44' Luxury Catamaran Mustang Sally

Doug, Wendy and Mustang Sally cruise the Virgin Islands. Follow along on their adventures meeting funky local characters and visiting hot spots and hidden treasures with links to our favorites websites and additional interesting information.

Monday, October 20, 2008

LOS TESTIGOS, ISLA MARGARITA & ISLA COCHE



























Log #14
Los Testigos, July 2, 2008 – Porlamar, Isla Margarita & Isla Coche, July 29, 2008
While still in Grenada we spent the last day provisioning for our sail to Los Testigos (The Witnesses), a small group of Venezuela’s out islands. Los Testigos is a stopping off point for boats headed to Isla Margarita, another island belonging to Venezuela, or traveling further east to Bonaire or Aruba. The cat was ready to rock and after a nap around dinner time we weighed anchor and hauled ”Bruce” out of the water at 8 p.m. for another over nite sail or, should I say, motorsail. Los Testigos is 80 miles south west of Grenada and is generally a light dead downwind sail and a westerly current helps to pick up our speed by a knot or so. We’re grateful for the bit of a current as downwind is not MS’s best point of sail and the wind is very light. Never the less, we hit a few squalls which gave us some wind and we could see the beautiful islands of Los Testigos on the horizon around 7 a.m. the next morning.
Even tho we take turns on watch every 3 hours we still spent our first day in Los Testigos catching up on sleep and generally taking it easy while watching the fishing boats go back and forth. Doug loves these colorful and sturdy pineros made of wood and he began to start mulling over ways to have one or two shipped home. Los Testigos has a small fishing village on the beach consisting of open air shanties which the locals live in. You don’t need a traditional home with walls here as the weather is quite hot and dry for most of the time. In any case, there certainly isn’t any air conditioning and walls would only block any breeze. You can see the hammocks blowing gently in the breeze under the roofs and the hammocks are the traditional “bed” and what everybody sleeps in. There’s a good reason for the hammocks; because the hammocks keep you suspended in air, you’re safe from scorpions, cockroaches (except flying cockroaches, eeek!), rats and potentially hungry dogs. (We learned the most comfortable way to sleep in a hammock is to sleep “kitty korner” instead of sleeping in a straight line. Sleeping in the hammock in a straight line would mean that you’re hanging with your spine like a banana, which as you can imagine can become uncomfortable.) Fishing is the main source of food and livelihood and the fish are quite plentiful. (I saw a couple of big shark heads on the beach in the sand! Surprised that they didn’t make a soup out of the head or some variation).We noticed the water here was beginning to become quite a bit cooler even tho we were getting closer to the equator at 10 degrees of latitude. The fresh water Orinoco River flows from the mainland of South America into the ocean, causing cooler water temps which in turn produce more plant life and fish. It was very refreshing and reminded us of our home waters on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron as the temp was about the same. Go figure.
We loved Los Testigos for its beauty and isolation and could have stayed there for weeks on end; however, yachts are usually only granted 3 days. We had checked in with the Guarda Costa (the Coast Guard has a small station here), as there isn’t a customs office due to the remoteness of the islands. The Guarda Costa felt inclined to give us 4 days and we were more than happy to enjoy the full 4 days of this little piece of heaven.
We hiked up a large hill (small mountain?) to the light which guides mariners in the nite and on our approach to the head of the trail we noticed a green parrot flying from tree branch to tree branch following us up the trail. He was quite curious about us and was getting closer and closer so I offered him some of my granola bar while he sat on the tree branch and he was more than happy to take it from me with his very strong looking beak. I needn’t have worried as before we knew it this friendly little creature was sitting on my head while we hiked up the trail. I maneuvered him quite easily from my head (didn’t want any little messes in my hair!) so that he sat on my wrist for the rest of the hike. We became quite fond of him and he stayed with us all the way to the top, even gently taking water from the cap of my water bottle. We thot that this pretty parrot was going to follow us back to the boat and we would have a new pet on board, much to Doug’s chagrin, but he flew away after we reached the very top never to be seen again. What a wonderful experience.
