Monthly Archives: March 2010

Aloha… from Aruba

100327 – Saturday morning, on the hook in Aruba

I was going to write a bit from Bonaire, and had decided at least on a general title for the blog entry: Hurts so good.

It had nothing to do really with JC Mellankamp or 80’s flashbacks or anything like that. More simply it was a quick summary of Bonaire – where, after nearly three whole months, we berthed once more in a marina, our first since Power Boats in Trinidad.

The Good – that doesn’t hurt.

Harbour Village Marina

The ‘good’ part of course is the cushy marina life: practically unlimited water supply to the boat, 110 or 220 volts, plugged right in. These two oddities are what make living on a boat a challenge for some – that and rolling seas, limited space, no TV, no shopping malls, and all the rest (the list is long). Beyond that, you also have extremely calm conditions – the boat almost doesn’t move. You have 24 hour security, locking gates to keep strangers away. There are showers in the locker rooms (though no hot water in this particular marina) and so you can take a loooooong shower if you want to. After living on a boat and taking very economical showers, you know you don’t truly NEED to take a loooong shower, but you can.

We had arrived in Bonaire Friday, March 19th, and went into to berth at the marina – Harbour Village Marina – on Saturday the 20th. As we haven’t seen rain since Trinidad (December), the first thing I did was to hook up the hose and give my lovely boat a topsides bath – power washing off three months of salt spray, Montserrat ash, and general grime. Amazing difference. If you enjoy personally washing your car and enjoying just how damn good it can look afterward, you know the pleasant sensation and pride I’m talking about. Unless you hate your car. Larissa and Adriana got a ride from Steve and headed to the grocery store for supplies. Steve is a very cool guy – a Englishman originally but a Bonaire resident for 15 years and for the last 3 months, a liveaboard in the same marina on his 51 ft Gulfstream ketch, alone. Lots of boat for a single guy, but the deal was pretty good and so he’d sold his house and purchased this 30 year old, very sturdy, fiberglass ketch. He just doesn’t know yet when he’s going to ‘head out there’. Good thing he hadn’t sold his car yet, because as a cruiser, getting a ride to the grocery store means less walking. More importantly, it means you can pick up more provisions at once – not having to hand carry them (walking) back to the boat.

We spent a total of 4 nights in the marina – taking care of odd jobs, hand washing tons of clothes, doing a bit of internet surfing – generally enjoying the cushy life. Good thing on the clothes too – Lara and I hadn’t used a washing machine since Bequia in January. I also did a temporary ‘fix’ to the rudder bearing. From below in the locker, I managed to push it back up into the tube, almost all the way. It actually slid back up a lot easier than I would have guessed. That would mean, I think, that whatever epoxy had been there holding it in place between Trididad and them moment it came loose (on passage from Martinique to Los Roques?), was now completely gone. A mystery. Does non-cured epoxy evaporate? Well, for the moment, I put a gigantic electical tie around the shaft, between the tube and the steering quadrant. Originally, the bearing had slipped down about 3 or 3.5 cm (just over an inch) – it can’t go any farther since it slides right down onto the steering quadrant. Now if it does slide down again (likely) it will only be able to slide down about 1cm. Not perfect, but better than before. I did pick up some new epoxy – it’s from West Systems and has an easy to manage mixing tube, 2 in 1, so you don’t have to play around getting the quantities right. I also got some special syringes to apply the epoxy down into the milimetrical space between the bearing and the tube (in Trinidad, we didn’t have any on hand, Christmas Eve, and so had to use the small flimsy part of a Bic pen to kind of slap it in, tiny quantities at a time…).

Marinas nearly always have a very interesting mix of boats in them. On A dock, there was a lively Swedish boat, a few empty Super Maramus from France, a lovely US boat called “Clemencia”. Near us on B dock was a huge, brand-new Hatteras powerboat from Venezuela, and with liveaboard crew that you hardly ever saw, a gorgeous dark blue Swan from the UK, around 60 feet, called “Sultano”, another dark blue yacht of about 60 feet from Canada called “Entrada” (she had a bow entry so steep and and so fine she looked like a Farr racing sled from the bow), Steve’s Gulfstream, and a few abandoned boats: one an ancient steel thing – a cruising dream crushed when the guy lost his wife – and another fine sloop called “Fiddlesticks”.

A British Swan, “Sultano”

Fast-looking Canuck Boat, “Entrada”

This is “Onyx”, an increidlbe megayacht that we’ve crossed paths with four or five times – Tobago Cays, Los Roques, Las Aves, Bonaire…

Steve’s Gulfsrtream 51 – I think she’s called “Mareva”

On Monday, and again with Steve’s generous offer for a ride, we went to town (Kralendijk). Eduardo and I checked in with Immigration and Customs, and then visited Budget Marine, our favorite chandlery. I was able to re-stock some fishing gear, get Lara some sailing gloves, and took a huge step forward in solving our recurring propane gas woes. In other words, I was able to pick up a gas bottle that I’d had my eyes on for months but hadn’t been able to find on sale. It’s got a plastic frame and a fiberglass bottle. Aside from being lighter than the typical steel bottles, there is NO RUST (important on steel boats you know) and, with the fiberglass structure, you can SEE how much gas you have left. Very cool. I think all gas bottles should be like that now! If the chandlery had stocked more, I would have purchased two – but they didn’t have any more. 😦 Anyway, this one carries 10 pounds of butane or propane and we filled it up at the marina for US$ 1.75 / lb. Now my gas locker has quite a collection of bottles:

