Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   November 2008


Smaller Bays in the Golfo de Cariaco

by Roland O’Brien

One recent evening my wife and I were sitting in the cockpit of our S/V M’Lady Kathleen while anchored in Porlamar, Isla de Margarita. Lightning storms were scattered across the southern horizon. As we recently spent some time in the Golfo de Cariaco we know that many of these storms come from the mainland, cross the Golfo, then continue northward to the northern edge of Venezuela. Despite that fact, we’re soon headed right back into the Golfo. 

Don’t get me wrong; we don’t like lightning storms any better than anyone else. However, we’ve found too many really good reasons to spend time cruising the Golfo de Cariaco. The Golfo is entirely south of the insurance “box,” which means that nearly all the insurance companies provide coverage for a named storm, should one hit the area. In fact, many of the vessels in Margarita would logically run to Laguna Grande, in the Golfo, if a tropical storm or worse should approach Margarita. 
The Golfo de Cariaco is very much like a large inland lake, with many of the same positives. It’s about 35 miles in length and between five and eight miles wide, which means there are many day sails or even half-day sails available from one shore to the opposite shore, or along either the southern or northern shores. In some respects it’s much like cruising the British Virgin Islands, where the islands are visible and the sailing is easy. Fetches being shorter than in the open sea, resulting waves are also reduced. Waves can still build quickly in squalls but are more manageable.

We recently had a blow of 35 knots from the east as we rounded the point into the Golfo. Waves soon became a high chop so we headed for Puerto Real, which is on the northern shore and well protected against all but westerly winds. Puerto Real is a very picturesque small fishing village with only a few homes. We saw no evidence of vehicles except for a lone motorcycle, leaving us to think that everything required is brought in via piñero (local name for what is known as a pirogue in islands further north). We anchored in 17 feet of water at 10° 34.17’ North, and 64° 06.864’ West, spending a peaceful night despite winds howling out in the Golfo.

Much has been written about the haul-out facilities in the Golfo, both Navimca and Medregal Village. However, there is a new pizza place, called CocoBongo, just 250 yards east of the Medregal Village anchorage. Sven and Eva, a Swedish couple, have taken up residence on the shore and have built a large wood-fired pizza oven. They sell excellent pizzas on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

As well, much has been written about Laguna Grande, which is a huge lagoon containing many anchorages, and with bright colored mountains surrounding it. We enjoy visiting Laguna Grande, however, we actually prefer anchoring in the much smaller bays, many of which are isolated or at least very quiet.

One of the small areas we found was behind the wall at the Navimca haul-out facility. There is room for a few vessels but it could get crowded if more than five or six tried to anchor. Despite what some of the cruising guides show, getting into the outer break-wall area is a bit tricky. We first kept the huge round outer buoy to our starboard side, then the same for a couple of small floats with a tiny red flag. The next items that we kept to our starboard side were two 2-liter soda bottles, partially submerged. To our port side was a piece of white foam. After that it was possible to anchor or follow some small floats if you were intending to go to the haul-out area. We anchored at 10° 27.2’ North, and 63° 56.4’ West, in 7.9 feet of water. We stopped here because we needed to visit one of the chandleries in Cumaná for a new float for the bilge pump. We found it quite easy to go through the Navimca facility to the street and catch a taxi.

Moving a bit eastward, Carenero is a tiny bay, well sheltered, except perhaps from northerly winds, although it’s noisy due to its proximity to the coastal highway with the many buses, trucks, and trailers. Fortunately, the noise dies down in the late evening. Perhaps six or eight homes surround this bay, mostly fishermen, although we did see a sailboat and a powerboat docked at one home. There’s a skeleton of an old steel-framed vessel lying wrecked against the shore, which the pelicans have taken over. Probably not more than three or four vessels should attempt anchoring here at one time and one must be wary of the fishermen’s netting procedures so as not to cause them problems. We anchored in 23 feet of water at 10° 26.382’ North, 64° 02.272’ West. It appeared possible to go to shore here if one desired, although we didn’t.

Moving eastward again, along the southerly shore of the Golfo, Sena Larga, which means deeply indented bay, is exactly that. We were the only vessel anchored there the afternoon we stopped in. We had just covered the mainsail and put the sunshade up, when a typical mid-to-late afternoon storm hit. Sitting in the middle of the bay we watched mud run down the hillsides into the bay. Soon, we were floating in a sea of chocolate milk and refuse from the run-off. The bay flushed out within a few hours, but it’s worth mentioning that after these heavy rains, chunks of wood and refuse will be floating in the Golfo for the next day or two, so caution is urged. At the head of Sena Larga, there’s a public beach and picnic area, including shelters. This is another anchorage where the highway is close enough to be easily heard. We anchored in 18 feet of water at 10° 27.2’ North and 63° 56.4’ West.

One small anchorage we wish we’d not stopped at was on the northern shore. Tinajones, from our viewpoint, turned out to be not well protected, deeper than we like, and exposed to a constant flow of piñeros passing by throughout the night. Given enough time, we’d pass that one up for better-protected anchorages. However, we dropped the anchor in 26 feet, and were soon in more than 50 feet, at 10° 33.191’ North, and 63° 53.293’ West.

A nice anchorage on the northern shore (eastern end) of the Golfo de Cariaco is located adjacent to the village of Guacarapo. Usually there will be a few cruisers anchored here as it’s only a few Bolivars to ride a por puesto (typical pickup truck with benches in the rear) over to the village of Cariaco, which is the main shopping town in the east.  The view here is not spectacular as the waterfront has a row of typical small tin-roofed houses, and a few small kiosks for staples such as pan (bread), papas (potatoes), huevos (eggs), etcetera. It’s a good place to go ashore and stretch your legs with a walk around the point. Again, upon our arrival we had no sooner completed our coverings when we got a very strong blow of a maximum wind speed of 45 knots, and a steady wind of 35 knots for at least an hour, which came primarily from the southwest. It was interesting watching the piñeros come racing in off the Golfo with some tying to docks, while others used a bow anchor and a stern line to some mangroves to await the storm’s passing. We anchored in 16 feet of water at 10° 29.787’ North, 63° 44 .012’ West.

A pleasant stop at the far southeastern end of the Golfo is Muelle de Cariaco. This is a wide anchorage, with room for many vessels. Access to the street in this fairly large village is easy after taking the dinghy to the fishermen’s dock. Additionally, scarlet ibis, parrots, kingfishers, egrets, and other aquatic birds abound. You can see them from the anchorage but either an early morning or dusk drift with the dinghy is better. This anchorage is also close enough to be able to take the dinghy to the small stream that feeds the bay, and runs into Laguna de Cariaco. We’ve motored up the stream for a mile or more and then shutoff the outboard and drifted back out using just paddles or oars. Beautiful jungle sounds and all the wildlife make this trip extremely worthwhile. There’s a gasoline station up the hill and it’s only a short por puesto ride to Cariaco. We anchored in 17 feet of water at 10° 28.591’ North, 63° degrees, 40.077’ West. Oh, don’t be surprised if youngsters from the village row out in small piñeros to ask for candy or cookies. They do it in a non-threatening manner, so we took it in good humor and participated.

There are many more small anchorages in the Golfo, all subject to further exploration. We’ve found the locals in the Golfo appreciate us as cruisers and on more than one occasion have befriended cruisers against outsiders in piñeros. Leisurely sailing, frequently on a broad reach (believe it), between the small bays, anchoring early in the afternoon (watch the horizon for squalls), and relaxing in the evening. What more could we ask while spending the summer in Venezuela?

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