That same nite we hiked again over to the windward side of the island to the sand dunes. It is a beach as well but more of a very large sand dune at water’s edge and you feel a little like you’re on Mars. We were hoping to see some more turtles land on the beach to lay their eggs like we had in Grenada but we saw none. It was still a very kewl feeling being on this sand dune listening to the wave’s crash on shore in the dead of nite and being completely disoriented trying to find our way back to the path in the pitch dark.
Our 4 days had expired and it was time to leave this wonderful place and sail to Isla Margarita where we had some chores to accomplish, such as renewing our passports, which was one of the items on the list. Ugh. We could only imagine how much fun that would be, dealing with bureaucrats in Venezuela. Isla Margarita is a very popular vacation destination for wealthy Venezuelans from the mainland and people on holiday from all over the world as well. It would be interesting to see this place for apparently there were high rises, big malls and grocery stores. So, once again Bruce came out of the water early in the morning and we raised our sails among a small convoy of boats who wished to travel together for safety reasons. Piracy is a real problem in Venezuela, mostly off the coast of the mainland and around Isla Margarita, so it is recommended that boats travel together for safety in numbers and keep a sharp look out for any speeding pineros approaching the boats.
We got lucky and had a beautiful beam reach with winds of 14-16 knots on our sail to Isla Margarita. It was perfect conditions to get the fishing gear out. Doug had two lines off the scoops on the back and in no time he had a 30” Kingfish on the line. Kingfish are part of the Mackerel family and are great tasting white fish. This was the perfect size, as the bigger this type of fish gets the less flavourful it is. We got 12 nice size steaks from it and after we got anchored we enjoyed Kingfish for dinner and Kingfish cakes for lunch the next day too. And we shared some with the other boats in our convoy. That was nice of us.
We arrived in Porlamar, the capital of Margarita Island, on a Sunday and customs does not work weekends so we waited until Monday to check in. Many of the boats we had traveled with were going to use an agent to check in but we warned them against this. The agent tells people they must check in AND out of Margarita Island and charges for BOTH of these transactions. In fact, once you have checked in to Venezuela you are checked into the enitre country and there is no need to check out and then have to check in again at your next port. This is a big scam that has been going on for a long time and the official just pockets the dough. This was a fairly simple transaction that we had no problem completing ourselves. Venezuela is full of corrupt officials and you need to be informed before you go. Many of the yachties were being ripped off by this agent but some still did it anyway even tho they knew better.
We knew before we arrived that there had been a few dinghy thefts and “petty” piracy in Porlamar as we were able to read all about these on numerous cruisers websites that keep cruisers informed of crime against yachts, etc. We learned on our arrival, after talking with some of the boats that had been in the anchorage for awhile, that one boat with an older gentleman onboard had anchored in a no anchor zone (due to being piracy prone area) and woke up to several guns to his head and the pirates ransacked the boat and took everything electronic (laptop, vhf, etc.) and all of his cash, but not before pistol whipping him. Poor guy, he didn’t have any money to replace anything and we felt terrible for him. Another boater got off a little easier, minus the pistol whipping, although he said later he still feared for his life because the robber’s thot he must have had more money hidden somewhere and he wasn’t telling them where it was. They finally left. Even still, another boat had gone in to shore for happy hour (famous time for theft is the cocktail hour)and came back to find that although they had locked their boat up tight (good for them)and the thieves could not get in they still took anything that was loose on deck, fenders, lines, life raft etc. Life rafts are very expensive to replace. Outside of all these instances, there were many dinghy thefts every nite. These thefts were so common place that they weren’t being reported anymore. If you didn’t lift AND lock your dinghy with a sturdy steel chain you were sure to find it missing in the morn as we learned that the thieves had hydraulic (!!) bolt cutters. You can see in the pic how we lifted and locked our dinghy.
