The offshore islands of Venezuela are a wonderful cruising ground for totally self-sufficient, well-found vessels. One should not expect to obtain fuel, water or provisions while visiting them as the majority of these islands normally lack year-round local residents. However, they do offer a brand of solitude difficult to find anywhere, and a large supply of pristine anchorages. Surrounding your boat will be some of the most thriving, diverse coral eco-systems within the Caribbean Sea.
by Michael Rosner
One morning in December 2005, we departed Aves de Sotovento at 1500 hours aboard Panda, our 41-foot Morgan Out Island, sailing south-southwest, arriving at Puerto Cabello at around 0900 the next day.
Taking a slip at Marina Puerto Cabello is preferred, as anchoring out is not a recommended practice due to problem swimmers from the nearby city beach. Dockage fees at the marina were about US$6.50 a night for our boat, including electricity. All vessels must Med moor, but there is usually ample help to assist with your lines after contacting the marina staff on VHF 71.
As you enter the water between the floating docks, drop your hook as far out as permitted, using an all-chain rode if possible. We usually set a second anchor with the dinghy after we get settled, as the bottom between the docks offers very poor holding. Protect your lines well against chafe as the surge, though not uncomfortable, can part them in a day. The resident vessels have chain around the cleats, a thimble in the line, and a shackle joining them together.
Sr. Carlos Alvarez is the Commodore of the marina and can help with
most needs, including clearing in if necessary, where to change money and
where to buy boat-specific items. The fuel dock has been closed for at
least two years, but diesel can be pumped onto your boat by a local crew
at the marina and gasoline can also be obtained from these workers. We
paid about 35 cents a gallon for diesel, taking on 70 gallons and using
it during this voyage east, without any problems. The e-mail address for
the marina is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
An excellent map of the city exists in Doyle's cruising guide so take a little time to look it over before you set out to explore this old city. This was our second trip to Puerto Cabello and we stayed a full week to enjoy the convenient shopping for provisions in the city and the reasonably priced, quality dining along the restored Paseo El Malecon, located just north of the marina gates.
A short ride by taxi will get you to the San Diego Super Mercado. This
is a very up-scale place to shop for food and rivals any store we have
seen in the States or in Venezuela.
I should note that Panda did have a current Cruising Permit for Venezuela during our entire trip and we did check in with the Harbor Master in Puerto Cabello, receiving a zarpe prior our departure east. We dealt with the Port officials by ourselves and paid no fees. If you choose to do this you will need three photocopies of each of the following documents: Cruising Permit (both sides), vessel documentation, crew list, face sheet of passport and a copy of the most recent Immigration stamp. A set of copies must be given to the marina and another complete set will be needed when you check out and request a zarpe. A store that makes inexpensive copies is located on the east side of the Malecon, along the street that leads to the Port Authority building.
I would like to acknowledge Sr. Alvarez for his hospitality and for explaining the procedure and documents required by the local Customs officials for clearance.
Ensa Cata is the first overnight anchorage east of Puerto Cabello, an easy 17-mile trip past a very nice island called Isla Larga. If you depart early enough from the marina you have plenty of time to spend a few hours in the anchorage scrubbing your prop and bottom to prep your vessel for the trip ahead. Refer to the guidebook for further details.
When you approach the entrance to Ensa Cata, the swells can really make themselves known as they move under your keel. At this point you may start to wonder if this anchorage will even be tenable, but head in for the large high-rise building and then round up behind the rocky island and reef to the east. You will eventually find yourself in 15 to 20 feet of relatively calm water over a sand bottom. The local fishermen stretch a net across this area during the night, so note where their two primitive floats are and anchor southeast of that line. We had a fair night there with a short interval roll as the seas from the day slowly died out.
Caraballeda is about 55 miles to the east and you should leave Ensa Cata at first light, since the waves from the sea breeze later in the day can really slow your progress. Panda stayed within one-and-a-half nautical miles of the coast and picked up an east-setting current of half a knot.
We were in more than 800 feet of water at times and caught six small (three to four pounds) blackfin tuna on our three trolled lines with yellow skirts.
The amount of commercial shipping will increase as you approach the La Guaira area, as it is the major port for Caracas, so stay alert. Frequently, ships will be anchored in an area two miles north of the coast, waiting for their tugs and pilot.
Soon after you pass La Guaira you will see the two steel towers that are located at Caraballeda. After passing south of the breakwater, we anchored off the beach near a large hotel and had no difficulties throughout the night.
The little channel leading back along the radio tower (as shown in the
guidebook harbor chart), is the route to a small area which contains a
large number of local fishing boats. Many of these vessels depart as the
sun is setting, so don't anchor directly in their path and do use a reliable
If you are not checked in to Venezuela, do not visit the marina or go ashore. We have had direct reports from sailors who did just that and they were given four hours by the Harbor Master to leave and find another location for the night. The marina is currently closed to any transient traffic and is patrolled by the military. Fellow cruisers who also utilize this route have reported that one can hail the local fishing boats and they might assist you in obtaining fuel.
It is a 45-mile trip east to Cabo Codera and then another hour to Carenero. We traveled within a mile-and-a-half of shore, but still encountered a west setting current of 0.5 to 0.8 knots. Again, stout hand-lines were trolled with yellow skirts, this time producing a number of hook-ups with Little Tunnies, of which we kept two fish that would not have survived if released.
As we approached Cabo Codera there was a lot of flotsam, some of which was actually trees, so maintain an active watch until you round the Cape. The red and green lit cans for the channel into Carenero were on station when we approached and entering the harbor is straightforward. The waypoint in the guide for the outer mark is quite accurate and can be used with reasonable confidence.
We anchored in the small cove at the end of the channel near the mangroves, but moved the next evening, as a slight surge began to work its way into the cove. For enhanced security it is probably best to anchor as close to the marina as possible, as there are guards on the docks 24 hours a day. We stayed in Carenero for a number of days, but as it rained constantly we did not visit ashore or go out exploring. Friends of ours recently said that they easily jerry-jugged diesel from the fuel dock.
The Run to Puerto La Cruz
We left Carenero at 1700 for the 90-mile run to Puerto La Cruz. You cannot accurately judge the weather from inside the well-sheltered harbor at Carenero, so gather proper weather data before you leave. Be very alert sailing this entire area at night, as there are many fishing boats and some of the smaller vessels only turn on their anchor lights when they see your running lights.
We chose not to anchor by Isla de Piritu in the morning, due to a recent
boarding incident, and headed for a waypoint south of Los Borrachitos.
There were no less than 15 tankers at anchor as we neared our destination,
so keep a sharp eye for any that are getting underway.
Once you round El Morro, the current and the wind waves decrease and the city of Puerto La Cruz comes into view on the mainland. An easily seen landmark just to the west of the entrance behind the breakwater is the tall brown and white spire by the Caribbean Mall. As you get closer to shore you should see the red and green cans marking the channel to the east.
We hope this route east is helpful to our fellow cruisers and encourages
them to enjoy the beauty, solitude and unique qualities that can be experienced
among the ABCs and the offshore islands of Venezuela.
Michael and Edie Rosner, along with Bella the Boat Dog, are currently cruising the Southern Caribbean aboard their Morgan 41 Out Island, Panda.
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