The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.

Our favorite sailing quote:

"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hello Dahling.......Laundry bliss, October 30

Laundry has continued to be my nemesis out here.  I’ve done plenty of washes in a bucket with a plunger, but try as I may, they never seem as fresh as they do with a good old fashion washing machine. Not to mention, washing machines are few and far between out here.  In Bonaire I had to lug 25 kilos of dirty laundry 2 miles on our scooter to find a commercial laundry.  In Grenada there were two machines that you could only fill half way and there was always a huge line of people waiting to use them.  In French Guiana we had the small marina do our laundry for us (the only option there) and they told us they had never done so much laundry. While all of these options were preferable to hand washing, they still required a dingy ride and at least some amount of lugging dirty laundry through town (the “growing like weeds” boys are finally able to really help me on that front).  Laundry in town also requires a very slow dingy ride back to the boat; avoiding spray, and balancing a large clean load of laundry precariously on the dingy seat, trying to avoid a fall in the perpetually wet inner dingy. So, to be in a marina (no dingy rides) with not one, but two machines, virtually no one else using them and on top of that ridiculously cheap ($2 a load, compared to as high as $10 in other places) Mama is in heaven.  I know, how 1950’s of me, but somethings just make all the difference.
You had me at hello!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Minca, Colombia October 28

A short trip to Minca and a reprieve from the heat and humidity in Santa Marta.  
rainforest view

coffee plant

Somehow we talked our way into the officers club at the local base.  We had a great day enjoying their facilities including the pool.  And yes, those are swim caps.  We've found lots of municipal pools in South America require caps.  

just hanging around

We found the elusive chocolate milkshake.  Happy kid!

Porter and Ana riding on the back of a moto taxi.  Yup, same parent that doesn't even let them ride their skateboards in the driveway without helmets. 

Crossing a rainforest stream. My babies on back of the bike!

We’ve basically been hot and sweaty since we crossed the Atlantic back in May (with a short break when we traveled back to the states).  It is definitely the price of living in the tropics and while I will take it any day over cold and rain, believe it or not, it does get tiresome.  So, when Mike and Zander decided to do the trek inland to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), we decided to also escape and head inland, albeit on a much shorter, less exhausting expedition.  We took a collectivo to the small town of Minca and in just 600 meters in elevation and 20 kilometers inland the weather changed dramatically.  The temperature lowered, the vegetation was considerably greener, and the rain fell every afternoon.  For the first time we needed blankets at night and I think I once heard Ana say the words “I’m cold”.  Minca only recently became open to outsiders. Relatively recently the Government cleared the area of paramilitary types, and it has become somewhat of a mecca for backpackers. The town itself is just a few dozen businesses and a church located at a crossroads that could be anywhere in the vast rainforest of Colombia. The colorful houses cling to the steep slopes and many only have access via stairway or trail.  There aren’t really any true hotels in the area so we stayed in a hostel that claimed to be at the highest elevation in town and true to its claim, we had a fantastic view. We rented a private treehouse of sorts with a beautiful little deck that looked out over the valley and rainforest. While it wasn’t luxurious, it definitely appealed to my inner 12 year old Swiss family Robisnon treehouse fantasy.   Although, in my dream there weren’t any big hairy spiders crawling through the thatch above us as we slept, and I’m pretty sure there weren’t squirrel droppings on the bed.  We tried not to think about what was in the open air room with us and just put up the mosquito netting, tuck it into the bed and hope nothing could get through. Beyond the alternative digs, we took moto taxis (rode on the back of motorcycles) to some waterfalls and we also did some great hiking. As I mentioned, it rains every afternoon so the rives are swollen and there is cascading water everywhere.  Normally we would have taken a swim in one of the many pools, but Porter is still on meds for an ear infection, so it the fast moving waters I was content to take my shoes off and just soak my feet.  We hiked through coffee plantations and saw colorful flowers and hanging epiphytes.  It was a fun excursion away from the boat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Splitting ranks, October 25

somewhere 30 miles off the coast of Colombia, snorkeling one of the many logs we had to watch out for after the last big rain emptied many of the beaches and rivers.  It is amazing how much life accumulates under one small log.  Hundred of fish, small crabs and the occasional pelagic fish come to feed.

