The "Marlin" in the Caribbean
In May, the NOA announced a particularly active hurricane season for the summer of 2013. But the dreaded hurricanes are a long time coming this year. Not a single one reached hurricane strength until the first week of September.
Good for the islands, good for the sailors. Not only are there no storms, the entire climate seems to be turned upside down this year. For the first time in our sailing life in a positive direction for us. The paralyzing calm, the days of tropical downpours, the announced rainy season, where are they? Most days the Passat is at its usual 15 knots from the east, and only now and then is there a small disturbance that brings a bit of rain.
What do we do in this rainy season that is not a rainy season? We spent almost three months in Grenadine and the Grenadines, it's time for something new.
Of course, it's nice to lie in between all the cruisers on Hog Island, in the midst of family crews. But the real Robinson atmosphere, in the natural course of which we have often lost ourselves in lonely places on earth, does not arise. Too close to the supermarket, the marinas, the amenities of civilization.
What we long for is a piece of island with no WiFi, no airport, no hotel and no charter base. Are we spoiled Are we asking too much? Is the bar too high? Or is the Caribbean the wrong place?
One of our favorite places on our first trip was the Venezuelan Antilles. Few of them are permanently inhabited, from time to time there is a Guarda Costa station, otherwise fishermen are anchored there. Los Testigos, Tortuga, Blanquilla, Los Roques, Las Aves are the names of the islands halfway along the blue-water highway Grenada-Bonaire.
A dream destination would not be the justified fear of crime. The anchorage off Porlamar on the IslMargarita, ten years ago still a popular stopover to get cheap diesel, canned food and spirits for the Pacific, has been abandoned.
Not without good reason, as the tragic death of a Dutch sailor who fell victim to an armed robbery on his ship a week ago proves. The islands off Puerto de lCruz are also unsafe. Only Blanquilla, the Aves and Roques are still listed as relatively safe islands.
After a short stop over Trinidad to pick up the watermaker we had ordered, we headed for our new destination. Finally sailing for more than a day again! We have to calculate almost 230 nautical miles to pass the Venezuelan coast at a distance of 40 nautical miles. We switch our AIS to "receive only", and at night the navigation lights stay off until we have to make clearly identifiable other ships aware of our presence.
The sunset bathes sky and sea in a sea of colors, ten knots of wind from aft push the "Marlin" at eight knots in the rough direction of Blanquilla, first reef in the main. One never knows whether the wind might not increase at night after all.
We're not in a hurry. The first night and the first morning are almost like traveling by train, hardly any heeling, no swell. We sleep better in the off watch than at the cohesive anchorage in Trinidad. The Testigos pass somewhere on the port side.
Breakfast is at the table. Not only breakfast, even school on board is possible with the gentle movements. We do map work, clarify terms such as time difference, date line, longitude and latitude. Hands-on geography lessons.
During the day the wind subsides, less and less breeze pushes together with a bit of current from behind, the arrival in light on Blanquill can give way. Too early we relied on the Etmale achieved on the first trip from Suriname to Trinidad. But we know the bay on Blanquill very well and decide to visit it at night as well.
Of course the wind increases as it gets darker, ten knots become 15, then 18. We roll the genuros one to the third reef, the big one is still in the first. Rush ride through a starry night. New moon, of course. Shortly before Blanquill, the skipper gets nervous. There are a few rocks right in the way, the passage between two of the islets is not a nautical mile wide. Wide enough for us to be sure, but in the dark the stones can hardly be made out.
Photo gallery: "Marlin" sets course for Blanquilla
Suddenly, Mich jumps down into the children's bunk and takes our radar out of its hiding place - a monstrous monitor with an integrated chart plotter. Previously stood in the deckhouse and blocked the view and was banished to the basement because it was not in use. But now we can use it. Quickly pull the cable out of the recess, plug it in, press the on switch, and …? Who says it, finally a technical device that works directly on this boat.
The calming green lines appear, one island here, the other and us in the middle. So the maps are correct and so is our position. The "Marlin" races through the night at eight knots. Shortly after midnight we drop anchor in front of the coast guard station in Blanquillden, the swell runs around the corner into the bay, the "Marlin" swings at anchor. Splendid. We're on the road again.
The next morning we grab our papers and go ashore. A young Venezuelan is struggling with the generators and the seawater desalination plant. The latter is not only supposed to supply the station, but also the fishermen with fresh water, but it doesn't work. For the time being.
The large concrete square with the soccer goals and basketball hoops has become a little more fragile than it was ten years ago. Dogs and iguanas let the greatest heat of the day pass by in the shade. Our young guide holds out his cell phone in the air. "What's app!" He laughs. There is no telephone, only internet and that for free.
I throw myself a warning look. "We have logged off, don't even get the idea …" In the office there are still puddles from a previous rain shower, the roofs are open. Another officer takes a long time to fill out a long form, welcome to South America. Half an hour later we're released. We can stay as long as we want, no issue.
The beach on the west coast is exactly what you imagine a dream beach to be. White, finest coral and shell sand, a few palm trees, picturesque rocks and turquoise blue water. Pelicans and boobies sit on their ancestral rocks in the evening hours and wait for the fishermen to drop anchor after a long day at sea.
Not only the boobies are waiting, our children are blown away by the crews of the open wooden Lancias. Usually two or three of them live on their six-meter-long boats, a truck tarpaulin to protect against sun and rain, a couple of rolled up mattresses and a small gas stove in the bow. In the middle of the Lancis the fish swim in the bilge, live bait for the next day. The hordes of children from Grenada are forgotten, real adventure calls here.
When the sun is low in the sky, we pull our dinghy alongside and the girls run over to the fishermen. Sometimes there is leftover pancakes from breakfast to nibble on, sometimes freshly fried tuna straight from the pan. With a hand line and a little fish, the children take turns fishing the bait fish for the next day. They romp under the fishing boats because of the garbage until they hang on the hook themselves - a paradise for impatient anglers. "Mom, when I grow up, I'll be a fisherman too!" Says Maya. The Venezuelans grin.
Life isn't quite that romantic for her. They spend up to six weeks on the island before they go home for a few days. They go out before sunrise and live on fish, cornmeal, rice and pancakes. Water is precious, especially since the GuardCost's desalination system stopped working. The only well on the island, next to the miniature chapel, usually only has brackish water. Almost every afternoon a fish or a lobster ends up in our cockpit. It tastes good. Fried, pickled, grilled over a campfire. We return the favor with water, beer and homemade chocolate cake.
The planned three days will become almost ten, and there would be even more if visitors from Germany did not land at the airport in Bonaire in a few days. With a heavy heart we set sail. May looks sadly into the wake. Even the "Marlin" apparently prefers to stay there and sails at "Iron Lady" speed. No wonder, even the new one does not conjure up a regatta speed in front of the wind from eight knots of wind.
Another 220 nautical miles, again much too short, but the Caribbean does not have much open water to offer at this time of the year, the Panama Canal is over at the latest.
It is now September, the tropical storm Gabrielle and Hurricane Humberto are raging in the Atlantic. Two other systems appear to be forming in the Caribbean.
The time of the cyclones is still to come, and we are happy to be out of the belt. In front of the Curacaos table mountain, we anchor between many red-white-blue flags, striated across, of course, eat liquorice, Goud and Frikandel special. Our next destination? Back to the lonely places, the San Blas Islands, or maybe Venezuela again?