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Storm brewing west of Tortuga

Boats leaving Tortuga headed for Los Roques in the setting sun

Bob sustained the first marine injury.  He was sloshing along in shallow water when something pricked his left second toe.  He says it felt like a sting but the site looked like two pin prick holes, much as I imagine a snake bite might look.  The toe continued to bother him and then began to get worse, swelling and turning light blue.  Fortunately, he did not have an allergic reaction.  I read about marine problems in the wilderness medicine information I had copied from Dr. Ed Hulse.  We soaked Bob's foot in vinegar which seemed to help some, but the throbbing continued.  Bob finally took a pain killer so he could get to sleep that night.  The next morning, Mike from South Africa told Bob to soak his toe in hot water, that if it were a toxin, the hot water would relieve the pain.  Sure enough, after a short soak, the throbbing ceased but the blue color and swelling remained and got worse.  A nurse on TaTa came over, looked at the injured toe, and gave her opinion that we didn't need to head for the mainland for immediate emergency medical attention.  However, the next day, the toe was even more swollen and turning red so I prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic from our first aid kit. Eduardo, a Venezuelan friend of Ta Ta, told us that Bob had probably stepped on a fish with poisonous spines.  He said that fishermen drink ocean salt water as an antidote immediately upon puncture.  Bob drank three tablespoons of salt water but it was the day after and not effective for him.  We have since learned that either a scorpion or a stone fish or rock fish, also known by many other names, can cause such problems.  A large one has enough toxin to kill a person.  Bob talked to a former dive instructor who said he had never seen so many tiny rockfish as he has seen in Venezuela this year.  He said not to walk or step on the sandy bottom in the water, rather scoot your feet along to dislodge the creatures who are buried in the sand and don't want to move. It's best never to go barefoot in the shallow water.

One evening, we were sitting on the back deck of the boat admiring the sunset, the engine running to charge the batteries.  Bob commented that the engine was running great.  In my job at the Public Defender's Office, we had a superstition that you never talked about a previous client by name.  If anyone mentioned Darryl was doing well, hadn't been in trouble for a while, he would most certainly be in detention the next morning, charged with a serious offense.  Well, Bob jinxed the engine.  The next morning, we were warming up the engine, preparing to depart Tortuga when Bob noticed that the engine was spewing forth a huge oil slick onto the pristine water.  All systems were shut down and he began investigating the problem.  He had already checked the oil but checked it again and determined that it was low, having expelled three quarts in a matter of minutes.  He called Mel and Dave on Fia to discuss the problem with them.  Dave suggested he check the transmission fluid.  There was so much salt water in the transmission that it was a frothy tannish white instead of dark brown.  The oil also had salt water in it.  Bad, bad  news. 

Diagnosis: The oil cooler had failed, sucking seawater into the transmission, building such pressure that the front seal had blown, allowing the fluid to flow out.    Bob bypassed the exchanger with connectors we had and others borrowed from Mel.  He then changed the engine oil, allowing us to run the engine and charge the batteries so we would have instruments and electronic navigation.  He used all our transmission fluid and borrowed some from Mel and Dave to rinse out the corroding salt water, finally getting all the frothing fluid out.  We needed more transmission fluid to fill the reservoir to keep the inside from deteriorating.  Norman on Walkabout spoke excellent Spanish so he went with Bob to talk to the Venezuelan power boaters in the anchorage for the weekend.  One gave him a gallon and several others each gave a quart of transmission fluid, all refusing payment.  What nice people the Venezuelan boaters were to help a fellow boater in crisis.

To be out in the boonies with no access to parts and have to figure out what to do is a major challenge.  Bob talked to the cruisers in the bay and got info from others on the single side band.  He developed options of his trying to take out the transmission there, going to Carrenero fifty miles away, or going back to Puerto La Cruz eighty miles away.  Since we don't speak Spanish and Carrenero was smaller than Puerto La Cruz, it seemed better to return to the larger town of Puerto La Cruz where more services were available and more people spoke English.  We departed at 1230 on September 23.  Mel and Fia pushed us out of the crowded anchorage with their dinghies since we only had sail power and little maneuverability.  They got us into the bay and we took off in light air, so light that it took us several hours to get around the island. At one point, there was no wind and we were slowly drifting backwards with the current.  The electronic navigation program said our ETA (estimated time of arrival) was "Never." 

Fortunately, the wind picked up and we began to make some forward motion.  As we got near the southeastern point of Tortuga, the wind picked up.  We were going over 7 knots, good for our heavy boat.  It was a phenomenal sail in relatively smooth waters but, as the wind continued to build, the water became rougher. We reefed, that is, reduced the sail area.  Waves were washing over the bow, some into the cockpit.  Even though we reefed again, we maintained our speed. 

We watched the sun set and sailed into the night, taking turns napping in the cockpit.  The wind slowly decreased, and then almost died.  When we saw the island of Borracha (drunk woman), I thought we had made it.  Wrong.  It was fifteen miles away and there was very little wind.  We had to tack a number of times.  Several times, we didn't have enough forward speed to turn the nose of the boat across the wind and had to make "scenic tacks," that is, turning all the way around to the left because we didn't have enough wind and forward motion to turn the boat to the right.  Fortunately, we were in open water with no danger of hitting anything while we were pretty much helpless.  Over the VHF, we heard Ripple II calling the sailboat north of Borracha.  We answered and he asked if we had a problem since he had seen our masthead light turn red, then green, white, red, etc.  We explained that we had no engine and no wind and he said he guessed that was it but just wanted to be sure.  It was nice to know that in case of emergency someone else was out there in the dark with us.

As first light began to spread across the horizon, the wind completely died.  Bob lowered the dinghy and tied it to the side of Viking Rose to push her for the next hour to the marina in Puerto La Cruz.  We called Bonnie Kailom and they agreed to meet us at the sea wall and help us to a slip.  After we talked to them, other friends and friends of friends heard us on the VHF and called to see if we needed more help.  By the time we reached the sea wall, three dinghies greeted us and nudged us into a slip.   One person was on the pier to catch our lines.  What a relief to have so many people help at the end of the eighteen-hour trip.

I can't say enough good things about our fellow cruisers who consulted and commiserated with us at all stages along the way.  Jackie even called Puerto La Cruz on the SSB and let them know we would be limping in without an engine so someone would be there to help us upon arrival.  I thanked her and the others and she said, "That's what it's all about."  Words seem inadequate when people are so nice and helpful, but you pass it on.  For Friendship Week, my brother Jim sent me a story, too long to reprint here, about helping out other people.  This is what the cruising world does.  The day after we limped in, Archipelago lost its engine a quarter of a mile out.  Keenly aware of the helpless feeling from our experience the day before, Bob jumped in the dinghy and went to meet them, helping them avoid the one problem we had, being pushed to the dock too fast.

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