Before we left Grenada, Happy Times and Eclipse developed a strategy for visiting the out islands of Venezuela. We did this due to a wild mix of rumors from other cruisers and valid concerns regarding Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. El Comandante recently announced plans to nationalize all private homes and posadas, or inns, in Los Roques, one of many archipelagos. Under divine guidance, we kept out of harm’s way. We skipped popular tourist sites, such as El Gran Roque, and sailed directly to the remote western area.
Others were not so fortunate. Friends on another catamaran were ordered to leave immediately when they stopped at El Gran Roque, the most populated island. The local officials scoffed at their visa and said it was no good. They continued safely to Aves de Barlovento, Aves de Sotavento and Bonaire as we did. Another boat, ordered to follow a Venezuelan Coast Guard vessel, grounded on a reef and received no aid from its “host.” Within 48 hours the monohull was plundered and rendered a total loss.
On the other hand, our brief encounter with the Venezuelan Coast Guard off Isla Palmeras seemed downright pleasant. Charlie, the head of the crew, conducted a safety check similar to one run by the United States Coast Guard. He verified the presence of life preservers and an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon). He looked over our boat papers and passports as his colleague wrote down all the information. He said at least three times that we should call him on VHF Channel 16 if we had any problems at all. But, he urged us to leave in three days; four at the most.
Some might say we were lucky to avoid trouble. We think it was a bit of luck and a higher power watching over us.