We set out from Martinique on the morning of the 14th; taking a little while to get clear of the Rade du Fort de France before the strong trade winds really started to kick in and soon we were hustling along, the good scrub we had given the hull and keel whilst anchored off Anse Mitan was clearly helping our speed and we slipped along beautifully in a good force 5.
We had a bit of mixed weather making good progress but with a few squalls on that first day. Meep settled into life at sea well and carved himself out a little sea berth between the big Helly Hansen bag that we store dry groceries in and the seat back that it rests on; it makes a perfectly sized little cot for him positioned right in the middle of the boat and so snug-fitting that he can't be thrown out of it.
I took a nap early evening and awoke with what we think must have been a migraine; a searing headache and flashing lights in front of my eyes. We had no time to think about it though as the wind was rising steeply and we needed to shorten sail immediately. We had quite a drama furling away the headsail as the line had managed to escape the furling drum and wrap itself around the stay. In a pitching sea Jamie went right to the bow and managed to fix it after a time but I was very glad to have him back in the cockpit. He then returned on deck to reef down the mainsail and we soon had 2 reefs in both of the sails and 39kts of wind whistling through them with rain to match. To add to all the excitement we also had a lot of lightening off to our port side over the Venezuelan coast bringing a dramatic backdrop to events on-board. However, the flashing had stopped in front of my eyes whilst we had been tending to Warrior but as soon as things calmed down on deck I grabbed a bucket and threw my guts up into it. I haven't been that sick for a very very long time!
We kept our main sail deeply reefed throughout day 2 but enjoyed pretty consistent wind and didn't touch a sail all day! The second evening we again had a lot of lightening from the Venezuelan coast off to the south of us and another squally early evening. However as the night drew on the skies cleared and we were treated to a starry night and a late rising wedge of bright moon!
During this second day out we recorded a noon to noon day's run of 143nm which we were pretty pleased with; the consistent trade winds made life on-board much more comfortable than what we'd been dealing with for our first 24 hours out. I was feeling much better too and with my sickness behind me I set about writing the lengthy blog update about our stay in Grenada. This was quite an enjoyable little task to do while barreling along and I was reminded again how much easier it is to write when you have so little else to be doing for days on end!
Our third day out of Martinique was perfectly unremarkable and therefore perfectly perfect! We spent the day resting and in the evening commented in the log that the half moon was so bright it lit the sky and our way beautifully. We still hadn't seen another sailing vessel in all these miles. We had been clearing flying fish from the decks daily and Meep had come to expect an offering each evening and took very little time in reducing a 6" fish to a small pair of wings; I'd say it was less than a minute but the captain assures me it was nearer 2 minutes!!
At this point is it worth noting that we departed Martinique destined for Curacao and almost immediately changed our plans once underway. The anchorage in Curacao (named Spanish Waters) has a tricky approach and to navigate that for the first time after dark was not advisable or appealing. In an ideal world we would have timed our arrival for daylight hours but it was soon obvious from the speeds we were making that this would require us to slow down which wasn't appealing and we set our sights on Bonaire instead. We hadn't done a huge amount of research about Bonaire as we hadn't intended to stop there but we knew that anchoring was prohibited as the waters are all classified as protected marine park; and that the Moorings you had to pick up did get very busy (and couldn't be reserved in advance). Therefore there was a slight apprehension as we got closer to the island as to whether we were going to be able to stay or not!
At 1400hrs on Thursday 17th November we finally sighted Bonaire in the distance - land ho!! We had some lunch and made our first gybe of the trip! An hour or so later we took down our spinnaker pole and gybed around the bottom of the island. We then received the customary Caribbean island welcome of a 33kt squall! We raced a 55ft Halberg Rassy travelling under engine to approach the Moorings at about 5pm and finally switched our engine on and dropped sail as we reached the mooring field nervously looking for an available pick-up. Fortunately we were in luck and there were still a couple of available moorings. A nice couple called Laura & Chris from catamaran Zephyr came over on their rib and helped us secure our lines. It was nice to have arrived but a strange feeling to end a passage for several days tying ourselves to a mooring and not dropping our anchor! We peered over the side of the boat and saw what it was that got everyone so excited about Bonaire... it really was like staring straight down into a tropical fish tank. We didn't waste any time in grabbing our snorkel masks and going for a cool down and a peek; it was incredible - we have swum in some very clear waters around our own hull before but never ones teaming with so much life.. tropical fish darting every which way, incredible corals and sponges on the seabed that looked so intricate you'd have sworn they were man made.. and for a few minutes I swam with a beautiful turtle as he made his way up from the seabed to the surface for a breath and then gracefully sank back below the water. I didn't have my camera at that point and assumed I would see him again over the next few days but I never did.. it was a very special moment to watch him though; I am so taken with these graceful, peaceful little prehistoric creatures!
