November 17, 1996

Port of Spain,


Dear Friends,

After four and a half months we bid a fond farewell to Venezuela today and crossed the Bocas del Dragon to enter Trinidad. The eight mile passage across this sometimes turbulent water was in cool rain and mist under cloud covered skies. Though the day was a bit dreary our spirits were light. We pushed our way through the waves, wind on the bow, motor humming under foot with a favorite calypso CD playing just loud enough to tempt the sun to join in our celebration. By late afternoon the clouds relented and we were bathed in warm sunlight. We anchored in a quiet bay to wait for the customs office to open in the morning so we can present our paperwork, hoist the courtesy flag and begin to explore this colourful, sophisticated, musical island.

Since my last letter we spent an additional two weeks in Puerto La Cruz while stainless steel man completed his work. By then we were very anxious to leave. As planned we left in the company of RORO IV and headed east against wind and current, along the last 200 miles of Venezuela's Caribbean coast. Our first stop was in a small lagoon at Chimana Grande to clean two weeks of marine growth from the propeller, knotmeter impeller and waterline. The lagoon is one of four tucked into the southern side of the island. Each is a small blue pool entered through a narrow gap in the cactus and bramble covered rock of the island. I climbed the nearby hill to take a picture before returning to the boat and a plunge in the cool clear waters of the lagoon. The hot sunny morning and two weeks of marina life made the hour of maintenance, swimming and diving under the boat, a pleasure. With the work completed we had a quick lunch then lifted the anchor to continue on our way to Mochima Park.

Stainless Steel Man at work

Lagoon at Chimana Grande

With no wind at all, we motored amongst the many small islands that dot the coast between Puerto La Cruz and Mochima. There are hundreds of beautiful bays, lagoons and protected beaches throughout the islands. Were the area not plagued with nighttime thievery one could spend months exploring each island and anchorage. Because of these problems we choose a slow, daytime, sightseeing tour. Each island, though similar has it's own unique features that beckon to be appreciated at length.

As we crossed a more open stretch of water between Chimana Secondo and Ensenada Tigrillo we were joined by the largest pod of dolphins we have seen to date. They arrived from every direction all jumping and diving often four to six in unison. Once along side the boat they dove under us, swam in and out of the bow wave, darting this way and that. After half an hour of watching this incredible water ballet we began to focus our attentions on the scenery around us. No sooner had we moved back to the cockpit from our front row seats on the rail, when I noticed a strange slapping sound on port quarter. When I looked over the side to see what it was I was greeted by a great splash of sea water as one of the dolphins, apparently annoyed by our lack of attention, slapped the surface of the water with his powerful tail only inches from the side of the boat. The dolphins remained with us right to the entrance to Ensenada Tigrillo and then where off to play elsewhere just as quickly as they had arrived.

With an afternoon rainstorm racing to meet us, we motored the last few miles through the deep water channels separating the Caracas and Venados Islands toward our intended anchorage in Bahia Manare. The rain caught us about a mile out and the heavy downpour thoroughly rinsed both boat and helmsman. The rest of the 'crew' disappeared below as the deluge approached saying "Well, there's no point in us both getting wet". The rain finally let up after the anchor was set and the boat readied for the night. Friends Tom and Judy with two guests aboard from Nova Scotia had taken a more direct route and had arrived earlier. We joined them on 'Syncronicity' for an evening cocktail while watching the sunset.

I spent the next morning installing the spare alternator (everything breaks). It was a rather unusual cloudy, cool day which I appreciated draped over a hot engine fighting with stubborn, somewhat corroded bolts (the only things that don't move are the thinks that are suppose to, but they're broken). Just after noon we lifted anchor and motored around the next headland into Mochima National Park with the amp meter once again reading positive.

RORO IV motor sailing along side

Mochima is a deep fjord-like gulf. According to Doyle's guide it is a sunken valley that extends four miles into the coastal mountain range. Numerous arms extend off the main channel creating many well protected natural anchorages. Tucked into every nook and cranny are small, picture perfect, palm backed beaches. The high coastal mountains at the southern end push the clouds upward causing significant rainfall and thus lush vegetation. However, the entrance is far enough away that it is very dry, and, much like the surrounding islands, sparsely covered with cactus and brambles. In the relatively short length of the gulf the vegetation changes drastically. With the red of the surrounding rock and the orange sand it is very colourful. Unfortunately, during our visit all was muted by the persistent cloud cover and light rain.

We spent another quiet night anchored near the small town at the southern end of the park. There have been a rash of thefts in Mochima this season so we rafted Pirate Jenny and RORO and Luca and I slept in our cockpits with searchlights close at hand. Dawn arrived without incident but I had not slept well, waking with every splash of a fish all night long. This may seem a bit extreme but with the number of incidents of motors, dinghies, anchors and even lines and shackles disappearing overnight it seemed the wise thing to do. As beautiful as the area is, the need for this sort of nighttime watch takes all the pleasure out of cruising there. We rose at 5:30am and headed out of Mochima, north along the western shore of the Peninsula of Araya and on to Isla Margarita.

One of many small beaches in Mochima Park

View of Mochima park from the hillside

The day started out calm, as most do close to the mainland, but as we approached Cabagua, one of two islands between Margarita and the coast, the wind piped up with a vengeance. The wind was, of course, right on the nose gusting over 30 knots at times. Our intended destination of Porlamar was still 40 some miles away. We motor sailed the next eight hours banging into choppy seas which often slowed us to under 3 knots. By 4:00pm we were still 12 miles from Porlamar, cold, wet and exhausted. At the speed we were able to make we could not make Porlamar before dark so we radioed Luca who, with a larger boat and engine had made better time, was nearing the anchorage, and told him we would bear off and sail back out to Coche to anchor for the night. We anchored beside four other sailboats just behind a long sand spit at the north eastern end of the island. It was a long, tiring day.

