September 2011 - Venezuela to Curacao

1 September 2011    Rio Manamo, Venezuela
No one else wanted to attempt to go down the small cano to the Pedernales River, so we upped anchor at eight o’clock and motored off by ourselves.  We passed two large villages, but didn’t stop to trade with anyone when they came out to us - we were on a mission.

The first half of the cano has depths between 6 and 15 metres and is initially over 50 metres wide.  After an hour of motoring at 5 knots, the cano started to narrow and trees began to encroach on the water.  After two hours, we came to a junction where there is a Warao Indian village.  They had very traditional dwellings with palm leaf roofs and most of the kids were naked.  There were many happy, smiling children waving at this strange apparition passing very close to their homes.

We took the right hand fork and the river narrowed to 30 metres with lots of the trees hanging over the water.  From this point onwards, Glenys was stood on the back deck, watching the trees and making sure that we didn’t hit branches with our 50 foot mast and rigging.  I focussed on slowly steering us through this maze and watching out for water hyacinth and sodden floating logs.  We hit two big logs with a thump, but both times I had the engine in neutral gear and no damage was done.  The depth hardly ever dropped below 5 metres, which was a great relief, as we had enough to worry about with the trees.  The narrowest point in the river was 20 metres wide and there were no places where we touched the trees.

Zigzagging between trees

It took us an hour of intense concentration to weave our way through to the Pedernales River and what a welcome sight it was.  In retrospect, the route is not difficult at all, but it is stressful because we didn’t know whether there was a way through.  At some parts, when the trees are thickest, there is little room to turn a 42 foot yacht around, so we were pretty committed to keeping on going.  Once we got through, both of us thought that it was good fun.

We slowly motored north down the wide river.  It’s quite shallow compared to the Manamo River being between 5 to 10 metres deep.  The vegetation on the shore is more regular with less palm trees as we go towards the sea.  We passed a couple of big Warao villages – these had more “modern” buildings with corrugated iron roofs.  No one bothered to come out to see us, but the children waved and smiled from the shore.  I don’t think that they see many yachts down this way.

There’s a lot of boat traffic up and down the river.  Most of them slowed down to stare when they saw us.  At two o’clock, we anchored off an island at 09 45.21N  62 10.29W in 7 metres of water.  There’s a very shallow bar extending south from the island and our depth gauge dropped below 2 metres while we were looking around for a place to anchor.  We probably went aground in the soft mud, but I soon reversed us off into deeper water.

The horse flies are a damn nuisance here, so we put up the mosquito netting to keep them at bay.  Glenys relaxed in the cockpit in the afternoon and I updated my map with the route of the small cano that we have just done.  I made sure that I collected a good number of GPS waypoints on the trip through the cano, so the map should be pretty accurate.

The anchorage is a lovely peaceful place with two smaller canos that go off to the west.  The cruising notes say that one of them goes back to the Manamo River, but I don’t think we’ll bother to try.  Our plan is to go to Pedernales tomorrow and meet up with the others, who are staying at Ibis Island tonight, before heading back to Trinidad on Saturday.

In the evening, the horse flies were going mad trying to get through the mosquito net – I’m really pleased with the way that it’s worked on this trip. We had an early night – a stressful, but enjoyable day.

2 September 2011    Rio Manamo, Venezuela
I slept like a log until three o’clock, when I woke suddenly with the feeling that I’d heard voices outside.  Glenys was awake, so I asked her if she had heard anything, but she hadn’t.  I had to get up and have a look around outside, but all was very peaceful.  The only noise was the occasional splash of water against the hull caused by the strong current.

Back in bed, I found it difficult to sleep because I was constantly listening for the sound of someone on deck.  I had time to ponder the balance between anchoring in an isolated place and the need for security.  Most of the time, we are anchoring in crowded places with other cruisers, but it is nicer to be anchored alone. On the other hand, we are more likely to be a victim of armed robbery if anchored by ourselves.  I finally fell into a fitful sleep without reaching a conclusion.

Children stare on Pedernales River - Note satellite dishes

I was up at quarter past six, when the first boats came whizzing by us.  One of the problems that we will face when going back to Trinidad is that we won’t have any documentation to show that we have been in Venezuela for two weeks.  Some cruisers have had a very hard time from the Trinidad Customs officers when they arrive with no papers.  To make matters worse, we’ve heard that a “State of Emergency” has been declared in Trinidad because of some civil unrest a week ago.  I’m not sure whether this will make it harder to get cleared in without exit documentation.  I prepared a home-made departure document, which I filled in, hoping that the Guardia Nacional will date stamp it for me in Pedernales.