Lunch of sushi on the deck. When you have a 6 year old on board you have to do the obligatory picnics, regularly. Uhm, we've been essentially camping for the last two years, let's make it more difficult and move everything on a moving deck! Fortunately it was ridiculously calm weather  so we could give in to her whims (yeah, no sailing) and great fishing.  
We are currently in Santa Marta, Colombia.  Colombia is quite safe today.  It definitely got a bad rap in the 80's and even into the 90's due to the narcotic traffic and the accompanying crime.  Even in 2002 when we were sailing off the Pacific Coast of Colombia we didn't stop and in fact heaved a sigh of relief when we crossed into the Panamanian border.   In the 70's and 80's the country was responsible for almost 80% of the cocaine production in the world so the cartel leaders led brutal crime campaigns and totally controlled local politics and the police.  The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have been in the news recently negotiating with the Colombian Government, but they have been a feared guerrilla rebel group operating in Colombia for over 50 years.  Where and why did the Farc come about?  Colombia has historically (modern history anyways) been a country suffering from huge levels of inequality.  The land owning elite were brutal in the suppression of the majority or anyone that opposed them.  Inspired by the Cuban revolution, a group of Farc founders (wanting more equality) demanded more rights and control of the land.  That didn't go over well and the group resorted to guerrilla tactics to get their way.  Their main opposition has been the Colombian security forces and they raged a violent war against them.  They financed their operation with drug trafficking money, or taxes levied on drug traffickers.  They also kidnapped members of wealthy families to fund their group. Mike had a college friend from a well off Colombian family whose sister was kidnapped in the late 80's and held for ransom. He doesn't remember if it was specifically Farc forces, but it seems likely.  Fortunately, she was released after a few months.  For the last 4 years Farc and the Government have been in secret negotiations to broker a peace deal.  Up until a few weeks ago, the worldwide expectation was that the deal would go through.  While the deal would have brought peace to the region, it also excused previous crimes as well as appointed Farc leaders to prominent places in the Government.  Many locals were not happy with the deal (they wanted the peace, but not at the cost of amnesty for crimes and political appointments) and in a surprise vote, Colombians voted against it.  Regardless of the official peace deal, the Farc has diminished in its stranglehold over Colombia and it is a much safer place to visit. OK, so that is my limited understanding of the Farc history and regional crime in Colombia.

Mike really should be the one writing about the political or historical summaries of the areas we visit.  He's far more knowledgeable than I am and keeps up with the current events.  It seems he thinks maintaining the boat is job enough!  Safety, schmafety!

So, what are we doing in Colombia?  Well, we arrived into the marina in Santa Marta on Friday and just got our paperwork completed Monday afternoon.  We often wonder why these latin American countries make it so difficult to get through their paperwork.  Don't they know we just want to come and spend money in their country, we aren't refugees trying to milk the system.  Anyway, we were somewhat imprisoned in the marina over the weekend as we couldn't go anywhere until the paperwork was complete.  As soon as we got the clear we started making plans.  We are splitting ranks and Mike and Zander are going to hike to the lost city "Ciudad Perdida", a 5 day trek into the rainforest mountains to find the lost city, ruins that were only discovered in 1973 and cannot be reached any way other than trekking in.  Why aren't we all doing it?  It is somewhat cost prohibitive for the whole family.  Porter is also still recovering from an ear infection (all that diving in Bonaire came with a cost) and we weren't sure Ana would really love slogging through slippery rainforest trails, crossing rivers and sleeping in hammocks under mosquito netting for 4 nights in a row.  She's a trooper, she probably would have liked most of it, but it seemed sensible to do something else, something closer to the boat, something less expensive.  Porter, Ana and I will be taking an overnight trip up to Minca, to escape the humidity and heat for a night or two at a higher elevation and hopefully do some of our own trekking.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Almost to Santa Marta, Colombia, October 20

