Sunday, 18 March 2012

Under the Radar in Los Roques ….. March 2012

P3140023 06 - 12 March 20122012 Venezuelan Islands-2
Our second overnight sail saw us move on another 130 miles westward from Blanquilla to Los Roques.  Still in company with Bandit and both flying the same sail plan for the journey, our speeds were very evenly matched and we were within close sight of each other all night long.  The winds were still up around 20 – 25 knots but the seas slightly calmer until we closed in on “The Rocks”. Big chunks of land in the middle of all this ocean always stir things up somewhat.  We opted out of attempting either of the two narrow reef passage entrances into the lagoon, definitely not a game to play going downwind with big following seas. We settled for the slightly further but much more sensible option of going around the top of the main island of Gran Roque. Once we were in the lee of the island the seas flattened but the winds accelerated….. 30 knots plus in front of the beam – time for more salt water over the boat.  But it was a short sail to the main township where we found a sandy spot in very shallow water and dropped the hook. Phew !!.Waterfront at Gran Roque, Los Roques

We had heard and read of several versions of just how to deal with visiting Venezuela’s offshore islands.  Unfortunately they do not offer check in facilities at any of the island groups we were planning to visit so legally we could only stay one night to rest, fly our quarantine flag, then leave.  The other option was to sail the extra 80 odd miles to the Venezuelan mainland to check in and then sail back to check out, not such an appealing option as mainland Venezuelan waters have a reputation for being somewhat lawless and unsafe.P3080001

However we wanted to explore this reef and island paradise for as long as we could and had heard that we may be able to get a park permit for around US$120.00 for 5 nights or 14 nights depending on what mood they were in,  even if we hadn’t checked into Venezuela.  We were prepared to give it a go and see what they gave us.  Then Bandit swung by a Swedish yacht anchored next to them who had just been ashore and were quoted US$900 for a 5 night pass, when they tried to negotiate they were then told they couldn’t have a pass at all, could stay two nights maximum and could not move from where they were anchored – mmm, time to rethink our plan of action.    A speedy decision was reached and our anchors were up in a jiffy and we were out of there – we were going to risk it and “sail Conch Shells at Crasqui, Los Roques under the radar” for as long as we could.

Our first island stop was Crasqui, the light was good and it was back to eyeball navigation in reefy waters, last done coming up the Red Sea.  The charts were slightly out although gave a fair indication of where we were but there is no substitute for having someone on the bow or better still up the mast to spot the best passage in. The deep blue water clearly identifies the path to follow. The lighter shades indicate shallower water and once these shades become familiar, eyeball navigation is not so daunting.

We stayed only a night in each anchorage in our quest to remain undetected, we moved on to Augustin Island, then up to the wonderful long sandy beach on Sarqui.  Then we found escape from the wind and stayed a couple of nights at what quite possibly was the best anchorage we have ever been to.  Tucked in close to shore and nestled behind the mangroves on Cayo Remanso we had the totally sheltered lagoon of Isla Carenero at our back door, the all round shelter was first rate and the view was awesome, especially for the moments when the sun came out and showed off every colour of blue imaginable for the miles across the lagoon, just priceless.P3110025  The snorkelling was very good also, just off the back of the boat – so easy.  It was certainly a spot you could while away days and days – another time!

We had one more stop at Elbert Cay the furthermost west in the Los Roques Group, we were joined by an American yacht at sunset then they left at dawn, we only saw 5 other yachts in the group during our stay and amazingly they were all headed east.  Just why you would sail to windward in these seas at this time of year totally mystifies me!  The Venezuelans seem to be doing well at keeping foreign yachts away, we are baffled at why.  It would never become over run as it is difficult to get to, why not welcome the few boats that get out and venture this way?  Maybe their policies will change, one day.  Carenero National Park, magic spot

The islands we visited were beautiful, the sands some of the softest and whitest, the water some of the clearest and the colours were just magical, oh and I mustn’t forget the pelicans - marvellous.  Unfortunately we had more than our share of cloudy days and the winds were constant at around 20 knots, day and night.  No matter how stunning paradise is, when the wind just never lets up and the land is only about 5 feet high you do start to feel somewhat windswept and long for peace!   

We managed to stay 6 nights in Los Roques, it was a wonderful place to explore but we were always looking over our shoulder,P3120001 was that boat in the distance a fishing boat or coastguard?  We never felt at ease and would have been much happier had we been able to legally check into the country, purchase our park permit, relax and enjoy this outstanding group of islands and reefs.

Next up we were heading for the reef chain of Las Aves, we were on a pilgrimage to visit our friends Dick and Ann’s yacht Chinook Wind, laying high and dry having been abandoned just a couple of weeks earlier when they struck the reef in the middle of the night. 

We would be proceeding with extra caution.

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