We enjoyed a rum or two onboard to celebrate our safe arrival and sent brief text messages to our family using our Garmin phone then retired to our bed for a very long sleep.
We were woken around 9am the next morning by a knock on the boat. This is when we first met "Eeja" who's job it was to manage the moorings for the marina. He explained to us what we already knew, that the moorings cost $11USD per night and that we needed to go to the marina office with our papers once we had checked in at the port; and that we had to pay a $75USD per person "visitors tax" online and gain a QR code as evidence we'd done this. He ALSO told us what we DIDN'T know... that we had to pay a further fee of $25USD person if we wanted to swim or snorkel ($45USD to dive).. We reeled somewhat at this as having wrangled with coming here knowing that we'd be forced to take paid moorings and pay a $150 tax on top we had just about reconciled ourselves to the expense but to find there was a further $50 dues on top of that was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. We spent most of that first morning sulking and walking around Kralendijk paying fees.
Our first impressions of the island were a little disappointing; maybe clouded by the sucker punch of fees to be paid and the presence of a queue of cruise ships disembarking onto the rather non-descript dock which made us question if we'd be able to afford much ashore. I think that knowing Bonaire was all marine park I'd somehow imagined to arrive to miles of sandy beaches and maybe the dramatic pitons we had seen in the eastern Caribbean. As it was the island was nearly completely flat apart from one mountain right at the northern end and a peak in the middle of the island. From the Moorings we looked out onto a quayside with a road and a bit of construction going on.. it could literally have been anywhere in the world.. the edge of any industrial town in the uk for sure and certainly not a Caribbean island.
As is often the way though we came to love that view and this island every bit as much as the many that had gone before.
Our first stop ashore was the customs and immigration clearance at the port. Whilst Jamie completed the paperwork I scrambled around on my phone to learn a few basic words of Papiamento - the local language which is a kind of hybrid of Dutch and Spanish and from that moment on we had our staple greetings prepared;
Bon dia - hello (morning)
Bon tardi - good afternoon (12 -1800hrs)
Bon nochi - good evening (1800hrs onwards)
Danki - thank you
Porfabor - please
Bon salud - cheers (also "prost")
Bon bini - welcome
We soon added to this my new favourite word in any language "Dushi" which is "darling" and we soon had many "Dushis" on the island!!
Having cleared formalities at the port we walked to the other end of town where we eventually located the marina office and presented our papers and settled up mooring fees for the next few days. Then we set off back into town to obtain a local SIM card and sign ourselves up for some data. Once this was all done we started looking around for somewhere to have an official arrival beer. We avoided the smart looking bars along the quayside with their cocktail menus, tables brimming with cruise passengers and wealthy yachtsmen instead plumping for a quiet looking little bar off the dusty mainroad with a sign outside in both western and Chinese characters reading "Macho Bar". Inside was a long old-fashioned bar littered with overflowing ashtrays and lined with locals quietly sipping their beers on their bar stools. We checked the prices of local beers and took a seat at the bar getting a smile and a nod off each of the patrons. Our first beer was "polar" imported from Venezuela and delicious but the smallest beer bottle I've ever seen! For our second we went with "Amstel" imported from Holland of course and the same price but a more standard size. Whilst we enjoyed our beers we watched and smelt as the bar owners pretty Asian wife came and went from the kitchen out back with a series of takeaway containers and a fabulous smell following her about.
