First Leg, Chaguaramas to Guyana…

Golden Moments

Eileen of Avoca sailing Trinidad’s northern coast

Eileen made a good start from Chaguaramas, being the first boat to leave for “The Boca” at precisely 4pm. Making the most of the unexpected head start, the diminutive yacht remained in the lead for the first 12 hours. But only because not everyone was comfortable (or insane) enough to search for the complementary current and land breeze effect just metres off Trinidad’s rocky Northern coast.

With Lion King approaching fast, it was not long after dawn that the lead passed to this immaculately maintained Hanse 54.

Rounding Galera Point, a half knot of current rapidly increased to 2 all the way to Darien Rock, slowing the fleet considerably.

Spirited Lady and Kaisosi chose a route through the centre of Galleons Passage and subsequently found themselves pushed toward Drew Bank off Tobago.

An escort of dolphins during the first leg of the Nereid's Rally

An escort of dolphins during the first leg of the Nereid’s Rally

Good news for Eileen as it would take them many hours to make up for lost time.

By Thursday night Lion King had managed to make contact with Virginia Dare, the dark horse of the fleet, who’s crew was unknown to any of us as she had started the rally from Grenada.

It was unclear at this stage whether she was ahead or trailing the main fleet.

On Thursday night, off Darien Rock, Kaisosi overtook Eileen.

Spirited Lady as seen on my A.I.S.

Spirited Lady as seen on my A.I.S.

By Friday midday, Spirited Lady raced by at a speed that doubled anything I could squeeze out of Eileen, even under full sail and motor.

Eileen takes on crew for the first leg.

Eileen takes on crew for the first leg.

Not that I was particulary worried. I had no reason to rush…. ;)

Apart from Jo on his Moody, who had resigned to starting the rally several days later (Still waiting on parts?), by Saturday, the only yacht that might still be behind Eileen of Avoca was Virginia Dare.

Pirate... NOT

Pirate… NOT

A note on pirates: This fisherman came to within 15m of Eileen on route to Guyana. What did he want?

To say hello of course, and maybe take a close look at my crew!

He then sped off chatting on the radio in Spanish to all who would listen about the flotilla of sail boats he had welcomed in the last 24 hours.

Next update upon arrival in Guyana!

On Passage to Tobago: NOT Suspiciously Pursued off Suriname – 2012

Rebel Lady comes to say hello!

I want to talk about pirates… It’s bound to find me a willing audience and no sailor worth his salt (in yarn telling) is without a repertoire of at least three life threatening pirate encounters.

I am admittedly somewhat inspired by a relatively recent report I’d read on noonsite.

Riveting stuff, but I can’t help making comparisons with what I’ve encountered on a regular basis, both within and well outside the area indicated by the report.

Fishing vessels have a habit of intercepting sailing yachts at sea. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes it’s not. Often it’s curiosity, but if you’ve ever seen how fishing vessels zigzag at sea, it’s really no surprise that they appear (at some stage or another), to be on a collision course.

So when a sailor says “This guy altered course as well … bearing and track to meet ours … I altered a bit more … he adjusted to intercept our line of travel … very odd!

In fact, this isn’t odd at all…

Then there is the “I saw a strange light” phenomenon”… Analogous to a UFO close encounter of the 1st kind…

Momentarily I glanced back … swore I saw a light on the horizon … on and then off …

and

There it was again … a light behind us … on and off … just once …

So on the basis of a fishing vessel seen on an intercept course and lights that flash at night, we have gone from “odd” to

I felt something was not right here …

Off Suriname fishermen use flashing lights to mark their nets. Frustrating because you have no idea which way to pass them, but it’s certainly not peculiar. In these waters, vessels will momentarily shine a light (sometimes just a torch, sometimes their mobile phone) if they see another vessel close by. It’s how they let you know they are there… Their boats are not equipped with navigation lights or radar reflectors for that matter.

But behold… further proof that something was amiss…

at which point I turned on the engines, swung around and headed straight out to sea …

In the distance we could see the boats meet up … now with all their lights on and there was a bit of a flurry of movement between them… of course we were not there …

Could they now be busy bringing in their nets?

