Los Testigos, Venezuela:  July 2-6, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

Genset Blues

As we awaited a weather window to head to Venezuela, Barb insisted that we attend to some maintenance issues concerning the generator.  The temperature gauge was reading a few degrees warmer than previously, and under heavy load it was reading yet a few degrees more.  Barb's concern was that we might not be able to get parts in Venezuela.  I had replaced the impeller and cleaned the thru-hull and checked the hose going into the generator, all to no avail.    Time for more drastic action, like flushing and replacing the coolant, and removing and cleaning the core of the heat exchanger -- the owner's manual said it was past time for the flush and almost time for the core cleaning.  We arranged to take the boat to Clarke's Court Bay Marina where we could plug up to power while I worked on the generator.  At the Sunday beach barbecue at Roger's place on Hog Island, I happened to meet Craig, who supplies the island with parts for Northern Lights generators, and who is headquartered at Grenada Marine at St. David's.  Craig mentioned that he could clean the core without having to take it out of the heat exchanger, and that he could adjust the valves and do pretty much any maintenance on a generator.  That was just too tempting for me to pass up.  So we cancelled our reservation at Clark's Court, and moved up the coast to Grenada Marine, where the list of to-do's just got longer and longer.  Had the coolant flushed and replaced, heat exchanger core cleaned, thermostat replaced, exhaust elbow cleaned (badly blocked) and then ultimately replaced (too badly corroded), belt replaced, oil and filter changed, injectors checked, valves adjusted, and (slightly leaking) oil pressure sender replaced.  After all of that, the temperature gauge, although considerably lower, still read a bit high.  But Craig did some temperature probing with a laser gun, and assured us that the engine is not running a bit too warm. He said that electronic gauges are notoriously inaccurate, and we are not to worry -- we should consider the gauge as a "relative rather than absolute" device.  I am happy with that, but advised Craig that Barb would almost certainly continue to fret a bit. Should that carry the day, Craig advised that we replace both the sending unit and the gauge, since there is no way of saying ahead of time which is a bit off.  The belt caught me by surprise -- the limited access afforded by the sound shield served to mask the problem.

While we were at St. David's, we had two nice meals with D and Don,  the folks on Southern Cross, at Bel Air Plantation -- one on the night before the work and one on the night after the work.  Quite an upscale restaurant, but we were the only folks dining.  A few locals hanging around the bar, but that was it.  Don't see how they can make a go of it.  We also walked the grounds a bit and were impressed with the 11 units that are available for rent to ground-based vacationers and temporarily-grounded cruisers that have had their vessels hauled.  Beautiful infinity pool as well.

Los Testigos

Most of the Testigos-bound sailboats left between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, but we decided to get some sleep first and leave at 2:30 am.  That departure still gave us plenty of time to get into Los Testigos in daylight.  Had a nice cruise with the currents and the wind at our back, and arrived at 2:30 pm.  We launched the dinghy and I took off to check-in with the Coast Guard, who issue temporary permits only since there is no customs or immigration office here.  I soon realized that I should have taken along our copy of "Spanish for Cruisers", since the officer could speak no English and I could seldom understand his questions.  Took a long time for him to fill out a one-page form.

Los Testigos feels different than the eastern Caribbean.  There is less humidity.  The sun is hotter.  The water is noticeably cooler.  And there are cultural differences.  The locals have their own conventions concerning the use of VHF, for example.  Standard practice elsewhere is to hail once and then wait an appreciable time before trying again.  But here, the hailing is essentially continuous until there is a response.  Sounds very impatient and hyper.  Another VHF-phenomenon:  occasionally someone (an adult!) will get onto the hailing channel and sing a verse!  But, differences aside, the people seem very friendly.


On July 3rd, the crew members of Livin' the Dream, Zenitude, Drum, and Tusen Takk II set out to climb up to the top of highest peak on Testigo Grande -- a mere 807' high but accessed by a somewhat scrambly and overgrown path. The locals have thoughtfully painted white arrows on the rocks along the way, so we were lost only a minimum number of times.  The light at the very top is perched on a huge boulder that takes some doing to ascend -- only John (Livin' the Dream) and I made the effort.  Our crew had widely varying levels of fitness, so we took our time and had lots of rests.  Took us about 2 1/2 hours for the round trip.

Our first rest on the ascent. Still a long way to go.

Panaramic view from the very top

John at the top of the boulder

Resting at the base of the boulder hosting the light

Post Hike

Changing to beach shoes and lounging in the shade after the hike

Oscar and Graciela came back early and swam while waiting for us

These guys told Oscar (fluent in Spanish) that they were off to catch shark

The pirogues have sharper noses here than in Grenada

Pet monkey in tree on Tamarindo beach of Testigo Grande

Turtle Expedition

All the hikers -- plus the crews of Mustang Sally and Squiz --  were invited to a "sundowner" on Tusen Takk II, after which the plan was to climb up the steep sand dune and over to the other side of Testigo Grande, where the turtles were reputed to be coming in at night to lay eggs.  The nibblies at the sundowner were delicious.  The drinks were refreshing.  Mustang Sally and Squiz decided they would rather drink than commune with nature, but the rest of us piled into two dinghies and departed just after dark.

No sooner had we arrived at the beach than I spotted a dark hulk at the far end, just where the surf was breaking.  Was it moving? Yes!  We held back, knowing that it was important not to disturb a turtle until she had found her spot, had dug her hole, and had begun to lay eggs.  Only then was it safe to approach -- any earlier ran the risk of frightening her off.  We were all captivated by the sight.  A huge leatherback.  First she dug a large depression, removing all of the top sand.  Then she used her rear flippers to dig a deep round hole.  This would receive the eggs.  We gave her plenty of time, and then John approached carefully to see how she was doing.  He came back with the news that she was laying eggs, so we all gathered around behind her (so that she couldn't see us) and used a single red light to observe the miracle.  When she was through laying eggs, she carefully used her rear flippers to scrape a little sand into the hole.  Then she would tamp the sand down with her flipper.  Then more scraping.  Then more tamping.  Amazing process.  So careful.  So thorough.  When the hole was filled, she then used her front flippers to throw sand back as she slowly moved forward, filling and removing the depression she had made at the beginning.  When she was finished she laboriously pulled herself around and slowly dragged herself back to the sea.  I think it is safe to say that we were all a little awed at the complexity and exactitude of the whole process.

Laying in her depression and depositing eggs into the deep hole between her rear flippers

Eggs visible between her flippers

A closer look at the eggs

On her way back to the sea -- notice her tracks