Venezuelan Islands - Los Testigos/Margarita/Cubagua.

27th August - 2nd September 2002

After a slow start, the wind picked up a couple of hours into our passage from Grenada to the  Los Testigos islands, our first landfall in Venezuelan waters, giving us a wonderful, comfortable downwind passage through the night.    Our genoa pole, still jury rigged after its battering in the Atlantic, was back in use for the first time since we crossed the pond.   Making 6 or 7 knots through the night, we arrived at Los Testigos around 7 am on 27th August.

The islands, with their population of around 150 people are situated about 40 miles from the mainland and having no airport or ferry, are totally unspoiled.   The majority of the few visitors arrive by yacht.  There is no customs or immigration here but visitors are required to check in with the local Coast Guard, who shares his office with the local infirmary and had to be tracked down specially on our arrival.   Officially the length of time you can stay before heading to a port of entry elsewhere in Venezuela to check in is decided by the Coast Guard.   We can only assume he liked us, as he said we could stay as long as we wanted.     Seems he'd been stressed earlier by five French yachts which arrived with nobody aboard having visas or speaking any Spanish.


Tough night on watch!


We anchored in a bay on Testigo Grande which we shared only with local fishing boats, it seemed that all the other yachts had the herding instinct and were all clustered together in another bay.    

Testigo Grande has an area of beautiful powdery white sand dunes and when our energy levels were restored the next day we went ashore to explore, accompanied only by a couple of large iguanas, plentiful lizards and a pair of foraging goats.   The dunes were so soft that climbing them in the baking sun was quite a challenge but it was worth it for the view from the top.   Later we walked ashore at the anchorage, to meet our neighbours and possibly the world's ugliest dog, completely devoid of hair except for a small quiff on top of its head, which decided to join us for our stroll.  

View from the sand dunes on Testigo Grande.


After snorkeling for a while on the reef near our boat, where the variety of vividly coloured coral fans was quite breathtaking, we noticed the locals ashore hauling a fishing boat up onto the beach, using the highly sophisticated 20-people-pulling-on-a-big-rope-method.   The boat was being dragged up planks, using cactus stalks for rollers.  We went along to lend a hand.   

Luckily we were still wet from snorkeling as we soon discovered that the rope is wrapped around a pulley and runs back alongside the boat towards the sea and is pulled until people on the end of the rope end up in a heap in the sea.   The whole process then began again until the boat was high enough up the beach.   It was fascinating to see the amount of co-operation involved, with people coming by boat from all the other islands to help.   However, we were hoping the same method wasn't going to be used to haul "Anju" for her sandblasting, as we'd need a lot more than 20 people!



The fishing boat, finally hauled up the beach.

Early next morning we set sail for Margarita.   On the way a very friendly fishing boat decided to play chicken with Anju and although legally we had right of way and should stand on, he ignored us until we had to hurriedly turn into the wind to avoid a collision and leave our sails flogging until he passed by.   Sometimes we wish we had torpedoes!   Venezuela already has a bad reputation for robberies and piracy and incidents like that don't help to make you feel welcome either.


On arrival at Margarita we checked in Pampatar for our Welsh friend Gordon's boat but unfortunately he'd left already with Eliana for another trip to Grenada.   Somewhere we must have passed by them!   So, we decided to head for the main anchorage of Porlamar.   After months in small islands, Porlamar with it's massive apartment blocks and high rise hotels was a sharp contrast.

We only planned to stay overnight and felt that paying about $70 US to check into Margarita for that length of time seemed unreasonable, when we'd have to pay again on arrival at the mainland, so we kept our yellow Q-flag flying and although we stayed 3 days in the end and naughtily made several trips ashore, to stock up at the supermarket and to eat a meal with some friends in a restaurant in the city centre, we got away with it.    The supermarkets were wonderful after the Caribbean islands.   Fresh meat and a good selection of vegetables for the first time in months and beer only 10p a can.   It was the first place that eating out was within our budget, particularly at the wonderful Jak's cafe right by the dinghy dock, with it's wonderful selection of Thai and western food.

Whilst in Margarita we noticed an increasingly revolting smell somewhere in out boat.    After several days of being embarrassed if anyone should come aboard and think the smell was coming from the crew, we finally tracked it down.   Yet again a burst carton of milk which this time had emptied its contents behind one of the water tanks in the bilge.   Of course this was almost impossible to get to, to clean up and a very unpleasant afternoon was spent taking turns to lie on the floor with our heads down the hole below the cooker, enjoying the smell from very close up, whilst trying to clean up the spill.    Naturally during this process a torch was lost behind the water tank as well, adding to the fun as we tried and failed to retrieve that too!   Oh the glamour of the cruising life.


Welcoming sight on arrival at the "friendly" island of Cubagua - wreck of a car ferry, still filled with burnt out cars.

To break up the trip from Margarita to Puerto La Cruz, we decided to anchor overnight at the small island of Cubagua, which would cut about 10 miles off the journey.   With all the tales of piracy, we were nervous that we would be anchored alone at the island, however we found seven or eight boats were also in the anchorage.   

As it turned out, this was small comfort.   At around midnight, Phil awoke to see a figure hunched over our outboard engine, which was locked onto the back of the boat.   He started yelling at them to get off our boat and luckily they weren't very determined thieves, as the one on the side of our boat leapt back into the water and swam away to his accomplice, who was waiting nearby in a motor boat.   We were shaken up but very relieved that the robbers weren't armed and only had designs on the motor, which luckily only sustained slight damage where they had broken off the padlock.    Half a minute more and they would have got away with it.    We had already planned to improve security on board on arrival in the boatyard and this incident just reinforced the priority of this task.    


Next day we left Cubagua at first light and headed towards the Venezuelan mainland, reporting our boarding on the daily safety and security net which is on the SSB radio each morning whilst on the way.....

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