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Dec '96   July '97   January '98   July '98   March '99   June 2000

June 2000

Welcome to the summer 2000 edition of Ventana痴 Voyages. Since you last read about us Ventana has traveled from the Southeastern Caribbean across the northern edge of South America to Panama and then north along the Caribbean coast of Central America up to Mexico. By the time you read this Ventana will have returned to Florida from where we departed in January of 1996.

In April of 1999 Ventana departed Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean which had been our cruising grounds for several years. Most of the areas we had cruised to aboard Ventana were places we had previously been in our filming work for Sailing Quarterly and now we were ready to head off to totally new places and new experiences.

Venezuela

We departed for Venezuela with some trepidation. Unfortunately some areas have earned a bad reputation for thievery and we had heard many stories of boats having their dinghies and outboard motors stolen. Our friends on Door Into Summer who departed Trinidad with us had been victims of this the year before so we were all very wary. Our fist stop in Venezuela was a remote cove miles from any towns and frequented only by itinerant fisherman. As we dropped anchor the 20 or so men on half a dozen fishing boats looked at us with interest. They appeared to be a rough crowd so that night we locked everything up tight and slept lightly.

The next day I had just dropped Dee off on a small rocky islet near shore to collect the green mussels growing there. No sooner were we separated than a fishing boat came around the corner and entered the cove heading straight for me floating in the dinghy. I speak Spanish quite well but I did not want any trouble with these tough looking men. The big fishing boat came right at me and my heart speeded up as I could not maneuver away from them while Dee was stranded nearby on the rocks. As the boat came along-side one of the men mysteriously reached his hand down inside the boat for something. Instead of the weapon I expected to see his hand came up with 4 freshly caught red snapper which he tossed in my dinghy. As relief flooded over me I thanked him and with a shy smile and barely a word he motored away. For the next several days we stayed in the same cove and each day they brought us fish, never asking anything in return. They were almost embarrassed by our thanks and were so shy it was difficult to involve them in much conversation. We were guests in their country and so they fed us.

A few days later we sailed on to a small group of islands called Los Testigos. As soon as we dropped anchor a local came alongside and welcomed us to his island. He held up a big lobster and smiled at me as he offered it to us. Being a product of America and having spent so long in the islands of the Eastern Caribbean I did the natural thing and asked how much he wanted for it. He looked aghast and cried NO, NO it痴 a gift. An embarrassed silence followed while I tried to recover and accept his kind offer as it was meant. Such was our introduction to Venezuela. Mostly poor kind people who were happy to share the little they have.

De Islans is differn Mon

覧覧覧覧覧覧

The Islands are different than other places. It has taken us years to understand a bit about the culture and people. Perhaps these anecdotes will explain:

Formula 409

For general cleanup on a fiberglass boat 409 cleaner is the best thing around so when some friends of ours finally found a place in Tortola that sold it they were really pleased. Every month or so they would go in and buy a bottle and they often told their friends who also started buying it. One day they went in and could not find any 409. Upon asking the clerk, he replied, "409 she all finish". This translates to "were all out of 409 today". A few weeks later there was a new stock and all was well. Then months went by and it was never available. Again the clerk told them, "409 she all finish". When they asked when more would be in they were told there would be no more.

The reason: "well mon we be sellin so much 409 we never able to keep it on da shelf so we quit orderin it."

The story makes any business owner cringe but it痴 a typical island response.

The Bus

Riding the local buses is a part of our daily lives. While we might not often think of doing it at home, in the islands where few people have cars it is a way of life. It is also a great opportunity to interact with the locals.

Now in the US if you are late to the bus stop you are probably out of luck. In the islands it痴 different. In towns the buses all line up at the bus stop and when the first bus is full it leaves and the next one pulls up. If the bus is not full the driver may honk his horn for a few minutes to drum up business and signal the lazy ones to get a move on. Once the bus is underway you can get them to stop anywhere to drop you off or pick you up. In the rural areas of course the busses do carry pigs and chickens but these are frequently made to ride on top.

In the US getting a moving bus to stop for a late passenger is unlikely- da islans dey be diferen. It痴 common for someone to flag the bus from their house by waving a rag or something out the window. When the bus stops the person does not run to catch it as we might do in America IF it did stop. No, in the islands everyone waits while the person does a last chore or two gathers up their belongings and slowly saunters on up to the waiting bus.

Now as the bus goes along it痴 normal for it to stop at the bakery while someone jumps off to pick up a loaf of bread and jumps back on. Often the driver will stop to get himself a soft drink or snack at a road side stand or he might pickup a waiting package at one house and drop it off in front of another. No hurry, no worries, we痴 all got plenty time.