The next day we were able to check in ourselves minus the “agent” and without any fuss, while many of the other boats we traveled with encountered problems and had their passports held hostage until they coughed up more money for “fees”.
We needed to exchange our US dollars for Bolivars Fuente, the new Venezuelan currency that replaced the old Bolivar. You could exchange your money with a bank and get an exchange rate of 2 Bsf - $1 USD or you could change your money on the black market and get a much better rate, 3, 3.1 maybe even 3.5 Bsf - $1 USD. (before we left Venezuela we were getting 4.2 BsF -1 USD).The rich Venezuelans are trying to get their money out of Venezuela because of Chavez’s dictatorship and his penchant for taking over companies he wants against the owners/shareholders wishes. So, the wealthy Venezuelans are very willing to give better rate of exchange than the banks to have American currency. We had been referred to Alex to get the best exchange rate and once this transaction was completed, we decided to see the sites of Porlamar and get a feel for where everything is. Porlamar is a big, bustling city with high rises and lots of crazy hi speed traffic. The city has huge malls and busy streets with restaurants and bars, high fashion stores and low end stores. However, when you head to the outskirts of the city it becomes more like “Escape from New York” (I’m dating myself when I mention that movie). There are abandoned high rises everywhere you look, apparently the result of drug laundering, so we were told. Between the abandoned high rises, there was large overgrown construction sites littered with garbage which people were living amongst. We were told to avoid these areas at all costs as people often went missing when near these sites. Friends of ours had walked into the city and on their way a police car turned around to pick them and give them a drive to their destination rather than have them walk, as they were in a very unsafe area near one of these sites and the policia said “It was very dangerous place”.
If you are a regular reader of our logs you will know that I like to get off the boat everyday and go for a power walk/slow jog for some exercise. I was afraid to continue with my daily ritual here as we had been warned to never travel anywhere alone, particularly a female. I was able to find a safe area to walk after talking to many other cruisers but getting there was pretty dodgy and I walked often with Maria, Alex’s better half, and not alone. Crazee!
We got to know Alex very well and found out that he also offered other services such as translation, taxi service, laundry and basically whatever you need. We used his services to take us to the grocery store, help us get a SIM card for our world phone, and help us get our passport stuff organized. Alex and Maria were both born in Caracas (the capital of Venezuela) but Alex grew up in Fort Lauderdale so his English was perfect. Alex and his fiancé Maria became good friends or ours while in Porlamar and we will miss them.
After our day spent grocery shopping and running around we enjoyed a lovely dinner out and headed back to the cat for a night cap, then off to bed. For safety reasons all of the boats in the anchorage all monitor a channel on the VHF other than the main calling channel 16 radio at nite in case they need assistance of any sort. Shortly after we had drifted off to sleep we both woke up to woman’s voice on the radio calling for assistance as their catamaran had been boarded. The skipper and his wife were in shore having dinner and drinks while the lone, young, nanny was on board minding the babe who was asleep. The nanny was tied up with duct tape and tossed into the head while the assailant ransacked the boat looking for cash. He made off with quite a bit of money but thank God no one was hurt. This catamaran was anchored right beside us! There was very little we could do to help but we made sure that everyone was okay, offered our support and encouraged the people aboard to file a report with the officials in the morning.
We spent the next week or so tidying up some paperwork and numerous other tedious items that seemed to pop up during our stay. Doug went to see a dermatologist to have a couple of spots checked and the doc removed them, this cost $100 USD and there was no wait at all. Medical here is very cheap and young girls are getting breast implants for the sweet sixteen birthdays, a gift from their family, for a cost of $600US. Even the mannequins at the mall had breast implants it seemed! We couldn’t believe it when we went to the mall and saw the mannequins in the store front windows. It was a hoot or should I say hooters?! Let’s just say that Cap’n Doug sure enjoyed window shopping. (If the North American shops had these mannequins on display I am positive more men would be happy to go shopping with their wives!)