I'm sad to say we never returned to this bar a second time which is a shame as I liked the atmosphere and the owners and other drinkers were all very friendly. However the next time that we went out for a drink we set off in that direction and passed the "Divers Diner" on the quayside. We had previously dismissed this as being out of our budget but they boasted a decent happy hour so we went in to check it out. It turned out they did a very generous deal on Rum in their happy hour and cheap draft beer through out the night; although they obviously didn't serve a lot of rum and over the course of our stay I emptied most of their remaining selection!! We sat happily drinking at the bar and chatting to the barman and kitchen staff as they came and went. Later in the evening a little gang of locals gathered at the other side of the bar; clearly having a great time laughing and joking. We started talking to them and they invited us over to join them. Here began a friendship that probably made our time in Bonaire so special. That night we met Vera and her partner Giandro, Vera's brothers Alexander and Brian, their friends Alexander and Jurick... Later we were to meet so many more of their friends and family but these guys were the ones we met that very first night. They were fascinated by our travels and how far we had sailed; how we lived on the boat, where we were going... and we were fascinated to hear about their life here in Bonaire; about their families and to learn a little about the island culture. Vera and Giandro ("G") worked with the Cruise ships supplementing their income with making and selling jewellery from the little market stalls outside the Cruise ship terminal but G was primarily a Stevedore and it wasn't uncommon for him in the time we got to know him to jump up and leave the bar for an hour while he tended an incoming or departing ship and then returned without having broken a sweat to resume his conversation wherever he had left it. After that first night we parted a little worse for wear but promising to see them again and G invited us to join them for his birthday a few days later in the same spot. We did this on the Tuesday night and then learned about the local custom which was that when you join someone for their birthday they pay for everything... literally. We could not so much as buy G a beer on his birthday; every time one member of the parties glass was empty everyone's glasses would be refilled. G ordered platters of food from the kitchen that were brought our piled high with delicious treats and we were introduced to nearly all of the remaining family members that we had not already met and their beautiful children who would speak to us in perfect English and then turn excitedly and chatter away to their parents in Papiamento. It was a truly special night. We met up with the "Divers Diner Gang" several more times before we left Bonaire and on the very last night they took us off for a tour of the Kralendijk hotspots after the bars on the quayside closed. Here we met their friend Brian again who was a part of a local band that played traditional African music and I danced until my legs nearly dropped off.. from there we went on to the more modern nightclubs in town and carried on the dancing and whisky drinking which inevitably ended with us delaying our departure from Bonaire by a good 24 hours!! Before we left Vera and G presented us each with a beautiful handmade bracelet with our names and a little ships wheel... it was so touching and we will treasure them forever.
During our stay we hired a car for a few days and went off exploring the island. We were surprised how much there was to see other than the notoriously spectacular dive sites which are littered along the west coast of the island. We hired a pick-up as we had heard that much of the island could be inaccessible - especially during rainy season - unless you had a suitable vehicle. We drove along the west coast stopping at several of the dive sites where snorkelling was recommended and had an amazing time drifting over some of the most incredible reefs I have ever seen. These sites were generally accessible from quite rugged beaches and we were glad to have our rubber-soled swim shoes for climbing in over the stones and shingle. At one site we struggled out of the rough surf and scrambled up onto the beach to find ourselves nose to nose with the biggest iguana I have ever seen. He didn't seem the least bothered by our presence and didn't run off the way they usually do. Instead he strolled around a bit and the couple sitting next to us on the beach told me he had been trying to bully them out of their sandwiches!!! We are so used to being terrorised when eating by a small creature that we didnt find his bullish nature at all concerning. We were to see many of these and their fellow species of lizards throughout the ABCs and they never ceased to fascinate me - beautiful little dinosaurs!
That first day we finished our morning of snorkelling by driving up to Rincon for lunch. Rincon was the original settlement on the island and although far smaller than Kralendijk it is very historically significant. I later learnt that the slaves that were brought to the island to work the salt pans in the south had to walk from Rincon at the northern end of the island each week and then spent the week working and taking what little rest they were allowed in the tiny little huts located on the beach by the salt pans. As fascinated as I am by learning the history of these islands I never cease to be horrified to learn of man's inhumanity to man. When I posted photographs of the slave huts recently and commented on them on social media a very dear friend of mine told me; "they don't teach this stuff in school, it's important to know about it... it's important to be comfortable with the uncomfortable so that you can share these stories" I made a little promise to myself when I read her words to do my best to always be comfortable with uncomfortable.. so these things are not ever forgotten.
