S/V Tiger Lilly

Rig heavy, reef early, and pray often; for God does not assure us an easy passage, but He does promise a safe anchorage...

02 January 2018 | Clan Jeti Anchorage, Georgetown, Penang Island, Malaysia
03 November 2016 | Singapore, Southeast Asia
02 October 2016 | Kumai River, Borneo
24 August 2016 | Rindja Island, Indonesia
22 July 2016 | Fannie Bay, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
14 June 2016 | Pancake Creek, Queensland, Australia
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11 June 2016 | Burnette Heads, Queensland, Australia
07 June 2016 | Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia
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23 December 2015 | Brisbane, Australia
13 August 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
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12 April 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
11 February 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
25 January 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
24 September 2014 | BORA BORA, French Polynesia
23 September 2014 | Bora Bora

TIGER LILLY cruises Eastern Venezuela - Rio Pedernales Pilot

09 August 2008 | Rio Orinoco Delta, Eastern Venezuela
Hot & Humid
Pedernales Pilot
Several of the international sailors who explored the Rio Orinoco Delta before S/V Tiger Lilly (previously known as S/V Jean Marie) have contributed to various Orinoco Delta Pilots. These helpful documents are passed down to succeeding generations of cruisers that call at Chaguaramus, Trinidad each year. They can be obtained for a reasonable duplication fee from Jesse James' Members Only Maxi-Taxi Service at his office in the Tropical Marine yard in Chaguaramus. (You do not have to be a member, because there are no members - it is only a name mate...) To all those who have gone before us, and taken the time and effort to write down your notes and pass them on, we say THANK YOU - your cruising notes were quite helpful to us. Here is our contribution:

There are hundreds of cruising sailboats that call at Trinidad each year; mainly during either Hurricane Season (June - November) or Carnival (February or March); but only a relatively few boats explore the Rio Orinoco Delta, just 50 miles across the Gulf of Paria - just a day sail south across the Gulf of Paria. Considering the over-crowded, over-priced, typical Eastern Caribbean port-of-call, it is a mystery to us why so few boats take advantage of exploring a remote yet easily accessible, un-crowded and interesting place like the Rio Orinoco Delta. These pilot notes are provided so that perhaps more folks will give this remote area the serious consideration it deserves as a cruising destination.

Point-of-view is important when deciding just how to use cruising information that someone else put together; especially someone you do not know. Deciding how this information applies to your boat, and your cruising objectives, is important. So to help you sort it out, here is a brief description of our crew and our boat:
Skipper - Tom is a retired US Navy Salvage Officer, and has owned S/V Tiger Lilly (then known as S/V Jean Marie) for 23 years. Tom cruised S/V Tiger Lilly on the Rio Pedernales and the Rio Manamo single-handed for 19 days in July and August 2008, in-company with another single-hander, Tony, aboard his Rival 32 S/V Tarnimara. When in Trinidad, we use the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association at Harts Cut in Carenage Bay as our base of operations.
S/V Tiger Lilly:
1977 CSY 44 walkover
44ft X 13.3ft X 6.9ft - we use 7 feet as our navigational draft (Note: the boat was designed at 6.5ft draft, however like TBS's belt, it has been expanded 3 times in the last 20 years...)
Displacement is approximately 40,000 pounds (she was designed at 37,000 pounds, see above note)
Fuel 160 gallons
Potable water 400 gallons (No water-maker, but we do have a deck rain water catching system)
Engine 60HP naturally aspirated Perkins Prima Diesel
VHF / SSB / GPS / Chart Plotter & Radar with CMAP
Speed Log / Fathometer
Wind Vane Self-Steering Gear / Electric Autopilot
Lofrans Falkon 1500 watt anchor windlass
Primary Anchor: 66 pound Bruce on 200 feet 3/8 chain
Secondary Anchor: 45 pound CQR on chain & nylon double-braid
40 pound Danforth mounted on the utility arch
75 pound Fisherman disassembled and stowed in the bilge
Center cockpit dodger & sun fly
Primary dinghy: 10.5 ft Cape Dory sailor & rowing boat
3.5 hp two-stroke outboard
Back-up dinghy: Achilles SPD-4 rubber ducky

Getting across the Gulf of Paria, making an approach to Boca Pedernales, and then running the Boca up to the Pedernales Village is quite straightforward, and can be accomplished in one very long day. Here are the waypoints we used:
CARBAY 10-39.65N 061-36.67W (Carenage Bay)
BPAPCH 10-05.30N 062-08.30W (Boca Pedernales Approach)
These two waypoints cross the Gulf of Paria from Carenage Bay, Trinidad to Boca Pedernales, Venezuela. (A distance of 46.43 miles at 222 degrees true.)