The little blue one is the “Campingaz” 3kg bottle – a European standard that we bought in Martinique. The larger blue one, tucked in the corner, holds about 8 to 10kg – this one from St. Vincent (bought it the day my in-laws left for Brazil). Though it’s still more than half full, the trouble is that I discovered a slow leak in the hookup valve. Not just any valve, of course, but a specific Shell Oil & Gas company valve that is apparently common in the Caribbean but totally unavailable in places like Martinique, Bonaire and Aruba… I discoverd the leak in Martinique. So…. That one is now a back up and when we do need to use it, we’ll have to hook up and then disconnect the valve for every use. Not exactly practical. Such is the cruising life sometimes. But who cares, I absolutely love my new fiberglass bottle – no rust and a 15 year rated lifespan. Funny how something like that can cause you so much joy!

The bad
What hurts so good about a marina is when you check out, and get the bill. We ended up with a bill of something like US$280… For four days! That’s US$1 / day / foot of boat length (43 bucks a day, for us), about $12 for the electricity (metered, of course!), and the whopper: more than $70 for water. Water is $0.09 a gallon – so you figure it out! Yes, we did fill the water tanks (that’s around 320 gallons) and that of course is nice. The rest was washing the boat and washing clothes. It might have been worse had we sent our clothes to the laundry – $4.50 for 2.2lbs (1kg)! And we washed a lot of clothes. Even better was washing down the boat, again, with brush and soap. During our 4 days in the marina, Walk On was once again a mess – heavily dusted with a red dirt that blows across the island, and it’s been blowing 20 knots and more for four days straight! It all hurt so good – so good to clean up like that, so painfull to see the bill.

Best waterfront?
So Wednesday we headed back out to the city waterfront – a long string of moorings, only 25 meters aways from the coast and therefore close to town: stores, restaurants and bars. What sets Bonaire apart is not only this incredibly well-organized waterfront (quality moorings that you HAVE to use, no anchoring, for a fair price of $10 a night), but the quality of the waterfront itself… Just below the surface! We dinghied to several place to snorkel in this incredible place – but the very best snorkeling was right under the boat! Just put on your fins and mast and fall in the water. The island slopes steeply away from the shore so at about 25 meters away, the water is 7 or 8 meters deep and absolutely bursting with coral and fish. At 50 meters distant from the coast, the slope falls off into oblivion, a certain blue that only nature could create. Le Grand Blu – for sure! Amazing snorkeling right under the boat and a civilized shoreline just in front. Trade winds to cool things off and charge the batteries, and flat water in the lee of the island. Could be the best waterfront we’ve ever seen, or wanted!

Shaking a leg – towards Cartagena
Fabio & Debby will be in Cartagena on April Fool’s Day – so we need to get there! On Thursday, the 25th, we checked out of C&I (Customs & Immigration) and dropped the mooring at sunset. Course? Aruba! We passed a US Coast Guard Cutter on the way out – the first I’ve seen on this cruise.

From the logbook:

(leaving bonaire – Klein Bonaire Island and Anima Mare @ sunset)

100325 – Leaving Bonaire
Sunset. Dropped mooring.
Motor: 1,009.3 hours
Left together with Anima Mare. CG Cutter in the bay. Light winds, 8-10kts, E/SE

Headed for s. Tip of Curaçao.

At the beginning of the passage, Lara gets ready to peel some potatoes, downwind!  They were great with the spicy Tandoori Chicken!  Thanks baby cakes.

Wing and Wing at Sunset

00:45
Have started midnight watch. Rounded S. Cape fo Curaçao about an hour ago. Winds now 12-16kts, E/SE. At the turn, wind angle shifted from 170 degrees to port to about 165 degree to starboard – had to jibe main & spinnaker pole & reset genoa. Again sailing wing and wing. Boat averaging about 6.5 kts, calmer seas here in the lee of Curaçao. Pretty heaving shipping, brightly lit towns & cities along lee shore, to stb.

Position
12.02.203N
68.51.979W
Heading
306 degrees magnetic

64nm to Aruba coast

Had fantastic Tandoori chicken & potatoes for dinner!

0645
I did the midnight watch till about 0330. Lara took over to 0630. Now out of the lee of Curaçao – seas a bit lumpy, waves from the stb quarter. Wind about 13kts, right on the stern. Boat is maintaining 6 to 6.5kts. Gorgeous sunrise!

Position
12.13.90N
69.26.376W

28.8nm to Aruba coast waypoint

Fishing now, listening to the Doobie Brothers.

Saturday morning sunrise, fishing & the Doobies

0845
LAND HO. Can see 5 or 6 large windmills at about 16nm distant – at Punta Basora

Position
12.18.874N
69.39.670W

Continued lumpy seas, No fish!

