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by Dan and Jan Ahart
While anchored off Playa Yaque on the west coast of the island of La Blanquilla, we decided to go exploring on the island. Actually the commitment to go exploring was made during a weak moment, one evening, while visiting with a cruising couple from England. I'm not opposed to exploring per se, but La Blanquilla's topography and flora are not exactly inviting. The highest point on the island is about 25 feet above sea level. It is dry, rocky and covered with various types of cactus. Jan and I once had the opportunity to live in a ranch house that was located in the middle of 500 acres of similar type land located west of San Antonio, Texas. Believe me, folks who live in areas like that wear cowboy boots and blue jeans for a reason. The closest thing I had to cowboy boots was a pair of tennis shoes. And there is not a pair of blue jeans on the boat. Nevertheless, a promise was a promise and off we went, bare legs and all. After trudging for about and hour and having pulled at least 10 cactus spines out of my tender, but well suntanned skin, I turned to my new friend and told him that the old saying must be true - than only mad dogs and Englishmen would deliberately subject themselves to this kind of environment. He thought that uproariously funny. I didn't.
La Blanquilla is roughly square shaped and it measures about four and a half miles on any given "side." We had started on the southwest side and had walked roughly east-southeast. After the second hour, we paused to rest and to decide if it was time to turn back. I reckoned we were well over half way to the Guardacosta station and suggested that we go there and see if we could ride back to our sailboats with the guardsmen, when they made their afternoon circumnavigation of the island. My friend thought that was a capital idea and off we went. Besides, I wasn't about to let a limey suggest that I was ready to quite. I bolstered my resolve by remembering a great line in the book, "The Sum of all Fears," by Tom Clancy.
"I have thought often of this, my friend. How does one change the world? Not in safety. The safe ones, the timid ones, they benefit from our work. They rage at life, but they lack the courage to act. We are the ones who act. We take the risks, we face the danger, we deny ourselves for others. It is our task. My friend, it is far too late to have second thoughts."It was certainly too late for me to have second thoughts. Once committed, I was determined to see this thing through even if the cactus did cost me a pint of blood. There were some high points along the way of course. We saw a very healthy looking wild burro. They say there are several dozen on the island. And we saw a good-sized iguana as well as many different types of birds, including something that stared at us very much like a vulture. Oh yes, we also surprised a feral cat that promptly ran off into a thicket of small trees and cactus. In due course and after another half hour or so of blazing trails, we came to the Guardacosta station. The station is located on a small bay with a beautiful beach. A couple of guardsmen were swimming in the nice cool, clear water when we walked up. We must have presented a rather dismal site with our sweating brows and scratched legs. As luck would have it, one of the men was the very one I had given a bottle of rum to a week before. That made for a friendly "reunion" and after inquiring as to each other's health, that is physical, not mental, we inquired as to whether it would be possible to catch a boat ride back to our boats. That, my new friend said, was entirely up to the station Comandante. Well, we had come this far, so we might as well see it through. So, we followed directions to the main office.
To our very pleasant surprise the Comandante was bored almost to tears and welcomed visitors. He immediately appraised our situation and ordered ice water all around. This was followed by ice-cold apple juice and a complete tour of the facility. His English was better than our Spanish, so we communicated very well. The station included 15 men, who spend four weeks on the island and then four weeks on the mainland. They had all the comforts, including satellite TV, a game room, very nice eating facilities, patio with BBQ grill and very nice dormitories. The radio room was quite extensive, with enough gear to maintain communications with the mainland and ships in the area. The Comandante was very emphatic in stating that should we need anything, to call him on the radio personally. After being treated so well, he had one of his sergeants drive us back across the island - yes there was a road, which took us right up to beach where our boats were anchored. In retrospect it was a very enjoyable outing. By next time, I think I'll take the road.
On 1 August 2002, we left La Blanquilla to rendezvous with friends at Porlamar on the island of Margarita. It was a day and a half trip. One day to reach Juangriego on the north west side of Margarita and a half day to reach Porlamar, on the east side. This time the winds and currents were against us and we motored the entire trip. The only excitement came in Juangriego. At about 0330 our motion detector went off. We got out of bed and looked around but saw nothing. We re-set the alarm and went back to bed. The next morning we noticed that our large U.S. flag was missing. We surmised that a local decided it would make a great souvenir and when the alarm went off, he went over the side and hid from us in the dark. It was a shame to lose that flag because Jan had laminated in flexible vinyl, which kept it from making loud flapping noises in the wind and also kept it from fraying on the edge. However, loss of the flag was not nearly as disconcerting as the knowledge that someone had been on the boat in the wee hours of the morning. It is always tempting to blame the Venezuelans for tolerating such shameless acts, but we have heard of such experiences in the states also.
While anchored in Porlamar a few days later, I was replacing a valve in our fresh
water shower, which is located on the stern, when a Guardacosta boat with three
men pulled up. I don't know why I seem to attract the guardsmen. Maybe I look
suspicious or maybe it was because I was sitting on the stern and was easily
hailed as they cruised by. So, we were yet again subjected to the "inspeccion".
This time, however, the man in charge counted our fire extinguishers, our emergency
flares, our life jackets and made note of our navigation and communication equipment
on an official looking form. And to my surprise, I was given a copy of the completed
form, which I was told to present to the next guardsman as proof that our paper work
and equipment is in order. Stay tuned.