The approach to Boca Pedernales:
PRECHL 10-03.83N 062-09.17W (Preferred Channel Buoy)
Between BPAPCH and PRECHL we saw no less than 12 feet - corrected to low tide.
PLTENE 10-01.68N 062-11.71W (Platform "ENE" at Punta Tolete)
Boca Pedernales:
These three waypoints - approach / buoy / platform - lay out safe passage of Boca Pedernales in a southwesterly direction between the Middle Ground extending seaward from Isla Cotorra to the west, and the shoal extending seaward from Punta Tolete to the east. Safe water around the shoal to the east is marked by buoys, as shown on the charts - but these buoys were well in the distance as we transited the Boca Pedernales. There is a strong current running WNW out of the Serpents Mouth, and care must be taken not to be set on to the Middle Ground while transiting the Boca Pedernales. The CMAP chart show a 7 foot bar oriented NW-SE crossing Boca Pedernales at the Preferred Channel Buoy location, but we saw no less than 15 feet (corrected to low water) on a direct line between waypoints PRECHL and PLTENE.

Rio Pedernales to Capure:
Once abeam of Platform "ENE" stay on the south side of the river (the Isla Capure side) between the Punta Tolete and Capure. We saw no less than 20 feet (corrected to low water) on this leg.
Note: Between Punta Tolete and the Village of Capure the CMAP charts (using a Furuno chart plotter) showed us aground and ashore in several places, but we were actually quite safe and in 20 feet of water; this was our first notice that the CMAP CHARTS ARE NOT ACCURATE FOR THE RIO ORINOCO DELTA REGION. However, they worked fine for the approach - when we needed them most. Once in the rivers and canos we navigated by fathometer, and watching the banks.

Rio Pedernales Town Anchorage:
Our first anchorage was at 09-58.09N 062-14.7W in 12 feet (corrected for low water) in the Rio Pedernales across the river from the Guardia Costa Station. We stayed over on the east side of the river for the first night because there is less traffic in this area than on the Pedernales Village side. After a long day getting there, we elected to hoist the Quebec Flag and check in at the Guardia Costa Station the next morning. The next day we shifted anchorage to the west side of the Rio Pedernales and anchored in about 30 feet just off the Guardia Costa Station.
Note: the bottom is foul off these docks, and anchoring closer in invites a fouled anchor...
We used the Guardia Costa Station pier to moor our dinghy and gain access to the Station. It is a good secure place to leave your dinghy while in the Village, and the Guardia Costa personnel welcomed us. If you come back to the Station and the gate is locked, simply push the buzzer button at the gate to alert the watch.

Based on the inaccuracy of the CMAP charts in this area, the fact that there is an extensive shoal off the village in the Boca Pedernales open roadstead, and that very strong current flows in the Boca, when we transited from the Rio Pedernales to the Rio Manamo we went all the way over to the Isla Cortorra side of Boca Pedernales to clear that shoal.
To navigate around the extensive shoal NW of the Pedernales Peninsula when transiting from the Rio Pedernales to the Rio Manamo we used these waypoints:
RPRS01 09-58.73N 062-14.69W (Pedernales Roadstead #1)
RPRS02 09-58.99N 062-14.99W (Pedernales Roadstead #2)
RPRS03 09-58.93N 062-15.35W (Pedernales Roadstead #3)
RPRS04 09-58.56N 062-15.90W (Pedernales Roadstead #4)
RPRS06 09-58.37N 062-15.99W (Pedernales Roadstead #5)
RPRS07 09-57.49N 062-16.21W (Pedernales Roadstead #6)
The least depth we saw while making this transit was 14 feet (corrected for low water) NW of Capure, and the majority of the time we saw 22 to 25 feet. Watch the set and drift on the cross-current legs as you work your way around this shoal: with a couple of knots of current on the beam it would be very easy to get set right down on it.

There is an absolutely incredible amount of water that flows in and out of this huge Delta every day: The Rio Orinoco is the world's 8th largest river with a watershed that extends from Columbia in the west, to Brazil's Amazonia to the south, and most of Venezuela to the north. Additionally, during the tropical rainy season this entire area is subject to torrential rains almost daily. Superimposed on all of this freshwater running out to the sea, is the saltwater tides ebbing and flowing in the Lower Delta - which experiences about a 4 to 5 foot tidal range, swinging the current around every 6 hours. What a dynamic place - from a hydrological point of view... If there ever was a place that set and drift need to be taken in to account while maneuvering and navigating - this is it.
When entering the Rio Manamo, and skirting the west side of the Pedernales Peninsula, we stayed to the east (close to the Pedernales Peninsula side), until the Rio Manamo narrowed (and deepens). In this area we saw an average of about 22 feet, with a least depth of 16 feet (adjusted for low water); but the CMAP chart shows a lot less water.
Once in the Rio Pedernales or the Rio Manamo proper, practical navigation is pretty much to keep her between the trees, watch the fathometer, and forget the chart plotter.

