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.
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