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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Fifty-Four

We left Cubagua at 0600 on 10 July 2002 and motored against the current and the trade winds to the Porlamar anchorage on Margarita, arriving at 1030. Our plan was to fill the fuel tanks, purchase fresh meat, fruit and vegetables and sail to La Blanquilla for a couple of weeks. Naturally it took longer to purchase our desired items, as nothing seems to move quite as fast as planned in the islands. For example, there are two ways to purchase fuel in Porlamar. One is to visit the fuel pier and the other is to have the fuel delivered to the boat. The fuel pier is designed for large working boats. It is high off the water and uses huge old tires for fenders. Any nice clean hull rubbing against the old tires is going to come away black. Plus, because of the strong current around the pier, the only way to safely tie up to the pier is to use a bow anchor and, using the engines, back toward the pier, using stern lines to secure the boat perpendicular to the pier. Even though the price of diesel at the fuel pier was 15 U.S. cents a gallon, we opted to have the fuel delivered for 29 cents a gallon. An outrageous and scalping markup, but we felt it was worth the peace of mind. We made the appropriate arrangements and successfully received 240 liters (about 60 gallons) of fuel a day later than planned. Successfully means apparently no water was in the fuel and we found very little dirt in the combination funnel/filter that we use while pouring fuel into the tanks. We also visited the local super market and purchased copious amounts of steak for 49 cents a pound, loaded up on fresh papayas, mangoes, avocados, oranges, bananas and other good stuff and considered ourselves re-provisioned.

At 0700 on 13 July we left Porlamar and sailed to the north side of Margarita to the village of Juangriego, which would be our departure point for la Blanquilla. We departed Juangriego at 0600 on the 14th and motor sailed to La Blanquilla, arriving at 1400. We averaged over seven knots for the 60-mile trip. By using the engines and the sails, we arrived in plenty of time to find a good anchorage before dark. La Blanquilla means whitish as in bleached out. It is so named because of the very white beaches and white to very light gray rock and soil that is exposed. The island is about 20 square miles of gently rolling dry and sparsely vegetated land. The highest point is only about 25 feet above sea level. Snorkeling is excellent, with lots of coral surrounded by beautiful fish just off shore in 5 to 30 feet of water. There is a small Guardacosta station on the island and about 50 permanent residents. However, the fishing is good around the island, so there are always about a dozen or so fishing boats from Margarita. We anchored of Playa Yaque, which means something like already or finally beach, which is a rather curious name. Maybe some meaning got lost in the translation. For a time, we were the only Americans present. There were two boats from France, one from Canada, one from Germany and one from Denmark. A large power catamaran flying a U.S. flag came and stayed two days and left. Anchoring in out of the way locations such as La Blanquilla, where there are no facilities is quite different from anchoring in an area where lots of shore side activities are going on. It seems that cruisers who go to the trouble to find secluded anchorages appreciate their privacy and tend to anchor away from each other. That suited us just fine and we spent our time swimming reading and doing small jobs such as cleaning the hulls. We felt we had enough socializing in Porlamar to last us a while.

It had been about three months since we had brushed and cleaned the hulls and they were in dire need of attention. Lots of grass and some barnacles had adopted us and we worked for several hours spread over three days to get the hulls clean. Since Sojourner is a catamaran and therefore her hulls only extend three and a half feet into the water, we can clean our hulls using snorkel gear alone. It is just a matter of holding ones breath long enough to brush a few square feet at a time. But with two hulls 40 feet long, that is a lot of square feet. Mono hull sailors, whose boats have keels that sometimes extend seven to nine feet into the water usually, need scuba gear to clean their hulls. Seven feet down doesn't sound very deep, but scrubbing a hull is hard work and oxygen is used up very fast, which drastically limits the time on or "under" the job. We also did some interior cleaning and a little painting here and there.

One of the odd jobs included polishing the ship's bell, which is a required signaling device by the U.S. Coast Guard on any vessel over 40 feet. We never use ours for signaling because we also have an electric horn and a backup compressed air horn. But the bell looks very nautical and it might as well be shiny. Ships' bells have also been used to announce watch changes for centuries. I was curious about how the system worked, so I contacted a very dear friend named Ben Owen, who has probably forgotten more about boats than I will every know and asked him how ships' bells were used. Here is his answer, which includes a change of watch at midnight on New Years Eve:

"A watch is normally four hours long except for the time the watches are "dogged," which means 'shift change' so the same watch gets alternating times every day. If a watch starts at noon, 1 bell will be sounded at 1230, Two bells at 1300, three bells at 1330, four bells at 1400, five bells at 1430, six bells at 1500, seven bells at 1530 and eight bells at 1600 representing watch change.

The shift that comes on at 1600, (the first dog watch), gets one bell at 1630, two bells at 1700, three at 1730 and four bells at 1800. Then they start over as the shift changes again for the second dog watch, which also goes through four bells until 2000. Then, the watch that held the first dog watch comes back on duty for a full four hour watch, which goes to eight bells. This routine continues until New Years Eve, when, at midnight eight bells are rung for the old year and eight bells for the New Year. Then at 0030 one bell again. There is also a special combination for a new century, but memory fails me at the moment."

Well, it will be some time before the crew of Sojourner contemplates using the ship's bell to announce watch changes. In the meantime, I guess we will stick to the old fashioned alarms on our digital watches. Now that I think of it, I'll have to ask Ben how accurate all that bell ringing was considering hour glasses were used at one time to keep track of all that ringing. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2002-07-10,
Keywords: Porlamar, Margarita, Juangriego, La Blanquilla, ship's bells, dog watch

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.