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Date: 27 Oct 2008 21:18:08
Title: The price for air was very fair, but they caught us for the water...

Position 12:04.70N 68:51.60W

 

And so we finally, on my (Neil’s) birthday, the 14th of September, tore ourselves away from Grenada and headed west, something we’d been threatening to do for some time…

During the summer the trade winds, which usually blow from the east at between 15-25kts or so become a bit more unreliable so we had to pick our moment between there being not enough wind to sail and too much wind and squally weather as “tropical waves” pass over. The last photo in the last blog showed the weather that can accompany a tropical wave – that particular one went on to become Hurricane Gustav - so you’ll forgive us for leaving Grenada during a period of light winds and no imminent tropical waves! Which meant we made our way to Los Roques using the gennaker and occasionally the engines for the 50 hour trip. We did at least manage to catch a decent Mahi Mahi, which was of course delicious:

 

 

Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but the Mahi Mahi is a really beautiful fish, iridescent blue and yellow that sadly fades really quickly to silver as they die – as the one above has. The other sad thing about these fish is that they apparently mate for life and when you catch one the other half is always nearby. We could see the female right alongside the boat wondering where her husband had gone, so in order to avoid further heartbreak we dropped another lure in so they could be reunited, but Mrs Fish was apparently wise to this trick and disappeared off to find another mate. Ah, the fickleness of women.

 

Since we’re talking about fish, here’s our “the one that got away” story: we usually have two rods set up, each trailing lures 20-30 metres behind the boat.  You’re alerted to a strike by the reels’ ratchets screaming as the fish takes line off the reel, which is exactly what happened in a rather spectacular way – I rushed to reel in the line that didn’t have a fish on it, to get it out of the way, while Tracy attempted to tighten the clutch on the by-now really screaming reel that had the fish on it, before it could take all the line. During this hullabaloo the fish jumped out of the water some 100 metres behind the boat, and by jiminy what a fish – it was a Wahoo, maybe 5 feet long (at least!), which would have made it the biggest fish we’d ever caught, if we’d caught it, which of course we didn’t as you already know since I prefaced this tale by telling you it was our “one that got away” story and thereby removed any element of suspense. Damn.

Anyway, the fish managed to spit the hook out leaving us with the job of reeling in a few hundred metres of line with nothing but a tattered lure on the end for our trouble.

The Wahoo, by the way, is so named as this is what it shouts as it gets away, other closely related species are the Yippee and the Hurrah. Probably.

 

Los Roques is a pretty spectacular place, a huge area of reefs and small islands – the water is so brilliantly turquoise-blue that the underside of the puffy clouds above are blue from the reflected light. Fantastic. As usual a picture can’t do it justice but here’s one anyway:

The area belongs to Venezuela and since we hadn’t officially cleared into the country (you can’t without going to Margarita which wasn’t on our route) we kept our heads down and didn’t stay too long, although we’ve since learnt that the authorities there are quite relaxed about yachts taking a while to pass through.

 From the western edge of Los Roques it was a day’s sail to the eastern set of reefs / islands known collectively as Las Aves. As the name suggests the area is home to an enormous colony of birds, primarily Boobies, which roost in the mangrove trees. We stopped in a really pretty anchorage quite close to the mangroves and jolly nice it was too. Another short days sail took us to the western Aves, which aren’t as nice as the eastern set but then we’re probably getting picky. It was an early start the next day for the sail to Bonaire, here’s a piccy looking back to the sunrise over the western Aves:

Since, as I’ve said, these pictures really don’t do it justice it might be worth having a look at these areas with Google Earth to get a better idea, perhaps from the image at the top of this blog's front page. I can’t say whether this works as at this time we don’t have an internet connection to check it but it may be worthwhile. Anyway, we had an uneventful sail to Bonaire and picked up a mooring off the capital, Kralendijk.

 

The coastline of Bonaire is a marine park and as such no anchoring is allowed so they’ve put down moorings (concrete blocks on the seabed with ropes attached) for yachts to tie to. This avoids damaging the reef by dropping anchors on it. Suits us, as this is more secure than anchoring although you have to pay for them, but at US$10 per night it’s affordable.

Bonaire is the easternmost of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao), which form part of the Netherlands Antilles (the others are St Eustatia, Saba and St Maarten in the northeast Caribbean). Very different from the Windwards and Leewards, the ABCs are very dry and generally quite flat, the flatness may explain why they were originally colonised by the Dutch since they could feel at home. Although we’ve so far not managed to spot a single windmill or tulip and, to ensure maximum points for use of stereotypes and clichés, we’ve not seen any clogs either. We’ve seen a lot of Dutch people though, and drunk a lot of Dutch beer, and eaten a lot of Dutch food, all of which makes an interesting change from the Eastern Caribbean.

 

The lower portion of Bonaire consists of Salinas (salt pans), which used to be the main source of income, especially since the labour was provided by slaves. Here are some slave huts (disused, thankfully) in which the labourers lived:

They’re tiny, little bigger than large dog kennels, and housed four slaves each. The Salinas are still working and producing large quantities of salt for export:

The main source of income is now tourism, and Bonaire has styled itself as a real diving destination, even to the extent of proclaiming it on the car registration plates as on this pickup we hired for a couple of days:

As you can see, we’d had a bit of rain…

 

There are dive shops everywhere, and everything’s very well set up for divers to go off and do their thing. We paid US$115 for 50 air fills, which is remarkably cheap, and just used our dinghy to go off and dive at the various well-marked sites.