Noon (Friday, 26 March)
Entered anchorage of Oranjestad, between commercial docks and Queen Beatrix Airport. Very windy, very shallow. One US boat here: Swan Lake, big ass Oyster of probably 60 feet. Gorgeous.

Anchored in 4m of water:
12.30.573N
70.02.045W

Made good time – and rollicked up the Aruba coast the last 10 miles – flat water and boatspeed between 9 and 10 knots the whole way. Peaked at 10.5. Had some current methinks….

– – – – –

After arriving, we said hello to Edu & Adriana, who arrived shortly afterwards. Then we had pasta and white wine for lunch and then… BED! I slept from 1400 to midnight in a deep, deep, deep sleep. Got up for some reason and then back to bed. Woke up today about 0600.

Sunrise this morning, Saturday.

From our anchorage, Aruba is a busy place. Over coffee this morning, I watched a huge cruise ship pull in, a half a dozen Hatteras/Bertram style fishing boats headed out for a day of hunting the seas, and several Delta, American, and US Air jets coming in. This place is tourism, all the way.

In a little while we’ll go ashore – grocery shopping, internet to check the weather, and a bit of sightseeing in Oranjestad. Back to Walk On early-ish to prep for the passage to Cartagena. We’ll leave about sunrise tomorrow – 400 nm separate us form the old spanish city and our reunion with dear friends. We epxect three nights at sea and arrival on Wednesday. Fabio & Debby show up Thursday evening! Looking forward to that!!!

Ciao for now gang.
MM

A question of perspective:

our little dinghy in the foreground, a rather large sailing yacht (a US Oyster called Swan Lake) in the middleground, and a rather humongous cruise ship in the background – this is the “Ruby Princess” and she just pulled in this morning.

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we’re off again

April 1st is approaching, and we’ve got a date set with Fabio & Debby in Cartagena. Time to shake a leg! We’ll head to Aruba sometime tonight, spend a day or two, and then on to Cartagena – where I suppose we’ll have more news and pictures etc. Hot and windy today, very windy. So, until then, Fair winds!
MM


more (old) videos / ainda outros (velhos) videos

Some “old” footage from Trinidad & Tobago. We haven’t had good internet connections in months, so this older video has been lurking around on my Mac for a while… rain in Trinidad, dolphins in Tobago, fishing in between, and the famous “Julieta” by the original artist… on our boat in Trinidad!


lagosta….


one year ago / um ano atras

You may or may not have seen this – that’s ok. But I had to post it because as it happens, I posted this video on YouTube exactly one year ago…….. amazing (to me). So much wind, so many miles, since then. What a change a year can bring.

Talvez voce ja viu esse, talvez nao – mas tudo bem.  Isso nao importa.  O que pegou a minha atencao hoje (surfando mais livre na internet do que o normal, pra mim) é que esse video foi colocado no YouTube exatamente um ano atras, hoje!  Dai, tanto vento, tantas milhas debaixo da quilha.  Impressionante mesmo as mudancas que um ano pode fazer.



video: on the way to Tobago, part II

this is old – the second part of the trip from Brazil to Tobago – but I finally got a decent internet connection to upload it…


gallery

an assortment of photos that I hadn’t posted – many of them are from Adriana and Eduardo.  Thanks guys!


100320 – Saturday Morning – Bonaire – coffe and blogging in ‘almost-Europe’

Isla Sur – Las Aves (Venezuela)

The Rocks to The Birds to Bonaire
On Wednesday the 17th, it was finally time to leave Los Roques.  And why not?  It was St. Patrick’s Day, and Antonio Ivis’ birthday!  Not in a rush, we pulled up the anchor at about 0930 from our fairy tale anchorage at Elbert Key (11.50.453N, 66.55.808W) and headed for Las Aves.  We were going from the Rocks to the Birds…

Las Aves is another small group of islands and reefs, just to the west of Los Roques, perhaps 20 nautical miles or so.   The islands are split into two groups, windward (‘Barlovento’ on my Navionics chart, barlavento in Portuguese) and leeward (‘Sotavento’ both on the chart and in Portuguese).

The short daysail was relatively easy – the only real job being wrestling a bit with the spinnaker pole to set the genoa correctly, as we were sailing downwind in about 15 knots of breeze.  We don’t often do this, as our course is rarely dead downwind, and even it if is, I often prefer to head up or down to avoid sailing that way.  I guess that’s beause I’m still getting used to managing the spi pole on the rolling foredeck.  The pole is quite large (something like 18 ft long), and attached to the leading edge of the mast for cleaner storage – off the deck.  But until you get used to it, it can be an ungainly experience – even dangerous if you don’t think the process through first.  So that’s what I did.  I propped myself up between the mast and the safety pulpits (on either side of the mast) and just kind of stared at everything for about 10 minutes, working it out in my head.  It went off without a hitch, a scary moment, or breaking anything and for the first time since October (Fortaleza to Luis Correia) we were sailing wing and wing.  We picked up nearly 2 knots of boatspeed in the process so it was worth it.