All of our passages in the last few months (including our Atlantic crossing) have been with very little moon, so when we decided to do a three day passage to Colombia with an almost full moon and moonrise/set times to coincide with the light hours I was ecstatic. Day one was all champagne sailing (a new term I learned from a friend, I guess it means the kind of sailing you expect in the brochure), very light winds, but just enough to ghost along with on a flat ocean. Very enjoyable. In fact, we were expecting to motor much of this passage so any wind not on the nose was appreciated. We deliberately picked a low wind period to get around the Peninsula of Guajira, which can be a nasty cape to pass if the winds are big. There is the cape effect, in addition to strong Caribbean Easterlies, throw in some swirly currents and it is one of those spots you really want to plan well to go around. Anyway, since we have a motor, we often chose to motor these finicky capes. Anyway, Day one was lovely, night rolls around and I was on watch, waiting for the moon to come up. I waited, waited some more, but no moon appeared and it was pitch black. And then the 10 knots of wind we were having, within about a minute, changed direction and intensity to gale strength. The darkness was huge blackened storm clouds that I could not see. Out of no where a huge squall blows down on us. We turned the radar on and it was massive. Squalls generally don't last that long, but we appeared to be traveling with it and not getting out of it at any rapid speed. Squalls are also not a big deal if you don't have a bunch of canvas up, or preventers out, but this one came with intense sheet lightening. It was blinding and once we were in it, it lit up the whole sky. No need for the moon after that! It was so bright you couldn't look at it. I was tempted to wear sunglasses to protect my corneas. In the end it was just a squall and after a few hours the wind completely died back and we were back to motoring.
Day two brought more light winds and we pulled out the bosun's chair and rigged it up to the spinnaker halyard and took turns swinging off the side with just our toes dangling in the bow wake. It was a lazy day on the water.
Day three was much of the same. Flat seas and just wisps of wind. We found a floating log and the kids dove into the water and snorkeled around it. Hundreds of fish found refuge under the shade and protection of this temporary home. We also had some luck fishing, so black fin tuna sushi was for lunch.

In the end I did get to sail several shifts with an almost full moon. Zander continues to take the early 5-7am watch while either Mike or I sleep in the cockpit and that little bit of extra sleep really helps. Porter has been sick with an ear infection and taking care of a sick kid and staying up half the night makes the watches a little harder than usual. Fortunately after we passed Aruba by we saw very little traffic. Curacao has the largest oil refinery in the world, so there are multiple tankers heading in and away from the Dutch Antilles from Venezuela that made watches a little more exciting. This part of Colombia is quiet and the relatively easy watches are welcome.

At the moment the water is cobalt blue and it looks like we are sailing in sapphire seas. In the distance we can see the snow capped peaks (OK, maybe that is fog on the mountains, but in the winter they are snow capped) of the Santa Marta Mountains.

We are all looking forward to our first mainland Colombian port (last year we stopped in San Andreas, off the coast of Honduras, but Colombian islands). We should be there just before dark this evening.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bonaire and Curacao (and no decompression chamber visits), October 17

