodore Roosevelt exploring South America?) In the month of April there was always a light breeze on the river to keep the heat off. Unspoiled nature at its best, few pests, cool restful nights, gorgeous birds, and every bend of the River offering a new vista - what's not to like about cruising the Rio Orinoco Delta?
Point of view is very important when evaluating information gained from the crews of other cruising boats - we are very discriminating when we gather cruising information, and vet it carefully based on who we are talking to. Here is some basic information about our crew, our boat, and our gear which may possibly help you decide what you need, and how you want to prepare your boat for this off-the-beaten-track destination:
The Crew: Tom is a retired US Navy Deep Sea Diving and Salvage Officer, has owned the boat for 26 years, and cruised her for some 57,000 miles - including a Milk Run circumnavigation from 1987 to 1991. Lilly is a retired businesswoman; as a former professional tri-athlete, and professional mountain-bike racer she was a pioneer in women's sports - which is why Tom calls her Tough Chick. They have been married since 2011. Tom and Lilly are Mack Sails Cruising Representatives, supplying, specifying, and measuring sails and rigging for the international sailing community at large.
The Boat: Tiger Lilly is a 1977 CSY44 center cockpit walkover, has a draft of 6 foot 10 inches, and a displacement of approximately 40,000 pounds. The underwater hull has a long fin keel, with a cut away fore-foot, and a skeg-hung rudder - she is a strong bluewater cruising boat. Her liquid load is 160 gallons of diesel fuel and 400 gallons of potable water - with a deck rain water catching system. She is rigged as a true cutter with a full battened high roach mains'l, miter-cut stays'l, and a miter-cut high-clewed yankee - all high quality sails crafted by MACK Sails in Stuart, Florida. Both head sails are on PROFURL roller furling gear and are miter cut. The Perkins Prima 60 horse power auxiliary diesel is naturally aspirated.
Electrical System: Tiger Lilly has two completely separate 12VDC electrical systems, with an emergency parallel switch between the independent systems. The AGM engine start battery is charged by a 70 amp alternator with external regulator, with the capability to shift to internal regulation. The 840 amp hour flooded cell house battery bank is charged by a 210 amp externally regulated alternator. There are two 130 watt solar panels and a 350 watt wind generator for alternative energy sources. Under our usual sailing and anchoring circumstances (not running the diesel almost every day for motoring the rivers as we did on this cruise), the batteries require charging every 3 days in temperate latitudes, and about every 4-5 days in tropical latitudes.
Equippage: The primary bow anchor is a 66 pound Bruce with 200 feet of 3/8 HT chain on a Lofrans Falkon 1500 watt windlass. Typically, in the Delta the holding was good in mud and clay; usually we anchored in 20 to 60 feet of water - two knots of current was common, and three knots not unusual. The secondary bow anchor is a 45 pound CQR with a chain and nylon rode. We carry two additional anchors - a 40 pound Danforth mounted on the utility arch and a 75 pound fisherman disassembled in the bilge.
Navigation Equipment: Furuno radar / GPS / chart plotter with C-Map NT+ charts; a PC with Open CPN / CM93 charting software and a hockey puck GPS; and an ipad2 with the NAVIONICS Caribbean and South America chart application (the iPad2 is equipped with a splash / shock proof case). The NAVIONICS charts had much more complete coverage of the Delta and the Venezuela coast then did the C-MAP NT+ charts, and the additional NAVIONICS tidal information was especially helpful for crossing the river bars.
Our primary tender is a 10.5 foot Cape Dory fiberglass rowing / sailing dinghy which worked well for cano exploration. We have a 2.5 HP Suzuki O/B engine, but after a single outing chose not to use it in the Delta. We have a back-up inflatable Achilles 6 person dink in a cockpit locker.
A strong rigid boat hook (handled by Lilly on deck), and Tom in the dinghy with a sharp machete and very fine toothed wood saw worked well for clearing water hyacinth from the anchor chain.
We have screens fitted for all the weather deck openings, and we brought along quite a stock of bug spray, and coils - which we used only occasionally.
Fenders are a must if one wants to protect the boat's topsides from the many visitors a yacht attracts in the Delta. The Waro dugout canoes are soft wood with a natural creosote preservative, so should one mar the hull, the mark is easily cleaned off.
We have a SSB / HAM radio, and it served us well in the Delta. At 0700 we checked-in with the Caribbean Maritime Weather Net 7.250MHZ LSB (HAM net but anyone can listen to George give his comprehensive weather report). In the evenings (around 2000 local) we checked-in with the Maritime Mobile Service Net 14.300MHZ USB (HAM net, file position reports, make phone-patches, and probably the best contact point for anyone - HAM or not - in an emergency). At night we would post a SITREP (Situation Report) to our friends and family on the Tiger Lilly Sailblogs site via WINLINK (HAM email system), and send and receive email from our kids. We also received our weather information via the WINLINK system; synoptic charts, forecasts, and GRIB files. If this sounds like an unpaid political announcement for HAM Radio - it certainly is. HAM Radio significantly enhances our cruising lifestyle, especially while we are cruising off the beaten track. We made out just fine without the Internet for a month or so.
We have a high capacity 12VDC Glacier Bay holding plate refrigeration system which takes advantage of the extra available energy when the engine is running to pull-down the 8 cubic foot reefer box, and the 4 cubic foot freeze box.
We have a Bird Identification application on our iPad2, and it was quite handy. If we had it to do over, and we do, we will buy a first class field book (like a Peterson Field manual) instead of the free application we downloaded.
Faith, the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, is the opposite of fear. Our Creator has granted each of us certain unalienable rights, and freedom of choice is at the heart of His gifts to us. One of the most important life-choices we get to make is which concept will govern our lives - faith or fear? We have chosen faith, and this model is at the very heart of our philosophy of cruising. If this seems to you like a strange way to start a section on cruising security, consider the practical ineffectiveness of weapons, or not stepping out in faith - neither of those ideas has proven themselves to be practical tools in achieving the goals of, or satisfaction in, the cruising lifestyle. We are talking about PRACTICAL solutions here. Often, when we listen to other cruisers discuss their cruising plans we hear an over-riding concern regarding piracy and criminal attacks - which very few of them have personally experienced, or know anything about. As you can imagine, our personal security is very important to us, but we like to sail and explore in some pretty out of the way places. There had been an armed robbery committed against two visiting yachts on the western side of the Delta, on the Reo Manamo, in June of 2012, and to our knowledge there have been no other yachts cruising the region since. On multiple occasions we have seen how a single isolated incident can get blown way out of proportion, and take on a life of its own. Make no mistake about it, these folks lost their property to bandits - and a policeman was caught trying to sell some of the stolen goods in Tucupita. Venezuela has a reputation as a lawless, violent country, and deservedly so; in many areas - like the large cities, and poorly policed regions such as the Paria Peninsula, violence is rampant. Far more Venezuelan's are victim to this lawlessness than are yachties - the good people of Venezuela want the situation to change. Perhaps the country's security situation will improve now that the Chavez regime has come to an end - only time will tell. There are illegal-drug related activities here in the remote Rio Orinoco Delta, but then there are also illegal-drug related activities in the Mississippi River Delta. For both practical and social reasons we really did not want to explore such an isolated area alone. There have never been many of the Caribbean cruisers who have ventured forth into the Delta - apparently they prefer the security of what they know; the same islands year after year, benign weather (though to listen to them carry on with Chris Parker one cannot tell they are usually sailing in boy's weather), familiar and easy anchorages, and hanging with like-minded people. Many cruisers want the reward of exploring new places and meeting new people, but somehow they just cannot extend themselves to the idea (and a certain level of risk) of going forth in faith. This is not at all an esoteric concept, but rather a guide to PRACTICAL living. (Like faith, we cannot see, and many of us cannot understand, electricity - yet we do not hesitate to use electricity to make our lives better and easier.) Way too many cruisers have been unable to shed the false concept of insuring every aspect of their lives as they did in Suburbia: home, auto, education, health, wealth, and even - they think - their very lives. These ideas do not translate well to the freedom of the cruising lifestyle - and in fact can become debilitating to the very freedom we seek. When we asked other cruisers in Trinidad (the murder capital of the world) if they wanted to seek some new horizons and accompany us to the Delta, their responses ran from apprehensive to terrified - principally because of that single robbery incident. In making our decision to go we started with the premise that the Reo Manamo and the Reo Macareo are two different places, separated by some 50 miles, and that the incident with the catamarans took place some months ago. Of course we prayed about it, and we thought long and hard before we made the decision to sail south for the Reo Macareo. At the end of the day, there were two concepts that told us to go - faith and freedom. We do not want to be held prisoner by our stuff. When we read the Truth of the 91st Psalm we KNOW that when we call on the name of our Heavenly Father, He will take care of us, no matter where we are. We also had to decide who will govern our lives and our activities - the evil ones, or our God - and we choose God. We believe that our God wants His children to be happy, joyous, and free. The concept of freedom is at the heart of our philosophy of the cruising lifestyle, and we choose not to sacrifice our freedom to those who stand in the darkness to terrorize. When we got to the Mouth of the Reo Macareo we were immediately approached by two men in a speed boat, they came alongside us in a flash - and we did not know what to think. (Were all the Chaguaramas nay-sayers about to be proven right?) One fellow was a short stern looking Venezuelan, and the other a very tall, very muscular, and very black man - with a mouth full of gleaming gold teeth. The big fellow had an engaging presence to go along with that huge, bright smile. His name was Brian; he was a Guyanese fisherman and "businessman" (smuggler?) who spoke the King's English. Brian did most of the talking, and he told us that we were safe anywhere on the Reo Macareo. Somehow Brian's manner reassured us, and we slept better that night, and every night in the Delta, then we had in a very long time. Was that big fellow our Amazon Angel, or just a friendly fisherman? We choose to believe that he brought us a message of faith, and this is not the first time we have seen an answer to our prayers. After reading these ideas about our faith, some folks will have written us off as religious nut-jobs, but that could not be further from the truth. We are talking about spirituality as YOU understand it, not someone else's religious dogma. We try to use as much common sense as possible when dealing with the issue of security, but when all is said and done, we know who has us in the palm of His hand - and we recognize Truth when we see it. We also know that our faith has been a principal reason why we can enjoy our lives, whatever the circumstances.
Our Tiger Lilly motto is:
Rig heavy, reef early, and pray often; for God does not promise us an easy passage, but rather a safe anchorage.
We are not about peddling theology, we are simply asking you to consider spiritual principles which actually work - but don't forget to rig heavy and reef early.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is a proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation." Herbert Spencer.
Think about it.
The only places to officially clear-in to Venezuela in the Rio Orinoco Delta are in Puerto Ordaz in Ciudad Guayana at Rio Grande Mile 180, and the town of Tucupita in the western Delta on the Reo Manamo - neither of which were on our planned route. There are two problems with checking-in at Puerto Ordaz: first, the Port Captain at Puerto Ordaz (who is in charge of the deep draft part of the Rio Grande) has said that he does not want yachts on "his" river; and second, Puerto Ordaz is 180 miles up-river from where we wanted to depart at the mouth of the Rio Grande at Punta Barima. The Brazos Macareo meets the Rio Grande at Mile 138, so if you want to clear-in, and find out that the Port Captain does not want you on "his" river, you have over 40 miles to motor against the current to do so (and then 40 miles back). In the past, some yachts which have called at Barrancas at Mile 142 (to buy diesel fuel) have had their passports taken and sent to Puerto Ordaz, and were then directed to proceed straight to the Port Captain's Office. On the other hand, vessels which have entered the Rio Grande, turned east, and proceeded down the Rio Grande have had no problems - as was our experience. A friend and experienced Delta hand, Richard from the S/V Mr. Hopper, advised us to go to the Venezuelan Embassy in Port of Spain and get a letter from them granting permission to cruise the Delta, which is exactly what we did. It took three trips to the Embassy, but Senior Manuel Garcia (at the front desk in the reception area) eventually sent us an email (in both Spanish and English) that gave us permission to cruise the Delta until we had an opportunity to check-in with the District Port Captain. Since we turned east when we got to the Rio Grande that "opportunity" never presented itself. When we arrived at the mouth of the Reo Amacuro and checked-in with the Armada (Venezuelan Navy), the Station Chief (the equivalent of a Lieutenant Junior grade - and a very cordial fellow) absolutely loved our email from the Embassy. We presented him with our US Coast Guard vessel document, our clearance papers from Trinidad, our passports, and a printed copy of the Embassy letter - he noted that all of the names and numbers matched-up, and he said we were welcome to cruise the Delta for up to 180 days. There were no fees and no paperwork from the Armada, just verbal permission from the only government official in the area - good enough as far as we were concerned. When we had checked out of Trinidad Customs, in the area of the departure form that specified our destination, we wrote "Bartica, Guyana via the Rio Orinoco Delta." The Venezuelan Navy honored that, and so did the Customs folks in Guyana. Sailing under the QUEBEC quarantine flag, papers in-hand and in-order, we were completely legal. There seems to be little or no coordination of officialdom in the Delta, so we simply went to someone who would say yes (the Armada), rather than ask someone who would say no (the Port Captain) - and at the end of the day, it all worked out within the Venezuelan regulations - and to our benefit.