Just after 1300 we began rounding the southernmost of the Windward Aves islands, Isla Sur.  This is the largest island of the group, perhaps a nautical mile running nearly straight east and west.  The eastern (windward) border of the group of islands is actually a huge horseshoe reef, making everything to the west a rather enormous pool of sorts – still windy, but without the rolling swells or crashing waves of the open Caribbean Sea.  We rolled up the genoa, stored the spi pole and then lowered the main to make our final entrance to these calmer waters.  The scenery was increble:  Isla Sur with her magnificient mangroves and some taller trees, and the whole ‘pool’ area potchmarked with reefs and shallows, lighter colored areas betraying shallow sandy waters, darker areas the reefs below.  We spent about an hour wandering north and then back west towards the designated anchorage, where three other masts already marked the promised land.  As we entered the anchorage, we waved to a boat from Ottawa, Canada, one from Germany and one from Road Harbour (BVI), and then set the hook in about 6 meters of crystal clear water.

11.56.832N, 67.25.364W – boat and birds
True to it’s name, the islands have a decent, ok, heavy concentration of birds.  Not the swarming masses of seagulls (if that’s what they were) and pelicans of Los Roques, but a steady stream of larger seabirds constantly swooping about in 20 knots of easterly trade winds.  Really an acrobatic site.  Our anchorage was only several hundred yards north of the mangroves and trees of Isla Sur, and so I took the dinghy over for a closer look.  Tucked in beneath the trees was a small sailboat, sunk to her decks – a fiberglass affair without mast or any other visible equipment, only the coachroof peeking out of the water.  I’d guess she was about 23-25 feet, and similar to our first boat, a Fast 230.  I always hate to see wrecks, derelicts, broken dreams like that – makes you wonder about how or why something like that happened.  Was she scuttled and left for dead, or did she drag anchor in heavier winds and wind up on the reef just below the surface?

I didn’t have long to contemplate the fate of the little sailboat, distracted as I was by the white ‘splotches’ in the trees – everywhere!  Now only meters away from the branches, and trying not to foul the outboard motor on a long series of brain coral just below the surface, I got a closer look.  The white ‘splotches’ were actually fluffy, and if nearly immobile, they had beadly little black spots on them: eyes!  They were young birds.  With stubby wings that clearly wouldn’t take them anywhere and fluffy while plumage all over, these little guys presented a cute if not helpless kind of a picture.  I got fairly close to one and “Mom and Dad” seemed keen on keeping me at a distance – one large bird flying right over me in menacing cirlces and another positioning him/herself in the tree branches, close to the snow white youngin’.  But these little guys were everywhere.  It all made me think about timing.  The spectacle was quite special but I realized that had we been there a few weeks earlier the young ones may not have been there at all.  A few weeks later, and they may have been flying around with mom and dad – not ‘stuck’ in the trees where they all now stared at me, a bit anxious, and looking for mom….  Timing is everything, isn’t it?

I really should have gone back over there with the dinghy to shoot a better photo of these furry little guysbut I didn’t and so now this is all I have…

I don’t know anything about birds, except perhaps to point out which one is a pelican and which one isn’t.  So I don’t know what kind of birds these are.  Cormorants?  Something else?  Probably.  But I am curious to find out about them because I can’t figure out what they eat!  They swoop around, all the time, studying the water and often coming very close to it.  In this environment, they must eat something from the sea.  Fish?  Squid?  If they do, you’d be hard pressed to prove it.  I spent hours watching these guys and never managed to see any of them pick anything up and / or out of the water.  Like anywhere else, they are more active around sunrise and sunset, and the place doesn’t seem capable of maintaining enough insects to feed the whole gang (we didn’t see any new creepy-crawly-flying anythings on board during our stay) – so, what is it?  And the fluffy little ones?  Even if they eat from the mouths of their parents (likely), what is it that they’re gulping down?  The mystery continues until I can get a decent Google session going with a good internet connection…

Pigafetta and Barracuda

Thursday the 18th was pretty much a liesure day.  Over coffee in the morning (always coffee!), I read the final chapters of Laurence Bergreen’s “Over the Edge of the World”.  If you’ve any curiosity about exploration, nautical and empire history, or simply want to know more about the first recorded circumnavigation by sail, this book is a very good read.  Magellan didn’t actually make it all the way around, as you might know, but one of the 5 original ships in his armada did, with Elcano the Basque mariner and one Venetian guy who wrote down most of what we know about the trip anyway: Antonio Pigafetta.  But the book strives to go beyond the typically accepted account of just Pigafetta – and succeeds.  I for one was fascinated by the additional details offered by so many other sources, not to mention newer, more intimate details of the whole expedition that have only recently become available thanks to new translations and access to once vague or almost secret sources.  I’d like one day to take my little blue boat down to visit Magellan’s famed straight.  Who knows.

After finishing the book, I took a nice long snorkel back along the shore, near the derelict sailboat and under the watchful eyes of the fluffy hatclings… The variety of fish and coral were very similar to Los Roques – stunning by most standards – but the most fun I had was swimming around amidst an army of little squid (calamari).  Later I swam back to Walk On, a bit disconcerted by the large barracuda that was following me around.  If you’ve never seen one in habitat, it’s hard to imagine just how menacing their presence can be.