Culturally we did very little in Bonaire. I feel kind of bad visiting a country and not even trying to get to know it. Bonaire has a small population and is considered a diving mecca and we spent almost all of our time underwater exploring the amazing reef that was literally right under our boat. They speak English in Bonaire, but the local language is a mix of Spanish due to their proximity to Venezuela, Dutch from its colonial heritage, and Portuguese (I guess from the number of fishing boats that visit). It seems like a strange mix of languages, but I guess it comes from necessity.
The big draw to Bonaire is the world class diving. In fact the whole coastline is a national park and Bonaire was the first Caribbean island to protect their reefs. They do not let you anchor, instead you pick up a mooring and you can snorkel and dive right from your swim platform. The moorings are lined up right off the city front and everything is found along the water. About 150 feet from shore the bottom disappears and descends to a depth of 200-300 feet. After we did our obligatory housekeeping tasks (on-line banking, checking on the house, checking on other work related properties, ordering spare parts) we were able to jump in the water and dive right off the boat. Zander and Mike took the dinghy every morning to several other sites around the island, but diving on the waterfront turned out to be almost as good. The entire waterfront is marked as one long continuous dive site. I have not been diving much on this trip, call it mid life fear of large volumes of water over my head, but also because most of my gear has been commandeered. The masses of hours spent snorkeling have helped with my anxiety and Zander finally convinced me to try diving again (more than just the shallow dives I did in Belize). Not to sound cliche, but it is a magical underwater fantasy world beneath the boat and I didn't want to miss any of it in spite of my fear. Zander took me down the first time (he is infinitely more patient than Mike is with my newly acquired phobias about deep water) and after the initial shock of being back under water, the reef took my breath away. No decompression chamber visit for my first dive, success is all relative! The diversity on the reef can only be rivaled by the great rain forests of the world and it was spellbinding. We saw huge coral colonies, fan coral, swaying in the light current, enormous purple sponges, brilliant colored sea anemones and exotic and colorful fish. It is hard to put into words how special the coral reefs are. The Great Barrier Reef may still have more biodiversity than the reefs in Bonaire but I've never been anywhere that has surpassed the clarity of the water surrounding this island. I only went to about 80 feet, but below me the reef continued as far as a I could see and above me the hull of the boat rocked as the waves lapped gently against the sides, as clear as if I could reach out and touch it. Snorkeling will always be fun, but diving allows you to get up close and personal and really see the minutia of the reef community. You can interact with algae farming fish and watch how they defend their gardens. You can witness a cleaning station in play and watch large fish get primped and groomed by cleaner shrimp. It is always a treat to see an octopus, a shark, eel or something equally rare, but the regular reef dwellers never get old.

Zander has become an excellent diver. With only a few dozen dives under his belt, he carries himself like a pro underwater and I feel very comfortable going down with him, he takes it all very seriously. Porter has not been certified (and takes practically nothing seriously), but we are allowing him to go down and do shallow dives with Mike when the conditions are ideal. He doesn't dive deeper than an atmosphere, so he can't hurt himself, and although he doesn't have all the hand signs down and doesn't fully understand the physics, he is still a pretty decent little diver. His comfort level in the water certainly helps and he can free dive as deep as we let him scuba dive, but he enjoys being able to stay down longer. He is also a gear head, so he loves the diving paraphernalia; dive knife, computer, spear gun. Since we start many of our dives off the swim platform, Ana dives down to meet us when we are about five feet down and is learning to buddy breath on the regulator. Soon we will have 5 divers on board.

From Bonaire we headed west, 35 miles to Curacao, a larger and independent, former Dutch colony island. We had a different experience in Curacao. We didn't dive, but tried to take in the culturally important sights of the island instead. Like Bonaire, Curacao has a mix of ethnicities that make up a culturally diverse population, but they have a much larger African heritage and it is evident in the art, the music, the food and the people themselves. Curacao has a sad history of being one of the most important centers in the slave trade in the Caribbean and of the 12 million slaves that were taken from Africa during the hundreds of years of slavery, many came through Curacao. We wandered around neighborhoods and visited the Kura Hulanda, the old slave trading courtyard that has been transformed into an African artifact museum with a section on the dedicated to the slave triangle. The museum served as a horrific reminder of how brutal human beings can be to other human beings. They had a replica hold of a boat so you could see how packed the slaves were and almost imagine the unimaginable. It was a somber visit, but an important one for the kids.

The main city of Willemstad has been included in the list of prestigious United Nations (UNESCO) sites and many of the city buildings have been preserved as national monuments. Apparently it is one of the best preserved and most interesting cities in the Caribbean and we enjoyed meandering around. Willemstad also has a floating market of colorful boats that come over from Venezuela to sell produce from their boats. We wandered around the market, walked across the floating bridge and took in the sights. We also did quite a bit of provisioning since the prices and quality of grocery stores in the Dutch islands was really great. The boat is once again loaded to the waterline with enough food to survive a nuclear winter.

We are hoping to take off tomorrow en-route to Colombia, but with a possible stop in Aruba if the weather isn't great.