We woke at dawn again the next morning and with wind and seas abated were able to cover the 15 miles to Porlamar before 9:00am. We anchored, lowered the dinghy and motor, picked up Luca and Patricia and headed for the dinghy dock and the bus to town. Evelyn and Patricia both planned a full day of shopping in the inexpensive, duty-free shops. By the end of the day we were all rather disappointed and quite ready to leave. Porlamar is a large modern tourist trap with huge hotels crowding every inch of waterfront, glitzy, neon everything. Everyone speaks English, the signs are all English - Margarita Island seems to have very little in common with the rest of Venezuela. There are lots of stores all selling North American goods at very close to North American prices. We were able to find some items that we had not seen or were rare on the mainland; peanut butter, relish, English magazines but the best buys are the duty free liquors. We had been told by several other cruisers that we should stock up on beer and alcohol in Margarita as prices throughout the island chain were very high in comparison. In Bonaire a single hander we met on his sailboat "Brise Del Mar" told us that due to his experience he had purchased 60 cases of beer and 20 cases of rum on leaving Margarita. I asked how on earth he had stowed it all on his 30 foot boat. His response was "it's just as easy to walk on a case of beer as on teak and holly". We took the advise but to a MUCH lesser extent. After paying Canadian prices of $20.00 for a 750ml bottle of rum it is hard to pass up a 1.5 liter bottle for a little under $4.00. We did manage to stow our 1 case of rum and 2 cases of beer without raising the cabin sole. We spent the evening aboard in the very rolly anchorage basking in the neon glow of this busy tourist town.

We were on our way by 6:00am the next morning to begin the final leg of our passage to Trinidad. Again we motor sailed against wind and current. We made our best angle in to the coast then followed the coastline to Puerto Santos. We arrived in a rainstorm again at about 4:00pm. We had a quick dinner then off to bed with the alarm set for midnight. We awoke at 12:00am to find the seas very flat and almost no wind. We continued to motor along the coast about a mile offshore dodging the unlit fishing boats as we ticked off the last 60 miles to our point of departure from Venezuela, Punta Prago.

Sunrise along the Peninsula de Paria

Coastal Mountains in daylight

This part of the coast of Venezuela is unpopulated with only tiny fishing villages clinging to the few small indentations in the long unprotected shoreline. We could see very little all night, a black shoreline and a moonless black sky. As dawn approached we could begin to see the impressively high coastal mountains plunging more than 3,000 feet into the Caribbean Sea. Due to the height of the mountains the tops are almost always covered in clouds. The constant rain has turned the mountainsides into a lush tropical rain forest, every inch of land covered in deep green foliage. One mile offshore the sun shone all morning, but along the shore line the rain and mist were constant. We arrived at Punta Prago about noon and anchored just a few yards off the beach under the towering mountain peaks.

Punta Prago is home to one of the larger villages along this coast. About 150 fishermen and their families inhabit the poorly constructed 'shelters' along the water's edge. It rained off and on, mostly on, all afternoon and night. We had light showers, heavy showers and very heavy showers. In between shafts of sunlight would dance across the mountain side splashing pools of brilliant colours throughout the gray-green backdrop of cloud covered rain forest. At night in between the rain showers we could hear the strange sounds of the jungle only a few yards away.

Anchorage at Punta Prago

Beach at Punta Prago

The next morning we moved to the a bay about 2 miles further east. Cabo San Francisco is the last protected anchorage on the peninsula and about 25 miles from Trinidad. This bay is very similar to Punta Prago but without the fishing village. The beach is much smaller but has a clean, cold mountain stream at it's edge. There is one small fisherman's hut built on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the bay. The flimsy structure was home to a family with at least two small children that I could see. We searched our food lockers and came up with a few cans of meat that I left along with a few candies on the small dock at the base of the rock. Fishing anywhere in the world is a hard life but here with dwindling stocks and no social programs to rush to their assistance the fishermen must eke out a meager existence from a very unsympathetic sea. This sight, the rain and cloud and the constant rolling from the large ocean swells made it a rather depressing anchorage. We had originally planned to stay here a couple of days but decided that evening to leave for Trinidad at first light the following morning.

Brief moment of sunlight at Cabo San Francisco

In the past few days since I began this letter we have officially checked into Trinidad and found a small, inexpensive marina on the island of Gaspar Grande in Chaguaramas Bay on the southern side of the north east corner of Trinidad. The alternator is in the repair shop, the sail loft that will make my new dodger and bimini have been contracted and we have taken the maxi-taxis the 15 or so miles to Port of Spain to do a little sightseeing and breathe in a little of the life and energy of this wonderful, friendly island. I have arranged an email account with the local Internet provider that I will keep at least until the end of February, however, I like the sound of it ( that I just might keep it forever!

Patrica, Evelyn and Friend Kris celebrating our arrival in Trinidad

We will stay in Trinidad only a couple of weeks then head 'up island' to Grenada and the Grenadines for December and January but we will then return to Trinidad in February for Carnival. Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival is the undisputed best in the Caribbean and seems to be the focal point for the Island people. Officially it is a one week event in early February but a native Trinidadian working in the boatyard told me in his slightly strange but very comfortable English "The first Band lunch was held last week, that means Carnival has already started." Carnival in Trinidad is not just an event, it is Trinidad and Trinidad is Carnival!

Best Wishes and season's greetings to all as you prepare for Christmas. It will be a very different Christmas for us this year, so far from family and friends, and though the stores here are full of them, decorated evergreen trees look quite out of place in the tropics.