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by Dan and Jan Ahart
"The sea not only sharpens a sense of beauty and of alarm, but also ... you rediscover what the world was like when it was empty, when time itself was the richness that oil is today, and when pleasures were as simple as getting up in the morning." That abbreviated quote is from Peter Ustinov's autobiography, "Dear Me." Mr. Ustinov won Oscars for best supporting actor for Spartacus in 1960, and Topkapi in 1964. He wrote several very successful plays including The Love of Four Colonels in 1951 and Romanoff and Juliet in 1956. He won three Emmys and was a tireless worker for UNICEF and UNESNCO. He owned and sailed his 1929, 58 foot steel ketch, Nitchevo for many years.
Our downwind sail from Isla La Blanquilla to Los Roques was a delight. We have two spinnakers on board. One is full sized and is blue and white. The other is smaller and used to be green and white, but somehow, it got stored in the bottom of a lazarette with some leaky oil containers on top of it. Consequently it now looks rather like it was made of a surplus camouflage parachute. It certainly has a 'one of a kind' look about it. Because the wind was slightly stronger than forecast, and the crew not having much experience with spinnakers, we chose to use the smaller sail. It may not be very yachty in appearance, but it performed well and got us to the Los Roques on schedule, just over 24 hours from the time we left La Blanquilla.
Los Roques is a large shallow area that measures about 20 miles east to west by about 10 miles north to south. Some 90 % of the area is too shallow for anything with a deeper draft than a canoe, and about one third of the total area is off limits because it is a wildlife preserve, but this still leaves some 20 small islands that can be visited. It is a popular weekend area for the mainland Venezuelans because of the pretty beaches and clear water. It also boasts the best bone fishing in the world. Because of all this interest, one of the islands, Gran Roque, has a small village and an airport. We stayed four nights at four different islands and enjoyed them all very much, but the area was a little too crowded for us so we continued west some 30 miles to another group of islands called Isla de Aves. The Aves are actually two small island groups and each one is a classic atoll shape. Almost circular barrier reefs with shallow, but navigable lagoons inside. The eastern atoll is called Aves de Barlovento and the western atoll is called Aves de Sotavento. They lie about 10 miles apart.
We spent a week in Barlovento and had a wonderful time. The lagoon is about six miles in diameter, so even though there were 12 other cruisers there, we could enjoy a great deal of privacy. There are dozens of excellent anchorages and after a couple of days looking around we found one that we really liked. It took a bit of doing to get into the anchorage weaving around coral heads and shallow spots, but once there it was perfect. We were close to the reef, were almost surrounded by coral heads and the depth was a crystal clear 15 feet. Plus we were just 75 yards from a line of trees that were the roosting area of hundreds of red-footed boobies. The boobies are about the size of a pheasant or very large gull. Like a gull, they are very streamlined and have beautiful long tapered (gull shaped) wings. They are light brown in color and have sky blue beaks that are very attractive. But they also have the most audaciously huge, orange-red webbed feet imaginable. Every morning they would leave the roost and stay airborne all day. They feed by swooping down low to the water, picking up small fish with their beaks, while staying airborne. We even saw many babies that were still in the nests. They were almost the size of their parents, but their feathers were snow white. They looked like little snowmen with black eyes, blue nose and red feet.
Our anchorage area was perfect for snorkeling because of the close-by coral, which teemed with fish. These islands are visited much less frequently than other islands off the Venezuelan coast and so the coral is in excellent condition and there are plenty of fish. We shared our anchorage with a four-foot barracuda, that came to inspect our anchor as soon as we set it. The 'cuda would also cruise around the boat once or twice a day. We never saw it when we were swimming. I suppose it got to be the size it was by being cautious. We did see much smaller barracuda and lots of gorgeous parrotfish.
We met some cruisers who come to the Aves every year and stay for up to three months at a time. As long as the groceries hold out and one can make fresh water it is an idyll for those who like privacy, excellent snorkeling, fishing and bird watching. There is enough solid ground to support a lot of trees and some beaches. So, we had the opportunity to go ashore and burn our paper and plastic trash. Cans and bottles are discarded in the open ocean where the depth is at least 1,500 feet, which is common in the Caribbean. When we are in and around populated areas like Isla Margarita, we can take our trash ashore to marina provided garbage collection areas. But when we are out in the remote islands, our trash, which piles up at an alarming rate, is disposed of as described above. As long as no residue is left on the beach, we feel it is a good solution. Most cruisers follow this policy and it is very rare to find a can or bottle on a beach. When they are found, it is my feeling that they are washed up from having been discarded improperly at sea. We always fill our bottles with seawater to assure they sink or break them before putting them overboard. Cans are punctured with a screwdriver in several places to be sure they will sink.
After a week of basking in the "our" beautiful anchorage, we felt it was
time to move on to Aves Sotavento. Again, we took advantage of the trade
winds and enjoyed a wonderful 10-mile sail. The winds were a little too
strong for spinnakers, so we used the jib only and still averaged better
than 5 knots. Between the islands the seas were very nice for a downwind
sail. The swells averaged about six feet with an occasional one upwards
of 10 feet. But the period (time between waves) was great enough to allow a
very low angle on the swells with no white caps. We just rose up with
each swell, had a good look around and then descended into the following
trough. Sotavento is smaller than Barlovento, but promises good snorkeling. We
shall stay here for a week or so and check it out thoroughly. Stay tuned.