May 19-26, 2011 -- Las Aves to Grenada

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

We left Bonaire on May 19, and made the 58-nm voyage to the Barlovento archipelago in Las Aves in mild sea conditions.  We passed right by Sotavento and its resident Coast Guard station on the way, knowing that by rights we were supposed to stop and submit ourselves to a "safety inspection", but confident in our belief that the Coast Guard rarely -- for lack of appropriate transportation -- ventured further west to Barlovento and that we were only going to stay for a few days.

Don and Pam (Dorothy Ellen) were already in Barlovento, and had been there for about a month.  So part of our stocks were items like fresh fruits and breads that Barb had purchased in Bonaire to bring to them.  We played bridge every day while we were there (we are slowly improving but have a long way to go), swapping back and forth the hosting role.  We were anchored near the bird-rich mangroves in a bay in the middle of Isla Sur; they were anchored further east behind and inside the outer reef and adjacent to an inner reef.  The water was much clearer at their location and they were in the habit of daily snorkels.  We joined them one afternoon before our bridge game and discovered a number of interesting fish.  So the next day I took my scuba gear over and did a shallow solo dive before the bridge game.  Here are some of the pictures:

Baby Four-eye Angel

Juvenile Beaugregory

Green Razorfish in its pecular but typical curved posture

Slippery Dick

Juvenile Threespot Damsel


For most of our stay at Barlovento, Dorothy Ellen and Tusen Takk II were the only cruising vessels in the archipelago.  There were Venezuelan fishermen in attendance, however.  They had a number of small motor boats and ventured out each day from their "mother" ship to fish along the many inner reefs.  For a time, the ship was anchored in the same bay as TT2, and we were soon visited  by two hombres who paddled over in a small wooden dinghy.  One had a real paddle, and the other was using a piece of board.  They did not speak any English, and it soon became clear that Barb's and my Spanish are not conversation-ready.  But no matter.  They held up a gorgeous red snapper, and made smoking gestures with their hands.  We fetched a pack of cigarettes (purchased in Bonaire for just such a purpose) and the trade was soon consummated, much to everyone's evident pleasure.  We had fish for lunch that day, and more fish for dinner, and yet more fish awaits in the freezer.

Casting for bait fish along the shore of "our" bay

"Mother" ship of the fishermen

Fishermen's hut, where some of the crew spend their nights

Our stay in Barlovento was a quiet one.  Barb worked on her Spanish and I installed a 12-volt fan on the port side of the saloon, matching the one on the starboard side and fulfilling a long-time request of hers.  We noticed on the trip over from Bonaire that the wind vane was stuck again, and so I dug out the boson's chair and attached it to the support line for the starboard pole for the flopper-stopper.  Barb winched me up and I removed the vane.  Brought it down and gave it another stern talking-to (and a healthy dose of PB-blaster).  Freed it right up, so Barb once again winched me up and I reinstalled it atop the mast, where it has since been obediently twirling and sending wind speed and direction to the pilot house instruments.  (More about this later in our narrative.)

Our distance from civilization meant that there were no lights on the horizon to spoil our vision of the heavens at night.  On one particularly clear night we sat on the foredeck and marveled at the brilliance of the stars, the North Star near one horizon and the Southern Cross on the opposite.

