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by Dan and Jan Ahart
With many modifications, repairs and replacements behind us, we conducted a high level planning session and decided to return to the island of Margarita off the north coast of Venezuela instead of heading north up the Caribbean island chain as we had been contemplating for the last three months. In the course of the meeting, the crew (both of us) decided we had really seen enough of the Leeward and Windward islands for a while and therefore we should sail westward and eventually visit some Central American countries. Margarita seemed like a logical first step, so off we went. We left Trinidad at 0900 on February 15th. It was good sailing weather and we reached Margarita at noon on the 16th. It was a downhill run in that we had an easy 10 to 12 knot tail wind. We averaged just under 5 knots for the 130 miles, which is not bad for us. We set the jib on the port side and the main sail on the starboard side and sailed "wing and wing" for the entire 27 hours. We rigged "preventers" for both sails so we would not experience an unplanned jibe. For the landlubber, a preventer is a line that is attached to a sail to prevent it from moving. When a sailboat jibes or turns while going down wind, the boom, which is the horizontal spar, holding out the mainsail can move very rapidly from one side of the boat to the other. If it moves fast enough it can knock a person overboard, injure or even kill a person if hits hard enough. The safe approach is to lash the boom with a stout line to prevent it from swinging.
Isla de Margarita was pretty much as we had left it some three months previous. The real change was us in that our Spanish had deteriorated markedly. But, with our trusty dictionary and various computer language lessons, we were back to nursery school proficiency in no time. Besides being on the way west, Margarita is a great place to provision in that it is a duty free island, which means the already low Venezuelan prices are even lower. It is really a shame that Venezuelan politics are so volatile because Margarita is only about a four-hour flight from Miami and it could be an amazingly economical vacation spot. There are first class hotels, extremely beautiful and modern shopping malls, restaurants, casinos and of course miles of beautiful beaches. Having our own transportation certainly gives us an advantage where politics are not real stable. We can be gone in minutes after weighing anchor. And, speaking of anchors, that was another reason to stop in Venezuela. This is the only location we know of in the Caribbean where anchors and anchor chain can be re-galvanized. We have three anchors; a 70 pound Danforth, a 44 pound Bruce and a 44 pound Brittany. All needed re-galvanizing as did our 275 feet of 5/16 inch high test anchor chain. So, we borrowed an anchor from a friend and used one of our 250 foot anchor lines (rope) for a week while the re-galvanizing was done. The cost was $1.50 U.S. per kilogram. Yes, it helps to join the rest of the world and get familiar with the metric system if one is going to sail to foreign countries. A kilogram is 2.20462 pounds. So the cost was 68 U.S. cents per pound. When new, our chain weighed 1.09 pounds per foot so the re-galvanizing cost per foot of chain was 74 U.S. cents. That compares to $3.40 U.S. per foot retail for new replacement chain. Not a bad deal and the anchors worked out to $48 for the Danforth, versus $316 new, the Bruce worked out to $66 versus $280 new and the Brittany worked out to $66 versus $115 new. Obviously, the more expensive the anchor, the more justification for re-galvanizing. In our experience, the Brittany is as good as the Danforth at one third the price. But anchors are a very subjective item. Some people swear by certain anchors and some swear at them. After three and a half years of cruising we have learned that a minimum of three different types of anchors are a must, for the different bottom conditions one will encounter and the occasional need for redundancy. We have also learned that different anchors "set" differently. The Danforth and Brittany set best with a lot of rode. The Bruce on the other hand sets best with the least amount of rode required, so that it is held upright while it is setting or digging in.
We also had one other major project to accomplish. We decided to replace our stove. When we purchased Sojourner, she had a 110 volt convective microwave oven and range top with three propane burners. The microwave was nice, but it had two problems. First, we had to operate the 110 volt generator in order to use it and second, it's switches were wimpy little buttons, which were constantly corroding and failing. We decided three years ago to get rid of it and the range top and buy a stove with a built-in range top. Not knowing any better, we purchased a propane RV stove that was just the right size to fit our galley space. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but not being designed for a salty environment, it has metamorphosed into a not so usable or safe, rusty curiosity. There are many manufacturers of stainless steel stoves that are designed for salt air environments and the designs and prices are quite varied. We finally settled on a propane powered, Tasco unit manufactured by the Taunton Stove Co. in Massachusetts, because it was just the right size for our galley counter, meaning no major modifications, and it was reasonably priced, at $1,000 U.S. Yes, boats really are holes in the water into which one throws money. But, remember, the stove and range are 100% stainless steel and guaranteed not to rust. By comparison, some of the stoves we looked at started at prices over $3,000 U.S. Getting the stove from Massachusetts to Margarita was really not too difficult. The factory shipped it to a freight forwarder in Miami via UPS for $33. The forwarder combined it with a shipment of goods for the VEMASCA chandlery in Margarita, who in turn charged $100 U.S. to deliver it to us. The ship from Miami to Margarita took two weeks by way of several stops enroute. If it seems we are almost rebuilding Sojourner or at least replacing a great deal of equipment, the truth is yes. But, she is 20 years old this year and much of her equipment is being replaced for the first time. At least that sounds like probable cause to us.
There are currently about 40 other cruisers anchored with us off Porlamar,
Isla de Margarita. It is a huge bay with water averaging 8 to 20 feet
deep, depending on exact location. One could probably anchor 1,000 boats here
with plenty of room for all. Most American and Canadian cruisers do not
anchor within 50 meters or yards of each other, but the Europeans,
especially the French will anchor as close as possible, much to our
consternation. On several occasions we have had to point out that it is a
big bay and we would appreciate them not anchoring so close. Most of the
time we get bewildered looks, but sometimes they relocate. If they don't,
we do. Interesting culture. Stay tuned.