General Notes:

1. In river navigation the bends have the deepest water. So, if you need more water, always try the outside of the bend first. This system worked well for us.

2. The wider the river was, the shallower it was likely to be. When the river narrows down (bank to bank) 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.

3. We hit the "WAYPOINT" button on the chart plotter every mile or so to keep a record of our track. These electronic breadcrumbs - that the birds cannot eat - made returning back up our track much easier. There are a lot of islands and forks in the river, and it can become quite confusing when returning from whence you came. The reason for this is that the river looks very different when travelling in the opposite direction. (I hesitate to use the terms upstream or downstream, because we were always in areas that had reversing tidal currents.)

4. Running with the current (flood or ebb, depending on which direction we were heading) to get free miles seemed like a good idea until we grounded S/V Tiger Lilly going upstream on a 2 knot flood (with the current running up her skirt...) on a broad stretch of Cano Angosto. We did not have the power to back off with that much current going with us, and when we tried to pivot around and get the bow into the current to power off, she would not go beyond broadside-to. We found ourselves with a 2 knot current on the beam (and a rising tide) setting us further and further up on to a mud bank. This is when having another boat in company really paid off. S/V Tarnimara had less draft, and Tony was able to get close enough to take a tow line from our bow and pivot us around, then we easily powered into the current and off the mud bank. If he was not there to help, we would have been taking anchors out with the dink to kedge off, and we probably would have needed an additional tide cycle to get off. (Read that - working in the dark with LOTS of friggin mosquitoes...) After this experience we did not go exploring in shallow canos running downstream, we waited until the tide turned or slackened, and did our sniffing around by depth sounder with the current on the nose. This problem was not an issue in the main river as there is usually enough water to navigate. Also, after this experience - which occurred early in our cruise - I always kept a tow line rigged to the bow ready to deploy.

5. We used the hand-drawn chart from the September 2006 version of the Manamo / Pedernales / Angosto Cruising Notes (created by S/V Do It, S/V La Gitana, and S/V Sea Loon) extensively for daily planning purposes and VHF radio discussions with our cruising mate Tony on S/V Tarnimara.

6. Although we saw no security problems on the Rio Pedernales or the Rio Manamo, we were warned by the local authorities that there was drug trafficking in the Delta, and that was the greatest threat security wise. Having another boat in company seems to increase the odds in our favor.

7. The land throughout the Lower Delta has very little elevation, and at high tide during the rainy season there isn't much dry land anywhere. Consequently, we spent a lot (almost all) of our time aboard our boat or exploring in the dinghy. There just are not many places to go ashore other than the Eco Lodges or Pedernales Village. Also, according to the locals, there is no shortage of poisonous snakes in this area... So, our social life while on the Delta consisted of visiting the other boat in company and the Waro Indian stilt villages.

8. When we were exploring the side canos with the dinghy we had to be independent and ready for most eventualities. Here is some of gear we carried in the dink on these expeditions: spare fuel; effective oars; a good anchor with plenty of chain & rode; O/B motor repair kit (shear pin, spark plug, starting cord, tools); a powerful flashlight; a headlight (we only explored in the daylight - these lights were in case we screwed up and found ourselves in the jungle at night); handheld VHF (but there was NOBODY to talk to within VHF range...); machete; pocket knife; strong bug repellant; long-sleeved shirt / long pants / neckerchief / hat; lots of drinking water, granola bars, and apples. It took a long time to collect all this stuff and load it in the dink, and all we ever used was the machete, water, and apples. BUT, we took dinghy ops away from the big boat very seriously, we absolutely did not want to spend a night in the jungle ...

9. We kept the camera and binoculars handy in the cockpit, or the dink at all times. We wish we owned a good South American bird book, because we usually had no idea what we were looking at or what just flew by. It was actually easier to see birds from the dink in the mid-sized canos as they flew from bank to bank. When we were in the sub-canos in the thick forest or jungle, we could not see much of the canopy, and that is primarily where the birds were.