 We’ve been lucky enough to have dived at some fantastic places in the last few years and have to admit to being slightly under whelmed with Bonaire – the diving is good, there’s lots of coral, and certainly plenty fish, but we’re not convinced it lives up to the hype. To be fair, we couldn’t visit some of the more distant dive sites in our dinghy, and we were too tight (read “skint”) to hire a car for long enough to see dive sites that way, and we weren’t there at the best time of year. We did see fish we’ve not seen before – Porgys, very big Tarpon (4ft+) etc, and turtles on just about every dive, so we’re not complaining too much!

 

Being flat, at least in the south where we were, Bonaire’s a great place for cycling so I took advantage and went off on my mountain bike for a ride every other day. Well, every three days anyway. All right, twice a week. Most enjoyable, riding past the cacti and flamingos and parrots, nothing sets you up for the day better than a 15 mile bike ride before breakfast. Although this assumes that your day consists of lying down waiting for your legs to stop trembling and your pulse to drop back down to three figures.

 

The Bonaire regatta took place while we were there and our mooring gave us a ringside seat for the action, there was some close racing particularly around the mark closest to us:

On the Monday after the regatta finished the weather forecast was looking a bit iffy, not terrible but winds of 13-14kts from the west were forecast for Tuesday / Wednesday which since there is zero protection from the sea from that direction (other than possibly behind Klein Bonaire, a small island just off Kralendijk) we figured it would get pretty uncomfortable on the moorings so decided to go into the marina until it passed over.

Once we were safely tied up Tracy and I went back out to the moorings in our dinghy to bring in Harmony, a Swedish yacht belonging to Gerry and Anna who we had met in Grenada. Unfortunately Gerry’s mother had died while they were en route to Bonaire and he’d had to fly back to Sweden leaving Anna to mind the boat on the mooring since the marina was full with regatta boats. She’d have flown back too but you’re not allowed to leave boats unattended on the moorings (and now we know why).

So I jumped on board, Anna released the mooring ropes and off we went. I hadn’t realised until this point that Harmony (a 31 foot Malo) had (1) very peculiar hydraulic steering and (2) a long keel, which combined meant that steering the boat was bloody difficult. Still, there was no going back and with Tracy adroitly using our dinghy to push the bows in the right direction and only moderate use of bad language we got Harmony safely tied up without damaging anything so we’ll call it a success.  Much relief all round considering what was to come…

 

Moving into the marina was most certainly one of our better decisions – the forecast westerlies were being caused by a low north of Bonaire, which quickly became a Tropical Depression and then a Tropical Storm and started to head our way. Fortunately it swung north again before becoming Hurricane Omar and heading up through the Virgin Islands and St Maarten causing some damage there.

This meant that the forecast westerlies of 13-14kts became westerlies of 25-30kts with higher gusts, and by Tuesday morning all the boats from the moorings (40+) were crammed into the marina while the sea bashed around outside. Didn’t we feel smug.

The sea crashed around for a few days, destroying most of the wooden docks, a couple of local boats and “Karel’s Bar” our favourite Happy Hour venue on a pier that was once behind that stop sign:

Unfortunately we didn’t get a “before” picture but the yacht moorings are in a line following the sea wall about 50 metres off, so it might have been a bit uncomfortable…

Note the rocks that have been thrown up onto the road below:  (“That’s right dear, just back a little bit more…don’t worry, I’ll tell you when a big one’s coming”).

 

After all this died down the diving wasn’t so great as you can imagine, not helped by the fact that we couldn’t get our dinghy alongside the dive shop dock for air fills since the dock wasn’t there any more, and carrying our tanks from the marina became a bit of a chore so we didn’t do much more. We’ve still got 20 air fills in the bank should we go back…

 

Prior to the storm our dinghy was flagged down by a snorkelling lady, who it turned out worked for the Turtle Conservation people.

She’d been called out because someone had spotted a baby turtle near the yacht moorings. She asked us to take it out to sea and release it again so handed to Tracy a palm-sized little fella, which we proceeded to take halfway to Klein Bonaire and release.

Immediately upon hitting the water he set off resolutely back to Bonaire, so we chased after him, scooped him up, pointed him in the direction of the open water and let him go again. This time he went in roughly the right direction so we left it at that.

I hope he survived, although apparently all but a small fraction of baby turtles don’t survive to adulthood. Here’s Tracy looking for more:

She doesn’t usually swim like that by the way; I had to ask her to bend her legs to fit her in the frame! (Are you calling me fat?!  Ed.)

 

And so after a month or so in Bonaire we made preparations to head off for Curacao. We had a minor argument at the marina as we went to settle our bill since despite telling us that water cost 9c a gallon they then decided it was 9c a litre, had we known this we might have been a bit more careful with it since we’d been using it to rinse our dive gear off since the demise of the dive shop dock. I mean what was it, Evian? We were never going to win the argument of course since they had a credit card imprint as a deposit, and indeed we didn’t. Ho hum.

 

And so as we write this we are sitting in Spaanse Water (Spanish Water) in Curacao, a totally enclosed lagoon (except for the entrance, obviously), after a “boisterous” sail under gennaker from Bonaire. We haven’t seen too much of Curacao yet, only having been here for a few days, although we’ve been into Willemstad to do the formalities, with, I might add, the nicest and most friendly customs / immigration people we’ve ever dealt with (along with those in Bonaire).

 From here on our plans are a bit vague – plan A was to go from here to Aruba to Cartagena (Colombia) in time for Christmas but we’re still mulling it over.

The further west we go the more difficult it is to get back east and since we’re likely to be nearing the end of our little adventure we may be better off in the Eastern Caribbean. There also seems to be a huge number of yachts heading to Cartagena which puts me off slightly (but not Tracy so much). So in time honoured yachties tradition we’ll think about it a bit more. No rush.

 

Finally, for no good reason other than that I quite like it and maybe you will too, here’s a picture of some Christmas Tree Worms on a Star Coral taken at around 15 metres depth off Bonaire:

 

Until the next time…


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