Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   April 2006
 
 
HURRICANE SEASON OPTIONS

We Chose Puerto La Cruz

by Ellen Sanpere
What a nice surprise! Your yacht insurance has been renewed and the premium is not much greater than last year - BUT - read the fine print! The Northern Tropical Storm Zone, in which the coverage for windstorm damage evaporates faster than a cruising kitty, may have changed. Markel American's popular Jackline Policy, for example, moved the Zone's southern boundary from 12°40' to 10°50' North latitude in the Caribbean, effectively shutting the door on many yachts in Grenada, Isla Margarita, the ABC Islands and Tobago. (Colombia is excluded at all times in this policy for other reasons.) If you plan to be in those areas, you can pay an extra premium for coverage, but how many yachties will love doing that? So where are you going to go?

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, at 10°13'N, 064°40'W, where cruisers have traditionally congregated for hurricane season in the Southern Caribbean, has much to offer besides a "legal" latitude. Comfortable marinas, secure boatyards, competent marine services, good restaurants, easy travel connections, a large cruising community, convenient provisioning, and cheap fuel all make PLC a logical refuge for the season. The favorable currency exchange rates allow even the most frugal cruiser to fix the boat and to have a good time, too, as everything seems less expensive. English-speaking cruisers monitor VHF Ch. 72, where the cruisers net broadcasts Monday through Saturday at 0745. Although mail and package service to Venezuela has a terrible reputation, trustworthy courier services are available.

An unstable political scene has been a concern in the past, and 2006 is an election year, but Venezuela has settled down since the unrest of 2004. The opposition has been in control of the media, which emphasized the problems of a non-violent revolution, but there is little doubt Hugo Chavez will win the presidential election again in November, continuing the move toward participatory democracy. Local and international media feature many scare stories, but yachties should recognize the source of the coverage and remember that PLC's El Morro tourist complex is an area apart from the rest of the country, something like a gated community. Marinas were full during 2005, and the number of incidents in PLC were in proportion to anywhere else cruisers gather, as security is tight.

Once the boat is safely tied to the dock, launch the dinghy: getting around is easier by water than by land. Plaza Mayor Mall has a large supermarket (with free delivery to the dinghy dock), bakery, internet, opticians, banks, pharmacies, movie theaters, clothing and shoe stores, video game arcade, sports bar and a variety of restaurants. Most of the marinas on the canal have restaurants and bars and sightseeing amongst the large private homes is always entertaining.

The national guard patrols the main canal for speeders: take it easy on the throttle! Always carry PFDs, a light, personal identification and ownership papers for the tender. (One yachtie scanned the ship's documentation certificate, then typed in the tender and engine serial numbers in the "remarks" box.)

Does your boat need work? PLC is a good place to get it done. The local boat population includes everything from oil tankers to Optimist prams, go-fast noisy things to graceful ocean cruisers. The majority of local vessels do not carry sails, but a wide variety of marine services are available in PLC and/or the adjacent community of Lecherias. Engines, paint, varnish, canvas, rigging, metalwork, refrigeration, carpentry and galvanizing are some of the areas in which expertise is available. Rates are often far less expensive than elsewhere in the Caribbean; workmanship is good-to-excellent. The arid climate and historic lack of hurricanes also help get the jobs done. As always, the quality of the job is enhanced when the work is well managed and supervised closely. Chris Robinson is a Lloyds qualified surveyor and rents air conditioners, too.
Does your crew also need repair? Venezuela has many well-trained and experienced medical and dental professionals. Cruisers have had dental implants, LASIK eye surgery, joint replacements, and cosmetic surgery in PLC, and the internationally famous clinics of Caracas are a bus ride away. Several English-speaking veterinarians are available for furry or feathered crew. Unlike many Caribbean ports, Venezuela has no problem admitting four-legged crewmembers. Additional furry crew are usually available, too, should the need arise.