The rest of the day was dedicated to doing very, very little.  Friday it was time to sail again.

A pretty anchorage this one – we really liked Las Aves

This is the boat from Ottawa – and in the background one of the guys flying all over the anchorage, kite surfing.  Great wind, calm flat water.  Has to be a kit surfer’s dream.


Surfing
On Friday morning, the 19th, the crews of both boats were up as agreed at 0530.  We had planned on a 0600 departure – first light helping us wind our way back out of the reef maze and into deeper water.  Destination?  Bonaire.  The eastward-most of the ABC islands, belonging to Holland.

Again our course – just a hair north of west – would take us directly downwind and so we set Walk On to sail wing and wing again.  The breeze was a bit stronger, more than 20 knots in the early hours and then 15-18 for most of the rest of the day.  We rolled along with an annoying set of 3/4 stern waves of 2 to 2.5 meters, generally staying above 7.5 knots.  On a few occasions, we surfed a few larger waves upwards of 11 knots.

The highlight of the daysail for me was reading a biography, in Portuguese, of JRR Tolkein.  Written by Michael White, this book gave me greater insight into the life, inspiration, determination and dedication to one of my all time favorite authors – as well as a great deal of respect.  Before this trip is through, I plan to reread The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and for the first time, The Silmarllion.  Tolkein was a admirable man to be sure – but also a literary genius beyond question.  How many have been captivated by Middle Earth, and in how many languages and across how many generations?  Wish I could have seen one of his early lectures on Beowulf.  Thanks JRR, for I too travelled far and wide and long ago, with Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, and all the others.  I too would have been miffed had someone named a channel ferry “Shadowfax” without my permission (long a favorite name – also of Brian Feeney).  But how would you have felt I wonder at seeing world-cruising sailboats with names like “Aragorn” and “Gandalf”, just as I did in Bequia???  I think you would have scorned the very sight, if Mr. White depicted you correctly.  A good read gang, especially and perhaps only if you’re a Tolkein fan.

We sailed around the south tip of Bonaire at about 1400 and made our way up the windswept east coast.  We’d planned on docking at Harbour Village Marina, but they were closing the office by the time we got there, and asked us to come back Saturday morning after nine.  We picked up a mooring instead, along the waterfront near the principal town, Kralendijk.  Bonaire would appear to be a world-class example of preservation – at least in terms of the marine environment.  Anchoring is not allowed, anywhere, so as to protect the reefs, coral and the environment in general.  You’re not allowed to use your marine head “straight to the water” and therefore should be switched over to your holding tank.  Glad we have one.  You’re not even allowed to have a speargun on board, and must check it in with Customs while you’re here.  All of that makes sense, and appears to pay off.  Bonaire is world-famous for it’s crystalline waters and top-notch diving.  People were even scuba diving right near the boat, between our mooring and the shore – 50 meters away.  Indeed the water is about as clear as you could want it to be.

After Anima Mare arrived and moored next to us, we went ashore for a cold beer and some dinner.  Strange to be on land again, and in “Europe”.  This was our first visit to such a ‘civilized’ place since Martinique, which we left back on March 6th (if I recall…).  Dinner was pretty good (“The Ribs Factory”) if a little pricey.  After nearly 2 weeks of mostly fish, no chicken and no meat, we all felt quite full after dinner.  Well, another short passage down, another small step to the West.  No going back.

We’ll head to the Marina today and start some long-overdue chores:  laundry (first time since Bequia in January!!!), deck scrubdown (first time since I can remember, and certainly not since the ash bath in Martinique), water fill, battery charge, a visit to the Chandlery and yes, some sort of solution to the rudder issue, however temporary.  We plan to stay not more than 2 or 3 nights, and then head west – skipping Curaçao but stopping in Aruba to wait for an idea weather window to make the run to Cartagena.

More news and photos soon.  I’m counting on the Marina having a good internet connection!

Ciao ciao
MM&LCM

Saturday morning on the waterfront at Bonaire.  There is a very well organized line of mooring buoys all the way down the line.



Musings et al from behind Elbert Key (Los Roques)

Elbert Key – Los Roques – Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Another peaceful morning coffee.  The dinghy bobs at the stern as always, fiberglass hull beating against the small wavelets and making just about the only discernable noise around me.  Perhaps there’s an occasional ‘flap’ of the flag at the stern, snapping now and again as if called to attention by the passing breeze.  But the breeze is light this morning, something along the lines of 7 or 8 knots – in any case lighter than at night, when we seem to have a consistent 15 knots.  7 is fine by me: it’s gentle enough to allow Walk On to ride peacefully at anchor and yet just strong enough to keep the wind generator turning, giving us probably one half amp to perhaps one amp of charging going for the batteries.  Soon the sun will rise higher in the sky and our two solar panels will up the total charge rate to a steady 8 to 10 amps during peak daylight hours.