10. Our bug drill was as follows: We screened-up every night about 30 minutes before sunset. A bug coil was lit and set in a dish on the cockpit deck, just outside the main companionway screen. A large citronella candle was lit and set out on the dinette table in the main cabin. Then the interior of the boat was given a quick shot of aerosol bug spray. We tried to spend nights on the relatively bug free broad areas of the main river, and then move the boats into the more confined, and buggy, areas during the day. We often found that during the night, beginning about 2 hours after sunset, we could usually go on deck with few bug problems. Cano exploration during the day in the dink was another matter entirely. Every time we brushed a palm frond or overhanging limb, here came the Venezuelan Air Force - in hoards. We just had to cover up pretty good, and dress like it was cold out - with temperatures throughout the day in the mid 90's...

11. The water hyacinth fouled our anchor chains almost every night. The most effective, and easiest, method that I found for removing it was as follows: I would remove the chain hook and then power straight up into the current for about half the distance to the anchor. I would then turn hard to starboard and back full (we have a right-hand propeller). This would usually get the boat broadside to the current, and as we backed away, the weed came off the bow and anchor chain. We would then settle back on the chain, stemming the current, and if any weed remained, it was easily removed with the boat hook. We then recovered the rode and anchor in the usual manner.

12. Be prepared to anchor in 30 and 40 foot deep water, with plenty of current. This is typically the depth in the middle of the channel, and away from the banks, where there are fewer bugs. Wind and waves were never a problem, and even in 40 feet, if we deployed 180 of our 200 feet of chain (less than 5 to 1) she still stayed put. We found that our Bruce did a great job of anchoring the boat in the usual thick clay and heavy marl bottoms that are prevalent in the Delta. The Bruce has a good reputation for resetting itself - and the current reversed direction every 6 hours or so. Bring good ground tackle to this show, so you can sleep well...

13. The water in the Delta is very turbid, with a heavy content of silt. It is clean dirt (biologically), but it will foul expensive water-maker filters very quickly. There is just no substitute for large potable water tankage on a proper cruising boat.

14. Anytime we anchored on the main rivers or large canos, we showed an anchor light at night. There is 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 at night...

15. We were not very interested in trading with the Waro, they simply did not have anything we wanted. We were interested in having contact with them, and the principal way that we did this was when they paddled out to our boat as we passed by their villages, we slowed to bare steerageway, and distributed hard candy to each person in the canoe - usually kids. We did bring some needed material to a family farming on Isla de Monos, and we did bring some school supplies for donation to the Indian schools.

16. We don't usually get involved in "buddy boating". However, in the Delta we found it was quite worthwhile to have another boat in company. Tony aboard his boat S/V Tarnimara was also single-handing, and we agreed that there were many benefits to this system for this particular cruising area. We recommend a pairing of boats. Any more than two makes for a gaggle that just seems to go into paralysis whenever any decision needs to be made - and that happens multiple times a day. Also, it just doesn't make sense to overwhelm the relatively shy Waro people with too many visitors at the same time in the same place. This is a really big area and there is plenty of room for several boats to cruise, and not be crowded.

The Gulf of Paria has a lot of Oil Patch infrastructure. Unmarked capped well-heads are quite common. Although these structures are required to be lighted, I would be surprised if anyone in either the oil companies, or the Coast Guard, is paying much attention. The Gulf of Paria is not a place for the uninitiated to sail at night...

Well there you have it, our input to the ongoing development of cruising information for the Rio Orinoco Delta. Our cruise on the Rio Pedernales and the Rio Manamo has encouraged us to see more of this wild and remote area. We intend also to explore the Rio Macareo at a future date. Although it is possible to enter the Rio Macareo from the Serpents Mouth and cruise upstream, and then cross over and sail downstream in the Rio Grande to the Atlantic Ocean, subsequent exploration by Tony aboard S/V Tarnimara has shown that the authorities do not want international yachts on the Rio Grande. If you are looking for something different from the usual Eastern Caribbean anchorages - perhaps a bit of exploring in the Rio Orinoco Delta will put some adventure back in cruising for you - it certainly has for me!

To see the pics that go with this Pedernales Pilot post, navigate through our PHOTO GALLERY thusly: PORTS OF CALL / SOUTH AMERICA / VENEZUELA / PEDERNALES PILOT.
Vessel Name: Tiger Lilly
Vessel Make/Model: 1977 CSY44 walkover hull #55
Hailing Port: Green Cove Springs
Crew: Lilly and Tom Service
Lilly is a retired business woman, and was previously a professional athlete. As one of America's first professional female triathletes, she was a pioneer in woman's sports. [...]
Our kids: From 1987 to 1991 Tom circumnavigated the world with his family. Daughters Dawn and Jennifer were ages 11 & 13 when they departed on a 4 year, 40 country / island group, Trade Wind voyage around the world, and 15 & 17 when they returned to St. Petersburg, FL. During his high school [...]
Tiger Lilly's Photos - Main
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