Life Aboard LULU

July 4, 2007 (Leaving Venezuela On A Clean Bottom)
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My recent musings about the current Venezuelan scene apparently caused some misconceptions about the country being scary. My feelings were of frustration, not fear. We never, for one moment, felt threatened. Nor did a single one of our friends.

Our boat work did, eventually, get started. Once started, it actually proceeded efficiently—as promised—and the results were excellent. After two-weeks-plus, we moved LULU from the boatyard to the Maremares marina and ourselves from the hotel back to the boat.

That day at the hotel day a local college graduation took place. Like graduates everywhere the students wore mortarboards and gowns. Except 23 of the 73 journalism majors tied black bands across their mouths, symbolic gags to protest Chavez’s recent TV station closing.

It was very moving. Also brave, we thought, in a country where dissent has the potential of being dangerous. They showed freedom still lives there. People do say what they feel about Chavez--out loud even--and Venezuelans still travel freely outside the country.

No question he is a dictator bent on total control, but whether a repressive dictator of the Castro or Pinochet stripe remains to be seen. My primary fear was that the dissent unsupported by fellow Venezuelans, other Latin American leaders and free countries worldwide could falter and fail. If people lapse into unconsciousness, inaction, even paralysis, Chavez might be encouraged to drop the other shoe. Which could turn out to be a military boot.

Apparently on June 25 Chavez told Venezuelans to prepare for guerilla warfare with Americans. Should we take this seriously?

Chavez is canny and calculating. He particularly loves to "strut his stuff." Part of that stuff is an anti-US stance that plays well to the poor, ignorant and disgruntled. He delights in fanning world anti-US sentiment. But he also knows that we, his best customer, for the most part ignore his rants. (By the way, the US takes a similar position of looking the other way when the Saudi Arabian government funds the fundamentalist midrassa schools.)

We’ve now spent so much time in Venezuela that should the Chavez antics turn onerous, we have some good intell (as they say in "24") coming out of there. Meanwhile we’ll continue to pick our spots and there are still a good many for cruisers, if not Venezuelans.

Breaking records

Back in the boatyard we began getting LULU back together—cleaning her up from the usual boatyard muck. A day or two seemed realistic and we’d be on our way to play in Venezuela’s out-islands and reefs.

Until we managed to beat our own 48-hour record for destroying new gelcoat.

Some 26 hours after we tied up (stern-to and obviously too close to the dock) an unexpected wind reversal thrust LULU backwards and into the concrete dock edge. Thus did we acquire a 4" gouge on our brand new transom gelcoat. Unsightly but not too deep; could’ve been a lot worse

More “good” news: the yard had leftover gelcoat. The repair could be done in the water, so no second haulout necessary. The bad: couldn’t be done until after the weekend.

The good, sort of: ruthlessly determined, after combing stores obsessively—and despite the complete unavailability of dinghies over 10 feet in Venezuela—Gary managed to find a new 12-foot dinghy at the marine store, Vemasca, for the incredible one-dink-only price of $2300.

The not so good: it lacked a console, steering wheel, motor and rear seat, it was boring as all get- out to look at, plus had an algae-collecting, impossible-to-keep-clean white bottom.

He was thrilled and triumphant. I was pissed off and sulking. Because I knew he would deal with that forever-filthy bottom by ignoring it and waiting for me to clean it up. He's no dummy.

So over that empty weekend he completed the Herculean task of removing our old console, dinghy, motor, bilge pumps and assorted lines, drilling new holes in the new dink and reinstalling everything, all on the dock at Maremares. In the heat and through the rain.

Naturally, on Monday and Tuesday it rained some more...yada, yada, yada. On Wednesday the yard squeezed the patching, sanding and buffing in between rain showers and we finally got out.

By then I'd definitely had my fill of fajitas de mariscos (shrimp, calamari and a touch of octopus) at our favorite local fajita joint. Other than that, the Puerto La Cruz food was unexciting, to be kind. (Though, naturally, we managed.)

We took off some 60 miles to an all-time favorite deserted isle—Tortuga, meaning the Turtle—though it bears no resemblance to any turtle I've seen. I guess one could say an oval island looks like a turtle in retraction phase,

After a brisk, lovely morning beam-reach sail of some 56 miles we stopped for lunch at Tortuga's Caldera anchorage.