While away from civilization we use our Globalstar satellite phone for communication.  We can quickly and easily retrieve weather forecasts and our email from our Ocens account.  We have also discovered that if we leave the connection open, we can access the internet.  It is a very slow connection, but it does allow us to pull up a web page or two.  We used it quite a lot especially after we discovered that Chuck needed to send in a bio and photo for an upcoming article that will appear soon in PassageMaker.  He sent in a high resolution photo that took many attempts and at least 30 minutes to upload.  We have a contract with Globalstar that allows unlimited usage for $30 a month. Of course the satellite is not available all of the time, but one can get a report from the Globalstar website that tells one when it will be available for any particular location.  Barb's father Clifford sends us a Globalstar access time report whenever we would send him a request with our latitude and longitude.  It worked quite well.  (Since arriving in Bonaire last year, we hadn't used the sat phone because we had easy wifi access in both Bonaire and Curacao.)  At one point, we noticed a strange character on the sat phone screen.  Barb looked it up in the owner's manual and discovered (or should we say rediscovered) that it meant we were roaming.  We had forgotten that our Globalstar contract excludes South America, and the Venezuelan off-shore islands are in Venezuela.  Thus, all of our time surfing the web and sending that huge file will be counted as roaming minutes.  Yikes!  The sad thing is that we had already discovered this last year while in Tortuga and had to pay a $176 bill for that month.  Mad Cow disease is a horrible affliction.  Fortunately, this time we rediscovered the issue after only three days in Las Aves.  If we had used it for our entire trip, it would have been much worse.  We continued to use the phone but only for the occasional quick 15 or 30 second upload of our Ocens mail or the weather.  When we were within 30 miles of Grenada, the roaming stopped and we were back in our coverage area.

We had been watching the weather forecasts and on the night of the 23rd we realized that a weather window had presented itself.  So we hailed Dorothy Ellen on the VHF and explained that we would have to cancel our plans for more diving and bridge the next day.  Pam had loaned Barb a Thai cookbook, so we would return that first thing in the morning and then reluctantly depart.  Soon Don called back, offering to come and get the book so that we could stow the dinghy atop the deck that night and be ready to leave as soon as the book was obtained in the morning.  Thoughtful offer that we gladly accepted.

We had a surprisingly pleasant 8-hr trip to Los Roques the next morning.  Yes, the wind was on our nose, and we were headed directly into waves with a short period, but the hobby-horsing was quite mild.  We had heard in Bonaire that it is sometimes possible to buy diesel fuel from the fuel barge that supplies the island and the local boats.  When we arrived at Gran Roques there was no sign of a fuel barge.  I idled up to a large trawler named Tivoli that was in the anchorage.  Barb went out and leaned over the front railing to converse with a crew member lounging on the cockpit.  He said that the village was running out of diesel and that rationing had been initiated.  If we were hoping to get fuel, it would probably be a very long wait (weeks), since the fuel barge(s) when they did arrive would have to meet the needs of the locals first.  It was only 3:30 PM.  The weather window was not due to close for at least another 24 hours.  Why not just continue on to Blanquilla?  And so we did.

Gran Roque from the west

Portion of the small village at Gran Roque

Looking west to the barren north shore of Gran Roques

The distance from Gran Roques to Blanquilla is about 121 nm.  Barb and I took turns at watch, but at one point we both clustered in front of my Mac in order to watch a couple of episodes of season two of "The Good Wife".  We watched almost no TV in our former land-based lives, but we have learned to enjoy watching episodes of the various series that are freely swapped among cruisers.  "Six Feet Under" and "Sopranos" and "Damages" and "Rome" and "West Wing" are among our favorites.  At some point as we left Blanquilla I became aware of the noise created by the 115-volt fan that brings fresh air into the engine room.  Passing by the outside vent in order to free a barracuda from my trolling line, I could hear a worrisome crunching noise -- a noise that had been undetectable from the inside during my hourly engine room checks.  Thereafter I added temperature monitoring of the electric motor on the fan to my hourly checks, using my Raytek laser gun.  The temp stayed reasonably stable, merely tracking the inexorable climb of ambient temperature in the engine room as the hours accumulated.  I have a remote thermometer mounted on the side of the room opposite the air intake.  The thermometer sends a signal up to a display in the pilot house, so I can monitor the (presumably) hottest location in the engine room.  Much of the air intake is sent directly down onto the house batteries, and the Xantrex Link 2000-R display never reported battery temperatures greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  But when, on this our longest extended cruise ever, the reported engine room temperature exceeded 124 degrees I decided to take precautionary action, especially since there was the danger that the intake fan would fail.  We opened the aft-most hatch in the saloon and also left open the normal access hatch in the galley.  This created a circulation pattern down the access hatch and up the rear hatch that soon cooled the engine room back down to 118 degrees, an effective if somewhat noisy "solution".  (When at last we were at the end of our passage, I examined the fan and determined that the wheel, although noisy under power, is still turning freely.  So I will wait until we have gotten the boat to Trinidad before ordering a replacement fan since it is one of the easiest countries in the Caribbean to have boat parts shipped to.)