Jesse James at the Members Only Maxi-Taxi Service in Chaguaramas (and the Trinidad Seven Seas Cruising Association - SSCA - Cruising Station), keeps an ongoing file of information on cruising the Rio Orinoco Delta in his office at Tropical Marine. Successive generations of Delta cruisers have added to it, and this Pilot is our second Internet contribution. Jesse lets cruisers copy the file for the cost of using the duplicating machine. We copied the entire package, and studied it from cover to cover. The cruising notes compiled by Alastair Buchan of S/V Margo's June 1999 cruise on the Reo Macareo proved to be well done - his work was comprehensive, thorough, and accurate. In particular, the sketch charts of the Reo Macareo with positions, and distances upstream from Punta Bombeador was the only way we could establish where we were at on the rivers. Neither the electronic versions nor the official paper charts cover the Delta rivers or canos, with the exception of the deep draft (dredged and buoyed) section of the Rio Grande. S/V Margo's guide, along with Tiger Lilly's Pilot Notes will cover just about anything you need to know to get started on a cruise of the Delta. Once you get there, you will see that with the correct preparations to vessel and crew, it really is not at all difficult. We strongly recommend S/V Arctic Tern's Blog which describes their November 2007 expedition to the Reo Macareo (http://www.sailblogs.com/member/arctictern/?xjMsgID=42136). Devi and Hunter are trained, educated, and experienced biologists who have cruised the region extensively; we are sure that you will find their Blog most helpful and interesting. We have tried not to duplicate here what S/V Margo or S/V Arctic Tern has already done with their excellent cruising notes.
TRADING WITH THE WARO INDIANS
Before we left Trinidad, Lilly collected a lot of used clothes and household items from yachties and we purchased some of the inexpensive personal items listed in the cruising notes for the Waro Indians. Lilly made up several give-away packages and bagged them up in grocery bags. For the most part we did not trade with the Waro - we simply gave them these inexpensive packages as gifts when they came alongside. If we were anchored when they came around, they often came back later with fish or native produce as gifts in return - at their choosing. For the kids we handed out a single piece of hard candy, an inflated balloon, and small coloring books with a few Crayons - which produced heart-warming smiles every single time. We had heard all the reasons why not to give items away, and why we must trade with the Waro for their meager stuff; supposedly, so they will not become dependent on yachtie hand-outs. However, most of this logic was presented by people who had never been here, and were afraid to cruise the Delta - so we went with our own opinion. We found the Waro Indians to be happy people, but living a subsistence lifestyle in abject poverty and squalor - and we did not want to take anything from them. They had no goods that we wanted; we were principally interested in the natural beauty and diverse animal and bird population of THEIR homeland. We gave to them, and they allowed us to visit their river - that was the deal as far as we are concerned. We don't think that the handful of boats which visit the Delta each year are going to make these people dependent. The Venezuelan government swapping stuff for their votes, handing out solar panels, portable electric generators, refrigerators, TV's, Yamaha Enduro 40 outboards, and Direct TV antennas (all of which we saw in their meager dwellings), have already drastically changed their lives. If you give a man a free outboard motor, he still has to have fuel for it - and that costs money. This is what has changed the structure of the Waro culture from barter to cash - not our balloons. The image of the noble Amerindian hunter-gatherer is just not what we usually saw. What did repeatedly stand out to us is what wonderful loving relationships the Waro have. We watched fathers come home from working hard all day in the forest, sit down with an infant child, and hold it and talk with it for over an hour. Mothers seemed to be firm but fair, and the ring of laughter was common in their homes. When Lilly handed a young girl in the bow of a dugout several pieces of candy, she immediately started distributing it to the other children, without having to be told. Very small Waro children were routinely entrusted with the family canoe, and they handled them expertly - the Waro children were given genuine responsibility. Anchored next to their shelters on the river we were privileged to closely observe these gentle, loving, and wise people interacting - and hopefully we learned something from them. We were glad to give these poor folks a few inexpensive items to bring some small measure of luxury into their Spartan lives - and especially so with the Waro children, who receive so very little in the way of material things.
We actually had no Venezuelan currency with us to make a purchase, but did have a limited amount of US dollars, which we only used once to reward a crew of young Waro men (volunteers actually) $5.00 for helping us free Tiger Lilly from the clutches of a particularly thick patch of water hyacinth. We were fully capable of freeing the boat from the water hyacinth, and were in fact in the process of doing so, when these guys showed up and wanted to help. Gasoline can be bought on the river from passing fuel boats, but diesel was not available - and we asked. Moving a yacht in the Delta is all about motoring, and we found that by just reducing our cruising speed by 200 engine RPM's (about one-half knot for Tiger Lilly), our fuel efficiency was significantly improved. On some days we could time our movements with a favorable ebb or flood current to further stretch our fuel. We had sufficient diesel fuel aboard Tiger Lilly (160 gallons in two tanks) for our cruise, but we would have liked to taken advantage of the cheap Venezuelan fuel prices to top-off. Perhaps diesel fuel could be bought in the Village of Cochino (at the junction of Cano Tucupita and Brazos Macareo, 97 miles up-river from Punta Bombeador), or on the Rio Grande at the Village of Sacupana (Mile 108 on the Rio Grande), or at the Town of Curiapo (Mile 60 on the Rio Grande). We did not stop at any of these places, but as we passed them they did look like possible places to stop and ask about diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is available at Barrancas by jerry jug (Rio Grande Mile 142), but you may end up playing Twenty Questions with the Port Captain in his office at Puerto Ordaz (see the CLEARANCE section above). Before we departed Trinidad we took a maxi-taxi to Carenage, and got yellow fever vaccinations at the Free Clinic - for which we made a donation of $20 USD to their less-fortunate mothers program. They give this free immunization service on Wednesday afternoons, and Jesse James can make arrangements for your International Shot Card to be updated and stamped afterwards at the Ministry of Health in Port of Spain. None of the areas we visited in the Delta had malaria problems, and since the preventative medication is quite disagreeable, we did not take it.
LILLY SEZ - When you cruise the Rio Orinoco Delta you must come with all the provisions and supplies that you think you are going to need while you are there, because resupplying in the Delta is very limited - and what you bring is likely all that you will have. Our fresh provisions ran out within a couple of weeks, and then we had to improvise. This was my first cruise to an area where we had very limited resupply, so I tended to buy more than we actually needed - but nothing spoiled and we will use it all in the next few months in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. It's a win-win since all of these places are more expensive to resupply than was Trinidad. Reflecting our particular eating habits, Tiger Lilly came south with lots of Jello, custard pudding, powdered milk, fresh eggs (5 dozen), Tang drink mix, coffee, brown sugar, several packages of various types of flour for bread. (Yes! I did it! I actually learned how to make bread. My Mother would be so proud - and shocked!) We made lots of popcorn for watching movies in the evening (we have an external hard-drive with several hundred flicks), we ate lots of pancakes for breakfast, and one time I even did crepes filled with canned cherries and topped with Dream Whip from a box (Tom-Tom was sure surprised and pleased that morning). Who-da-thunk that Cream-of-Wheat would taste so good in a tropical rain forest, but it certainly does, and it added some needed variety to our breakfast menu. I enjoy a nice cappuccino while Tom-Tom takes his cup of Earl Grey tea in the afternoon (but I wish I would have remembered to buy a bag of those little marsh-mellows). With all the motoring we did in the rivers of the Delta we had plenty of battery power, and the freezer was always really COLD, so we used the extra refrigeration to make homemade ice cream. When we left Trinidad we had a freezer full of frozen vegetables and meat (mostly chicken and peas and the other boring things HE buys, while I am making sure we have plenty of staples like Cheetos and Dream Whip). The few frozen/thawed/frozen foods we have seen in the Delta stores are obviously the victim of repeated power outages and long trips in unrefrigerated river supply boats. I came up with a quick and easy way of preparing a pizza-like meal using store-bought Pita bread or Burrito sized Flour Tortillas as the base, with doctored-up canned spaghetti sauce, and whatever is in the reefer box. These ingredients travel and store well, and we have another meal that is easy to make - which doesn't take a lot of oven time (propane) to prepare. Our barbeque on the stern rail has its own propane source, and using it to cook our supper saves the stove propane and gets the heat out of the galley - a good thing this close to the Equator. We stocked up on spices in Trinidad for enhancing the food, and many of the other cruising ladies had given me their time and ideas on how to use them. Only a couple of years ago, I was a very busy business woman, usually feeding myself and my son from restaurants and take-out - and cooking was just NOT my forte. I would have rather taken my bicycle out for a 30 mile ride then be chained to a stove. (And my son liked to eat out - so we were both happy.) When Julia Childs heard my name she absolutely CRINGED! Now I find myself in the middle of a river, in the middle of a rain forest, in the middle of a place I had never even heard of, with a bag of whole-wheat flour in one hand, a strange unrecognizable vegetable whose name I am unable to pronounce in the other, and a hungry husband looking at me. (Tough Guy actually keeps track of the last time he ate!) HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Well, I guess I chose it, and I have grown a lot in many ways since. Remember, I am Tiger Lilly - the gal who gets sea sick when she just LOOKS at the flippin dinghy tied to the dock. (I must admit though, even the sea sick part is getting a lot better - don't you just HATE it when he is right?) Hey Ladies - If I can do this tropical river exploration thingy, and enjoy it, than YOU can do it TOO!
Our dinghy was our principal means of exploration in the Rio Orinoco Delta, so we always tried to prepare ourselves and our dinghy before we departed the safe haven of Spaceship Tiger Lilly. The boat was completely locked when we were away from her on one of our cano exploration expeditions, but we didn't remove the usual deck gear stowed topside. We developed a "Bucket List" and kept a white 2.5 gallon paint bucket filled with our dinghy supplies. (The same bucket Lilly used to throw-up in, but happily it hasn't been used in that capacity for some time now.) By having the dinghy gear pre-staged in the bucket, we did not have to go searching for what we needed each time we set out. Here is our dinghy Bucket List: an outboard motor repair kit including needed tools (although a rowing dinghy often works better in the close confines and underwater hazards of a cano), extra fuel, binoculars, sun glasses, rain ponchos, OFF! or DET based bug spray or Skin-So-Soft with added citronella oil, fly swatter, rag, pad and pencil, mosquito/horsefly head net, drinking water, snacks, good bird book, camera, sun screen, sun / rain umbrella, hats, flash light, knife, machete, and whatever else you think you might need. Since we were not travelling in company, there was no reason to carry a VHF radio (none of the locals have them), but if you are with other cruising boats a hand held VHF would be a good idea. We never intend to spend the night in the jungle, but we are always equipped to. Even though we were in a warm tropical environment, we usually wore long sleeve shirts, long pants, and shoes with high socks to protect ourselves from insects. We found that spraying our items of clothing with bug spray helped keep the critters at bay. When we went into a cano we were always cognizant of the state of the tide - some of these creeks dry out at low water, and walking back to the boat was not a good option. Although we did not depend on an outboard motor to propel the dinghy, we could certainly break an oar - and be up a creek without a paddle! (Sorry - we could not help ourselves!)
1. In river navigation the bends usually have the deepest water. So, if you are looking for more water, try the outside of the bend first.
2. The wider the river was, the shallower it was likely to be. When the river narrows down it has to carry the same volume of water, so it tends to be deeper. We slowed down and paid a lot more attention when the river was wide. (Except for the time when we did not, and then we ran hard aground in the middle of the Reo Macareo.)
3. In a straight section of river, deeper water is likely to be towards the side with the steeper bank.
4. We set the galley timer to ring every 30 minutes, and we hit the waypoint button on the chart plotter when it rang to keep a record of our track. These electronic breadcrumbs - which the birds cannot eat - made returning back up our track easier if it became necessary to do so. (They also came in handy when writing this Pilot.)
5. Running fast with the current to get a few free miles and save fuel seems like a good idea until one goes aground. A sailboat's auxiliary diesel probably will not have the power to back the boat off with 2 knots of current pushing her up on the shoal, and she would likely be quickly pushed to a position broadside-to by the current. Once you are broadside-to on a current scoured bar, you are STUCK! Be careful when taking that free ride. Having another boat in company can pay off in this situation. If you and your mate keep a 100 foot tow line made up to a bow cleat and ready to deploy, and a light 100 foot messenger with a small fender on the stern, you can quickly render mutual assistance. Quickly is the operative word here, and it is all about forehandedness. The rescue vessel stems the current just upstream of the stranded vessel, floats down the messenger line from safe water on a fender, takes the stranded vessel's tow line, and snatches her bow around - this can be done quickly and safely before the stranded vessel works its way too far up the shoal. Once the stranded vessel's bow is back in the current, she is much more likely to be able to power off the bar in tandem with the rescue vessel. The Number One Rule is, keep the slack out of any line in the water, and WATCH IT LIKE A SNAKE - to keep it out of your prop, or you will BOTH end up stranded. (Lilly sez - Can you tell that my Tom-Tom used to be the Captain of a Salvage and Rescue ship? He is a prime example that you can take the boy out of the Navy, but you will never take the Navy out of this boy!)