Doug was off the cat one morning running some more errands on shore while a large, strangely not forecasted, tropical wave piped up out of the south. Tropical waves are low pressure formations formed off the coast of Africa which are not yet organized but could become a tropical depression progressing into a hurricane. The anchorage in Porlamar is quite large and there were approximately 100 boats on anchor all surprised by the wave when it hit. Winds of 40 knots with gusts of 50 knots came ripping thru with heavy rain and, of course, as is often the case many boats started to drag. It’s a little nerve racking ensuring that your own boat doesn’t drag but there is a very little you can do about the boat anchored directly in front of you with no one aboard. Our Bruce held firm and so did the boat in front of us but boats on both sides of us dragged and many others I watched went sailing thru the anchorage smacking off boats as they went. One blue French flagged (go figure) mono hull in particular dragged right passed Andromeda (the cat which was boarded & ransacked previously) and, unbelievably, as the blue boat’s anchor dragged along the ocean floor it found Andromeda’s anchor chain. The weight of the boat being dragged caused it’s anchor to ride up not only Andromeda’s anchor chain but also the bridle and finally came to rest on the aluminum cross bar up near the trampoline of the cat. Now the weight of two boats in 40 knot winds with even stronger gusts was being held by only one anchor. I watched as, Michael, the skipper of Andromeda, tried in vain to get the anchor off of the cross bar using only his bare hands. Incredibly, he was able to get the anchor off but it had badly damaged the fiberglass on the bridge deck and the aluminum cross bar. Of course, no one was on board the mono hull and when the owners came back in the dinghy to where their boat had been they did not believe what had happened with their anchor riding up on Andromeda when they were told. They came to us and asked if in fact something like that did happen because it seemed so implausible but I told them I had seen it with my own eyes. And, lo and behold, the owners of the blue mono hull had no money and could not pay of the cost of the repairs to the cat. Nice….did I mention they were French? Andromeda had been thru so much already.
A few boats decided to sail to Isla Coche and hang out there for a week. Alex and Michael were hoping to get some kite surfing in and Coche is the perfect location and it’s just a short downwind sail from Porlamar. We enjoyed the lovely long white sand beach, resorts and the colourful wild parrots flitting to and fro. This is where we noticed the skimpy bikinis that the Vennie women wear. it didn't matter what your size big or small they all wore the g string bottoms.(see pic) We had dinner with Michael and Mary onboard Andromeda one nite, dinner onboard Amandla one nite with Fabio, and entertained on MS a couple of nites. One afternoon while at Coche, another tropical wave blew thru with winds out of the west this time leaving all of us on a lee shore. We all re-anchored to get a little further out while watching a Venezuelan power boat which not only dragged but their anchor broke off and they then became a serious problem for all of the boats but fortunately came to no real harm. These storms are quite powerful and reminded me of the large cells that hit in the hot afternoons in the summertime back home in Ontario. The heat and humidity builds all day and finally explodes. The storms are not long lasting but extremely violent in their intensity and these storms could also turn into tornados on the Venezuelan mainland or water spouts out on the water. Fun.
Meanwhile, Doug and I were going thru a very thoughtful period while in Coche where we had many lengthy discussions. We were very concerned about the level of crime in Venezuela and as we had only just arrived and already had been exposed to so much of it in Porlamar, we really felt uncomfortable continuing to stay in Venezuela until November, this being July. What’s the point of going to explore somewhere new if the entire time you are anxious and tense about being boarded and robbed, perhaps pistol whipped or worse? We seriously discussed sailing back north to the Virgins Islands (our home base) but in the end we decided that we would stand a better chance dealing with pirates with our alarms, locks and defensive strategies than trying to deal with the forces of Mother Nature and her hurricanes up north. We discussed this with Fabio on Amandla and he strongly encouraged us to stay, as he explained that once we got to the out islands of Venezuela (Tortuga, Blanquilla, Los Roques and Aves) it would be very safe, as they are 200 miles off the coast of mainland Venezuela, therefore seemingly out of reach of the bad guys, and extremely beautiful. Also, we felt it would be a terrible shame to miss them for Doug had spoken often of his desire to see Los Roques, and so, in the end we stayed. It was a wise choice, but we were still not completely happy with our final decision and discussed our strategies again, just like a fire drill, in the event of an attempted boarding so that we were as prepared as we possibly could be.