The scene?  One of almost total peace.  We’re anchored, again near our buddy-boat Anima Mare, in a wide, shallow bay tucked in to the leeward or Elbert Key – near the extreme west boundary of the Los Roques park.  The bay is probably a mile or so wide, the water only 10 to 12 feet deep, and we’re the only two boats here.  The key (or ‘cayo’) is, at best, only 15 or 20 feet high and that only in rare spots – allowing the easterly trade breeze (more a breeze right now than what I might call ‘trade wind’) to reach us and our wind generators unhindered, but not allowing any measurable swell ro rock the boat.  A perfect anchorage, perhaps.  The key itself has absolutely nothing man made that we can see – it’s simply a long thin stretch of sand and coral, dotted in places by some kind of brush, maybe a low tree or two, and that’s it.  If you seek this kind of isolation and peace, this could very well be the perfect anchorage.  Looking west, or astern in our case, there are several more cayos about two miles distant.  Tucked in behind a couple of them are some other sailboats – masts peeking vertically over sandy spits of low lying beaches fading in the sea, left and right.  I can see three masts from here, but no boats.  On the most distant cayo, “West Key”, stands a proud, striped lighthouse.  Her red and white bands dress the sentry by day and flashing white light animating her by night.  From where I sit, this is the only man made ‘blemish’, if you will, on this otherwise untouched landscape (I’ve nothing against lighthouses, at all.  In fact, I’ve always found them fascinating and in many cases quite majestic and beautiful.  More importantly, as someone who is currently navigating the seas and oceans, I’m quite grateful that they are there – silently doing their job of assisting me in understanding where I am and where I don’t want to be… On rocky headland or hidden coral reef!).  This all makes me think of Sabrina and Ian – before they left Walk On in Bequia, they asked us to take notes on potential destinations for their future travels, with the emphasis on unspoiled areas where one might really feel they’ve managed to get away from it all.  Since Bequia, this certainly has to be the first place I’d put on that list – but that isn’t the only reason Los Roques would top that same list once it grew.  The principal reason is the snorkeling, the great abundance of water and wonder that’s only a splash away.  Jump in and you’ll see.  But I’ll get to the snorkeling in a moment.  First I’m off to make another moka of coffee.  🙂

A lazy sail and Mother’s revenge (?)
We pulled up the anchor yesterday morning at about 0930; an easy daysail and about 22 nautical miles our task for the day.  Simple enough really: head west and slightly north, keeping to the sea side of the northern boundary of the park and sailing about 18 miles west.  The trades being what they are – predominantly easterly – that but the breeze on our stern, nearly dead astern.  We unfurled the genoa, set Alfred the Autopilot on our desired course, and settled in for a relaxing daysail.  Ghosting and rolling along at about 4.5 to 5 knots, we made light work of it and Lara and I shuffled between shuffle lists on our two iPods.  Sun, sailing and music.  Not the worst Monday I’ve ever spent, I can tell you.  Anima Mare had a slightly less pleasant trip, several hundred yards astern of Walk On.  First, their autopilot sensor decided that it wanted to play hookie, and readjusted itself about 30 degrees to port.  Already underway and without and easy fix clearly in sight, Eduardo was reduced to hand steering.  I’m sure he’d rather have passed the hours of the sail tucked into a good book.  About two hours later he called me on the radio – his voice tainted by a bit of urgency.  They were turning back instantly, having lost the dinghy – they’d decided to tow the dinghy on this short hop rather than stow the motor and put the dinghy on deck foreward of the mast.  The pirouetted around the dinghy a few times before securing it anew to the stern line.  I’d find out later that the towing/anchoring ring, secured to the bow of the dinghy by a large patch of hypalon (the rubber material that good dinghys are made from), had torn loose with the tugging of the line.  Now Edu will have to patch the whole affair back onto the bow – which I think he’ll do with something quite strong, like epoxy.  We’ll see.

Motoring back to Gran Roque, Edu and Adriana catch up on some reading.

I had a bit of a ‘happening’ myself – something I might chalk up to Mother’s revenge – a sort of more intense kind of your ‘ears burning’ when someone has been talking or thinking about you…. I decided during our sail that it was time to trim the beard a bit.  I do this about every ten days or so, using an electric hair/beard trimmer that frankly just doesn’t cut the growth down short enough.  If I could cut it shorter without shaving it off, I would, and save myself several of these ‘buzzzzzz’ sessions every month.  In any case, it was time and I wasn’t really doing much else.  To keep cut facial hair from flying all over the place, I normally try to position myself in the very lee of the wind, somewhere on deck where the hair (some of them gray) will fall with the wind into the water….