6. Be prepared to anchor in 30 to 50 foot of water, with plenty of current. If you are a "dragger" in the relatively easy-to-anchor Caribbean islands, then it is likely that cruising the Delta will not be an enjoyable experience - both you and your neighbors will be better off if your boat is in a Chaguaramas marina. Typically, we anchored out in the river in 30 to 40 feet of water; away from the banks and bushes there are fewer bugs. Wind and waves were never a problem; and even in 60 feet of water, if we deployed 180 of our 200 feet of chain (less than 5 to 1) she still stayed-put nicely. Remember: chain in the locker cannot help hold the boat - more is better. We found that our 66 pound Bruce did a great job of anchoring the boat in the thick mud and heavy marl bottoms that are prevalent in the Delta. The Bruce has a good reputation for resetting itself - and in the Delta the current reversed direction every 6 hours or so. Bring good ground tackle to Delta cruising; that way you can explore away from the boat during the day without worrying, and sleep through the night when you are aboard.
7. We always showed an anchor light at night since there is often boat traffic on the river during the hours of darkness - and they don't seem to slow down even though they can't see where they are going. (Power boaters are exactly the same in Florida too.) All the local folks already know that a yacht is on their river, so we figured there was no point in trying to keep a low visual profile at night.
8. We don't usually get involved in "buddy boating". However, in the Delta we think it would be quite worthwhile to have another boat in company. We recommend a pairing of boats. Any more than two boats at a time would likely overwhelm the relatively shy Waro people. This is a really big area and there is plenty of room for several boats to cruise at the same time, and not be crowded. Although we did not experience any security problems while we were in the Delta, we were warned by the local authorities that there was drug trafficking in the region, and that was the greatest potential threat security wise. But these criminals want to make their transactions in secrecy, and yachties are not their target. It seems to us that a yacht could be a target of opportunity for the bad guys, but a pirate could starve waiting for a nice plump white yachtie to come along in this remote area. Another problem is bandits who prey on the Venezuelan fuel smugglers returning to Venezuela with the cash they have received for their contraband fuel - but these routes are obvious, and cruisers should avoid them.
We departed Chaguaramas, sailed across the Gulf of Paria, through Trinidad's Oil Patch, and anchored the first night at Columbus Bay on the southwest corner of Trinidad. We sailed right through the Point Fortin oil fields, and nobody seemed to care that we were there. However, because of the un-lit abandoned well-heads, this is not a good place to be moving about during the hours of darkness. Columbus Bay is a marginal anchorage with shallow water, and lots of swirling currents; but it is secure in the lee of Icacos Point, and good enough for an overnight stop. At first-light on the following day we motor-sailed around Punta Del Arenal and along the south coast of Trinidad to Erin Bay - just across the Serpents Mouth from the entrance to the Reo Macareo. We left Columbus Bay early while the wind was calm so that we could get our easting in before the easterly Trades got up in the afternoon, and the seas got rough. There was a lot of interesting early morning fishing activity along Trinidad's south shore, and we motor-sailed in 20 feet, running right along the beach to stay out of the strong westerly setting current. We used Erin Bay as a staging anchorage and lunch stop before crossing the Serpents Mouth at the right time to catch the afternoon high on the entrance bar to the Reo Macareo at Punta Bombeador. Erin Bay does not offer much shelter, but sitting there with a riding sail set is better than slugging into the heavy chop kicked-up by the afternoon Trades. The sail across the Serpents Mouth from Erin Bay is a brisk close reach in the Easterly Trades. We used the same waypoints to clear Punta Bombeador that are published in S/V Margo's 1999 Cruising Notes (as revised by S/V Arctic Tern), but we think that they probably need to be resurveyed. RM1 seemed to be a good approach point, however the leg from RM2 to RM3 proved to have several areas with only about 6.5 feet of water (and we estimate 6 feet of that was from the high tide). We were very careful to stay right on the track between the waypoints, and we were at RM-2 about 30 minutes before the high at Erin Bay, but we still ended up motoring through the mud between waypoints RM2 and RM3 with our nearly 7 foot of draft. It was no big deal, and we did not even see an appreciable reduction in speed; so either the bottom is very soft (likely), or the fathometer was being fooled by the current / soft bottom and the water is actually a bit deeper (possible). These waypoints worked for us, but they are probably due for additional work:
RMA1 (9-57.1N 061-39.0W)
RMA2 (9-54.9N 061-38.8W) - S/V Arctic Tern (updated 9-55.048N 061-38.830W)
RMA3 (9-54.2N 061-40.7W) - S/V Arctic Tern (updated 9-54.148N 061-40.770W)
Once clear of RM-3 and headed southeast towards the mouth of the Reo Macareo, the channel has plenty of water and is easy to navigate. We found that by heading towards the mangroves on our port hand until the depth began to lessen, and then coming back out a bit to 15 to 20 feet, we were able to easily work our way past the undefined submerged sandbanks / shallows on our starboard hand (to the southwest). The tide will be up when you pass along this well defined mangrove-lined shore to the north, but the shallow sandbanks to the south will be submerged. The Pelican Island anchorage was a welcome sight, and we were excited to put the hook down in the Rio Orinoco Delta again. Perhaps a future cruiser with a fast RIB and a hand-held fathometer could re-survey Punta Bombeador and try to find a bit more water. Another area that needs some clarification is the actual time of high tide at Punta Bombeador in relation to the published tide-tables for Erin Bay, just across the Serpents Mouth on Trinidad's south shore. Depending on who we asked, experienced Delta cruisers or the local fishermen, or which set of cruising notes we consulted, we got a range of answers regarding the time of high tide at Punta Bombeador. These estimates varied from one hour before, to just after, high tide at Erin Bay. It would be very helpful if someone would take the time to make a direct and accurate observation of the high tide at Pelican Island, and compare it to the time of high tide at Erin Bay, and definitively establish the time difference. This work would be another important addition to the cruiser's corporate knowledge of the Reo Macareo. A deeper channel, and a time closer to the actual high at Punta Bombeador would certainly be helpful in getting in on tides with less than 6 feet of range.
Ready For Cruising - When we woke up that first morning at the Pelican Island anchorage we were really excited about cruising the Delta - and it had been awhile since we had felt that sense of adventure. Our conversation with Brian the fisherman the previous afternoon, and a wonderfully peaceful night's rest, seemed to erase all of our fears and misgivings about coming here. The nay-sayers of Chaguaramas were in their marinas and in our wake, and we were ready for an adventure. We transformed Tiger Lilly from a bluewater sailing vessel to the "African Queen" ready for river operations by launching "Grace" the dinghy, rigging screens on all the companionways, ports and hatches, deploying the cockpit sun fly, and rigging fenders for the anticipated visits of the Waro Indians in their dugout canoes. We were ready to explore!
Brian's Fish Camp - We had anchored just southeast of Pelican Island (9-51.833N 061-38.658W) so that the guano smell and bugs which are a natural part of any large bird community were downwind of Tiger Lilly. Just a few hundred meters southeast of this anchorage, at the entrance to a cano on the north shore, is Brian's fish camp. Brian speaks the King's English and he told us that cruisers were welcome to stop here and talk with him about the Delta. He proved to be a reliable source of information, and we recommend a talk with Brian on the way in.
Macareo Village - Just inside the mouth of the Reo Macareo on the southwest bank of the river is the large Waro settlement of Macareo Village. Stay to the opposite (northeast) side of the river until just abeam of the village, as there is shallow water just to the northwest of the village. As with all of our navigation in the Delta, the fathometer showed us how to proceed. In the middle of the village, just past a cano which bisects it, is the home of the Guyanese fellow Collins (married to a Waro woman - a common family mix in the Delta). Collins is referred to extensively in S/V Margo's cruising notes (and confirmed by S/V Arctic Tern more recently) as a good source of tours and trading with the Waro. We did not stop and talk with Collins, as neither tours nor trading with the Waro were what we were interested in. Venezuela disputes their common boundary with Guyana, and in fact the Venezuelan government considers the Guyanese citizens in the northern region of Guyana to be their own - so the boarder and citizenship is somewhat undefined. Lots of relationships, social, commercial, and otherwise, take place freely between the two regions. We did not see much in the way of law enforcement patrols on the waterways of either country.
River Island Anchorage - This was our first anchorage (9-36.02N 061-33.27W) on the Reo Macareo proper, just 20 miles upstream of Pelican Island, and what a delight. We were tucked in on the east bank (left ascending bank to you Mississippi River pilots) at the head of an island with a cano tucked in just behind. We woke to the fierce calls of howler monkeys, apparently communicating with another troupe just across the river, and a toucan bidding us a good morning from an adjacent tree top. We put our folding deck chairs on the cabin top to take our morning coffee - and felt like we were as richly endowed as the Rockefellers! The cano proved to be a great place to explore - each bend revealed a new species of bird, and a colorful Green Kingfisher escorted us for the entire time we were on HIS cano. It was here that we found rowing the dink to be much preferred over the outboard for shallow-water close-quarters exploring. The noisy outboard really detracted from the otherwise peaceful environment on the cano, and the snags in the cano were more easily navigated over and around with the oars. For the remainder of our time in the Delta, our 2.5 HP outboard motor remained on deck chained to the stern rail (push-pit for our British cousins). If you find yourself here with a rubber ducky of some variation for a tender (which row like a jelly doughnut) a possible tactic for cano exploration could be to slowly and carefully (pay attention Lilly, watch for those snags) motor up the cano on the ebb, and then drift back down using one of the pathetic little aluminium and plastic oars to steer.
Cano Guapoa - This was our favorite place on the Reo Macareo; it was so very picturesque with huge brilliant green water hyacinth islands floating by, pink river dolphin actively feeding in the deep cano, maroon howler monkeys lounging on their backs in the tree-tops, and birds everywhere. We had it in mind to go to the end of the Cano Guapoa, turn right at the junction, and hopefully run northwest to the Reo Macareo. But that did not happen. We worked our way through THICK water hyacinth, got to the tee junction (vicinity 9-13.06N 061-42.05W), turned right, and as far as we could see was a complete blanket of water hyacinth from bank to bank. We were skunked! After a considerable amount of backing and filling we got Tiger Lilly turned around and returned from whence we came. So, we leave it to a future explorer to tell us if this cano does in fact go back to the Reo Macareo. Our Cano Guapoa anchorage (9-14.90N 061-42.07W) was at a smaller side cano; and a family of pink river dolphin were using the mouth of the side cano as a nursery. We enjoyed watching Momma feed and care for her baby while Papa aggressively patrolled the entrance.
Lau Lau Lagoon - We gained access to the Lau Lau Lagoon via the Cano Lau Lau which meets the Reo Macareo at 9-18.30N 061-45.16W. There is a small Waro camp at the narrow junction, and we hove-to and stemmed the ebb while Lilly visited with the Waro mother and her children at Tiger Lilly's deck edge. The Lau Lau Lagoon is a shallow oxbow-shaped lake formed years ago when the river jumped its banks, making a cut-off and shortening itself. One never knows how much water will be available on a given stretch of cano in the Delta, and although the Region is tidal throughout, our only indication of the height of the tide at any given place were the water marks on the bank. But sometimes that is not so obvious. The lesser semidiurnal tidal variation is superimposed with the greater Wet Season - Dry Season marks on the banks / bushes / trees. As we proceeded up the cano Lau Lau we found a 6 foot shallow spot (9-17.82N 061-46.16W) and had to do a bit of mud-slugging on the way in. Two days later, on the way out (when we could better pick our time of transit since it was at the beginning of the cruising day rather than at the end) we had no problem and saw closer to 8 feet at this shallow section of Cano Lau Lau. Our anchorage in the Lau Lau Lagoon (9-14.85N 061-47.86W) was in the east half of the lagoon since smoke from a burning field between the two sections completely covered the usually more desirable western side. There was no longer any evidence of the floating ecotourist hotel previously seen on the western side of the lagoon. This region of the Delta begins cattle country (well, really water buffalo country - cattle do not do well in this wet environment) and we were interested to see a water buffalo ranch on the bank of the Cano Lau Lau just as it opened into the lagoon. We rowed over in the dinghy and had a grand time with two young men tending the camp while the other cowboys (buffalo-boys?) were out with most of the herd in the wetlands. This vast plain, some 600 miles long by 200 miles wide, of savannah and scrub woodland lying between the Rio Orinoco and the Andes Mountains is named the Llanos. Cruising is full of unexpected treats; we came to the Lau Lau Lagoon to see birds, and we ended up having a very enjoyable day with two young Venezuelan lianeros on a buffalo ranch!
Cano Tirital - It only gets better on the Reo Macareo, and now we had a NEW favorite cano! At Cano Tirital (9-04.55N 061-50.30W), some 67 miles upstream from Pelican Island, we saw the Waro in the very best natural setting; they fished and hunted in their native way, accompanied by absolutely gorgeous birdlife (the Wattled Jacana at the top of this post is a Cano Tirital resident), and paddled their dugout canoes on a circuitous tropical creek right out of the National Geographic Magazine. In two outings just 10 hours apart we saw the birds of Cano Tirital come in to roost on the cool evening breeze, and then fly back out to feed early the next morning through the forest's mist glowing with the soft magenta hues of the coming dawn. The concentric ripples of hundreds of fish feeding on insects were reflected in the bronzed reflective surface of the cano. In just two dinghy trips we saw Blue-Winged Parrotlet, Yellow Oriole, Crested Guan, Wattled Jacana, Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Grey Heron, Green Night Heron, White Egret, Kiskadee, Green King Fisher, Harpy Eagle, King Vulture, Red Tailed Hawk, and Yellow Oriole. We loved it!
