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by Dan and Jan Ahart
On the morning of 26 June 2002, we left Porlamar and set sail for Isla Coche (Coach Island), which lies just 12 miles south of Porlamar. There are two small fishing villages, an airstrip and a long white sand beach. It is becoming a popular area for Venezuelans to spend the day swimming and sunning themselves. A small restaurant and an equipment rental facility are located in the middle of the beach, where umbrellas, beach chairs, personal watercraft, sailboards and floats of various types can be rented. The village of San Pedro has one very nice open-air restaurant and one nice grocery store. The government has obviously tried to develop the area as the town has a two lane divided boulevard with streetlights, and sidewalks, but a near total absence of vehicles. Small homes constructed of concrete block and stucco line the streets. The houses are painted all sorts of pastel colors, which certainly gives it a Latin flair. The people are very friendly and some even tested their English skills on us. Like all the islands in this area, Coche is very dry. Walking around town felt more like visiting a small town in New Mexico than the Caribbean. We spent two nights at Coche and then returned to Porlamar.
After a week in Porlamar, we decided to circumnavigate Isla Margarita. Leaving at 0830 on 3 July 02, we motored north under overcast and drizzly skies to Los Frailes (The Friars), which are a small group of islands just six miles northeast of Margarita. They are uninhabited except for a few shelters put up by fishermen and one well-kept building that is used as a refreshment and break area for charter scuba diving groups from Margarita. There is only one small area suitable for anchoring and another boat was already there, so we turned southwest and continued on to the north central area of Margarita. As we turned away from Los Frailes, the sun came out, which brightened the day considerably. We also now had the wind off our port stern, so we shut off the engines, unfurled the jib and sailed to the fishing village of Juangriego on Margarita. It was a delightful sail in 15-knot winds, clear sky and a beautiful coastline to observe. There are many charming beaches on Margarita and many resort/hotels. We arrived in Juangreigo at 1700 hours and set the anchor in 10 feet of water in the harbor amongst numerous fishing boats. We spent a quiet 4th of July and watched the Venezuelans celebrate their Independence Day on the 5th of July. No fireworks, but there was plenty of music and the restaurant/cantinas seemed to do a brisk business.
On the 6th, we departed Juangriego and continued westward to the west side of Margarita. We anchored in 9 feet of water off the coast of Robledal (oakwood). This was one of the rare times, when we felt comfortable sailing right to our anchorage and dropping the anchor without using the engines. We took the jib down and backed the main in order to set the anchor. We also left the next morning without using the engines. We felt like real seadogs. Robledal also looked like a village out of an American western movie, especially with the mountains in the background covered with very sparse desert type vegetation, including several varieties of cactus. Our next stop was Isla Cubagua (Watercask Island), which is an appropriate name I suppose, because the only fresh water on the island, other than infrequent rain is that brought in by container. We were anxious to visit the island, which is just five miles south of Margarita because the water is very clean, although it is tinted green, which we were told is because of the algae which thrive on the nutrients introduced from large rivers like the Orinoco on mainland Venezuela. The water is also much colder than around Margarita, because of a deep ocean current, which passes close by. We looked forward to being able to swim and snorkel in clean water. We weren't disappointed.
In addition to its unique water, Cubagua has a singular and tragic history. It is the site of the first European settlement in the Americas. In 1492, the local natives made the mistake of showing their pearls to Columbus. Some fifty fortune hunters formerly with Columbus' expedition founded Nueva Cadiz (New Cadiz) on the east side of the island. They enslaved hundreds of natives and forced them to dive for pearls. They worked them very hard, whipping them to the point of exhaustion and death. Within a few years Cubagua had provided Spain with a wealth almost equal to that of the gold transported from Inca lands. In one year alone Cubagua exported 820 pounds of pearls.
The natives struck back in 1520 and drove the Spaniards away, but they returned in force and treated the natives even more cruelly. The pearl beds slowly played out and then on Christmas day in 1541 an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Nueva Cadiz. The island is still uninhabited except for a few fishing camps and a research station. Surprisingly, the foundations and some of the walls of Nueva Cadiz still stand, 500 years later as a grim reminder of the greed and cruelty of the early Spaniards. A single stone obelisk marks the site with the simple engraving - 1492 on it. The site covers about ten acres and must have been a very busy place during its heyday as a slave and pearl center. Pearl gathering at Cubagua has been outlawed since 1962. However, the locals still harvest oysters and some areas of the beaches are covered with oyster shells.
There are always projects to do while cruising. While in Cubagua our
project was to do something about the rusty part of our anchor chain. We
had purchased 300 feet of 5/16 inch, galvanized, G-4, high-test chain in
1999. It has served very well except that the first 30 feet that is
connected to the anchor has taken all the abuse over the years. The
galvanized coating had worn off and the chain was beginning to rust.
Chain is expensive so we examined our options. One option would be to cut off
the 30 feet that was rusting and use the remaining 270 feet. We didn't like
that idea. Another option would be to have the chain re-galvanized. Too
expensive, so we didn't like that idea. Another option would be to
continue to use it for a while longer rust and all. We discarded that idea because
rusty chain gets the deck all covered with rust stains. We finally
decided to do two things. First we reversed the chain, which would put relatively
unused chain at the anchor end and leave the rusty end in the chain
locker. That was a good solution, but it led to the second thing we did. We
didn't want rusty chain in the chain locker. So, we treated the rusty chain with
phosphoric acid, which turns the iron oxide (rust) into something black,
which can then be washed and painted. Then we relocated all the colored
plastic chain markers that tell us how many feet of chain we have out,
from one end of the chain to the other. A good morning's work. Stay tuned.