Of course all rational thought goes out the window, especially when you’re physically and mentally exhausted…

I didn’t sleep a wink that night … “ and “During the early hours of the morning … there it was .. a light on a boat approaching our stern …he was gaining speed on us … @#$%&* !!!

I went downstairs and fetched the flare gun …

Is it just me or do others suspect that there has been a sudden quantum leap in irrational behavior here?

Did you say pirates???

Let me digress now and tell the story of my latest 6 day trip to Tobago.

On day five (the rest isn’t worth recounting), at 4am in the morning, I found myself in surprisingly similar circumstances.

I’d seen the lights of several fishing vessels the previous evening and 100NM out from Venezuela, I found a vessel rapidly closing in on Eileen’s stern.

After unsuccessfully hailing the crew on VHF 16, I sat watching it’s approach. I did not however fetch the flare gun…

I don’t own one…

When the boat was within a few cables it abruptly veered to port to… to… to….

overtake…

No pirate paraphernalia such as grappling hooks or waving Kalashnikov’s materialized, all I got was a good look at their fishing gear…

That they did not respond to my calls on VHF is not so unusual. Even fellow yachtsmen with fancy HF and VHF equipment entertain the bizarre habit of keeping them switch off.

Which takes us back to….

vessel approaching, we have to assume your intention is to do harm … we will have to take action against you … please alter course now … they did not … I took aim with my flare gun and fired

Go figure!

Their engines roared as they turned to port and disappeared like a bat out of hell!

Wouldn’t you?

On my last day out from Tobago another fishing vessel approached Eileen on an “intercept” course. This time it was during daylight hours, so I was able to take a nice snapshot for the blog. When the boat was within a few cables, my VHF radio came to life (Note that I leave mine on despite the drain on the batteries).

Fisherman: “Little boat, this is Rebel Lady, are you alright?”

Eileen: “Yes everything is fine thank you.”

Fisherman: “Just came over to check. That’s one small boat you have there. Where are you headed?

I’ll spare you the rest of the small talk but I’ll have you note that at no point did he have me walk the plank or hand over my treasures…

I’m now safely at anchor in Tobago telling pirate tales to anyone who buys me a drink… ;)

I sailed to Guyana and didn’t see a single pirate!

Essequibo River, Guyana

Well what do you know, it’s evidently no more than a wild rumour… No pirates waiting to pounce on unsuspecting single handed yachtsmen in Guyanese waters after all. What I found instead was a unique cruising destination full of rather pleasant surprises.

More like sticks than pylons!

While the approach can be a bit of an obstacle course (weaving between fisherman’s gill nets), and there is a rather odd path (marked by an plethora of timber pylons), over the sandbank at the mouth of the Essequibo (at least 2.5m at low tide, I know because I anchored on it for several hours to wait for the tide). First impressions as I ambled along the Essequibo River were positive.

A hive of commercial activity near Parika

What an abundance of activity. Plying their way in both directions were vessels of all shape, manner and kind. Such a contrast to French Guiana where besides the ubiquitous pirogue, you’re lucky to see one cargo vessel a month make its way along the Maroni.

The slow Parika to Bartica ferry. Even Eileen was faster!

The entrepreneurial spirit is apparently alive and well here, as evidenced by the abundant activity. Cargo ships galore, timber mills, fuel depots, fast shuttle services. Makes me wonder where all these busy people happen to be going? Wherever it is, it’s at high speed.

The fast way to get from Parika to Bartica

Once again, I must tip my proverbial hat to the nations shipwrights! Despite the odd insistence on high prow banana shaped vessels, the Guyanese have devised a unique solution to the aforementioned visibility problem. Check out were the driver sits on these beauties.

Admittedly it’s a long way up the Essequibo to Bartica, so Chris Doyle’s cruising guide suggests Roeden Rust Marina as the logical stopover. I concur, even if there is nothing (in the way of signs) to indicate you are in the right place.

Supposedly I could have taken on fuel here but as I’d not cleared customs, I wonder about the legality of conducting such a transaction.