BUMP! - We were happily motoring down the center of the Reo Macareo in 20 feet of water, checking out the cattle ranches along the banks and taking our morning coffee, with not a care in the world - and before a fellow could say "SON OF A BITCH!" we were hard aground. (Lilly sez - Why do you sailors have to say such things? Why could you not just say "OOPS" or "OH MY GOSH LILLY - WE'RE AGROUND"? Is THAT how you learned to talk in your precious NAVY?) At any rate, when you come to a really interesting looking cattle operation on your port hand in the vicinity of 9-02.121N 061-49.411W (hereafter known as Tiger Lilly Bar) perhaps you might consider swinging wide right to the west and avoid the humiliating prospect of being hard aground in the center of the river.
Boca Macareo - The sketch-charts in the S/V Margo cruising notes we inherited (which were very well done) seemed to indicate the deep water track through this widening of the Reo Macareo at the junction with the Reo Manamo to be towards the north (off Isla Caporito). We made multiple attempts to find a way through the north side of the Boca (the concave side of the bend - where river logic has the deep water) to no avail. In a blinding rainstorm we anchored in the middle of the Boca, licked our wounded psychic, and reconsidered our course of action. On Lilly's insistence, we tried the OTHER side of the passage, along the steep banks of the convex side of the bend (completely illogical), and damned if it didn't work. (Don't you just hate it when that happens?) We followed the left bank close aboard on our port hand and had water in or above the teens all the way through (pretty much on a straight line from 8-50.339N 062-00.876W to 8-50.174N 062-01.967W, just follow your fathometer). Boca Macareo is a large body of water with complex currents, lots of fast boat traffic, and the Village of Cochino on the eastern end - it is a major crossroads in the Delta. The Reo Manamo leads to Tucupita, the major city in the Delta Region, but Brian told us that it is not navigable by a deep-draft sailing yacht because of a tidal weir (underwater dam) in the river. However, if one wished to visit Tucupita, this would be a good place to leave a yacht (hopefully attended), and take a fast boat up the Reo Manamo. Perhaps diesel fuel (by the 50 gallon barrel) can be arranged at the Village of Cochino here at Boca Macareo.
Bar at Brazos Macareo - Perhaps our greatest pre-concern when planning this cruise of the Delta - which is just part of a greater voyage from Trinidad to the Guianas and Brazil - was, "Could we transit from the Reo Macareo to the Reo Grande at the end of the Dry Season when the river was at its lowest stage?" If we got to the bar between the rivers, and could not make it over (or worse, got stuck on the bar with six feet of falling tide), we had over 110 miles of river to motor BACK down, and then BEAT out the Serpents Mouth and around Punta Bombeador to the southeast - not an inviting prospect. When we arrived at the mouth of the Reo Macareo, Brian had assured us that if we stayed on the north side of the pass, we would find plenty of water, even at the current Dry Season stage of the river. On the afternoon before we planned to run the bar we made our approach to the bar from upstream at 8-45.13N 062-03.84W and put Tiger Lilly in a staging anchorage at 8-44.28N 062.06.17W. That night we could see the ship-channel buoys blinking out on the Rio Grande, and hoped that we would be running down them towards the sea tomorrow. The next morning we were underway an hour before high water (we made our best-guess based on watching the water on the bank), and ran that sucker as slick as you please - with water in the teens and twenties all the way - just like Brian told us we would. Oftentimes, worrying about something is a lot more difficult than actually doing it! We ran pretty much a straight line from our anchorage to safe water at the edge of the channel in the Rio Grande at 8-42.82N 062-07.99W. At that point, (Rio Grande Mile 139.1 - the river buoys are named for their distance from the sea buoy) we gave a cheer and turned downstream, where Tiger Lilly would once more become a bluewater sailing vessel. Alternatively, one could turn upstream in the Rio Grande and proceed to the town of Barrancas at Mile 143, and then on to Puerto Ordaz at Mile 184 to get your passport back.
PHOTO GALLERY: Main / Ports of Call / South America / Venezuela / Rio Orinoco Delta Pilot
CONTINUED ON THE PREVIOUS BLOG
17/04/2013, Eastern Venezuela
Once we were in the Rio Grande our objective was to get down-river as soon as we could. Based on the negative experience of some previous cruisers with the officials in charge of navigation on the Rio Grande, we wanted to get out towards the mouth of the river before we did any more exploring. In retrospect, perhaps our concerns were unfounded. There were no official vessels on the Rio Grande, and we only saw 2 large merchant ships, and 2 fishing trawlers. On the second day the Punta Barima pilot boat passed us going up stream, and they gave us a friendly wave and sounded their siren in welcome. When we did see the ships, we moved out of the channel well before they approached, monitored VHF Channel 16, and heard nothing. We did see a lot of local cargo being moved on the river in large open boats, usually powered by the ubiquitous twin Yamaha ENDURO 40's. Everyone had a friendly wave for us, and some of the boats came up alongside to have a look, - with nothing but smiles for Tiger Lilly. The Rio Grande had a lot of tidal current running, and when the ebb is opposing the predominant easterly wind, blowing right up the river, it can be rough. We motor-sailed with a reefed stays'l set to dampen the motion, and that worked out pretty well. The ebb is stronger than the flood (which works in the favor of a down-bound vessel) because the outflow of the river is superimposed over the tidal current, dampening the flood and strengthening the ebb. Our first anchorage was at Santa Elena Island (Mile 108), just across the river from the Village of Sacupana. This is where we found ourselves by mid-afternoon, and for security reasons we thought that we would like to be anchored in the vicinity of civilization on our first night on the Rio Grande. There was a lot of current running over the shallows west of Santa Elena. During the night when the current was on the ebb the wind got up brisk out of the east and Tiger Lilly danced and swung for the entire tide - the chain made a lot of noise dragging across that bank, but we never had much strain on the anchor. Early next morning we were off and making miles down the river. Our second anchorage on the Rio Grande was at Cano Noina (Mile 55). This was a much nicer anchorage, than Santa Elena. Lilly had fun rowing Grace in the company of several Waro teenage boys, and racing their dugout canoes. They seemed to be intrigued by the garrulous golden-headed white lady that rowed like a warrior! It wasn't long before she had them in Grace learning how to swing a set of oars. (But they could not imagine why the white people would paddle facing aft!) Early the next morning there they were back again, with their parents, uncles, brothers and sisters, to give Tiger Lilly a nice send-off as we got back underway. By 1400 we were at Mile 30 and making our approach to the Rio Amacuro on the south bank of the river - in a blinding rain squall. (As Jack Nicholson would comment, "Is there any other kind?")
Both the C-MAP NT+ and the NAVIONICS electronic charts have the entrance to the Reo Amacuro wrong. There are shallows on both sides of the narrowing approach to the bar, and the charts show a least depth of 14 feet on the bar at low water, this part is correctly shown on the charts - the problem is that the actual channel is well to the west. But of course we did not know this on the way in. We were entering on a 6 foot high, with 25 knots of wind blowing up her skirt, and a strong flood setting us in. Having done the math, we were expecting some 20 feet of water. As we ran the bar the fathometer got down to 8 feet, the squall strengthened, and there was no way we were going to be able to bring her about in the narrow "channel" between the shallows - so we ran hard for the gap between the trees. Thankfully, the depth held at 8 feet, and then it got very deep, very fast - and the skipper could breathe again. The next surprise was a large steel barracks-barge at the mouth of the river with "ARMADA BOLIVARIANA DE VENEZUELA" on the side, and a Marine with an assault rifle waving us in. The Marines on the barge wanted us to come alongside, but the squally wind was setting on the barge and we wanted no part of that, so we did what we knew was best for us and we anchored in the channel just off the barge. Tom rowed over to the barge with our boat-papers while Lilly tended Tiger Lilly in the stream - anchored in 70 feet with a 2 knot flood current running up the river. The young Station Chief, Teniete of Fragata Lt. Carlos Redondo (about the same rank as a First Lieutenant in the US Marines), was quite pleased with our Venezuelan Embassy email, and after he examined our passports and boat papers told us that we were welcome to stay in Venezuela. Carlos was very friendly and told us about the Village of San Jose De Amacuro 12 miles up the Reo Amacuro at a fork in the river. The river was quite deep (50 to 80 feet), and it wasn't until we got to the fork that the river lessened to 35 feet. The homes along the river were connected by a common boardwalk; and we enjoyed strolling the paseo and meeting the friendly people - everyone seemed to be curious about us. Mayor Tomas Lugo and his son Jose welcomed us in good English and over the next few days we developed a warm friendship with their family. We visited their home, and they, along with several of Tomas' grandchildren, went for a little cruise aboard Tiger Lilly on the river. We were anchored on the outskirts of the village on the western fork. We found it was more peaceful to anchor away from the village power-plant, which was located at the river's fork and operated from sunset until about 2300. There are a couple of stores with basic provisions and supplies available in San Jose De Amacuro. There is plenty of gasoline available at the village, but no diesel fuel. Our visit to the Reo Amacuro was quite enjoyable, and one of the highlights of our cruise through the Rio Orinoco Delta. The area around San Jose De Amacuro is quite safe; the Armada (Venezuelan Navy) has a station at the mouth of the river (where we checked-in), and further upstream from the village on the western fork the Guardia (police) have an outpost near the gold dredging area. On the way out of the river, in much better conditions than our challenging entrance, we found the channel:
RA1 8-34.01N 060-28.31W (start the approach)
RA2 8-31.93N 060-28.69W
RA3 8-31.27N 060-28.31W (Armada Amacuro Barge)
This 3 mile approach to the mouth of the Reo Amacuro is well to the west of the charted channel, but this is where the water actually is. We recommend running the bar on the high tide; however, based on the depths we saw, it should be passable with a least depth of 12 feet at all but the lowest of tides. As you approach the mouth of the river, and well before the Armada's Barge is reached, the water will deepen to 60 feet. The Amacuro is narrow and deep, so just keep her between the trees and enjoy the ride!
We used the same high tide to transit from the Reo Amacuro to the Reo Barima, just 3 miles apart at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Our plan was to use the area just south of the Reo Barima Pilot Station as our staging anchorage to prepare Tiger Lilly for sea, and to wait for favorable winds to sail to Guyana. The C-MAP NT+ charts and the Open CPN - CM93 charts show the entrance channel of the Reo Barima to the north of its actual position, while the NAVIONICS charts (on our iPad2 application) show the channel to the south. Here is the track we used to enter the Reo Barima (at the time of high tide at Isla Ramon Isidro, just across the mouth of the Rio Grande):
RB1 8-35.02N 060-28.39W
RB2 8-35.01N 060-26.41W
RB3 8-34-71N 060-24.96W
There may be a better way in but this worked for us on a 6ft. high tide and a 7 foot draft. The minimum depth we saw on the bar was about 10ft. (at high tide) and this concurs with the 4 foot spots shown on the charts. However, in general we found the adjusted water depths at the mouth of the Rio Grande to be about 2 feet less than the charted depths. Once inside the mouth of the Reo Barima we saw water depths in the teens around the Punta Barima Pilot Station, and then 30 to 40 feet further up the river. The surprise as we entered the Reo Barima was the un-charted wreck of a merchant ship which was positioned between the entrance channel and the Pilot Station. We kept the wreck to the north (our port hand) as we entered, with water depths in the teens. We had to wait a few days for the wind to get out of the southeast along the Guyana coast (the direction we wanted to go), so we moved about 6 miles up-river to explore a cano at 8-33.45N 060-19.67W, on the north bank. This area is a vast coastal mangrove forest, with only about 6 miles separating the Tropical North Atlantic from the Reo Barima. Some 45 miles up the Reo Barima, just beyond the Venezuela - Guyana international border, is the Morawhanna Passage to the sea at Punta Guaini. We would have liked to use that route to the sea, but our navigation charts show it to be a very shallow entrance. Since that time we met a German fellow in Guyana, Bernhard of the S/V Meerstern, who has extensively explored many of Guyana's tropical rivers. Bernhard told us that he has been through that passage, and that with a high tide we could easily make it through this area with our 7 foot draft. Tomas Lugo, the Mayor of San Jose De Amacuro told us that passage between the frontier border between Venezuela and Guyana can be problematic since Venezuela does not recognize the international boarder, and Guyana is very sensitive about the pervasive smuggling operations on their northern border with Venezuela. In spite of these complications, the passage from the Punta Barima Pilot Station to Punta Guaini via the Reo Barima would be a very interesting possibility; but for us it will have to wait one more lifetime, as we are headed south on a one-way ticket to Cabo de Horno.