Willemstad, Curacao

Floating bridge with Willemstad in background

The very depressing replica of a slave trading hold

Slave auction yard 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More photos, October 11

This is how the kids spent the hurricane.

Turns out, Grenada wasn't hit hard, but in Trinidad we barely noticed the winds.

Los Roques, Venezuela

Gran Roque

Viva la revolucion!

A few Photos from Los Roques, Venezuela

nesting Booby amongst the ever-present plastic bottles on the beach.

Unfortunately not us, but on the list of things to do.  This is a friend on a neighboring boat.

6 lobsters for $15, not too shabby!

Los Roques, Venezuela

Porters journey to the mast top, of course he added a selfie.

Crap, we are out of brownie mix, gotta head in.......October 10

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Provisioning and Los Roques, October 9

Yes, we are still here. We can't quite seem to force ourselves to leave Los Roques.

We could probably stay out for 3 months with the amount of food we have on board, but it wouldn't necessarily be very exciting menus. I only provisioned in Grenada for a 3 day passage to Bonaire, and with the hurricane run to Trinidad and now a stop along the way at Los Roques, we are now on day 15. We did stop in Gran Roque for lunch on the beach, but other than a few avocados, the small store was almost empty. Nothing looked good; mystery melon that was starting to collapse on itself, limp carrots and a handful of tomatoes that were molding. Even long lasting produce was scary looking; black cabbages and potatoes with more eyes than potato. The shop was not very appealing with the poor quality produce the odor of rotting meat and only a handful of tins on the shelf. We knew the mainland was having food shortages, and it stands to reason that would be the case on the islands as well. Fortunately for us, we still have some frozen meat in the freezer (5 filet mignon's, yeah we are really suffering out here, as well as a few chicken breasts), but we are completely out of fresh produce, eggs, butter, yogurt, milk and essentials like sugar and chocolate chips. Unless we catch a fish, it will be meat, mystery canned vegetables and rice, again for dinner tomorrow! We do have one brownie mix left, but when that is gone we will have to head in our risk mutiny!

So, while the menus aren't the highlight out here, the scenery and cruising is unparalleled. Our stop here in Los Roques has ranked among the highlights of not only this trip, but in all our collective travels. I selfishly don't want to recommend it to other cruisers because I don't want to spoil it. Part of the charm of Los Roques is the tranquility and the solitude. Swinging lazily at anchor, alone except for the delicate terns that fly by, or the occasional flamingo that is silhouetted in the sky. The boat appears to float in space in the crystal clear water. Porter and Mike also explored a Booby rockery and walked among hundreds of nesting birds and recently hatched, fuzzy chicks. They also explored several sailboat wrecks that had washed up on the rocky reefs, reminders that we can never let our guard totally down. One of our limitations in exploring by dinghy is the size of our family and the size of our outboard. We've simply outgrown our 10hp engine and can no longer plane (plain?) with all of us aboard. So for long trips, we occasionally split up and explore in pairs. I think the kids actually appreciate the alone time away from their siblings and we can venture much further with fewer people in the dinghy. It works for the time being. If we were going to be out here a lot longer we would invest in a larger outboard.

Underwater the snorkeling has been great, with walls to explore and a large diversity of fish. Sharks are still absent from out sightings, but other big fish are numerous; parrot fish, barracuda and schools we can see looking out from the drop off. Yesterday we swam with schools of non stinging jellyfish and followed Hawksbill turtles dive in the deeper water. The water is so warm, you never tire of it and Mike and Zander are still refining their lobster catching skills. They've caught a few, but they have all been either too small or females. Instead, we've cheated and bought a few from the local fisherman that seem to catch them effortlessly. Between makeshift fly-boarding, snorkeling and diving, diving off the boat and lobstering we now spend almost as much time below the surface as above.

We have also run into an Israeli boat that Porter was friendly with in Grenada, so he has had fun catching up. They are avid kite surfers and Los Roques is a perfect place for it. Otherwise we seem to have the islands to ourselves. I never want to leave!