With the wind astern and slightly to port, I situated myself on the foredeck starboard, near the portlight that opens to the head.  In fact, this is critical because to use the trimmer, I have to turn on the inverter (12V to 110V) and plug the thing in – no rechargeable battery in this one.  So I’m standing on the foredeck next to the head and leaning over the lifelines – trimmer in the left hand and lateral stay (brandal) in the right, to keep from falling overboard.  A steady buzz and lots of bits of facial hair whisked away by the breeze.  The trimmer has one of those fork-like attachments, a long-toothed comb with a graduated scale to it, on the cutting end of it – the idea being of course that you can adjust the sliding comb to the desired length of hair you want to leave after swathing over your hairy parts.  Anyway, this comb has long teeth.  And so came Mom’s revenge: as I was trimming the right side of my neck, just under the jawbone, the teeth got caught in my pirate ring earring… So by my own doing, the ring was ripped out of my ear and by a sheer question of physics (and perhaps Mom’s secret will), I watched in pain as the damn ring fell towards the deck.  Only, it didn’t hit the deck… As the boat yawed and rolled over another wave, the deck fell out of the path of the earring, which quickly and quietly hit the rubbing strake (the big stainless steel tube which makes up the ‘border’ around the boat – or as one clever guy in Pelotas said, the “stuffed crust Pizza Hut-style tube around the boat”), and fell without hardly a splash, into the topaz blue depths below.  No more Pirate earring.  For now.  🙂  Larissa put the original stud back in to preserve the hole and now I’m on the lookout for the next perfect earring.  Arrrrrgh!

Elbert Key and the Best Snorkel Ever
As we neared our destination, a quick radio conference with Anima Mare, and we decided to forego the lighthouse anchorage and tuck in behind Elbert Key. It was closer, and Edu was weary of hand-steering anyway.  I’m glad we did.  We had the anchorage completly to ourselves.  After anchoring and settling in, we hopped in our dinghys to visit a nearby reef for some end of the day snorkeling.

At the center, the reef broke the surface and all around this point only slightly fell away to the sandy, sometimes grassy bottom that surrounds it.  We ‘circumnaviated’ the reef and had no less than the snorkeling experience of our lives!  I have an Audobon field guide to tropical fishes of the Caribbean (remember when I bought this Judy, in that bookstore near the hotel in Pittsburgh, just before Neal & Stacy’s wedding?), as well as a few of those placards you get at West Marine – with a variety of common tropical fish.  Nothing that I had read, nor pictures that I had seen had prepared me for the wonders of this hour-long snorkel trip around the reef.  The water was perfectly clear, as if we were in a giant swimming pool or well-kept acquarium.  Unbelievable.  We saw fish of every size, color, shape, and behavior that I had ever seen.  Reef fish that we already knew from Brazil and other places, only two to three times larger!  It was simply amazing, and beautiful, with all the coral to go with it.  One of these days I’m going to invest in a professional diving case for my camera – though I suppose I’ll have to sail back to Los Roques to use it!  Not a bad deal really.

I’ll try to relate a very small portion of all the fish we saw – partially because I can’t remember all of them, and also because I can’t find all of them in my books:

Southern Stingray
Needlefish
Butter Hamlet
Black Grouper
Yellowmouth Grouper
Royal Gramma
Bigeye (might have been a Glasseye Snapper)
Jacknife-fish
Mutton Snapper
Schoolmaster
Yellowtail Snapper
Saucereye Porgy
Sergeant Major
Yellow Jack
Palometta (might have been a Pompano)
Yellow Goatfish
Princess Parrotfish, supermale
Rainbow Parrotfish
Foureye Butterflyfish
Queen Angelfish
French Angelfish
Doctorfish
Blue Tang

And of course, many many more.  If you want, I suppose you could do a Google Image search for any of them and probably come up with a bunch of pictures.  If you really want, you could book a trip to Los Roques, stay in cool Italian-run Pousada in Gran Roque, and day trip out to the islands, seeing it all behind your own mask.  I couldn’t recommend it more enthusiastically.

Of autopilots etc.
On Tuesday, both boats went about taking care of a little business.  Eduardo went to work on the autopilot situation, and I went over to see if I could help.  It boiled down to the rudder position sensor – a simple little arm, made of plastic and with a sensor on the inside, that is connected to the steering quadrant.  It’s wired to the CPU of the Autopilot itself, and so has the simple job of telling the CPU the position that the rudder is in, physically, so that the Autopilot can correct the course (telling the powered arm to push the rudder one way or the other…).  In Edu’s case, the sensor unit had been exposed to some salt water and, over time, the wiring corroded and one day (a Monday, of course!), it finally gave up the ghost.  We opened it all up, and cleaned with electrical cleaner spray and all that, but it still didn’t want to work right.  Luckily for Eduardo, he had another of the same unit on hand – it wasn’t a new spare, but an older version of the same sensor, that he had replaced in Brazil when it started to act up on him.  We tested it and then he wired it all back together – magic!  The “new old” sensor was now in place and apparently all was set to work correctly.

With that out of the way, I went back to Walk On and decided I needed to tackle a couple things as well.  There were two little jobs that I’d been putting off just a bit – as both involved going up the mast.  The anchorage was calm enough, if windy, and so I put on the Bosun’s Chair (ours is a Harken model, and I really don’t like it – not very good back support and overall just not comfortable – you wouldn’t want to spend hours sitting in that thing, I can tell you.  Better spend the extra cash and get a climbing harness!!!!).