I found it quite amazing—particularly at lunchtime—to look across the horizon and finally see aqua water and chalk-white sand instead of the daily hotel buffet, an array of silver tureens opening to reveal trays of overdone and over-cilantro-ed entrees, each fronted by a pert, neatly lettered placard explaining (though not quite) the Latin recipe in carefully considered but utterly mangled English. Like "Kentucky Chicken, " which was likely meant as a palate-enticer for us straggly American guests. My personal favorite was a soup—beef, if my Spanish serves me—named Sopa De Res Con Apio. Their translation: "Celery With Head:The Soup."

There in Caldera, I served a quick lunch of simple fare whose names we completely understood; we then hauled anchor bound for the second anchorage, Herradura, 10 miles further.

If we thought a scarred transom was the end of our navigation and mooring mishaps, we were merely lulled into complacency during that month in port.

Bare bottom sailing

Arriving a few hours later, Gary noted three boats already in the anchorage. Looking for quiet after a month of heady socializing, plus invigorated and emboldened by the morning sail (and maybe still the new dinghy) he decided we should strike out for a brand-new anchorage, one about a mile away called Tortugillas. (Little turtles--again, no resemblance.)

It looked fine, dandy—and empty—as we headed in. Unfortunately, way in.

As I prepared to leave the cockpit and drop the hook, Gary handed me an electronic kitchen timer—to measure the length of anchor chain paid out.

I needed this device because, in addition to delivering late, Ingo the Tardy Chain Galvanizer had failed to mark the chain every 50 feet as he most ardently assured us he’d do. Unfortunately, mechanical midget that I am, I couldn't figure the timer out. Gary took it to show me. And that's when we bumped--enthusiastically, let's say—into the bottom.

I won't say we were almost ashore, but will say it would have been an easy swim, even for semi-emphysemic me.

20 minutes of grinding and bow-thrusting later, we were off the sand, but I know we left a lot of new Seahawk paint in the sea.

We will not be returning to Puerto La Cruz either for fajitas de mariscos or to repaint what is surely now a very bare keel bottom

Now about that new dinghy. We wondered why it kept filling up with water. When Gary hauled it on the dock at Maremares he found the entire inner hull full. One on-hand cruiser expert decided an O-ring was needed on the screw cork.

On our first morning in Herradura we found six inches of water in the dinghy. Oddly enough, it had not rained. When he put it on the davits he noticed a remarkable no-cost eight-inch crack across the keel in the center. It must have been dropped at some time in its young life. Before we got it.

The water got inside because of the hole Gary drilled between the two hulls, so the bilge pump would clean out both compartments.

A cracked keel...if this were a racehorse, we'd have to shoot it. If this

were the Vamasca sales person, we'd have to shoot him. (Gary's lines.)

Too late now for protests or returns, he got out the Marine Tex. If that fails it's fiberglass mat and resin.

No problem for me, since my original plan anyway was to order a custom dink with a dark blue bottom, just like our old one.

Such a purchase would be perfectly consistent with our Eternal Duplication Syndrome, a pattern of somehow always having to buy or otherwise duplicate everything we do. (See also brand new transom that instantly needed repair.)

Otherwise life was perfect. We moved to the breathtaking Los Roques archipelago. Arriving near sunset at completely empty Nordisqui, I threw off my bathing suit and swam naked amid the ecstatic sounds of crashing reef water. Further elucidation: I swam naked around the boat, cleaning the water line and stopping to admire and listen to the crashing reef water. I did not, however, touch the dinghy bottom.

We passed several glorious days moving between favorite anchorages. We spent our last night in Cayo de Agua, a long low sweep of beach featuring a sole palm tree, its fronds blowing solely to starboard from a losing battle with the incessant east wind, so that it looked like a big feather duster poking out of the sand.

We moved 35 and then 15 more miles from Los Roques to Las Aves, where we were captivated yet again by the impossibly aquamarine water, the myriad birds in graceful flight, as well as in irritating hover over our barbecue and decks. There I ignored, but Gary repaired, the dinghy bottom. But I did get my cleaning workout from the piles of pelican poop everywhere.

Yesterday we arrived in our beloved Bonaire to spend most of the summer and fall not already allotted to family, friends and a 35-day trip to China…on Continental’s, not LULU’s, bottom. And I won’t care how dirty it is.


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