Photos don't do it justice, but I'll post some from Bonaire.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mike's PYC update, October 8

Mike rarely write updates on the blog, for some reason he thinks keeping the boat afloat, us safe and the boat sailing is enough of a job for him! I have to share one funny story of a time when Ana was helping me wash clothes up on deck.

Ana : I like washing clothes, can this be my job from now on?
Me : Sure, we all have jobs on the boat.
Ana : OK, Zander lifts the Dinghy every night and helps with the sailing. Porter washes dishes and helps wash the bottom of the boat. You cook and do our schooling. Hmm, scratching her chin, what does Dad do all day, what can his job be?

Absolutely no credit for all the stress and hardship he endures in keeping us sailing.

Anyway, back to my point. Mike does write a monthly update to our yacht club back home and I try to link them to our website just so people can read his point of view, but I haven't been doing that recently. Anyway, instead, this month I will just include his report here.

"Dodging Hurricanes and Pirates"

It is very rare for a Hurricane to hit Grenada which is at the very Southern end of the Caribbean chain of islands. Each season, hundreds of boats seek shelter here in the numerous bays to avoid the hurricanes which mostly pass to the North. With all these boats here, from dozens of different nations, cruisers can meet up with old friends and easily make new ones. As we looked around the anchorage, we could see friends on boats we had last seen in Portugal and Gibraltar.

Each morning there is a Grenada Cruiser's VHF radio net to listen in on and social events are planned for practically every day. For most of July and August we were able to rest on the beach, attend potluck dinners, explore jungle trails, swim under waterfalls, complete maintenance chores, and enjoy sundowners.

In late September, Hurricane Matthew developed in the Atlantic and suddenly threatened everyone here. Complacent cruisers, some that had been anchored in the same spot for 6 years, quickly had to scramble and seek shelter. In Grenada there are two bays known as "hurricane holes" which are protected from swell and wind from all directions. These two "safe" anchoring locations quickly filled up with dozens of boats. Our storm plan, along with about 30 other boats, was to avoid the high winds and packed anchorages and sail 80 miles South to Trinidad.

Sailing to Trinidad involved a danger of a different sort. Trinidad is only 12 miles away from Venezuela and the economic and political conditions in Venezuela are currently very bad. Food shortages, crippling inflation and violent crime have placed Venezuela on the edge of Civil War. Desperate fishermen turned pirate have been coming North and attacking cruisers. Three acts of piracy, where Venezuelan's have robbed cruisers while at sea, have occurred in the last 6 months. For us to seek shelter from the looming Hurricane, we would have to run a gauntlet of pirates. We departed Grenada at Sunset, sailed without navigation lights and radio silence, and arrived off Trinidad an hour before Sunrise. Once there, we entered a protected bay, anchored and tied the boat into the mangroves. For 2 days, we comfortably let the winds and waves blow past.

When conditions settled, we pulled in the lines and anchor to sail to the Dutch island of Bonaire. Once again we had to run the Pirate gauntlet; our course was 400 miles to Bonaire and all of it was along the coast of Venezuela. To commence the three day passage, we departed at night with the lights off. Sunrise found us 60 miles offshore where we felt safe from shore based piracy.

On the second night at sea, Amy woke me up at 2:00AM to tell me a boat on radar had altered course and was following us. The sea conditions were very confused due to the recent passing of Hurricane Matthew and the wind was gusting to 30 knots. It was a dark and overcast night without any moon. I quickly turned off our navigation lights and altered course 90 degrees. We were sailing at 8 knots but I turned on the engine to warm it up in the event we needed it. It appeared we were getting away until the boat following us turned on a massive searchlight. The light swung around searchingly a few times and then easily illuminated our white sails. It was hard to hide with our sails lit up like a beacon and the following boat swung around to once again give chase.