BEAT TO GUYANA
With a favorable set of GRIB files on the WINLINK from NOAA (no winds forecast south of east for the next 5 days) we set the mains'l for the first time in a month and started working our way out the mouth of the Rio Grande on a beat to Guyana. Tiger Lilly slipped along with a clean bottom, clean sea-water heat exchangers, and clean head plumbing thanks to the fresh, and slightly acidic, waters of the Rio Orinoco Delta. The underwater grunge and growth we accumulated in Trinidad was gone; and our spirits were high because we were free and sailing again! With an easterly Trade Wind forecast, the plan was to take a short starboard tack out to the Guiana Current (in about 45 feet of water), then put her over on the port tack and sail the longer leg southeast until we reached 12 to 14 feet of water along the coast - and then do it again and again. The wind was forecast by NOAA at Force 4; which agreed with the Pilot Charts for the northeast coast of South America for the month of May. Other sailors who had beat down this coast had warned us of the many unmarked fishing nets set along the beach, which proved to be a problem during the hours of darkness on the inshore tack. We had no intention of motor-sailing down this coast, however (not un-expectantly), the wind usually died sometime after midnight, and did not fill back in until mid-morning. The solution to both the fishing net hazard and the slack night winds was to anchor during the hours of darkness. The extensive soft mud banks which line the northeast coast of South America off the Guianas tend to dampen down the effects of the sea as it approaches the coast. The liquid mud layer which overlays the bottom marl and clay attenuates the lower half of the approaching waves, causing them to collapse in on themselves. This phenomenon was first described to us by a Brazilian PHD oceanographer in Chaguaramas (Gui of S/V Harmony). When we got to Guyana and met Bernhard and Sharmilla (of S/V Meerstern, and experienced sailors on this coast), they told us that the Amerindian fishermen call this dampening effect "sling-mud." Although we would not normally consider anchoring in the ocean along a lee shore - we found that the sling-mud effect made our offshore anchoring both safe and comfortable. The Waini Coast fishing fleet was very active, and we saw a lot of fishing boats anchored along the coast while they tended their nets; in fact, our first clue that we were approaching a net was usually the presence of a fishing boat in the area. We used their anchoring tactics, and we anchored just before sunset in about 20 feet of water; that seemed like a good depth to anchor, in less water the sea seemed rougher, and a greater depth put us out in the coastal traffic with a shorter scope of chain. We learned the hard way not to anchor down-current / down-wind from a fishing net. The anchored nets are usually set east to west across the current, and marked with a single black flag on one end and a double black flag on the other. The nets had no lights and no radar reflectors marking them, and sometimes only one end was flagged. Our initial logic for anchoring down-stream of a net was so that we would not inadvertently drag into it. But holding was not the problem; the holding was actually quite good in mud and sticky clay. We anchored in about 20 feet of water with 150 feet of chain, with a 66 pound Bruce well set; and the 3 to 4 feet of wave action was not uncomfortable as long as we set a triple-reefed main as a riding sail to keep her head to wind and sea. The problem with our anchoring tactics became obvious on the second night of anchoring on the Waini Coast - apparently blind luck and superstition had carried us through on the first night. We had just fallen off to sleep when we awoke to a "scratching" noise on the anchor chain, and the distinct smell of fish. It seems that after dark the fisherman had retrieved the previously anchored end of their net (which we had anchored behind and down-stream of) and then began drifting down-stream at a pretty good clip as they hauled the net in. When their net diagonally crossed Tiger Lilly's anchor chain it rode right up it to our anchor tray on the bow, and then squeezed the Tiger in a tight vee. This is the situation we found when we arrived on the bow with a razor knife in-hand - this Tiger had teeth. After quickly assessing the situation we did not hesitate, our boat was in serious danger; a few swipes with that razor knife and the net snapped back off both sides of our bow, and well clear of the bow. Tom slipped into the engine room and rotated the propeller shaft by hand - it was free. Then we shifted the rudder from stop to stop - no problem here either. We sat together in the dark cockpit, watching and waiting to see if the fishermen would give us a hard time about a problem which they caused. Apparently the skipper figured it out, picked up both ends of his net and anchored-off to sort it out and make repairs - end of incident. The lesson-learned in hind-sight is that it is wiser to anchor up-stream of a fishing net so that when it is retrieved the fishing boat and the net drifts away from the anchored yacht. Hopefully you can see that all these guidelines are cast in Jello as they are the result of only a single passage down this coast. (Although, we do intend to use these refined tactics to sail from Guyana to Suriname - with the added complication of the Wet Season's tropical waves.) After anchoring for the night, with a good breakfast under our belts, we would get underway at the gentlemanly hour of 0800, motor-sailing in the light wind as it filled-in, and charging-up the battery bank. By 0930 the engine was secured and we were back to tacking down the coast. Here is the box score on this passage: it took us three and a half days, anchoring in the evening before sunset, to make the 200 miles down the coast; the GPS Log indicated 275 miles sailed in six tacks. (The legs of our tacks were bent back towards each other by the current.) It really was not too difficult, once we figured out the when (during the hours of darkness), where (about 20 feet of water, up-stream of any fishing nets in our vicinity), and how (with a riding sail set for comfort) to anchor in Guyana's sling-mud.
On the last night of our sail to Guyana the wind backed into the northeast and stayed at Force 4 all night, and we were able to keep sailing well clear of the inshore fishing nets. By 0800 the wind was slack, rain squalls were raking the Mouths of the Essequibo, and Tiger Lilly was in the influence of the ebb at the mouth of the West Channel. The crew was coming down with a serious case of Channel Fever - so we started up Mister Perkins to take us the last 8 miles to the Essequibo sea buoy. (Lilly sez - Ladies, I was not ABOUT to spend another day, and night, tacking back and forth so that Popeye could say he sailed the entire way - START that flippin motor!) Even with Mister Perkins doing his part, it was nearly noon by the time we reached the Essequibo sea buoy - the currents at the mouths of the river are certainly formidable. Although we had read the section in Doyle's Trinidad and Tobago Guide which cover the Essequibo River, we were not mentally prepared for the proliferation of fishing nets and large pilings set right across the entire mouth of the river at the bar - and in the area marked as the "Ship Channel" on the charts. We hove-to and reconnoitered, confirmed we were in the correct position (there are no distinguishable NAVAIDS in the river), and then plunged through and ran the daunting gauntlet of pilings. When we were abeam of the main axis of the fish traps the pilings looked like the quills on the back of a porcupine, sticking out every which-way from horizon to horizon on both the port and starboard beams. Once through the initial mess, the situation began to sort itself out, and we were able to see a pattern of nets set to the north of the "Ship Channel" and we set our course to skirt them to the south. When one arrives from the sea it is difficult to time that arrival with the optimum tide for going up-river, and we were tired after sailing all night. We knew that we did not want to anchor off the busy rough-and-tumble landing at Parika, and the Doyle Guide's recommendation was even farther up-stream at Roed-En-Rust, a long way to go on the wrong tide. We anchored on the north shore of the river, along the sea wall of Leguan Island in 20 feet, just east of Enterprise Stelling (next to an abandoned church steeple, marked as "81FT" on the chart). We had a nice dinner, and a good night's sleep, so we would be ready to start exploring GUYANA on the morrow!
PHOTO GALLERY: Main / Ports of Call / South America / Venezuela / Rio Orinoco Delta Pilot
CONTINUED ON THE PREVIOUS BLOG
09/04/2013, Eastern Venezuela
While we were in the remote Rio Orinoco Delta region, every few days we posted a SITREP on our Tiger Lilly Sailblogs site via the Remote Post feature of Sailblogs via the HAM Radio WINLINK system. Here is a compilation of those daily posts:
10 April - AM: Anchored at Pelican Island on the Reo Macareo. Stowed sailing gear and rigged the boat for river ops. Had a nice visit with 2 fishermen/businessmen who spoke English, they told us a lot about the area. They also told us that the Rio Macareo had very few security problems - we feel good about that. PM: ran about 20 miles of river today, cruised by a few Waro villages, humble living, nice folks. We are in a pleasant anchorage with howler monkeys in the trees, and pink river dolphin feeding all around the boat. Intentions: explore in the dink tomorrow AM, then continue heading up the river PM. All is well onboard.
11 April - Today was bird day for the crew of Tiger Lilly. We watched the sunrise this morning from deck chairs on the foredeck, with a toucan sitting in a tree next to the boat, and several pink river dolphin feeding in our anchorage. A pretty good way to take our morning coffee! We spent most of the day in the dinghy exploring the area around our current anchorage, motoring up and drifting down a long cano (creek), and circumnavigating two large islands in the main river. There is a tidal variation of about 2 meters each 6 hours here, which makes the Rio Orinoco Delta a very dynamic area with so much current flowing. Once the rainy season starts there will be a lot of water draining through the Delta from as far away as the mountains of Columbia and the edge of the northern watershed of the Amazon. We saw a rare harpy eagle (we think it was a harpy - we had no idea he was rare until we got back to the boat and checked the bird app on the iPad2), toucan, grey heron, corn birds (black bodies with striking yellow wing undersides) ducking in and out of their woven hanging nests, kingfisher (he escorted us up and down the cano), several hoatzins (large pheasant like birds which are noisy and smelly - and they are unique in that they have their own genus), a pair of large macaws, and many other small birds which we have no idea what they are. Bird watching in the tropical forest of the Reo Macareo is great fun, as is exploring in the dinghy. The rain forest has the most vibrant shades of green we have ever seen. The night sky down here is huge, with an amazing multitude of stars - the atmosphere is so clean and pollution-free. Just before dark we went back out in the dinghy to listen to the howler monkeys - they are actually quite fearsome sounding, though we still have not actually seen them. We have been pleasantly surprised with the bug situation; this is our third day on the Reo Macareo and so far no mosquitoes - just plenty of horse flies to deal with during the day. The rainy season has not yet started (2 to 3 weeks away), and the Trade Winds keep the temperature quite pleasant - we actually need a sheet at night. Intentions: Tomorrow we will get back underway and head up river. Devi and Hunter from S/V Arctic Tern told us about a side cano trip they took their yacht down, and we are eager to do the same. All is well onboard.
13 April - Friday we departed from the Reo Macareo and headed southeast up the Cano Guapoa. It was narrower and shallower than the Reo Macareo, but we got through just fine. The banks are quite high as we come to the end of the dry season in the Delta. We can see by the stains on the tree trunks that once the rainy season sets in most of this country will be submerged under another 10 to 12 feet of water. The Cano Guapoa has wonderful bird life along its banks, the most remarkable bird we saw was a huge red tailed hawk perched on a dead tree in one of the picturesque tree-lined bends the cano makes. At first we thought it was some sort of golden eagle, but the iPad2 Bird App cleared that up. A few miles into the cano the river water changed from brackish to sweet - fresh water with tannic acid giving it a distinctive dark tea-like clear color. We ran the entire length of the cano, until it came to a tee junction. However, we could not get through because of the bank to bank water hyacinth that stretched as far as we could see, and came right up to the cap rail on Tiger Lilly's sides. We turned around and headed back in the direction from whence we came until the hyacinth thinned out, and anchored for the night. We had more of the pink river dolphin in the anchorage, and as we took the dink up the cano for a row they preformed for us - almost close enough to touch. We cheered them as they jumped and fed - hopefully on the piranha! When we were deep into the water hyacinth we were thinking that we really did not want to get a big ball of that stuff fouled in the propeller and then have to get in the water with who-knows-what to clear it; but all was well, and we came through unscathed. Saturday we got underway and ran back the entire length of the Cano Guapoa to the Reo Macareo, then south to a narrow cano which connected to the Lau Lau Lagoon. We are currently anchored in the Lau Lau Lagoon. Several times during the last two days we passed Waro Indian fishing camps, and the Indians paddled out in their dugout canoes to meet us. Lilly had some packages made up of used clothing, fabric, house-wares, and for the children balloons and a piece of candy. They are shy folks, living right on the edge of subsistence, and they seemed grateful for what we had for them. Lilly brought a gleam of enjoyment to their seemingly otherwise difficult lives. We had some rain in the afternoon, and again over night - perhaps the dry season is coming to an end, and the wet season is coming on. Intentions: We will spend a couple of days right here in the Lau Lau Lagoon. The Lau Lau is actually an oxbow-shaped section of the old river, which jumped its banks and created a cut-off, straightening itself out. Now the isolated section is a lake-like lagoon filled with fish and bird life. As we came up the cano leading into the Lau Lau right at sunset, we spotted a heard of water buffalo in a corral on the west bank. We will take the dink back up the cano tomorrow morning and see what's up with water buffalo ranching in Venezuela. We are about 60 miles up the Reo Macareo, and from here on up-stream the country will become low with several large cattle ranches on the banks of the Delta. Tomorrow, 14 April is Election Day here in Venezuela, and they will choose a successor to the recently deceased President Chavez. Because of the past tensions between Venezuela and the USA we will keep a low profile during their balloting - but it certainly could not be worse than the crazies back in the good old USA during our last election!
