More downwind sailing in stiff winds saw us cover the 30 miles from Los Roques to Ave de Barlovento in Las Aves in no time at all, and how nice for it to be a day sail instead of an overnighter. Once we came around the bottom of the island, skipper climbed aloft to identify the shallow and reefy areas before we could weave our way into an almost wind free anchorage tucked behind mangroves. Now the cruising guide warns of getting too close to the mangroves as thousands of red footed booby birds live here…..and they are not wrong. There were indeed thousands of these noisy birds everywhere!, and yes, the little ball of fluffy white with the big black eyes in the photo is a baby booby bird…. isn’t it just so cute.
We dropped the dinghy, organised our happy hour drinks and went off for a dinghy drift into a mangrove lined lagoon just by the anchorage. The bird life was quite outstanding, thousands and thousands of booby birds, hundreds of pelicans, and many more species which we are unfamiliar with. It was a tweeters paradise and never before have we seen trees so laden with nesting birds. It appeared to be quite territorial as there was a fair amount of squabbling and squawking going on from time to time if someone happened to land on the wrong perch.
Some mangrove trees were much more popular than others looking very much like apartment blocks with birds perched on every level. The cacophony of “birdsong” was quite something else, it may well have been karaoke night and we hadn’t been told!! Every now and then we saw smaller birds darting in and out of the trees, or were they the infamous “vampire bats” that Venezuela is known for that sneak aboard while you are sleeping and draw blood from between your toes!!! These bats, along with the impossible check in regulations put so many people off stopping in these islands, such a shame.
Next morning, again in company with Bandit we made our way up through the inside of the reef, most of the water was a clear dark blue, but as we reached the northeast corner it was time for more reef spotting, this time we went for the easier option and followed Bandit in and we both managed to find sandy spots to anchor in under 10 metres. The Caribbean Sea rolled by around 150 metres to the north of us, but we sat in calm water behind 100 metres of reef which gave us great protection from the ocean swell but no respite from the 20 to 25 knot trade winds we had become accustomed to over recent weeks. I have to say we felt very exposed in this anchorage but we were now within one mile of the location of Chinook Wind, a fellow kiwi yacht that was now abandoned and sitting high and dry on the outer reef.
We dropped our dinghies and went together to visit her, she sat alone on the reef, looking like she had been there 2 years, not just 2 weeks. It was a very sombre excursion, our previous blog update tells much more about it.
The wind eased early afternoon to around 18 knots, it’s surprising how your threshold changes. Once I would have thought 18 knots was a howling gale if we had to endure it at anchor, now it almost seems calm. Lulled into this false feeling of calmness we decided to make the most of our reef anchorage and took to the water. The snorkelling was excellent, the clearest water we had experienced, the coral was good but still lacking bright colours and there was a reasonable selection of fish.
We ended the day with dinner on Bandit and a round of 500, pink against blue. That blue team just does not have what it takes, its 2 – 0 to the pinks!!
We left Ave de Barlovento quite early next morning, it felt rather spooky anchored out there with the nearest land about 4 miles away. Another sporty downwind sail took us westward 18 miles to the other Aves island group, Aves de Sotovento. We gave the northern tip of the reef a very wide clearance before turning south into the lee. Flat water once again, wind in front of the beam and water colours so beautiful you really find it hard to believe they are real. We headed towards Isla Curricai iced with a long sandy beach, the island no more than 5 feet above sea level, a few small coconut palms and the skeleton of a fishermen's hut were the backdrop, just another stunner.
We snorkelled the lagoon side of the island. For the first time since probably Turkey the water was so warm I could have stayed in for hours, it was just magic. The snorkelling was ok, but as that was the windward side it was quite churned up and visibility was poor, but the warm water was just great, can’t have everything. This was to be our last deserted island paradise for a while, we enjoyed another sundowners ashore but the clouds on the horizon spoilt the sunset, we are desperately trying for the perfect sunset silhouette photo!!. The jury was out on whether we would stay another day, we had “sailed under the radar” now in Venezuela for 12 nights and we knew there was a coastguard station on a small island south of us, maybe it was time to be very grateful for what we had experienced and move on.
Our decision was made easier next morning, it was a gloomy day, the last of the fresh produce had been eaten for dinner, the remains of the fruit consumed at breakfast, Bonaire and civilisation were just 43 miles away. It was anchors up and we pointed our bows westward yet again.
Venezuela had been great and we were very pleased we had explored what we could.