Nobody at Roeden Rust answered the phone numbers provided in my guide. Perhaps they have changed. I understand that Chris is about to release a new edition of his guide so perhaps armed thus, you will have better luck that I did.

Hurakabra Resort

Not that I have reason to complain, working my way through the supplied list of contacts I came across the phone number for Kit and Gem Nascimento. What a pleasure to speak with someone sympathetic to the plight of an inconsequential southbound solitary yachtsman. In the brief conversation afforded me by my dwindling phone credit (well at least Digicel works here), I was able to ascertain that a hearty welcome, a cold beer, assistance with refueling, and someone wise in customs and immigration ritual and lore, would be at hand at Hurakabra Resort (just 5 to 6 hours away on the flood). Simply follow the GPS coordinates outlined in your guide…

Not too closely however.

A correction worth noting in the 3rdEdition (page 234) is position GUK02 (GUYK02 in the image).It should read 58º35.730′ W rather than 58º36.730′ W.

Mind you, it’s rather obvious something is amiss when you map the coordinates.
 Hurakabra is a small resort offering clients fine accommodation in a wilderness setting. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and efficient, so I couldn’t have fallen in with a better crowd.

Eileen anchored off Bartica

To yachtsmen, the resort offers a secure location for leaving your boat, experienced guides, and of course the all important bar and restaurant. While I made use of the first three, I chose to take my meals while provisioning in nearby Bartica.

Good holding in Bartica at 6º24.338′ N 58º36.995′ W

Anyone for steak?

Ah, Bartica, what a place! And I thought Saint Laurent du Maroni was the wild west!

Bartica services the burgeoning gold mining industry here, so not surprisingly prices are relatively high, but if you want to see what a frontier town looks like, you need go no further.

Pedestrian traffic in Bartica, Guyana

I revelled in the raw abrasiveness of the place. It permeated authenticity. No prettily painted Disneyland fruit stalls to appease the tourist psyche, just functionally brute reality.

By the way, where were the other tourists?… Surely this is a must see destination for cruisers?

I’m not the only tourist here after all…

Well, apart from this simpatico couple from (if I remember correctly) Belize and Honduras (they make Guyana their regular stopover during the hurricane season), I couldn’t find any.

Yachts visit so infrequently that the entire customs office staff were keen to pay Eileen a visit. Just out of genuine curiosity!!!

My Forró instructor

I had but five nights to sample the delights of Guyana and in the words of a certain actor come politician (who needn’t be named)…. “I’ll be back!”

There is much I didn’t get to see and do, so I’m eager to return.

Guyana offers the delightful antithesis to Caribbean cruising. Definitely worth a visit especially before, (or even after) I go and build a huge marina complex there too!

;)

 

Skeleton Island

Skull rock formation

Skull rock formation

6th September. 4am in the morning, it’s warm, the moon is up, the winds are gentle, and the sea is calm. Perfect conditions for motor sailing SW to Astipalaia (also called Stampalia). By daybreak Eileen approached the NE end of the island (Ak Floudha) with the secure anchorage of Vathi as our destination. I’d read in the Greek Waters Pilot that the island had been used by pirates so it seemed very appropriate that the headland boasted a rock formation resembling a human skull (see photo and use plenty of imagination).

The inlet of Vathi which in light of certain aforesaid geological formations must now be dubbed “Skeleton Island” was a pleasant surprise. While there isn’t much there aside from a single taverna and a multitude of goats (“Goat Island” was also briefly considered as potential synonym for Astipalaia), the anchorage provided excellent protection from the Meltemi which had several yachts stranded there for three days!

I made a brief dash for Thera on day two but gave up battling the worsening conditions after a pod of dolphins made it quite clear that it was wisest to head back the other way. On day three I tried again (yes I’m know to be stubborn), but when neighboring boats returned from their attempted departure, and Eileen started dragging an anchor (many thanks to the English crew whose shouts from the Taverna brought that potential disaster to my attention), I resigned myself to remaining another night.

Besides, there’s always plenty of maintenance to do on Eileen of Avoca, mending sails, polishing brass and in this instance unclogging the head!