15 April - We are currently anchored in the Reo Macareo at the mouth of Cano Tirital. It is a picturesque anchorage (9-04.55N 061-50.30W, on the Reo Macareo at 72 miles upstream from Punta Bombeador) with a view down the cano of trees overhanging the bends of the creek, brilliant green water hyacinth with purple flowers in bloom, and fish rising to take bugs on the surface of the water. It was absolutely stunning at sunset as the light softened, the greens deepened, and the wind laid down and made the surface of the cano a bronze mirror. There is a Waro Indian village (about 6 families) living just down-stream of our anchorage. As we passed the village on the way to the anchorage we hove-to and Lilly passed out some of the clothes, house wares, and children's novelties she had collected in Trinidad to a dugout canoe loaded with 7 Waro kids hanging on Tiger Lilly's side. Their canoe had only about 4 inches of freeboard, and the current was running fast down the side of the boat as we kept station abeam of the village. But the kids knew how to expertly handle their little vessel, and no one went over the side, including an infant being held by her sister who was also steering the canoe with a broad paddle taller than her. Both Lilly and the kids had fun, and their parents were hollering encouragement from the high bank of the river. This would be their dry season camp, and in a few months it will be completely under water as the rainy season inundates the entire Savannah under 10 to 12 additional feet of water. They live in open sheds with dirt floors and galvanized / corrugated steel roofs, hammocks slung from the rafters, and personal effects are hung in bags on the supporting posts - rugged living for sure. A plastic barrel, government issued, holds the river water they drink and wash with. Their pigs have free run of the place, and seem to prefer the shade offered in the Waro's humble home, as do the ever-present pack of emaciated Indian dogs. After we anchored we set off in Grace the dinghy to explore Cano Tirital. It is probably the best we have seen so far - the bird life was magnificent, and in the space of about 90 minutes we saw a lovely maroon backed jacana stepping across the lily pads in search of his dinner, 3 large crested guan socializing atop a fig tree, and a stately red tailed hawk who hissed at us as we rowed up HIS cano. To top it all off, the howler monkeys put on an impressive concert of deep growling and fierce howls as darkness settled over the cano. Fine business all. Yesterday we were anchored in the Lau Lau Lagoon which has cattle and buffalo grazing on its banks. We rowed up the Cano Lau Lau and visited with two young men tending a cattle camp - hardy Venezuelan lads living pretty much the same way as do the Waro. They raise water buffalo (large black Asian cattle-like animals) because the land is so low and wet that most cattle would not survive here. They had four pretty tough buffalo dogs too - they were tearing up some snakes they caught in one of the shallow ponds in the pasture - while a large eagle who would have liked to have had those snakes for HIS lunch looked on. On the way back up the cano we caught a quick glimpse of a capy bara, South America's giant rodent, as he scurried into his den on the bank under a tree. The geography around the river has gradually changed from tropical rain forest at the mouth of the river, to open savanna surrounded by jungle north of the Lau Lau Lagoon, and now (some 70 miles from where we crossed the bar and entered the Reo Macareo out at the Serpents Mouth) the Llanos. The Llanos is a low plain which extends all the way from the Rio Orinoco Delta in Eastern Venezuela to the Andes Mountains. It floods in the rainy season, which is just about to start - we can see water stains on the tree trunks about 10 feet above the ground. In fact, we would like to see the rainy season get going any time now as we will need plenty of water in the river to be able to make the passage between the Reo Macareo and the Rio Grande - our preferred route back out to the sea. If the channel is not deep enough, then we will have to return from whence we came - back down-stream some 100 miles of river, and reach the Tropical Atlantic via the Serpents Mouth - and then beat / tack into plenty of wind and current to turn the corner to the east at Punta Bombeador and go south. If we are just a bit lucky, we will go back to the sea via the Rio Grande and have a much better tacking angle for the sail to the Essequibo River in Guyana. On the positive side we have seen a decided change from the clear skies which dominated our first days on the river - the afternoons are now much darker, and we have seen some light rain. So this issue of our exit from the Delta is unresolved and hanging over us, and will stay there for the next week or so. Lilly absolutely cannot STAND all this talk of geography, and channels, and Indians, SHE sez, "Tom-Tom, OH MY GOSH - we have just about worked our way through the fresh provisions and store-bought bread, and I cannot remember the difference between baking soda and baking powder! THIS IS GETTING FLIPPING SERIOUS!!"
16 April - Early this morning, while the river was still shrouded in its pre-dawn mist, we slipped into the dinghy and rowed up into Cano Tirital to see what we could see. What we saw was a pretty little jacana and his mate feeding in the water hyacinth. We spent the better part of an hour watching this interesting fellow and his mate as they flitted about and flashed their brilliant under-wing yellow feathers in a mating display. The Waro fishermen were also on the cano pulling their nets, which they had set yesterday evening. By 0930 we were underway and heading up the Reo Macareo. We ran the river until just before sunset and anchored on the Reo Macareo in sight of the shipping channel buoys on the Rio Grande - our intermediate goal on this cruise of the Rio Orinoco Delta. On tomorrow morning's high tide we shall see if there is sufficient water in the river for Tiger Lilly to get over the bar. The way we propose to do that is use the river current setting into the Reo Macareo to stem the tide and keep control under bare steerageway while we watch the trend on the fathometer, steering left and right, and search for a channel - we need about 8 feet of water to get through (but 7 feet will work). We have had mixed, but no recent, reports on the water depth in this area. Intentions: Run the bar into the Rio Grande in the AM, then find a nearby anchorage to get organized for our cruise to the sea via the Rio Grande - or head back down the Reo Macareo to the Serpents Mouth if there isn't. Only time will tell. It has been a long day running the river (and finding a few bumps in it too), but we are securely anchored and all is well onboard.
17 April - 0835 under way on the Brazos Macareo, then over the bar and into the Rio Grande - no problem, we breezed right over the bar with plenty of water to spare. 0920 entered the Rio Grande at Mile 139 (miles from the sea buoy) and turned east towards the sea. The transition from the Brazos Macareo into the Rio Grande was not nearly as difficult as anticipated: we stayed close to the north bank and saw no less than 13 feet on the bar, and usually 15-16 feet. Like most things in life we worry about, doing it was much easier than thinking (read that worrying) about it. PM: Motor-sailed east down the Rio Grande under a reefed stays'l. There is about 1 knot of favorable current pushing us down the river towards the sea, and 14-16 knots of easterly Trade Wind blowing against it making the river a bit rough. Motor-sailing with the stays'l doesn't add much to the speed, but it does make the boat much more comfortable in a steep chop. Had an afternoon rain squall to rinse down the deck and cool things off a bit. 1530 anchored in 15 feet at Mile 108 in the lee of Santa Elena Island across the river from the village of Sacupana. It is a bit of an awkward anchorage as a strong current rips across the sand bank opposing the brisk easterly wind - and Tiger Lilly is having a difficult time making up her mind how she will tend. Intentions: Run another 40 or so miles down the river tomorrow. We did our exploring on the Reo Macareo, and intend to keep moving down the Rio Grande towards the Reo Amacuro, and then out to sea. So, we are snuggled down for the night, getting ready to watch a movie on the computer (we have a couple hundred on an external hard drive), and Lucy, I mean Lilly, asks Tom while he is popping the pop corn in a kettle on the stove top (the old-fashioned way), "Do we have to keep the lid on, or could we just once watch it pop?" COULD WE WATCH IT POP? Never a dull moment on Tiger Lilly! All is well onboard.
18 April - 0600 Up & about. 0627 Under way from Mile 108 down the Rio Grande, heading east towards the sea. We motor-sail at 3000 RPM, which produces a speed over the ground of anywhere from 5 to 6 knots, depending on the direction and the amount of current in the river. 0700 Checked in with George (KP2G) the HAM weather man on the Caribbean HAM Weather Net; 7.250 MHZ lower side-band. George transmits from his home on St. Johns Island in the US Virgin Islands 6 days a week - and also on Sunday if there is a significant weather event in the works (like a hurricane). He is a dear soul, to get up early and research the tropical weather situation on the Internet, and then transmit the information to HAM Radio Maritime Mobile stations (sailboat cruisers like us) all over the Caribbean. We enjoy having coffee with George each morning - where ever we are. 0800 Checked in with Net Control on the COCONUT SSB Net: 4.060 MHZ upper side-band. We were trying to contact our friends Rosie and Dan who are in St. Kitts aboard their boat S/V Exit Strategy - but no joy. 0955 Hove-to at Mile 85 off a Waro camp on the south bank of the river. When the Indians saw us coming they sent three canoes out to the center of the river, so we stopped to say "OLA" and to distribute the used house hold goods and clothing which Lilly collected for them in Grenada and Trinidad. All three of the dugout canoes were filled with children, and only one was paddled by an adult. We think that their parents send them out alone because we will have a heart for the kids - and of course it works. Here is the absolutely amazing part of this particular Waro encounter: one of the canoes had 3 kids in it - and none were older than FIVE YEARS OLD! (In the PICTURE GALLERY are some photos of these amazing children.) They were tiny, as are most of the Waro children, and they were paddling the biggest canoe. The boy in the bow had a deeply cleft lip, and a deformed foot - birth defects and infant mortality are high among the Waro. Now picture this, we are in the middle of the Rio Orinoco, the 8th largest river in the world, the current is honking by their camp at about a knot and a half, they were the last of the three canoes to come alongside (all the while Tiger Lilly is drifting down-stream on the strong current), and these youngsters had to paddle about a half a mile back up-stream to get home - and that is exactly what they did. Next time you see a five year-old, try to visualize kids from the "First World" doing such a thing - or their parents encouraging them to do so! NOON - LUNCH! Lilly put together chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and cristophene (like a tropical cucumber). Yum-Yum! 1445 Mile 60, and the town of Curiapo abeam to port with a huge two story tall brightly painted statue of Christopher Columbus in the middle of the town. We did not have the heart to stop and tell them that we think that the Chinese were here first. You don't believe us? Then read Captain Gavin Menzies' book "1421 The Year China Discovered America." We see a LOT of Chinese facial features in the Waro people. Tom's geographer daughter Dawn may be in denial about this interesting facet of history, but we certainly believe it happened pretty much the way the good Captain describes it - check it out. 1600 Anchored in 46 feet in Cano Noina, Mile 55. As Tom drafts this SITREP Lilly is out in Grace our dinghy rowing with the local Waro teenage boys. From all the noise and shouting out there, they must be having fun. Intentions: Tomorrow AM motor-sail down to the mouth of the Rio Grande and spend a day or so in the Reo Amacuro. The LOG on the GPS indicates that thus far we have cruised over 250 miles in the Rio Orinoco Delta. This region is such an interesting and enjoyable place to visit. We have been warmly welcomed throughout the Delta by the Waro Amerindians and Venezuelans alike, and we feel quite safe here. We hope that other cruisers will give this area a look - we know that you will not be disappointed. Well, now you have an answer when asked, "What do they do all day?"
20 April - Yesterday we started out from our anchorage at Cano Noina (Mile 55) on the Rio Grande, motor-sailed down the river as it widened out to meet the sea, turned south in to the Reo Amacuro (Mile 28), and then ran about 12 miles up the Reo Amacuro to just past the little town of San Jose de Amacuro. The entrance to the Reo Amacuro was a bit hairy; we ran before about 25 knots of wind riding a strong flood current on a rough sea (And did we mention low visibility in a rain squall?), and then found 8 feet of water on the entrance bar instead of the 16 feet the charts showed - and we need at least 7 feet. With that much wind blowing up her skirt, and current pushing her along, there was no turning Tiger Lilly around in that narrow entrance - or slowing her down either - so we sucked it up and ran hard for the river between the high trees, and hoped for the best. It would not have been so stressful if we KNEW there was only 8 feet on the bar, but to watch that fathometer steadily go down - with no idea where it will bottom out, or if Tiger Lilly would bottom out - really tightens up the pucker factor. Our Gallant Captain aged a bit on that entrance! Lilly sez: Can you IMAGINE my Tom-Tom, Mr. Tidy-Whitey, Captain By-The-Book, tightening up any more than his usual dogged-down, high-strength, double bottomed, triple-tempered, hot-dipped galvanized normality? I am sure glad that I had a touch of the mal-de-mer, stayed below, and slept through THAT ONE! When we entered the Reo Amacuro we passed a large steel station barge marked "ARMADA BOLIVARIANA DE VENEZUELA" - the first official presence we have seen in the Delta, and a Venezuelan Marine with an automatic weapon waved us in to be inspected. We anchored off the barge (in 70ft - the Amacuro is deep once you are in) and Tom rowed to the barge while Lilly watched the boat in a heavy rain squall. A very cordial First Lieutenant (Carlos) from the Venezuelan Marines (the Station Chief) examined our papers and welcomed us to Venezuela. Carlos was in his early 20's and was a polished, educated, friendly fellow who spoke enough English for us to get our business satisfactorily completed. All this anchoring, and dinghy rowing, and document inspecting took place in a pouring rain - it seems as though the rainy season has arrived in the Delta. On the recommendation of a friend (Richard of S/V Mr. Hopper), before we left Trinidad we visited the Venezuelan Embassy (four times) and finally got an email from them giving us permission to visit the Rio Orinoco Delta. This email helped us to avoid checking-in with the Port Captain in Puerto Ordaz (Mile 184), a place we did not want to go since it was 50 miles further up the Rio Grande than where we started. Since we were not checked-in to Venezuela, for the past two weeks we have been sailing under a yellow quebec flag beneath the Venezuelan ensign on the starboard mast spreader. Carlos loved our piece of paper from the Embassy; we had printed out their email, which was in both Spanish and English, and had it ready to present. Carlos was in his early 20's, was a friendly but very squared-away Marine, and he had a lot of responsibility in a very isolated outback post. As we departed, all of the Marines were on the deck of the barge with their cell phones, waving and taking pictures of Tiger Lilly heading up the river. All in all, it was a very positive experience, considering the political friction between our two governments. As we motored along the waterfront of San Jose de Amacuro, Tiger Lilly was the little town's main attraction on a sleepy Friday afternoon. Later, we talked to a passing barco run by a Guyanese fellow who spoke good English, and he told us that the last time a yacht had come up the Amacuro was 7 years ago. Cruising this region is so much more interesting than going up and down the same islands of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles with hundreds of other yachts; we hope that more of our friends come to the Delta to experience the Waro Amerindians, the fantastic bird life, the tropical rain forest and jungle, and the friendly Venezuelan people. For the naysayers - so far so good - we have not yet been killed, raped, or robbed by pirates! (But then we are not out of here yet, and you might have a chance to say "I told you so!") We are not caviler about security on Tiger Lilly - but we also do not want to experience "paralysis by analysis" as we have too often seen in the cruising community when it comes to trying something that is not spelled out in excruciating detail in one of Doyles Guides. A year ago there was an ugly armed robbery incident on the Reo Manamo here in the Delta, and we have yet to find anyone who has been here since. So far, all of the crews of the local vessels approaching us waved, smiled, and gave a thumbs-up towards the American ensign flying from our utility arch on the stern. But one never knows; so Tom holds up the hand-held VHF and acts like he is talking to someone (although there is no one to talk to), while Lilly waves - and takes their picture. Pirates - like Bad Guys everywhere - do not want to be identified or found out. The alternative is to pull out a Glock 9mm and shoot anyone who comes close (we don't even own a firearm), or stay in a safe anchorage and do pot-luck suppers and play Mexican Train dominoes in Trinidad - the murder capital of the world. We have a security plan, we have drilled it, and we keep our eyes open all the time - but we are not going to stay home and let the Bad Guys win. Isn't that what terrorism is really all about - denying us our precious freedom? The closest we have come to pirates is Lilly's son Ryan with plenty of attitude and a tattoo of a pirate lady named "Tiger Lilly" on his arm! Our anchorage on the Reo Amacuro, just west of the little town of San Jose de Amacuro, is quiet and picturesque. We are right in the thick of the jungle, anchored in 50 feet of water with lots of current carrying floating islands of water hyacinth, and the river is only about 150 meters wide. The Amacuro is the highway for the local folks towards the interior and the gold mines, and we constantly have visitors. Yesterday afternoon, just after we anchored, a large boat with over twenty people in it kept station about 30 feet off of our starboard side for almost a half an hour. Men, women and children were enthusiastically talking and pointing at every part of the boat and the crew as we secured the deck and prepared for dinner. We think that perhaps they are selling tickets in town to come see the bizarre white yachties! This morning, while we were doing the wash - and hanging it out in a rain squall - four teenage boys were wading in the mangroves next to the boat and appeared to be intently discussing those strange people in the shiny velero. This afternoon we took the boat down to the San Jose de Amacuro and rowed ashore in the dinghy. A very nice fellow by the name of Jose took our line at the dock, and he gave us a tour of the town. It turned out that Jose was the son of the Mayor, Tomas Lugo. Senior Lugo invited us into his home, and we had a nice visit - the Mayor spoke passable English. Everyone in Venezuela whom we have come in contact with, from the Waro Indians who have visited Tiger Lilly on the river, to the Marine officer who checked our papers, to the Mayor and his family here in San Jose de Amacuro, have been so kind, and we feel welcome and secure here. Intentions: We are now at our last anchorage in the Rio Orinoco Delta. We intend to spend a few days here, and then hoist the dinghy on deck, secure Tiger Lilly for sea, and set sail for the Essequibo River in Guyana. The Chaguaramas naysayers - who seldom go anywhere - say we cannot sail down this coast, beating into the Trades and with the Guiana Current on the nose, but we are damn sure going to give it a go!