We arrived at Blanquilla at about 10 AM on May 26.  Here is what Doyle says: "Blanquilla is a delightful island, well off the beaten track, that lies about 50 miles north of Margarita.  It is low lying, about 50 feet high.  There are spectacular beaches, clear water and wonderful snorkeling.  It would be easy to sit here a week or two, enjoying the water and watching sunsets.  The whole area is a national park, spearfishing is not allowed."

But updated weather forecasts seemed to indicate a further extension of our weather window, with only a worsening of wind and waves for the final 6-or-so hours, if we should decide to continue on to Grenada.  What to do?  We had recently heard from our friends on Bodacious, another Krogen trawler, who were making their first passage to the Caribbean.  They were going to be in Grenada early next week.  If we missed this weather window and had to remain in Blanquilla for a week or more, we might miss our friends.  So we continued, adding another 167 nm to our passage.  The "worsening" never really materialized.  We arrived in Grenada just after 4 PM, completing our longest passage to date:  339 nm taking 57 hours.  We averaged 5.94 nm/hr, against wind and waves and prevailing currents, burning 2.66 gal/hr.

We anchored in Prickly Bay, circling on arrival through the vessels looking for a spot near Prickly Bay Marina, the most sheltered spot.  Alas, there was no room, and so we reluctantly took a place near the rear of the pack, fully exposed to the waves from the south.  At two in the morning we decided to get up and deploy the starboard flopper-stopper (FS), the rolling having reached a level that precluded sleep.  So there we were, minimally dressed, deploying the FS.  The routine is something like this:  Lines are run forward and aft from the end of the arm.  Then the arm is released from its chock and the supporting line is let out a bit so that when the FS is lowered into the water, it will swing away from the hull.  Then Barb and I lift the FS over the rail.  It swings out to a point under the end of the arm, safely away from the hull and just under the surface of the water.  Then I scamper back up to the upper deck and lower the arm to its service position, which puts the FS about 7 feet below the surface.  That is the routine.  Here is what happened at two in the morning:  Just as I began lowering the arm to its service position, the tackle holding the support line broke free from the top of the mast.  This let the far end of the arm fall freely into the water, and presumably placed great stress on the bracket fastening the near end of the arm to the top of the rub rail.  I did not fully understand what had happened, but it was clear that the support line had come loose from the top of the mast.  I grabbed the support line and wound it around the winch at the base of the mast, and then used the winch to pull the arm out of the water and then to a partially raised position.  This was possible because the support line was strung, of course, over the top of the rail that runs along the upper deck.  The angle was such that the arm could only be pulled up part way at first, but by taking advantage of the rolling of the vessel, which sometimes opened the FS and other times closed it, Barb and I were able to winch the arm higher in fits and starts whenever the FS was closed.  We got the arm high enough to be able to retrieve the FS out of the water and onto the side deck, then secured the arm in its chock, and went back to (a very rolly, uncomfortable) bed.

Next morning, investigation revealed that nothing had broken to cause the accident.  Instead, the nut had come off of the eye bolt that secured the tackle to the plate at the top of the mast.  Later, I replaced the eye bolt with one that is longer and larger, and secured it to the upper plate with a lock washer and two nuts slathered with Loctite.  And it will be on my schedule of things to check regularly.

At this point, the reader might want to go back and reread the fourth paragraph, above.  Yes, folks, the tackle that failed was the very same tackle that on its previous two uses had been used to lift yours truly to the top of the mast.  Had it failed on either of those occasions, I would have certainly been badly injured, or worse.  I am a lucky man.

View from our position in the middle of Prickly Bay

Cruising guide author Chris Doyle was anchored just ahead of us in his catamaran Ti Knot


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