The Raise

We have lots of friends who have businesses in the islands and they have all had this universal experience with employees. It goes like this.

You have a really great employee. Works hard, comes in on time 5 days a week, is conscientious and treats customers well. To show your appreciation and to encourage this good work you decide to give them a raise. So Friday afternoon rolls around and you break the good news to your employee. They are notably pleased and head off for a fine weekend. Monday rolls around and your model employee is nowhere to be seen and never calls in. Tuesday he shows up right on time and ready to go to work.

In the islands no explanation is ever forthcoming so you have to ask, "where were you yesterday"?

"Well I be tinkin dat sinz you payin me mo I kin work four days in da week an I still got enuf money."

So it goes- your incentive has backfired and now you can neither convince your model employee to work 5 days per week nor can you cut his salary.

Dat痴 life in de islans mon.

Cartagena Columbia

"You池e going to Columbia, are you crazy"?

Such was the response of most of our family and friends when we set sail from Curacao for Cartagena. We found out that while much of Columbia is wild and lawless, rife with drug dealers and kidnappers, Cartagena is an oasis. Rumor has it that the drug dealers have declared it a cease fire zone so they have a safe city in which to keep their mistresses. Whatever the reason we found it to be a stunningly beautiful classical Spanish colonial city left over from the centuries when Spain ruled the new world. We explored the city by both day and night and felt far safer than we would have in many major U.S. cities.

The narrow cobblestone streets and classic buildings were a delight. Inside each doorway waited another visual feast for the eyes. In the U. S. we have large yards and gardens which surround our houses while the Spanish built their houses in a large rectangle and put the lawn and garden inside the hollow interior of the rectangle. From the street side one sees beautiful colonial houses with wrought iron window seats and large heavy wooden doors but everything else is hidden. Yet through each door lies a magnificent courtyard and a garden with blooming bougainvillea, orchids, fountains and a myriad of tropical plants.

On Passage

The passage from Curacao to Cartagena is 400 miles and for some circumnavigators it turns out to be the roughest passage of their entire trip around the world. The sailing directions and pilot charts for this area suggest going far offshore for a smoother ride in the often big seas, yet some of our friends had recently sailed very close to shore so they could duck into a harbor if bad weather came up. After some discussion I decided to take Ventana far out to sea in the deep water. We departed in loose company with 3 other boats all close friends we had sailed with before. We agreed to check in on the radio twice a day to keep everyone痴 position and have a contact in case of emergency.

Though we were the last of the 4 boats to leave our first 24 hours were spectacular sailing with the boat going smoothly downwind with one sail to port and one to starboard, wing and wing as it痴 called. Our first days run noon to noon was 160 miles which is very respectable. We had passed one of the other boats unseen during the night and pulled closer to the first two. All the others were staying closer to shore for a shorter route but as we headed farther away we had another reason to be convinced our deep water strategy was a good one. That night we were treated to an unbelievable light show. We starred spellbound as lightening bolts pounded the land as often as 3 times per minute for hours. Lightening can be deadly on a boat so we were grateful to be far away.

The next afternoon and evening were a bit squally with light and variable winds so we alternately sailed and motored. By the third day the wind had gone lighter and was off our quarter so we pulled out our seldom used spinnaker and continued to slide downwind on a fast and smooth ride. We soon passed another boat as their inshore route encountered a contrary ocean current. Later the lead boat reported that the inshore route was becoming very hazardous due to huge logs in the water that had floated down the Magdelana river. They saw them in daylight but advised the boats behind against traversing the area at night when the logs could not be seen. For us, far offshore it was no problem and we sailed on under the sliver of new moon. Our last day was uneventful as we sailed under full genoa and main most of the day. We finally dropped anchor just as the sun set over the walls of the old colonial city of Cartagena.

 

The Best of Caribbean Scuba Diving

 

Bonaire has always been known as a prime scuba diving destination and Rob has wanted to visit there since he first learned to dive in 1973. We arrived there after a perfect downwind sail from the Aves islands of Venezuela and from the beginning it was wonderful. Bonaire is a Dutch island with very strong ties to Holland. The main town, Kralendijk is small enough to walk around in an hour or two, yet it seemed to have everything we needed. For sailors who like to dive it was truly the perfect spot. The island provided free moorings just 150 from the shore to secure our sailboats, and the permanent moorings mean we do not need to drop anchors which can damage the coral. The entire island sits on a coral shelf so under the bow of our boat the water was 15 deep while under the stern the coral wall dropped away to 130. The diving directly off the boat was beautiful.