23 April - Tiger Lilly is anchored as before at San Jose De Amacuro on the west fork of the Reo Amacuro in the Rio Orinoco Delta of Eastern Venezuela. Yesterday afternoon we found ourselves surrounded by a huge floating island of water hyacinth which threatened to drag the boat down the river on the tide. Lilly stood in the bow pulpit and pulled the submerged tendrils to the surface with our proper fir and bronze boat hook, and Tom was under the bow in the hard dinghy chopping the thick vegetation free with a machete (don't bring a rubber ducky dinghy or an aluminum telescoping / collapsing pussy boat hook to that show). While we were working our way through this mess, with leaves, and roots, and very smelly mud flying everywhere - and while Tom still had ten fingers and ten toes, and was trying not to think about all the accounts he had read of snakes in the water hyacinth - a Waro Indian man - who really knew how to handle a machete, and presumably a snake, and whom Lilly had previously given a "Lilly Package" for his family, came over to the boat to help; a very nice gesture returned. This morning Lilly announced that she would like to have that man and his family aboard for a social visit - we estimated two adults and six kids. They live in a wall-less roofed-over shelter on the river just abeam of our boat on the south bank - we are neighbors, and considering we both live outdoors in open homes - you could say we are CLOSE neighbors! So Lilly rowed over to their home and invited his "family" to come out to Tiger Lilly at 1600 - which produced big smiles all around; and immediately all six kids ran down the boardwalk that connects the Waro homes on the river, to tell their cousins. Well, after three dugout canoes and an outboard powered barco got done unloading, we had three dads, seven moms, and (as far as we could count) thirteen children aboard. Twenty-three Waro Indians aboard Tiger Lilly, quite an extended family indeed! Tom was in the galley busily passing out strong South American style brewed coffee for the adults, Tang flavored cold juice for the kids, amusing a rotating audience in the main cabin looking at the computer with a slide-show of pictures we took while we have been in the Rio Orinoco Delta, and popping multiple kettles of popcorn - with the lid on the kettle. Meanwhile, Lilly was conducting an on-deck tour for the men, keeping the conversation going in the cockpit with a child on each knee - and no one spoke any English, while keeping one eye towards making sure everything was still tied-down and put away. IT WAS A BUSY LITTLE VISIT! To say that Captain Tom is not fond of small children is perhaps understatement, yet even he had to admit that this bakers-dozen of kids (the oldest was about 8 years-old) was exceptionally well behaved. And besides, the infants were all breast-feeding on their uninhibited young mothers; so the Captain allowed that perhaps there were some side-benefits to having the smelly little crumb-snatchers aboard. All in all, it was a most enjoyable visit; we got a great deal of satisfaction from having them aboard, and they seemed to enjoy their visit to the Spaceship Tiger Lilly. We do come from two completely different worlds. Intentions: We are getting ourselves organized and rested (when not having a party for 23 Indians aboard - thanks Lilly) for our offshore beat southeast to Guyana. Tomorrow the sewing machine comes out so Tom can create a Guyana courtesy ensign, and Lilly will prepare some ready-made meals for what we anticipate to be a three day slog to windward - where galley time is best minimized. Lilly sez: Hey, my Momma didn't raise any dummies, DON'T look for ME in any windward-going galley. This guy can cook, he can sew, he can stand on his flippin head, and he gives a great back rub too - he's my Tom-Tom! All is well aboard Tiger Lilly - we will sleep well tonight!
25 April - We are currently anchored about 4 miles from the mouth of the Reo Amacuro waiting for the winds to improve offshore. We get wind files via the HAM Radio WINLINK system from the National Weather Service in Miami. These GRIB files forecast the winds in a requested area of the ocean we designate (the Rio Orinoco Delta and the coast of Guyana) over a requested interval of time (every 12 hours, out to 72 hours), and present the data in a graphical format of arrows superimposed on a chart of the requested area. Currently the GRIB files are forecasting light east-southeast and southeast winds for a coast that we have to sail down in a southeast direction, and it will stay this way for the next 4 days or so - not very good for our side. In addition to coming from the wrong direction, the forecast velocity is only 5 to 10 knots, not enough to move our heavy boat towards our destination on Guyana's Essequibo River - so we will wait and watch the weather. Nature rules, out here onboard a cruising sailboat - one of the major differences between here and suburbia. We are working the To-Do List, watching some of the movies we brought along, and of course we have some great books aboard. Lilly is reading Mitchner's "CARIBBEAN" and I am wading through Conrad's "LORD JIM" on our iPad2 - one of the perks of our lifestyle is the ability to take time out and read. It is dead quiet and absolutely dark at night on this river. There are some scattered Indian huts a few miles back up the river, and the Venezuelan Navy (Armada) outpost out at the mouth, but where we are the river is deserted. Well, that is not exactly so, occasionally boats pass us in the night as they carry cargo and passengers between the various small settlements in the Delta, but this stretch of the Reo Amacuro is pretty much ours for the present. We are alone in thousands of acres of tropical forest with the noises of the night, and the passing rain showers - it is quite a humbling and unique experience.
26 April - AM: Fired up the HAM radio and downloaded a set of GRIB wind files for the next 72 hours. It looks as though we will be here for a few more days waiting for the southeast component of the offshore wind to back north of east. We shifted to an anchorage at the mouth of the Reo Amacuro so that we could run the bar on the PM high tide. PM: Had the Station Chief, Lieutenant Carlos of the Venezuelan Armada Station Amacuro aboard for coffee and a tour. What a fine young man he is, and we thoroughly enjoyed having him aboard. We departed the Reo Amacuro on the 1740 6.3 foot high tide. On the way out we found a channel to the west of the charted channel with much better depth than the 7 and 8 foot soundings we saw coming in. It seems there is never a dull moment aboard Tiger Lilly; just about the time we had the channel figured out, Lilly spotted a fishing net stretched right across the entire mouth of the Reo Amacuro directly in front of the boat, and we were riding a 2 knot ebb out of the river! El Capitan had his eyes glued to the fathometer looking for the channel, and fortunately Admiral Lilly established the connection between the double black flagged buoy on the port bow, and the fishing boat way off on the starboard bow. We came within about half a boat length of wrapping a fishing net in the propeller! Thankfully a full power emergency backing bell - and all the friggin rudder she's got - saved our bacon. The high tide gave us sufficient water to go around the net on the shallow end of the bar with a foot of water left under the keel. We then motored the few miles east to the entrance of Reo Barima and found out that both the C-MAP and the NAVIONICS electronic charts have the entrance to this river wrong also. After a little creative steering and sounding work we found our way into the Reo Barima.
EVENING: We anchored just before dark off the pilot station at the mouth of the Reo Barima. Moderate rain is falling, and we are collecting the elixir of life, fresh water, with our deck collection system. In the 3 weeks we have been in the Delta we have seen a shift in the weather, and the wet season is starting to establish itself. INTENTIONS: Tomorrow we will shift anchorage up the Reo Barima to find a cano to explore, and to see what we can see. Lilly asked - Is that like when the Bears Came Over The Mountain? Yes Lilly, very much like that - except Tiger Lilly came over the bar to see what she could see. All is well aboard Tiger Lilly. (And pretty much normal in Lilly's inquiring mind.)
27 April - We are still anchored off the Reo Barima Pilot Station, watching the rain come down and waiting for the southeast wind to back into the east so we can sail out the mouth of the Rio Grande and proceed to sea. Yesterday we made our Guyana flag and worked on a few small projects. Later today we will move up the Reo Barima and see what we can see. All is well aboard Tiger Lilly.
30 April - Our time in the Rio Orinoco Delta is just about over. We have cruised over 350 miles of the rivers and canos of the Delta, thoroughly enjoyed the area and its people, and tomorrow morning we will use the 0813 high tide to run the Reo Barima bar and thence out to sea. We anticipate it will take at least 3 days to beat down the Guyana coast to the Essequibo River. It will be a beat all the way, with a short starboard tack out to the Guiana Current (2 knots running NW at about the 10 fathom curve), and then a long (hopefully) port tack down the coast until we run out of water (10-12 feet), and then back off shore again. The National Weather Service, Tropical Prediction Center, Miami, GRIB files are indicating that we will have east and east-northeast winds of 10-15 knots for the next 72 hours - pretty light for a heavy boat like Tiger Lilly, so we anticipate a slow passage; but the direction is certainly improving. We will endeavor to keep posting on Sailblogs and Position Reports, however if the weather is wet or sloppy the computer will stay in the locker and we will check in by voice with the Maritime Mobile Net each day (14.300 MHZ USB). During our time in the Delta we have seen the Dry Season come to an end, and the Wet Season get a start - so it will likely be a wet passage as well. Our Guyana destination is the village of Bartica, some 40 miles up the Essequibo. We will need the flood tidal current in the Essequibo to help us along our way, so once we reach the river we will lay over somewhere out at the mouth until the next available daylight flood current to run up to Bartica. So, here we are cooking up a big pot of chicken soup for the offshore passage, and rationing it out in meal-sized Tupperware containers. Tom is searching through a pile of lids for the corresponding tops, and Lilly sez "I made that job easy by marking the tops." She was so very proud of herself; since cooking and domestic chores never really fit in with her time-consuming run / bike / swim training program, she is learning many new skills. But when Tom inspected the tops and the bottoms - every one of them had the SAME FRIGGIN MARK, and there was no way to tell one from the other! And then she tells him, "But Tom-Tom I know where they all fit!" Lovely woman, but her actions are just not the product of an organized mind - it can drive a fellow NUTS! That's the news from Tiger Lilly - all is well onboard.
