Whilst there’s been numerous reports of violent robberies and boardings of yachts near the Venezuelan coast, all our information indicated that the remote Venezualan archipelago of Los Roques was far enough from the mainland to be safe to visit on our way to Bonaire. And what a good decision it was!
The passage from Grenada to Los Roques is approximately 300NM so we left on Thursday afternoon (2nd February) hoping to get in by Saturday morning. Because Los Roques is an archipelago of reef-strewn islands, we wanted to make sure we arrived in good light, with the sun above or behind us to allow for eyeball navigation of the numerous reefs and coral bommies we might encounter. The forecast said the strong trade winds would ease a little so it all looked good for a decent passage. Sadly, the wind disappeared more quickly than we’d anticipated, so we had to motor-sail for much of the time to try and keep on schedule for our arrival. Apart from the fickle wind, it was a very pleasant passage. Rob, Bruce, Sherm and I stood 2 hour watches each, meaning we had a luxurious 6 hours off in between. The nights were beautiful, sailing gently under a full moon and we even flew Luigi both days! You can see how stressful it was for the crew:
The archipelago is a national park and consists of approximately 350 islands and coral cays. Although it’s very remote, it’s become a popular destination for Venezuelan holidaymakers, and the main island, Gran Roque, has an airstrip and shops. There are also great big white dayboats that bring visitors to the surrounding islands. Luckily, it’s a big enough area that you can find quiet anchorages in many places. Here’s a map of Los Roques:
We chose to go under the radar and avoid the whole official check-in at Gran Roque, which is apparently a difficult process, with prices that range from US$50 to US$400 depending on the mood of the immigration officer! Many yachts who are passing through enroute to Bonaire seem to do the same, and as long as you don’t overstay your welcome it seems to be fine.
Our first stop was at Noronsquis, three little islands with a barrier reef surrounding a blue lagoon. We arrived a bit later than anticipated so although we still had light we thought it prudent not to chance the lagoon entry. Instead we anchored in the lee of the island, just east of the entrance to the lagoon, while some of the crew of Toucan eyed the nearby local fishing boat with suspicion, stories of pirates racing in their heads. In fact the local boat was just doing what they do, anchoring in the daytime and then heading out as dusk fell to make their living. We enjoyed the sunset and had a good night’s sleep, ready to venture further afield the next morning.
The next day we did a short hop south-west to the little island of Sarqui. The windward side of all these islands are so different from the leeward sides!
We loved Sarqui – the water was so clear you could see the seabed beneath the boat, the snorkeling was great with lots of turtles and fish life, and there were white sand beaches to explore. A kite was flying on the island for hours, so eventually curiosity got the better of Geoff and he went to explore. Apparently the kite was unmanned, with the spool wedged under a rock. We think it must belong to Captain Jack Sparrow, who we’re still seeking…..
Whilst at Sarqui, Bruce continued Rob’s scuba diving certification course.
And of course, even in paradise there are boat jobs…
The next day we moved to the westernmost part of the chain, to Elbert Cay and Cayo de Agua. We navigated our way around the reefs and bommies into what we thought was the anchorage at Elbert Cay, but it wasn’t well protected from the wind which was now blowing quite hard from the east, and we were too close to some of the bommies for comfort . We upped anchor and moved across the lagoon to Cayo de Agua. Again, we had some trouble picking our way into the anchorage – our electronic charts were certainly not accurate, so we were using a combination of eyeball navigation and advice from our cruising guide. A little bit stressful, but eventually we found ourselves in the deeper water of the anchorage opposite the highly visible landmark of the lone palm tree.
We did some more snorkeling, explored on land, and marveled again at the multi-layered hues of the water as the depths varied from deep blue, aquamarine, light blue, greeny-brown (reef) and black (weed and reef).
An exquisitely beautiful backyard, and we had the place to ourselves. Heaven!