Our days soon fell into a familiar pattern with mornings spent on boat maintenance and afternoons spent at one of the 40 dive sites within range of our outboard motor powered dinghy. For a change of pace we occasionally took a large group on Ventana or one of the other sailboats and traveled to the farther ends of the island to sample the diving there. We would carry enough tanks for everyone to do one dive in the morning and one in the afternoon with an onboard BBQ in between. Evenings were spent at the local movie theater or surfing at the Internet cafe that sported over a dozen computers. For a change of pace we often went diving at night to see the corals, octopus, lobster and other creatures that are about in the dark hours. In all we spent 50 days in Bonaire and Rob recorded 45 dives.

Bonaire was the start of nearly a year of wonderful scuba diving. Some of the top spots we hit were the San Blas Islands of Panama; Belize; Guanaja, Roatan and Utila in Honduras and Mexico. It was in Honduras where we dove the sparsely inhabited Cayos Cochinos and also found a seamount in the middle of the ocean. Seamounts occur miles from land where the ocean floor rises from thousands of feet to within 60 of the surface. The odd formation like an underwater mountain draws thousands of deep water ocean fish. Next was Belize where we dove on the atolls and the second longest barrier reef in the world. The offshore atolls in Belize are like those in the South Pacific- a ring of coral miles in diameter surrounds a shallow lagoon. Inside the lagoon the waters are 10-60 deep and crystal blue. The surrounding reef keeps out all the big ocean swells making ideal anchorages for sailboats.

A few highlights from the dive logs:

School of 2 long 25 lb. groupers- one 5 grouper over 100lbs, 7' nurse shark, giant spotted eagle ray with 6' wing span. After returning to the same dive site 4 times we finally found the 6" long seahorse rumored to be there.

Peacock flounder changed to a neon blue color when scared, then when he returned to the white sand he immediately returned to pure white for camouflage. Night dive and swam with "Charlie" the resident 6 long tarpon. Saw Golden and Green Moray eels. Dove on the wreck of a DC3 plane.

With Ventana痴 on-board scuba compressor we are able to fill our own tanks and dive in spots far away from any dive shops.This has led to some unique experiences, though two stand out above all the others. In Glovers reef Rob was diving with a friend from another boat when he was approached by a 4 long hawksbill turtle. The turtle used its flippers like airplane wings and flew right up next to me. I begun swimming alongside and he turned his head and looked at me with this huge soft eye the size of a saucer. He looked like Yoda from Star Wars and was probably as old and wise too. The turtle showed absolutely no fear of me so I carefully grabbed on to his shell and let him tow me along. We gracefully flew through the water together for several minutes banking and turning like an airplane. When I finally let go he again turned his head slowly to look back at me with his big soft eye as it to say goodbye.... It was magical.

In Utila we were with a group looking for whale sharks that migrate through the area. We finally sighted one and came up close. As we leaped into the water with our snorkel gear on the sight beneath us was amazing. In deep ocean the color is an indescribable deep blue and there in the rich blue just 10' below us was the largest fish in the world- a 30' whale shark. It's coloring was a light gray with a beautiful pattern of white spots and fine white lines. With his majestic tail pushing him effortlessly along he slowly swam in front of us for about a minute before gradually sinking into the blue abyss. Being so close to such tremendous power was a humbling once in a lifetime moment that we will never forget.

Cultural Exchanges

 

Guatemala and the San Blas islands provided fascinating cultural experiences. The Kuna Indians who live on 365 separate islands strewn along the gulf of Panama are a matriarchal society - that is the women own the family wealth and when a boy marries he moves into the wife's family home. We traveled some of the San Blas with a doctor from another boat. The Doc spoke no Spanish so with Rob translating and the doc teaching we were able to treat a number of patients and dispense medicines from our extensive on board medical kits. It was a wonderful opportunity to go inside their homes and really meet the people.

In Guatemala we traveled inland through the Mayan villages of the highlands. Here the dress is extremely colorful and the people still live as they have for centuries. One favorite stop was the city of Antigua. It痴 a Spanish Colonial city with beautiful houses and courtyards and over 70 language schools. We each took one on one Spanish classes 4 hrs per day for a week to improve our language skills.

During our travels we met two wonderful Guatemalan sisters- Mayra a lawyer and Brenda a graphic designer who made a beautiful new logo and boatcards for Ventana. They explained much about their country to us. Later the sisters visited us aboard Ventana to sample the cruising life. It痴 cultural exchanges like these that make our travels so rewarding.