3 May - We have really enjoyed nearly a month cruising Venezuela's interesting and colorful Rio Orinoco Delta; and we have felt quite comfortable and welcome here, with not a single security incident. As we departed the Rio Grande to stand out to sea and sail for Guyana, a large flock of stunning scarlet ibis flew right over Tiger Lilly's masthead in a perfect Vee-formation - which of course we took as a farewell salute from a friendly and beautiful Venezuela. The nay-sayers were WRONG (as they usually are), and we are so glad we ignored them and visited this beautiful region. We have completed our voyage from the Rio Orinoco Delta in Eastern Venezuela down the Northeast Coast of South America, and have arrived at the Essequibo River in Guyana. The straight-line distance between anchorages is about 200 miles, but we tacked down the coast under sail and covered over 275 miles. For three days we tacked back and forth between the shallow muddy coast and the strong northwest flowing Guiana Current, against predominantly easterly winds, with a short tack out to the current and a longer tack back to the mud - a challenging bit of sailing. The shallow coast has many wrecks (both charted and uncharted), and there is a very active fishing boat fleet working their nets day and night. The unlit fishing nets were such a hazard, that at night we anchored in the shallow open sea (with a triple-reefed main set as a riding sail) and waited for daylight before we could carry on. We did have one incident when a fishing boat picked up their net and drug it down the current up and over Tiger Lilly's anchor chain - producing a bit of night-time drama. Tom's first indication of trouble was when he was awakened out of a dead sleep with a screech from Lilly that "THERE IS SOMETHING ON OUR ANCHOR!" We could smell it before we could see it, and when Tom arrived on the bow (with razor knife in hand) a large fishing net was tightly strung across the anchor chain / bow, and Tiger Lilly was ensnared in a tight vee-shaped trap. (We liked the scarlet ibis' Vee a whole lot better.) A few prudent swipes with the razor knife later, the whole mess cleared the bow like a giant rubber band, thankfully snapping into the dark night and well clear of the boat. Then we sat in the cockpit, watching the fishing boat recover their now two sections of net, and wondering if they were going to give us some grief over an issue they clearly caused. Apparently, the skipper figured out what happened, and why, and anchored about a mile away to sort out his mess. As you can imagine, it took a while to get back to sleep after that one. The approach to the entrance of the Essequibo was a bit of a puzzle: the enterprising (and apparently un-regulated) Guyanese fishermen have set posts all across the shallow river entrance bar on which to string their nets. Finding our way through that mess, in a black rain squall, was a challenge we had not anticipated - akin to playing Pick-Up-Sticks with tree trunks, blindfolded, in two knots of current. But all is well that ends well, and we are safely anchored just inside the mouth of the river at Leguan Island. The next step in our voyage is to proceed 30 miles up the Essequibo and check-in with Guyana Customs and Immigration at the town of Bartica - and then take a few days off. We are going to take it easy going up the Essequibo, to time our arrival in Bartica to Monday morning during regular business hours, when (we assume) Customs and Immigration do not charge weekend overtime rates for clearing-in. The same damn fools and hand-wringers that said we could not cruise the Rio Orinoco Delta safely, also told us that we could not sail the Guyana coast, that we would have to motor all the way down here - but they were WRONG about that too. If you are a cruiser looking for something out of the ordinary, and are up for a challenge, we recommend combining a cruise through the Delta with a sail to Guyana. We are excited about being here! Guyana is one of the least traveled countries in South America, and the grandeur of the land and its natural beauty are not to be equaled anywhere. We intend to see some of this enchanting place, right after we get some rest. Lilly sez: "I don't want to sit and watch a National Geographic Special on TV - I want to live one. Let's go Tom-Tom!" All is well aboard Tiger Lilly.
If you use this pilot to cruise the Delta we would appreciate hearing from you. If you send us any corrections or additions we will enter them and hopefully make the experience for those who follow in our wake better and safer. This document was written by sailors for sailors - we hope it helps YOU.
By the time you have read this far, you have probably wasted a perfectly good hour, so you might just as well carry on and view the photos that illustrate some of the points we have made above. At the top-right of this BLOG is a hyperlink labeled PHOTO GALLERY. If you click on that link and follow the logic tree down as follows: Main / Ports of Call / South America / Venezuela / Rio Orinoco Delta Pilot; you will be cruising the Delta with us before you know it. If you are interested in the western region of the Rio Orinoco Delta, you can scroll down to the very first entry on this BLOG, posted in August 2008 - the Pedernales Pilot. Tom aboard S/V Tiger Lilly, and Tony aboard S/V Tarnimara cruised some 250 miles into the Reo Pedernales and the Reo Manamo. Check it out!
When we got married and Lilly moved aboard Tiger Lilly we had a progressive three-stage sailing plan to get us and our boat up to speed and ready to explore the world:
CRAWL - cruise the ICW of the United States, with some short 2 and 3 day offshore coastal passages.
WALK - we were off to the balmy Caribbean via a 14 day ocean passage from Cape Canaveral to the island of Antigua, and then day-sailing Tiger Lilly through the Lesser Antilles south to Trinidad.
RUN - off to see the world, exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations which this year will include tropical river exploration on the east coast of South America, and next year some high latitude sailing in Patagonia.
The accompanying photo was taken at the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association Dock - that is our brand new MACK Sails storm jib. Another one of those high latitude preparations we have completed with a great deal of expense and effort - all the while hoping we never have to take this sail out of the bag. While all this is going on, our marriage is moving forward (like a freight train rolling down a steep mountain pass), as we face many exciting new challenges together.
Lilly sez: OH MY GOSH ladies, you KNEW there was a Three Part Plan in here somewhere didn't you? At least he spared you the charts and graphs that go along with it. And I cannot tell you how much I am sooooo looking forward to making sure that there isn't an Anaconda in the toilet when I get up in the night - who LIKES Discovery Channel's Snake Week anyway, much less having to live there!
We have completed the first two phases of our Master Plan, and we are ready to run! At first light tomorrow morning we will depart Chaguaramas and sail for South America. Our first stop will be the Rio Macereo in the Rio Orinoco Delta of Eastern Venezuela. The Delta is a mystical and vast place where circuitous canos wind through impenetrable foliage as the eighth largest river in the world runs to the sea, monkeys and toucans live in the tree tops, and the principal human inhabitants are the Waro Amerindian tribe. There are not many places in the world where one can cruise a sea-going sailboat through mangroves, rain forest, and jungles all on the same day - but that is exactly what we intend to do for the next few weeks. Our Picture Gallery on this blog contains some photos from Tom's 2008 cruise to the western part of the Delta, up the Rio Manamo - a cruise that covered some 250 miles of this magic place.
A word about discouragement. We cannot get over how few Caribbean cruisers have even considered trying something so different as the Rio Orinoco Delta and departing from their yearly up-and-down the Lesser Antilles routine - and then we hear so many discouraging comments from these same folks regarding our plans. Most of them just seem to be happy with the unchallenging, unchanging routine of Jimmy Buffet land. To each his own - but that is certainly not for us. It is true that we will be working our way against the Trade Winds and against the strong Guiana Current, and yes, there is no support in the Delta (it is pretty much a come-as-you-are destination - if you did not bring it with you, then you will simply have to do without); but we have worked hard and prepared our boat and ourselves for the challenge. What about the pirates they cry! (We know of only a single bad guy issue in the last two years, and it did not occur anywhere near the Rio Macereo.) There are security issues virtually everywhere in the world (including Suburbia), and we have prepared ourselves for those eventualities also. We have a Security Plan, and like all of our preparations we do our very best, and then we trust in the Lord. Each morning we go to our Bible and Psalm 91 to remind us that we are children of God, and that our Heavenly Father loves and protects us. "If you say, "The Lord is my refuge," and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent." The Lord also says right there in Psalm 91 "Because he loves me, "I will rescue him; I will protect him for he acknowledges my name." Folks, we truly believe this - we will certainly continue to do our part, but we know that at the end of the day, "He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." This Vital Truth of Life will work for us in the canos of the Rio Orinoco Delta, and it will work for you - wherever you are.
All is well aboard S/V Tiger Lilly. In a few hours we will hoist Grace the dinghy aboard, secure our little ship for sea, and then get a good rest before we set out. We will try to post some text-only blogs here via the Ham Radio WINLINK system; so stay tuned and we will fill you in, tell you what we see, and where we are. (Do you think that the Waro Tribe is ready for Lucy - I mean Lilly?) The WINLINK system will also provide us with detailed weather information each day. Our blog also has a locater map, so you can get an idea of where Tiger Lilly is located - also check out the Delta on Google earth, it is absolutely amazing. We anticipate an exciting year exploring the rivers of South America; and then we have a date with our friends Alex & Jen (Chilean man and his Thai lady - nice eclectic combo) of the S/V Perfect Blend at their blueberry farm in Uruguay for Christmas.
We hope that the Tiger Lilly story will inspire others to get up, get out, and go for YOUR dream - whatever that is, and no matter what "they" say. We have over 5000 miles to sail in the next 9 months, so we better get moving!
Why is this woman smiling - WE HAVE BEEN HACKED!!
One of the unavoidable hazards of cruising, while at the same time staying in contact with friends and family back in the States, is exposing one's computer to all sorts of unsavory Wi-Fi networks in the name of social contact. (Tom sez: Hey, if we really wanted to talk to those people we should have stayed back in suburbia, and then we too could spend endless hours staring at a cell phone screen like the rest of them...)
If you were the recipient of a recent email from us regarding a Raspberry Gel Massage Lotion Network Marketing scheme we really do apologize. It seems that some character in Turkey (of all places) got the password to our Yahoo account and spammed many of the folks in our Contact List. We especially apologize about the Network Marketing Part. Tom thinks that there should be a bounty placed on all of these characters - $100 USD for a set of Network Marketers ears presented at the nearest police station seems fair, thank you very much... We do hope there are no lasting effects to your computer machines due to our inattention to duty.
Another really kool thing happened this week (NOT); it seems that a 4 inch long squid jumped through the open stern port and into Lillys bunk, and it was there for a day (and beginning to liquefy) before the little fellow ripened up enough for her to detect it. (No double-entendres, Tom-Tom The Sailor Man Viagra stories, or Mr. Happy jokes offered or intended.) We were fortunate that we were at TTSA (Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association) and had a fresh water hose available to scrub up the fragrant cushion cover and restore good order and discipline to the good ship Tiger Lilly.
Speaking of which, please overlook the flagrant violation of seamanship being practiced by Little Miss Boot Camp in the above picture. She has been duly counseled and assigned Extra Instruction regarding the proper use and stowage of line aboard ship's boats.
Lilly sez: Whatever... You and your little Navy thingy can just put those ropes where the sun doesn't shine.
Like I said, we are still in pursuit of good order and discipline aboard Tiger Lilly.
23/01/2013, Chaguaramas, Trinidad
NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
President Obama has been sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. There is no question (in the minds of most reasonable people) that he was properly elected by the States of the Union at the Electoral College, and incidentally by a clear majority of voters who participated in the election. The Constitution of the United States makes provisions for election of a president, and all indications are that those provisions were duly followed - ergo, Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States of America.
There seems to be far too many people unwilling to accept these constitutional principals of succession and order, and to allow the majority to rule. We think that personal political agendas, often driven by financial greed, are driving this destructive attitude. In our minds this is clearly unpatriotic activity which undermines our form of representative democracy which is based on the concept that the majority rules - but the minority can, and should, constructively protest. But that minority cannot and should not set aside or disrupt the will of the majority. Some of the people in our circle of contacts have taken their protest (actually an attempt at the disruption of legitimate constitutional government activities) to the level of a HATE CRIME. At the least, we consider these individuals to be unpatriotic; and in fact, they are a threat to a government OF the people, elected BY the people, and FOR the people - as Abe the rail-splitter would put it. We hope that these unpatriotic disruptors and haters will take some time to reflect on their nefarious activities, and realize that they have crossed the line of legitimate protest. Unfortunately, based on how these people apparently think (actually, it appears to be more of an emotional reactionary process than logical thought) we do not expect that they will come to this conclusion.
These screwballs exist on BOTH the conservative and liberal extremes of the political spectrum. Neither of these extremes move our country forward (they certainly are not "progressive"), nor do they preserve the American way of life (they do not "conserve" our precious freedom), they tear it down. One of the by-products of the vile hate which they spew on the Internet and TV is that it discourages many citizens from speaking out and participating in our democracy for fear of having to engage these people (often friends or family), and then being viciously attacked by them... Informed, reasoned, discourse is simply not what these characters want. In our view, our country needs a strong and legitimate minority to maintain balance in our government; but the current minority political party has diminished their standing to such a degree that they are no longer effective at bringing this much needed balance to our government. The recent inept negotiations regarding the self-inflicted "Fiscal Cliff" make this point all too well... If YOU think that OUR stating these observations is wrong-minded or offensive, then you are likely the very people we are referring to. We hope that more of our friends who find this behavior offensive will also speak out against your disruptive and inappropriate activities.
Recently, we were enjoying Shark & Bake (fish sandwiches) at pretty Maracas Bay on the north shore of Trinidad. We found ourselves sharing a table with some nice folks from Venezuela who made the statement that, "You Americans hate Venezuela and our President Chavez." We assured them that we did not hate the Venezuelan people, and that we were in fact glad that they had a republic, governed by a constitution, under which the majority of their people elected a leader. We told them that we were looking forward to visiting their country in the coming months. What we did not say is that there is no way we would vote for a socialist from the far left for president, but we did tell them that we were happy that the Venezuelan people were able to select their leader, and then allow him to lead them in the face of strong domestic and international opposition. It is their choice who leads them.
For the record, we are registered to vote as "independent" with respect to party affiliation. We endorse neither of the two major American political parties because, in the aggregate, the ACTIONS of them BOTH do not reflect our views of good government; but then, we do not condemn them either. The majority has spoken, and President Obama is our lawful elected leader - so please let him lead. As American citizens traveling the world we fly our national ensign onboard Tiger Lilly daily - we are PROUD TO BE AMERICANS! God Bless our president, and God bless the United States of America.
Tom & Lilly Service - Ambassadors At Large
S/V Tiger Lilly