On our boat, I redlined the engine and shook out the single reef in the main and headsail to make 8-9 knots. After an hour, the boat chasing us had closed the distance between us from 4 miles to 2 miles. We were 80 miles offshore so there wasn't a good place to run to. On radar, I saw another boat 8 miles away and I altered course to close it; the boat behind us altered their course correspondingly. My plan was to get near another boat that could render assistance or deter the one following us. After another hour of running, we were near the boat I had seen on radar. It was a fishing boat. Had it been another pirate, I would have run right to them. As it turned out, the boat chasing us turned around as we got near the other fishing boat; we sailed on unmolested. Down below, the kids had peacefully slept through the whole ordeal. Another 12 hours at sea and we were safely anchored behind an island in the company of other friendly cruisers.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Los Roques, Venezuela October 7

The island group of Low Roques, off the coast of Venezuela, is a little off the main cruiser line, but it has now become our very favorite Caribbean Island group. While it is on the rhum line between the Windward Islands and the Dutch Antilles, the instability in the Venezuelan Government scares many cruisers off. And our hearts break for the struggling Venezuelan's but it takes a country on the brink of civil war to keep an area pristine and free of tourists. Every picture we saw and every website we read raved about the white sand, low lying islands with crystal clear water and fantastic diving that you would have almost completely to yourself. Those descriptions definitely piqued our interest. There is a website called noon site that many cruisers consult when visiting an area off the beaten path to check on safety and permission issues and it is great wealth of information. That said, sometimes you have to read between the lines and decide what kind of cruisers/writer is reporting and take into account their tolerance level for being in uncomfortable situations. For example, there were only a handful of reports on Los Roques, and all positive in regards to safety except the very last entry. In June a fishing guide in Los Roques, who also doubles as an agent for helping foreign yachts through the often convoluted check in process (immigration, customs, coast guard, and national park in this case) left a less then glowing report. "Due to the instability in Venezuela yachts should not come to Los Roques". Please tell us how you really feel? It seemed strange that someone who would benefit from yachts coming to the islands would warn potential "customers" from visiting and it also seemed strange that we had never heard of any actual unsafe issues in Los Roques. Ever the internet stalker, mid passage I contacted the agent via SSB radio and asked him point blank if yachts were in danger visiting Los Roques. Long story, short, "no problems in Los Roques". Later we learned that the villagers had effectively turned against the agent due to his inflated prices, among other things, and his noon site report was a vindictive, passive aggressive venting. Anyway, with that cleared up and only glowing reports from everyone else we decided to stop. And are we glad we did. In fact, if we weren't legally limited by the number of days we could spend (and the fact that we are running out of food), we'd stay longer.

The other little snafu we ran into is a pesky little thing like legality. Because of the National Park Status, it is quite expensive to stop. One published site we visited quoted $600 for a family of 5 on a 42 foot boat for the maximum time of 15 days. A little steep for a cruising yacht, but other cruisers claimed those numbers were high. Like many other Latin American countries we've visited, rules are merely suggestions for officials to follow, not set in stone. Costs depended on what official is working at the time and how much paperwork they want to do that day. What we didn't read about was the small fact that American boats are supposed to obtain a visa from an embassy! Americans seem to be the only country required to get a visa, I guess that is due to the strained relationship our two governments have. When a visa has been needed in the past, we have always been able to obtain it when checking in, and most countries don't require a visa. Huge bummer for us! I'm not sure if other American boats have just failed to check in, or if we just got an official who decided to go by the book, or maybe the rules have recently changed with the collapsing government. Either way, sucks for us! That is until my fast talking husband, with multiple calls to Caracas, convinced the immigration guy to give us a 72 hour visa. There are just so many more things you can accomplish when you speak the language well. We are screwed in French speaking countries, but in Latin America, Mike rocks it! As a bonus the stamp in our passport has no date on it, so we figure 72 hours is a "suggested" time frame. When in Rome....
Los Roques, once a Dutch Island, is now part of Venezuela and is protected by national park status. The aquamarine water, white sand beaches, and near deserted status makes it a stunning stop. Due to Hurricane Matthew churning up the water a little, when we first arrived the visibility wasn't perfect, but as the days passed, the murky water got clearer and clearer. We haven't snorkeled much lately (Zander has been out on many lobster foraging missions, but the rest of the family hasn't donned a mask in a month), so our expectations were not high, but we were blown away by the reefs. One day we snorkeled in a veritable jellyfish garden. Thousands of upside down Mangrove jellyfish rested on the sandy bottom, but once disturbed (and if you know my kids, disturbing is their expertise) would float up and swim around us. On another day we snorkeled a reef wall, with multiple types of coral, reef fish and pelagic fish out past the drop off. Its awesome to see the kids poking their heads in every crevice, diving down 20 feet under ledges and absolutely comfortable in the water. Even Ana dives down a few feet and follows fish with an underwater commentary the whole time. Unbelievable, I can almost make out all she is saying, even with her snorkel in, underwater.
Mike and Zander also got to try out their homemade subwing. It is basically a flat surface that has holes in it and is dragged behind the outboard with a rider on board. The rider can control underwater ascents and descents and is only limited by their breath holding capabilities. It was supposed to be a way to survey snorkeling and dive sites, but I think it will be used more for fun than anything else. As a rider you can descend 0-20 feet and skim along a few feet off the bottom. It is fun to drag a fin in the sand, or try to pick up a starfish on the fly. The rider is only pulled about 3 knots/h, but underwater it feels like you are flying as we pass through schools of fish and cruise past coral heads.

