Bonaire 1

Fri 20 Mar 2009 22:23
12:09.294N  68:16.786W
We had an Email wishing us well for the last 50 miles of our journey here, so to fill everyone in on the last 50 miles....  It was a great sail all the way really, average mileage per day was about 120, nice and steady.  We didn't know how long it would take as it was our first real downwind passage, so until the last day we had hoped to arrive at Bonaire in daylight. The log that tells us our speed through the water was not working, probably got a barnacle growing in it! The GPS tells us our speed over the ground so that would do.  As it turned out we calculated reaching the island about 7.45pm, then we had 10 miles to sail north into the mooring field and get organised, so by 10.30pm pick up a mooring.  Finding and picking up the mooring would be made easier by 10.30 as the moon would be up and it has been quite bright, all a good plan.
Reality was...regularly checking the position on the chart we were exactly where we should have been to avoid other islands and find the southern tip of Bonaire and the ETA was right so by the time we reached the island it was very dark.  The southern end of Bonaire is mainly working salt flats therefore all we could see from afar were wind pumps and radio masts, no 'land'.  One light marking the point was it for help in the dark, cars or bikes on a coast road were just confusing.   At this stage of the trip GPS would have been a help to guide us in, however the clever chip with all the information in the machine only knew about the islands we had come from not those we were about to join!  Back to paper charts and the cruising guide book. 
Blind navigation, which is the situation we were now in, relies to a certain extent on depth contours,  ours does not work effectively deeper than 300ft and as we had just been in very deep water it was giving us no information.  Having cleared the point and turning more northward the swell was dying down so we were 'probably' now on the west side!  It would have been nice to slow down but with no rough water and little effort we were still doing 7 knots.  The next waypoint I made just inside the 50ft contour to check the depthsounder,  we got to that position and still no sensible depth on display.  Meanwhile confusing lights on shore had me imagining I had moored ships/barges/big black shapes all on the starboard bow.  Enough was enough so lowering the sail and using the engine to be more manoeuvrable was the next step.
We could see the lights of town so from a safe position turned towards them, there is an island called Klein Bonaire off the town which is uninhabited and unlit so not sure what that looked like we had to approach on a safe angle.
Closing in on town was not a problem then a rogue depth of 27ft came up on the display so mild panic and another check going slowly forward.  We cruised slowly along the water front with some lit bars and restaurants, now looking for moored boats to join as dropping an anchor anywhere around Bonaire is illegal.  Too late we realised we had missed the whole lot and gone too far north so turned back on our tracks knowing that was a safe route.  Our moon rise time had come and gone and this was the first night the cloud over meant it was still pitch black!  On second attempt it was more obvious which marina we had seen and therefore where the moorings should be, although we could still see no lights on boats at all.  (Turns out in Bonaire no-one uses their anchor lights or sits in the cockpit til late)  Thankfully we then spotted a mast or two along the shore, these must be moored so now just needed to find an empty mooring.  Slowly again we plodded along the line, saw a gap between boats so hopefully an empty mooring, eureka there it was so turned around, keeping an eye on the buoys, to regroup.  Lines, boat hook and crew ready we edged up to the mooring torch shining off the bow.  Fishing in the dark we found the mooring lines had been damaged probably by a propeller and didn't look good but finding another was unlikely so fish we did and got both lines attached by midnight!!  Phew, not a place to approach at night!!  The sea bed or reef drops off steeply not far from shore so just before the mooring we had a depth display of 20ft, it was working after all.  must have missed the 50ft contour and seen fish or something below us to read 27ft momentarily.
We have ordered the latest chip for the GPS from Budget Marine and we wait for it to be delivered from St Martin, that will help.  We moved to a better looking mooring in the morning and left the knotted one for the next yacht to come along.  There are people here who have a mooring for weeks at a time so most are full most of the time we were lucky to find one at all at night.  We now sit all night without a light on like the other crews but at least our cockpit is lit while we are up there.
Currently there is work to do creating a mosquito free zone on board so all for now Bonaire 2 will have to wait.