Rincon was a quiet and peaceful little place with a few small shops and bars and the distillery which makes "Kadushi" a kind of spirit made of cacti (of which the island has plenty). We enjoyed a little lunch - Chinese fayre as is very common in these islands; fried rice and chop suey - and a cold beer.
On our drive back towards Kralendijk we stopped off at a little viewing platform offering a panoramic view across Rincon and further along the road we took a detour off to see some of the famous "Indian inscriptions" which have been preserved in the rocks from the islands original settlers hundreds (thousands?) of years ago. These inscriptions on the walls of caves high up over-looking the ocean show how early man watched the stars and constellations to predict weather and chart time.. it's a fascinating little piece of ancient history and incredible how well these markings have been preserved with nothing more than a little metal railing to discourage vandalism. We watched the waves roll in to the rugged east coast on the windward side of the island and then hopped back in our pick up truck and wound our way back to Kralendijk.
On the second day we headed to the very north of the island to explore the national park. Unfortunately when we arrived we learned it had been closed for some weeks due to the rainy weather which washes away the passable tracks. We could, however, still enter and do a hike around part of the park and also visit the onsite museum which although small was absolutely crammed with fascinating artifacts and displays talking us through everything from the natural history of the island to the political history and development. We took the hiking trail through the cacti and across a very baron red brown landscape where various features of early settlement were landmarked. At the coastal part of the trail we witnessed the impressive "blow hole" where the surf surged up through a hole in the rock erupting like a giza; very spectacular. The trail back took in mangroves and flamingos although they were feeling shy on this day and we didn't really see many until we visited the south of the island the following day. We were treated to parakeets and other beautiful local birds though including the red breasted Magpie-like birds called "Trupials" and the incredible "Warawara".
After an enjoyable hike around the park we drove back to take our picnic lunch at the lovely little panoramic spot overlooking Rincon and then drove out to "Segu Largu" where we could take in views across the island down to Kralendijk and the cruise ship terminal in the distance. It was whilst up here we had the first of 2 instances where our battery died on our pick up. Fortunately being at the top of one of the highest (and only) peaks on the island the solution was easy and we pushed it until it bump started and then just about managed to keep it going as we drove back through town to the hire place. The team at the rental company were very quick to get a new battery in it and we were soon on our way again but as we were to learn the following day when the exact same thing happened again (at the exact same time) it wasn't the battery that was the problem!
So our final day with our car we drove south to the salt pans, where the bright blue coastal waters meet luscious green mangroves and the pink salt waters of the pans dotted with thousands of flamingos. It was an interesting drive along the stretch of coast in the company of Cruise ship tourists that had disembarked for a quick tour and were loaded into minivans and golf buggies jumping out for a quick photo and back on their way again.. as we stood admiring the view a sage old yank tipped her sun visor to me and declared "you've seen one flamingo you've seen them all".. a phrase which Jamie and I have taken to repeating at many opportunities referencing anything and everything whilst drawing on an imaginary cigar and adding a "schweeeetheart" to the end!