The trip down river turned out to be fairly boring.  The river Pedernales is very wide and only 5-10 metres deep.  We passed a small settlement of Warao Indians and two dugout canoes came across to see us.  They didn’t come to trade, just to stare.  We called them over and Glenys gave them a few small things and some pancakes that she had made.  One of the dugouts had a couple of young boys who had a woven basket containing crabs, which I guess they have collected in the mangroves – we later saw many boats and people going into the mangroves on the shore line.

We stuck our nose into a large river which heads east a mile before Pedernales, but it was only 4 metres deep and didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  We turned around and carried onto Pedernales where we anchored beside “Blackthorn Lady” and “Pogeyan”.

There was a wicked two knot current in the anchorage, so we waited until it had slackened and then went in to see the Guardia Nacional with the others.  I had written down what I was going to say in Spanish, “Es possible para usted meter una marca en mi zarpe?”  He seemed to understand and immediately stamped my homemade exit papers and wrote down our passport details in his ledger.  When the officer had done the same with the others’ papers, we all went for a walk around the town.

Ice making machine

It was a little busier than when we arrived two weeks ago and we bought some bread and beer.  There was a traditional ice machine on the street.  This is a hand cranked press, which grinds a big block of ice into small pieces.  The vendor puts the ice into a cup and adds syrup to make a “slush puppy.”  Glenys bought one to try it and it was nice.

There were quite a few Warao Indians hanging about outside the shop where we bought beer.  They were sitting about with loads of kids and it appeared sad that they were in this town with nothing to do but beg.  We were pestered by a few children asking for money and Glenys’ slush puppy.  We walked back to the boat a little despondent at the obvious poverty in the town.

We had dinner on Pogeyan which was a barbeque using up any fresh meat that we had left.  Glenys and I have decided that we’ll not bother stopping in Trinidad, but will carry on to Grenada overnight.  We swapped photographs with the others and exchanged contact details.  It has been a fun two weeks and we have become good friends.

3 September 2011    Rio Manamo to Prickly Bay, Grenada (Day 1)
The alarm went off at five o’clock in the morning and we left at half past five just behind the others.  Once again we had big problems getting the anchor up because the chain was wrapped around something – there must be big rocks or other obstructions down there.  It took us five minutes of motoring backwards and forwards to get the chain free.

We motored down the river entrance and the horse flies made a last desperate attempt to get us.  It was a very unpleasant hour swatting the little buggers as they zoomed about the cockpit. I’ve decided that horse flies are a major navigation hazard because when trying to swat them, we were definitely not looking where we were going and veering about wildly.

The trip out of the shallows was uneventful and we settled down to motor sailing in the fluky 5-10 knot wind.  We had practically no wind and had to use the engine all the way past Scotland Bay and until we were five miles past Trinidad heading towards Grenada.  The wind then picked up to 12 knots and we had a lovely sail until midnight when the wind dropped again.   Before it went dark, we had ten minutes of watching bottlenose dolphins play in our bow wave and I caught a tuna which was particularly satisfying because I’d lost a big fish in the afternoon when it bit through the line. We had a sighting of the elusive green flash as the sun went down to end a very nice day.

4 September 2011    Rio Manamo to Prickly Bay, Grenada (Day 2)
We arrived in Prickly Bay at six o’clock in the morning.  We had to motor-sail all night and I’d slowed us down to 4½ knots to time our arrival at dawn.  We anchored and went to bed for a couple of hours.

After breakfast, we chilled out tidying up and getting internet access again.  I checked the weather forecasts properly for the first time in two weeks – I’ve been getting second hand information from Ian on Blackthorn Lady for the past two weeks.  There are a couple of Tropical Storms north of us, a low to the east of us and 10 knot winds in our area.  We’re hoping for 20 knot east winds, so that we can head west down to the ABC islands – maybe next weekend.

I went over to customs to clear in and there was no problem with my homemade departure document.  Back on the boat, I updated my diary and the map of the Manamo River and published it to our web site, then mooched about the rest of the afternoon.

Steve and Lynn from “Celebration” came for dinner to help eat the tuna that we caught yesterday.