If the dinghy is in the "hospital", taxicabs, por puestos (collective route taxis) and buses are plentiful and cheap. Many taxi drivers speak English and accommodate cruisers, monitoring the VHF as well as their cell phones. Pick up a free copy of PLC Yacht-Info for maps and a business directory. A short ride will take you to downtown, Plaza Mayor, Lecherias or somewhere in between. As always, be alert for pickpockets in a crowd. PLC is a bustling oil industry city, not a beach resort: leave the jewelry in a safe place and dress appropriately.
Everybody uses mobile phones in Venezuela - it might be a law. Cruisers who own a SIM card phone will find Digicel offices downtown, and at Los Garzas and Lecherias, where a new chip can be purchased. No phone? Quality phones are sold everywhere at low, low prices. Incoming calls are free. Prepaid cards are widely available to add airtime.

Internet cafés are also abundant and often have inexpensive international phone service, too. With increasing quality and lower cost for wireless internet service, using Skype.com for phoning home is often the cheapest option. Computer headsets are available at Plaza Mayor for under US$15.
For cruisers, PLC is the gateway to South America. Several travel agents cater to foreign visitors, arranging trips to the interior wonders of Venezuela (see sidebar) and points south, or to wherever home is. They can also handle your yacht clearance and visa paperwork. Access to the international airport near Caracas is via a national airline from the nearby Barcelona airport, hired car or motor coach. The luxury (US$15) motor coach takes about five hours (including a lunch stop) and goes to Caracas, not the international airport. A visit to the capital is well worth the time and effort, though. Senior citizens may present a copy of their passport to get a discounted bus or national air fare.

Occasionally, cruisers are encouraged to volunteer for Fundamigos, an organization headed by Dra. Ana Velasquez de Manyon, which performs corrective facial surgery on hundreds of Venezuelan children with cleft palates and other facial abnormalities. When surgical teams arrive from the US for the week-long mission, help is needed in the recovery room, operating room and kitchen. Knowledge of Spanish is not required, and the experience is immensely rewarding.

With all the services and activities available to cruisers in PLC, one might want to escape for a while. Hurricane season is still going strong, but at this latitude the odds are small a big swirly thing will make your life miserable. (Besides, you're out of the Zone, so insurance coverage is in effect if it does.) That's when it's nice to take a short cruise along the Venezuelan coast. Ask locally whether there are any current security concerns in the various anchorages.

Pozuelos Bay is defined by several red rock islands with beaches and protected anchorages, a pleasant day sail from Puerto La Cruz. It makes a fine racing venue as well. The dolphin population in the waters between Pozuelos and Mochima is staggering and always fun to watch. To the east are Cumaná and the red rock islands, fishing camps and anchorages of Mochima National Park and the Golfo de Cariaco; to the west are the Morrocoy National Park, Higuerote, Puerto Cabello, Puerto Azul, all south of the Zone.

To the north and east, Isla Cubagua (10°50'N 064°09'W) offers spectacular snorkeling and beach shelling. It was the first European settlement in America, when pearls were the major attraction. Neighboring Isla Coche (10°47'N 064°00'W) is a day tourist destination from Margarita, boasting a small hotel, white sand beach, world-class windsurfing and excellent protection from the east. In the unlikely event weather threatens, Mochima's well protected bay is only 40 nautical miles away. Tortuga (10°57'N 065°13'W) is a group of beautiful small islands that are a daysail away from the mainland. At 10°59'N 065°23'W, Cayo Herradura (Horseshoe Cay), offers protection on three sides and a mile-long white sand beach. Summer breezes can be fickle, but if they fail, it's an easy motorsail back east.

When November is done, the trip north to the Virgin Islands is just enough off the wind for a fun, fast romp. Bid farewell to Mochima's dolphins and head to Isla Blanquilla, 96nm due north. The snorkeling there is excellent, the desolation divine, making it a convenient rest stop and jumping-off point for the winter season inside the Zone.

Ellen B. Sanpere lives aboard Cayenne III, a Beneteau Idylle 15.5, with husband Tony and feline naptician, Shade. She has benefited from LASIK surgery, had a fingertip re-attached, volunteered at Fundamigos, raced the house and has enjoyed Puerto La Cruz often since Cayenne III first visited in 1998.

Next month's Hurricane Season Option is "We Chose Curaçao", by Pam Shannon. Want to share your chosen Hurricane Season Option? Send about 1000 words (and a photo or two, if possible) to sally@caribbeancompass.com.

     
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