The first job was at the masthead itself.  After looking over the rigging, the lights, VHF and TV antennas, halyards and cotter pins, I tried to figure out why our wind indicator wasn’t working correctly.  This item had been on the list since Brazil – hate to admit that! – but as JP will remember, we’d had some issues with the darn thing.  The behavior was erratic and tough to pin down: sometimes we’d read windspeed but not wind direction.  At other times, just the opposite.  For the last several months, we’d get wind direction (true and apparent) but no wind speed.  You may or may not have read about that in the old blog – not knowing exactly how much wind were were sailing in…

In Trinidad, the Raymarine specialist suggested that it was probably a voltage problem, as I had already explained to him that we’d been living with a weak-ish battery setup and charging situation.  I believed him, because we were replacing our batteries anyway.  However, even after we replaced the batteries… The problem continued.  I had already checked, cleaned and reset the electrical connections below, but had never double-checked the situation at the masthead. So there I was, in Los Roques, looking at the Raymarine wind sensor at the top of the mast.  What a view! The sensor appeared fine, with the three wind cups spinning wildly in the afternoon breeze and the direction vane doing it’s job.  I decided that it could only be electrical and so sprayed the whole darn thing with about a half a can of electrical contact cleaner.  Lara yelled up from down in the cockpit that indeed we were now getting windspeed information… And it was blowing 19 knots.

Happy and relieved, I took a few photographs from that rare vantage point and then descended to the upper spreaders.  The next issue was a bit more straightforward.  One of the tiny blocks that make up the upper part of the lazyjack (sailbag, mainsail cover, whatever you prefer to call it) had broken loose from the upper spreader, so I fixed it. It’s a small enough thing that I won’t even write much about it.  Now it looks better, and works right!

Down from the mast, Lara and I headed to the beach – a big, empty beach, for some R&R.  🙂

Had we seen the best of the Caribbean so far?  It’ll be hard to beat that dive (snorkeling I mean, of course).

Wednesday?  We’re off west to Las Aves……. Ciao!

A staredown with a visitor on the bow pulpit… I won, he flew away. 🙂

From behind Cayo Pirata, a view of the old tower on Gran Roque.  Apparently, this was the old Lighthouse, built in the 1830’s and in use until about 1890 – though I can’t confirm all that.  It’s still a neat site, old building like that, in the middle of nowhere…

This the beach on the cayo next to Cayo Pirata (I don’t know the name of this one, but we spent a few nights here).  There were a lot of Italians here, tourists on day visits from Gran Roque. There is one large, chic, house here, apparently belonging to one of the wealthiest Venezuelans – we didn’t meet that person.  😦

Clear, shallow water – the view from the cockpit.

Another view of the lighthouse.  Did I mention I liked this old tower?  🙂

Anima Mare sailing downwind with Gran Roque behind – to the east.  This was on the way over to Elbert Key. 🙂

Looking down the forestay in the anchorage at Elbert Key.

… and, looking down the backstay.  🙂

Wind sensor and masthead light (both anchor light and tri-color nav light – all LED)

Elbert Key, seen from ‘on high’.  This looking east

Another photo of Anima Mare – she looks good there at Elbert, don’t you think?

I do, so here’s another picture.  You don’t normally go up the mast with all that much frequency – so when you do, why not take a few photos!!!

This one of Anima Mare as we sail from Los Roques to Las Aves.






Headed for points west…

Today is our 9th day here in Los Roques.  We like it so much here that we would be just as happy writing from our 99th day – the place is simply that beautiful, and so darned pleasant in every respect.  Buuuuut… we also have a happy reunion coming up in Cartagena, with Fabio & Debby, who will be flying in from Zug, Switzerland to visit us in the old spanish town.  So, we need to shake a leg, or at least get started in that direction.

Today we’ll do a quick hop of about 20 miles, headed west to the extreme boundary of the Los Roques park.  We expect to anchor at another small island atoll, but hopefully in the shadow of a picturesque lighthouse that sits on West Key.  (funny, almost sounds like Key West, but it certainly isn’t).

Tomorrow we’ll pick up anchor again for a short sail of about 40 miles further west – to another, smaller group of islands called Las Aves.  The attraction this time is that these islands are almost totally uninhabited, if not fully devoid of people.  That’s pretty cool!  We have good expectations about snorkeling, fishing, and photo opportunities there so stay tuned.

I think our next internet access will be in Bonaire, where we’ll be headed after a night or two in Las Aves.  We ought to be in Bonaire by the end of the week I’d say, but you never know.  Keep your eyes on the Spot link for progress.  🙂

Got a few text messages yesterday and that was fun – JP was saying hello (and probably waiting for replies… sorry dude) and we even got a wedding invitation from cousin Justin in Pittsburgh, who’ll join the married crew in April with bride-to-be Danielle.  We wish them all the best of course and look forward to meeting Danielle.

I’m trying to post some photos – but the connection is pretty weak – we’re over a mile and a half away from the antenna….

This a rare and happy photo: as a cruiser and boat owner, you are always pleased to be able to see your boat under sail from another point of view – I’ve never seen Walk On sailing from anywhere but in the cockpit or on deck.  This photo was taken about 15 days ago by Adriana and Eduardo on Anima Mare, as we were headed out together from Martinique to Los Roques.  Double-reefed main and staysail only.