January 24, 2001
In Transit from El Roque, Los Roques, Venezuela to Pirate’s Cay

Pan Pan in Los Roques
By Lois and Gunter  

Stories in this section... Grenadines
Greetings from Bonaire!
Pan Pan in Los Roques

We completed our tour of the town and light provisioning at Puerto El Roque yesterday too late to depart, so we anchored overnight in the bay.  After a leisurely breakfast and listening to Davy Jones weather forecast on the Caribbean Net, we were ready to depart for Pirate’s Cove, where we understood there would be more great snorkeling, and we could purchase some fresh fish or lobster.  We pulled anchor at 10:00 AM and motored across the bay, a 20-knot ESE wind right on the nose.  Anchoring at the little cove was difficult in the wind and swells, and to increase the difficulty, there were reefs on either side of the designated anchorage. 

We dropped the hook and pulled back the boat to set the anchor. The anchor did not hold.  Using both engines to provide control in the swells, we dragged the anchor back away from the island into deeper waters.  We wanted to stay clear of the dangerous reefs.  At one point, the anchor was hanging straight down, so we stopped the engines and tried to hoist it.  Our efforts were in vain; the windlass could not lift the anchor!

It felt as if the anchor was hooked onto something, perhaps an underground cable.   Our chart didn’t show a cable, but that was not surprising.  Much of Los Roques is not even charted at all.  Within minutes we realized that we were moving!  We were drifting slowly towards the main island of El Roque, with the anchor hanging straight down.

O.K. Throw out the cable idea.  Now we knew that there must be a very heavy weight attached to the anchor, possibly a rock or piece of coral. One option would be to cut the anchor line and drop the anchor for possible later recovery after attaching the line to a float. But we wanted to get underway and out of the confined space so we decided to place a “PAN PAN” call on the VHF to the Los Roques Coast Guard Station.  Gunter and Richard had met them earlier during our check in and they had seemed friendly enough. (PAN PAN is a mariner’s distress call; it is used when there is no danger of losing lives or the boat; in a desperate case, one would put through a MAYDAY call.)  We could see Puerto El Roque from where we were, so we knew that help could come quickly.

The coast guard did responded quickly and, within 10 minutes, sent out an inflatable with about 6 good-looking young men and diving gear. Some of them boarded Pacific Bliss. Others reached out from their inflatable and shook the anchor line violently.  This shaking apparently dislodged the heavy object on the anchor and set the anchor free.  We all breathed a sigh of relief.

But there was more to come. The anchor was not yet up.   As Gunter, Richard and the Venezuelans hoisted the anchor, one of the young men dislodged the anchor chain from the windlass by accident.  The anchor dropped all the way down until  the bitter end, which was fortunately fastened to the windlass.

So now we were solidly anchored in 120 feet of water and had a hard time freeing the anchor from the ocean floor. One diver went down to free the anchor. After much sweating, we could bring the anchor up all the way. Note that the windlass works only on the chain, whereas the last 25 feet of the anchor rode is a rope, which needed to be hauled up by hand. 

Live Slow?  Not today!  Pulling up the anchor rode.

Four or five of the Coast Guard men accompanied us on Pacific Bliss back to Puerto El Roque. We anchored again near the Coast Guard Station, at the little port town we had not expected to see again. We offered the guys our thanks and a well-deserved tip, and asked them whether they wanted us to dinghy them to shore.  “No thanks,” they said, and quickly dove into the water, one after the other, showing off as they swam with powerful breast strokes to the beach near the Station.  Phyllis and Lois were duly impressed.

Gunter with Venezuelan Coast Guard

Swimming Back

Coast Guard Station

We reconnoitered over a cockpit lunch.  We decided that Pirates Cove had bad karma and that we would set sail to another island called Carenero.   It was not an easy passage.  We wound around through breaking reefs to a waypoint between Naranqui and Crasqui, then between Los Canquesas and Sarqui, and finally between Yanqui and Carenero, where we would spend the next day snorkeling and relaxing.    One should wind through this type of passage with the mid-day sun overhead, watching carefully, through polarized sunglasses, for coralheads.  The afternoon sun was getting disarmingly lower as we carefully pushed on through the shallow passages. 

Finally, we were anchored in a beautiful, secluded bay, where we could relax from the harrowing day. Gunter dug for four cold Heinekens and handed them out at the net to celebrate our arrival.  But it is never over ‘til it’s over.  And this day of bad luck was not over!

As we celebrated, one empty can somehow fell into the anchor box where it lodged deep down into the area where all the control sheets of the sails were going over rollers.  We could not leave this untended, because we did not want any future jamming of sheets.  Each one of us tried to retrieve the can.  Lois, because she had small hands.  Phyllis, because she didn’t mind the blood rushing to her head.  Gunter, just because he had to.  Then Richard, who claimed that it was his can that did the damage, dove deep down into the anchor locker up to his belly while we held onto his legs!   After multiple tries, he managed to retrieve the can. 

However, all’s well that ends well.  The anchorage at Carenero rewarded us for the trials of the day with tranquillity, beauty and a marvelous sunset. 







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