We stopped off at the beautiful windy beaches where the kitesurfers were learning to fly - and mosquitos the size of bumblebees feasted on me. We saw light houses and local art installations which varied massively from cleverly sculpted mermaids and fish to piles of rocks with debris drawn out of the sea balanced on them. We saw two settlements with the many tiny little slave huts - basic stone huts open to the elements right on the seafront with the spume and spindrift off the sea battering against their walls. We rounded the bottom of the Island and up the coast a little further we found the popular little Lac Bay where we parted company with most of the other visiting tourists who stopped for their lunch. We carried on further up the coast and attempted an off road driving trail but sadly it was so muddy and impassable that even Jamie and a 4 wheel drive couldn't get through... although I'm sure he was enjoying trying!! He seemed to be well and truly back in his rally driver years behind the wheel of the pick up! Our final stop was up at "Lagun" where we found another beautiful little area full of flamingos and pretty much not another soul around. We drove to the end of the track that looked out to sea through a small inlet and we could see how this area was obviously where all the litter out at sea washed in and gathered. There had clearly been a recent attempt to clear it all up as there were huge piles of rubbish sacks that had been filled and neatly stacked. I waved to a guy fishing at the end of the pier and we turned to walk back to the truck. As we did I noticed that on the land up to my right there was loads and loads of shoes. We walked up to take a closer look and there was one of the weirdest sights I have ever seen... thousands; literally THOUSANDS of shoes; mostly plastic beach shoes; mostly Crocs and a lot of flip flops... had been gathered, sorted by colour and arranged to spell out something...there was obviously an exclamation mark at one end that had been fashioned with shoes and some old toilet seats and there was what was clearly a "globe" in the middle fashioned from blue and green shoes... We got as high as we could to look down on it and I took several pictures. I assumed it was a statement of some sort about the planet... and the way we are allowing our oceans to become choked by crap. Later my friend Jurick told me he thought it spelt "Bonaire". When we returned to the roadside our friend who had been fishing off the pier was there. I asked him about the shoes but he didn't seem to know. We chatted for a while about the island and the state of the sea. He told me his friends called him "Brown". Eventually we went back to our car and he returned to his fishing. It was now and we discovered for the second time that our battery was flat and confirmed Jamie's suspicions that the battery wasn't the problem but there was some electrical fault stopping the battery from charging; hence 3.30pm like clockwork it packed up each day! We phoned the hire company and within 20 minutes the lady had brought us a new truck and she stayed with our old one and waited for the roadside assistance vehicle to arrive. We had just a few more hours of our day left and we drove back to the edge of Kralendijk where we had spotted a crazy golf course and spent the last hour of our day hitting golf balls at pirates and windmills! After a fabulous few days exploring such a wonderful island it was a lovely frivolous way to finish the "holiday" ...I'm sure you are interested to know that I was leading Jamie all the way through until the devilish 17th hole where he got lucky and I most certainly didn't and he beat me by 50 to 52 after 18 holes! So close!
We had a look around the big out of town supermarket and then returned to Kralendijk where we took our new truck back the following morning to be told by the rental ladies that they wouldn't bill us for our gas as we'd had so many problems with the first truck. We were happy with this arrangement and felt like we'd had good value from our three day island tour!
Before leaving Bonaire we picked up a few groceries. Shopping on the island isn't especially cheap and nearly everything is imported so fresh produce is wrapped in plastic and by necessity comes with the airmiles attached. This is unsurprising as we had seen for ourselves how arid most of the island was compared to the eastern Caribbean. The most prolific plant we saw was the cactus and most of the livestock we saw grazing were goats and these beautiful donkeys which would wander right up and pop their heads through the car windows. What we weren't expecting was how tricky it was to buy eggs on the island. We had arrived with a decent supply from Martinique and it took us several days before we realised we weren't seeing them in supermarkets. Eventually we asked at our local supermarket and they were very adamant that they didn't get eggs in and we would struggle to find them on the island. We finally received a tip off from a fellow cruiser that a certain supermaket (Lisa's) had them and if you arrived at the right time you could purchase them - strictly one box per person. We followed her advice and found Lisa's supermarket and sure enough there were the eggs; locally sourced with the Bonaire flag on the box; and a sign in Papiamento which seemed to read one box per person. We purchased one box and as we were loading our groceries into our dinghy at the dinghy dock another cruiser commented we'd got "gold dust" in our shopping bags! It remains to us a little bit of a mystery why eggs were so hard to come by when we saw plenty of chickens wandering around but maybe the island consumed more eggs than they could produce. We were very grateful to have found them though and I was very glad not to have to sacrifice my Saturday morning ritual of boiled eggs!
After 12 wonderful days in Bonaire and despite our negativity when we first arrived we finally; reluctantly, slipped our mooring and set sail for Aruba on the 29th November waving goodbye to the island that had brought us so much friendship and where we had made so many happy memories.