Continuing the saga of There to Here ... Join Nine of Cups and crew as we visit the Guianas ... French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana ... from the infamous Devil's Island to bird singing contests to Kaiteur National Park ... lots to see and do. Come on along!Read More
Via an introduction from an old cruising friend (thanks, Jack!), Kit and Gem Nascimento had e-mailed us and invited us to anchor off their Hurakabra (Her-rah-KAH-bra) River Resort and avail ourselves of the amenities … showers, internet, a place to hang out on land and more. We planned to take advantage of their generous offer. We departed the Grass Islands at first light near the end of the rising tide affording us lots of water for the transit back to Bartica and then downriver a few miles. Mist rose off the river and mingled with the smoke of morning cook fires ashore.
By the time we'd wended our way across the river, the sun was up and Bartica was coming alive. We'd met some of the Close family on the American yacht, Daystar, and wished we could spend more time with them, but they were heading out. They're a family of four in their third year of sailing on a 43' Mason ketch with a website cleverly entitled Close Quarters. We hailed on the VHF to say goodbye, chatted for a moment, then signed off.
Another boat was anchored off Bartica as well, but we hadn't seen the name. The radio crackled again, hailing us. One of the miracles of cruising, it was Barry and Sue on Crazy Diamond, cruising friends whom we hadn't seen since New Zealand. They'd just arrived from Brazil and needed to clear in. We made plans to get together at Hurakabra in the coming days. Big world … small world.
There were two routes to Hurakabra shown in the cruising guide. One was about 13 nm and required us to go downriver a few miles, cross the river via a channel, then come back upriver again. The second route was a bit more sketchy. It was only 3 miles from Bartica, but mentioned that the route passed over a shoal area that provided about 7' at mean high. Since we draw 7'2”, we were a bit leery about this route. David mulled it over a bit and using the known offset on the chartplotter, plotted us a different route past Calf Island, then connecting with the deeper, more northern route a bit further downstream. A total distance of 6 nm with much more water under the keel. Though it worked like a charm, the many unknowns and unplotted hazards of this river along with missing navigational aids had us motoring slowly and carefully.
Motoring along the west side of the Essequibo now, we passed houses on stilts ashore with colorful boats moored in front.
The distinctive green roof of Hurakabra came into view and the place looked positively inviting. A long pier extends out into the river with a floating dinghy dock. Tall palms and bamboo are interspersed with tall deciduous trees. We could hear birds singing and someone waved from the shore.
The river really rages during peak tides here. The anchor dug in well and we let out extra scope. After a couple of hours, feeling confident that we were holding, we headed into shore. Mike, the caretaker, greeted us warmly and provided information about Hurakabra as we walked. He took us to the main house for a cool glass of lemonade and a warm welcome from the rest of the staff. The “plantation house” is spacious with shuttered, screened windows and a large overhang covering the veranda which kept us dry from the intermittent rainy season downpours while we did internet.
We plan to spend a few days here. There's a jungle walk to take in the early mornings with Mike as our guide. Kit and Gem, our hosts, live and work in Georgetown, but will arrive for the weekend and we're looking forward to meeting them. Crazy Diamond arrived during the afternoon and we're keen to connect and catch up with them...and we still have some inland touring to plan. Stay tuned. We only have a week more here, but it'll be action-packed.
It poured cats and dogs during the night. We were up at quarter to dawn to catch the early morning flood tide 40 nm up Guyana's longest river, the Essequibo. The rain had mostly stopped and it was cool, misty and grey at first light. The decks were wet, but clean. We hauled the anchor, heavy and thick with clay and mud. Smoke, sawdust and rich earth smells filled the air.
From the get-go, the passage up the Essequibo was interesting, but required lots of concentration. We had what we assumed were good waypoints (23 of them!), but even the few navigational aids shown on the chart were missing. In the entire, circuitous 50nm trip, we saw only three markers. To add to the challenge, our Navionics charts were off by about 700' N/S and 300' E/W, making it appear at times, as if we were sailing over land.
Sights along the river were colorful and diverse. We saw an array of Hindu prayer flags on a beach and
lots of abandoned, rusting hulks. Several large motor vessels were high and dry on the sand, hopefully using the low tide for repairs and maintenance.
For a good portion of the trip, we had one foot on land and one in the water, i.e. we were very close to the river shore. This afforded the opportunity to observe shore life and take lots of pictures.
The largest port on the river is Parika, low-lying Georgetown's primary port. We watched the ferry from Bartica pass us as it headed to the stelling (a new word for us), the commercial wharf/terminal for ships.
The wharves of Parika were busy with trucks and boats loading and unloading market produce. Bananas seemed to be a bumper crop.
Fishermen, in tiny open boats, worked hard pulling up their nets. We watched men wrestle fuel barrels off riverboats onto small boats. Fast river taxis whizzed past and slow heavily-laden barges, nudged forward by tugs, shared the river with us.
Logging is big industry in Guyana as evidenced by the number of sawmills, mountains of sawdust and volume of cut logs piled along the shores. The distinct, pleasant smell of freshly cut wood permeated the air.
Houses dotted the shore with boats moored nearby, some barely visible through the dense foliage. There are few roads in Guyana, but lots of waterways. Boats are essential transportation here as they were in the other Guianas.
Numerous private piers extended into the river from the shore for ease of loading and unloading. Some were very elaborate and some basic, but all seemed to do the trick. The tidal range here is about 8' (2.5m).
By mid-morning, the grey overcast cleared and white puffy clouds appeared in a blue sky. We motored on a milk chocolate river.
We passed Fort Island, location of the British Guiana's first capital city, and could make out the ruins of the 18th century Fort Zeelandia, built while the Dutch ruled the colony. We noted that this might make a great stop for exploring on our way back downriver. The Dutch were not very imaginative with their fort names evidently. Wasn't the fort in Paramaribo named Fort Zeelandia, too?
The foliage ashore was thick and verdant. There seemed to be a thousand shades of green, accentuated by random streaks of yellow, red and purple blossoms and brightly colored parrots and macaws squawking and flitting between trees. I spotted a toucan, perched high on a dead tree. Our first toucan in the wild ... far away, but easy to identify in profile.
Moths, butterflies, bees, dragonflies and welcome swallows darted by, traveling significantly faster than our 7.5-8 knots. They all eyed us briefly, but obviously discovering nothing of interest, continued on their way. Several of Eddy Egret's kin crowded on the riverside mangroves.
As we neared Bartica, we passed close to Two Brothers Island where musician, Eddie Grant, has built himself quite a palace.
The current provided about a 2.5 knot push for us. The further up the river we progressed, the later the high tide, and the 40 nm quickly passed. A few sharp turns, an adrenaline moment as we transited Rattlesnake Pass and saw the depth meter dip quickly to 9' (2.8m) and there was Bartica. We motored past the Bartica Stelling and were anchored comfortably off the town by Noon. A new country and a new adventure lie ahead.