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by Dan and Jan Ahart
Good friends of ours arrived in Porlamar about the middle of August 2002. We had last seen them in Trinidad and had been looking forward to their arrival so we could do some cruising together. Variety in sailing is enjoyable. We can anchor in very crowded harbors or seek isolation in out of the way places or pay for a slip in a marina, which is almost like living in an apartment. This would be a first for us however. We had cruised in the company of other boats, while sailing between islands on our way south, but we had not as yet, stayed in close contact with another boat for any length of time. Our friends wanted to see Isla La Blanquilla, so after provisioning both boats we returned to that beautiful little island. Our friends were as taken with the island as we were and we stayed two weeks exploring, snorkeling and visiting other cruisers, who came and went. We could have enjoyed another two weeks at La Blanquilla, but we all wanted to see Isla La Tortuga (The Turtle Island), which lies about 60 miles southwest of La Blanquilla. Some cruisers like to travel overnight on short passages, but we fall into the other camp that enjoys getting up early and arriving late in the afternoon. Obviously, if one sails overnight and is late arriving at the next destination, no harm is done in that a full day lies before you to find a good anchorage. In order to assure ourselves that we would find a good anchorage before dark, we left La Blanquilla at 0400 and averaged five knots, by motor sailing. Twelve hours later, we were at La Tortuga with a good two hours of daylight to find an anchorage.
La Tortuga is much larger than La Blanquilla and it also has a couple of close-by islets that provide well-protected anchorages between them and the main island. We anchored on the lee side of the largest islet, which is called Cayo Herradura or Horseshoe Key. Water between the key and the main island was 10 to 20 feet deep and very clear. The key, which was basically a large sand dune, effectively blocked all wave and surge action from the Caribbean. It was an ideal anchorage as was evidenced by the dozen other cruisers who were anchored there. The key and its favorable anchorage is also a very popular destination for weekend boaters from the mainland as we experienced a couple of days later. The area never really got crowded, but it did get lively. We were visiting on our friend's boat on Saturday afternoon, when a dinghy from a mainland boat came by. Its occupants were Venezuelans, who had lived in the states for many years. They recognized us as Americans by the flags we were flying and just came by for a chat. Once again we were reminded how friendly individuals are no matter where we travel.
One day we visited Isla La Tortuguillas, two slightly smaller keys just west of Cayo Herradura. There we found a small lobster and two eels sharing indentations in the same coral. If we had ever had the urge to stick our hand in a crevice to feel for a lobster, spotting those eels put and end to that. We also circumnavigated La Tortuga, which is about 10 miles long and six miles wide. On the south side of the island is a lagoon that is suitable only for shallow draft boats that is called Laguna Carenero, the narrow or streamlined lagoon. The water in the lagoon is very clear and of course shallow, averaging only about five or six feet. We spent one night there and bought some fish from a man, who lived in a hut on the east end of the lagoon.
La Tortuga is very dry and flat, with the highest point no more than 120 feet. It is largely uninhabited expect for a small fishing village on the northeast side. However, there is a dirt airstrip, which is used occasionally by mainlanders, to fly in for a day of fishing or swimming. Not far from the village is a gorgeous and very well protected anchorage and beach called Playa Caldera, the bowl shaped beach. We anchored there for a couple of days and enjoyed the scenery and the snorkeling. Our original intention was to return to Porlamar on Isla de Margarita via a route that would take us close to the mainland. Most cruisers take this route because the prevailing trade winds make sailing directly east to Margarita very rough and difficult. By sailing southeast toward the mainland and then eastward along the coast and eventually northeast to Margarita, some protection from the trade winds is provided, so the journey is much smoother albeit much longer. However, we were very lucky in that the trade winds abated for a 24-hour period, which allowed us to motor directly, back to Margarita without any difficulty. We arrived in Porlamar on September 18th.
We were scheduled to leave for the United States on September 26th in
order to attend our son's wedding and visit family. We would be gone for three
weeks, so we had made plans to have Sojourner hauled out at a boat yard on
the island. We sailed to the boat yard on the 23rd and hauled out on the
24th. We had just enough time to prepare Sojourner for her three week
"storage" before we left. Hauling out at this boatyard was a new
experience for us in that a rail system is used to get boats in and out of the water.
Parallel steel railroad type tracks, about ten feet apart, run from about
200 feet above the shoreline to about that distance into the water, which
is about ten feet deep. A steel cable pulled by a huge electric motor on
shore pulls a flat steel "car" into or out of the water. When we were ready to
be hauled, two large I-beams were attached to the car and the car was then
pulled into the water. Four polypropylene ropes, which float, were
attached to the ends of the I-beams, one at each end. I maneuvered Sojourner as
close as I could to the center of the space between the four ropes. As I
was accomplishing this effort, two men from the boat yard connected lines
from Sojourner to the shore to aid in holding her steady. Two men
simultaneously attached the four lines from the car to Sojourner. Then,
the car and Sojourner were slowly pulled toward shore. As the car rose to
meet Sojourner's hulls, two divers positioned wood planks between her hulls and
the I-beams. When she was settled on the I-beams and secured to the car,
she was pulled out of the water. Then, a conventional "travel lift"
picked her up off the car and carried her to a location in the yard, where she
could sit on large wooden blocks until time to go back in the water. Once
settled on the blocks, we connected water lines and electric lines so we
could live and work on her in something more than camping fashion. We
spent the next day getting her ready for her three week "storage" and then left
the next morning for the airport. We had a wonderful time in the states
during our three-week visit, but were anxious to get back "home". We
arrived back in the boat yard on October 17th and promptly started sanding
the hulls in preparation for repainting. A week later, after two coats of
primer and two coats of anti-fouling bottom paint, we were back in the
water and back in Porlamar. Stay tuned.