The Highs & Lows of Our Cruising Life

The lows are easy - constant boat maintenance, rolly anchorages, always being at the mercy of the weather, uncomfortable passages where you just count the minutes until you reach port. Or worse yet, our passage from hell where in order not to be hurled across the cabin we had to hold on to something every second even in our sleep. The highs are many- living a simple life where we spend much of each day enjoying nature, friends and love for each other. Time to spend savoring the daily acts of life rather than just rushing from one project to the next. Fishing, scuba diving or snorkeling. The satisfaction of tackling a complex and unfamiliar maintenance project and figuring out how to fix things. Dee痴 creative endeavors of watercolors or needlepoint. Being totally self-sufficient. Helping our neighbors and making a contribution to the cultures we visit.

Sometimes the highs and lows come nearly on top of each other as when hundreds of miles out at sea the rope that holds up the mainsail broke. Pulling in all the sails to make repairs made the boat roll dangerously from side to side and left our spinnaker pole sticking out perpendicular to the boat about 10 feet over the water. While we were cussing and being thrown about the unstable boat we suddenly saw a pod of dolphins next to the boat. Imitating a Seaworld performance they began leaping out of the water trying to touch or jump over our spinnaker pole. In an instant our low point became an incredible high watching these happy creatures.

Since we started out on Ventana in late 1995 we have traveled over 14,000 miles from Maine to South America- - all at 6 miles an hour. We致e circumnavigated the Caribbean basin visiting 30 countries and hundreds of islands and different anchorages. Along the way we have made many new and firm friends. After 5 years out cruising one high is sailing into an unfamiliar anchorage and being greeted by friends you last saw 2,000 miles and 6 countries ago. They went north and you went south but we never say goodbye - it痴 always "fair winds, we look forward to sharing an anchorage again with you somewhere soon."

Secret Hideaways

 

Everyone always asks us our opinion on the BEST place we have found. The truth is there are too many bests and often the personal encounters you have with the locals make an otherwise OK place great. But if you want to know where we think you should go on your next vacation here are our thoughts. For fancy hotels and nightlife its hard to beat the Virgin Islands or Cancun. For small luxury hotels and great food try the French islands of St. Martin, St. Barts or Ille de Saintes. Think of it this way- if a 727 jet goes there its crowded, if you need to arrive there via a small plane you are on the right track, if like Ille de Saintes it痴 a ferry you are really getting away. If the only boats that go there are vessels like Ventana it痴 still undiscovered.

Three special places to put on your get away list: Los Roques and Las Aves in Venezuela and the island of Tobago. Tobago is a lush tropical island where you値l find beautiful rainforest hikes to waterfalls, spectacular diving and the friendliest islanders anywhere. Tobago breaks the rule as big planes fly there and there are two new hotels, but the locals are so friendly and have seen so few tourists that for another few years it will be a travelers paradise- but don稚 wait too long.

The Roques and Aves are groups of Venezuelan out islands. The Roques group are made up of paradise like small islands with white sandy beaches, a few palm trees and wonderful crystal waters teeming with fish life. They lie 70 miles offshore, hard enough to get to that many don稚 so you should. Lodging is in quaint economical posadas with plenty of ways to get on the water - small sailboats, canoes, kayaks, dive trip boats, wind surfers and run abouts. Declared a national park and protected from large development it痴 known as a primo bone fishing spot.

The Aves are more remote and require a boat like Ventana. Here you値l share 50 miles of gorgeous coral reef with only the nesting seabirds. You may only see half a dozen people in a month. Each day you easily catch your fill of lobster, conch or fish. We spent five weeks between the two spots, fed ourselves from the sea and dove or snorkeled every day .

For our many friends who like to rough it a bit we really do have THE PERFECT spot. Rob痴 old kayaking buddy Cully Erdman of Moab has set up a resort at Glovers Reef in Belize that is unbelievable. Glovers Atoll is probably the most beautiful spot we have seen in 5 years in the islands. The clearest water, most beautiful reefs, tons of fish and no other people. Cully痴 place is on a private island with very basic bungalows on the beach. The scene is spectacular and the daily activities are snorkeling, sea kayaking, surf kayaking, windsurfing or scuba diving. And all you can take of each one. On the mainland nearby they have several levels of whitewater river trips, mountain biking, exploring Mayan ruins in the jungle and more. If you are interested check out their website at Slickrock.com

It痴 places like these where memories are made!! So go out and make some memories!

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