After our decision was made we sailed back to Porlamar to finish up with a few items before carrying on to the Golfo de Cariaco. We had arrived back to Porlamar on a Friday and it was the next day, Saturday, when the Captain from the vessel Stargazer was killed by a speeding pinero. Peter and his wife, Frederika, were dinghying back to their sailboat from the main dock, after provisioning for their trip to Tortuga the next morning. A 17 year old local boy talking on his cell phone while speeding thru the anchorage at 20 knots in his pinero ran over the dinghy and Peter suffered fatal head injuries from the propeller of the pinero and died at the hospital. Frederika was miraculously unhurt. Everyone in the anchorage was, naturally, very upset by this tragic accident and offered their help and support to the widow who was now alone with her sailboat in Venezuela. Our good friends, Hank and Joke on Zeevonk, took good care of Frederika until her two children flew in from Holland to be with her while they sorted everything out with the Venezuelan authorities and arranged to ship Peter’s body home. The young boy driving the pinero was being held in jail but for the charges against him to stick Frederika needed to remain in the country until the case was eventually heard. This could take many months and, understandably, Frederika wanted to fly home to be with her family and friends and to lay Peter to rest, besides it wouldn’t bring Peter back. She and her children made plans to store the boat and fly home but before they left, the majority of the boats in the anchorage, us included, wished to show their respect to the Captain by way of a dinghy parade around Stargazer while the family was on board, which is a traditional way to pay respects to Captain who has died. Afterward there was a small reception onshore.
It was terrible timing but the very day after Peter was killed by the speeding pinero, it was a local holiday honouring the fishermen, in which all of the fisherman in pineros covered with balloons and streamers motored thru the anchorage in a parade to the beach where they spent the day drinking, barbequing and listening to very loud music. At sundown, while very drunk they got back into their pineros and raced at very hi speeds thru the anchorage almost hitting anchored boats and came very close to hitting couple in another dinghy but instead swamping them. Last we had heard the “officials” had done nothing about the speeding pineros.
We spent another week in Porlarmar doing odd jobs and wrapping up some more paperwork. I couldn’t wait to leave Porlamar for not only was it nerve wracking due to the crime but Margarita is very hot and humid. It feels like a hot shower thru out the day and nite but at nite due to the cooler water temps very heavy dew would form all over the cat, heavy enough that it seemed as if it had rained. As result I was discovering mildew on everything. Every day I would go on the hunt for mildew and I found it. Where ever I spotted mold I would wipe it down with a heavy concentration of bleach, but even still I would discover it was in the hanging lockers, on our clothes, accent pillows, and all over the interior walls. What a nuisance.
We had everything on our list of things to do complete and we had plans to head to Golfo de Caricao on Wednesday but the Monday proved to be another interesting day in Porlamar with 6 gunshots fired on the docks. We learned that the policia had found 4 bad guys that they had been looking for at the marina and there was a “cops and robbers” shoot out while many people were eating their lunch at the restaurants located right near the docks. Everyone hit the decks…..so much for civilian safety. One of the bad guys was shot, one guy jumped in the water (not sure what became of him) and one guy was taken into custody and the fourth guy who was the driver got away. It was time to get out Dodge.
Well, that’s it for this log…..until next time….the next log will be more upbeat…..I promise…… fair winds.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comments:

At October 31, 2009 at 2:54 PM , Blogger LaRoka said...

bonjour,
je suis l'amie d'un fils de ChonChon et je vous invite à rejoindre le groupe "Isla Los Testigos" que j'ai créé sur Facebook...
au plaisir,

hi,
I'm from ChonChon's family and I invite you to join the group "Isla Los Testigos" I created on Facebook...
see you,

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home