Needless to say, all good things must come to an end and we need to make some progress West. We will move anchorages and spend one more night, but then we will say good bye the Beautiful Los Roques and recommend them to any future cruiser.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

anchored in paradise, October 5

About now I wish I could send pictures over the high frequency radio. The anchorages in Los Roques are amazing. The water color is every shade of blue and we are currently anchored, out of the wind (finally), in a beautiful lagoon with white sand beaches and reef around us. Every view out our portholes looks like it could be a screen saver shot. Nothing like a little fear of civil war to keep the other cruisers away. Yesterday we visited the small town of Gran Roque, a very small village on the main island that caters to Venezuelan tourists, on a small scale. The town is sleepy, but we saw images of Hugo Chavez everywhere. The locals call the issues they are having on the mainland the "crisis". It is very sad, inflation is through the roof, there are shortages of everything and the need for essentials is causing a thriving black market business. Venezuela has the largest oil reserve outside of Saudi Arabia and yet they still can't figure out how to feed their people. Socialism at its very worst. I hope they get it together, but it doesn't look good.
On a lighter note, we are loving Los Roques and will have pictures to post when we get some wifi. It feels almost like paradise during the day and if we can keep the man eating mosquitos from carrying Ana away at night we will be happy!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Los Roques, Venezuela in our sights, October 2

Tropical Storm Matthew left good winds but lumpy seas in its wake. We managed, but after 48 hours the small National Park on Los Roques in Venezuela was looking better and better. We had a fantastically fast sail with a 2 knot assisted current. We sailed just over 350 miles in under 48 hours, so we were loving the speed, but the lumpy ocean took its toll.
Los Roques is an island group off the coast of Venezuela almost entirely protected by national park. The photos we saw online were phenomenal and after doing some research and talking to some other cruisers, we decided it would be a good stop if need be. So far off the coast, the islands are supposedly somewhat insulated from the civil unrest that the rest of the country suffers from, but Venezuela is Venezuela and our third rule of sailing is to give countries in crisis a large buffer zone. Mike being the research enthusiast he is, has kept up on the situation in Venezuela and while there is a tremendous amount of civil unrest, we felt safe enough making a stop so far from the mainland. It certainly cemented our decision when we saw a number of other masts in the harbor. It was only later that we realized we were the only foreign yacht in the harbor, the others all belonging to nationals.
We routinely check Noon site, a sailing website that communicates potentially dangerous situations to cruisers in various places around the world. There was one entry we read, prior to leaving Trinidad, that worried us about Los Roques. We contacted the writer en-route and asked a few more questions. The writer promptly responded, answered our questions, and we felt better about stopping. Basically he was warning cruisers about "potential" problems with the increasing instability and warning them to be vigilant with monitoring what was happening in the country. We can live with that, we keep tabs on Venezuela anyway.
We dropped the hook after 48 hours at sea, not a long time in passage terms, but a long time to be uncomfortable. What a relief to be in flat seas and get a good night sleep, securely attached the planet again!