Graham Shaw
Wed 9 Mar 2011 19:23
It took 2 1/2 days to whizz to Bonaire. We had a good sail, quite breezy but pretty comfortable.  We were called up by the Venezuelan coastguard on the radio.  They were just checking who we were - nice to know they are keeping a eye out, as this is pirate country.  We arrived just before sundown, and just in time for happy hour onboard Steel Sapphire who we met in Grenada. They had arrived in Bonaire a few days ahead of us.  Bonaire is part of what is now called the Dutch Caribbean (back in October the BES islands - Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius - elected to remain a kind of Dutch municipality, whereas Aruba and Curacao are now autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Bonaire is also referred to as the Diver's Paridise. Unlike the other two, they have changed their currency to US dollars from Netherlands Antilles Florins, which I have to say makes our lives much easier.  Bonaire is quite a beautiful place, friendly easy going, great diving place. There are 100s of dives to do - Bonaire is part of a marine park which is protected, and this seems to be working well in conservation.  The nice thing about diving here is you do not need a dive shop to go to, as a lot of the dives are shore dives, and well marked out and detailed.  Now it does rave that it is one of the top 3 sites for diving in the world. I am not sure I would go as far as this, as I think I have dived in better places, but saying that, the fish and coral life is quite vibrant, but the sea mamamls are on a smaller scale.   Also there is a lot of marketing hype on how clear the visibility is here, I have to say I was disappointed.  On this front as I feel it was no better than most other places I have dived in the Caribbean.  Bonaire is very much geared towards the diving - there are lots of dive shops, drive-through tank fill , which is a first, plus they have cruise ships in 4 or 5 times a week.  I have to say the town is very pleasant when there is no cruise ship in.  I manged a number of dives, including one just off the back of the boat with Glen from Steel Saphire, during which I saw the biggest lion fish so far.  Normally you would kill them if seen but as a marine park you are not allowed to; you just inform the marrine park for someone to go out and kill them.  These are the fish that are causing so much devastation in the Caribbean as they have no natural predators in this area. They ended up in these waters after an aquarium in the Bahamas was destroyed by a huricane, and all the fish "escaped".
We arrived during local elections week, which also coincided with Carnival Week.  The day after we got there, there was a kids procession for the carnival, which was very entertaining.  Next we managed a 20 km bike ride, to see the wilderness of the island, which included (very) pink flamingos, donkeys and iguanas.  There also is the national park on the north end of the island, which I'm afraid we did not have time to fit in, as you can only visit it with a 4 x 4 which was proving to be very hard to hire for one day.  We spent alot of time snorkelling from the boat, which was good - lots of fish in very shallow water.
After a lot of deliberation about where to go in Panama, we decided to miss the San Blas Islands out.  From all the details in our new cruising book, clearance would be only US$76, but after conferring with people who have visited recently, the charge seems to have increased many fold, with the most recent figure demanded being US$ 330!  For only a few days cruising there we decided our funds would be better spent somewhere else.  So we headed out, bound for Colon, Panama.  This is about a 6 day passage.  We started out well, flying the spinnaker, covering a lot of ground (or sea), and generally the sea state was good.  We had a close call with a ship - he clearly could not see us, which you can understand, as these ships are huge and we just melt into the waves.  He was approaching from our stern, and we realised he did not seem to be changing his course, so we hailed on the radio, with no reply.  The next course of action was for us to get out of his way, then suddenely he changed course almost at a 90 degree angle, having clearly just seen us!  We are being very vigilant with our watches as there is so much traffic with ships going to and from Panama.  Thankfully we have a good radar and a thing called a Seame (this is an electronic radar reflector, so other ships can see us clearly on their radar screens).  Because of the high winds close the coast of Columbia, we decided to go very far west in our course to make a smoother trip, plus I always like to avoid the big winds, but clearly doing this made our distance 100 miles longer.  Saying that last night we had up to 35 knots of wind, with three reefs in the mainsail, very little genoa and were still flying along.
Only a day out from Panama, we have received an email from the marina in Colon, saying they have no space at the moment.  We had telephoned to book before we left Bonaire, so this is not very helpful, as there really is no where else to go. Or rather the somewhere else to go is not advised (dodgy).  So, change of plan: we are now going to go to the San Blas, which I'm sure will be lovely, just costly, but it will be better then being in the wrong place.
So San Blas it is, tomorrow am. We now have to slow down, as we do not want to arrive there in the dark.