Note: the video below shows a cool aerial view of Bonaire & the mooring field at Kralendijk- it's worth checking out.
It was finally time to leave Grenada and head to Bonaire. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, collectively referred to as the ABCs, are part of the Dutch Caribbean. While the ABCs have experienced the odd tropical storm in the past, they lie well southwest of the usual hurricane zone and are considered a “safe” place to stay during hurricane season. September is the most active month for large hurricanes, and so we decided to “get out of Dodge” before the end of August. Grenada is also fairly safe, but a bit riskier than Bonaire, as we found out from the 3 tropical storms that passed by St. Georges in the 2 ½ months we were there.
You can see our route from Grenada to Bonaire below. As our insurance policy does not cover us in “Venezuelan Waters”, we headed northwest from Grenada, then west and finally southwest to Bonaire. Essentially, we plotted a course to maintain a minimum 50NM distance between us and any Venezuelan islands. A rhumb line (i.e. a straight line) from Grenada to Bonaire would have taken us very close to several Venezuelan islands.
We averaged about 7kts over the 59-hour passage, leaving Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and arriving Tuesday just after 1:00 a.m. Our knot meter wasn’t working for most of the trip, as it was likely clogged with mussels from PLM. So the 7kts is Speed Over Ground, which would include the positive affects of the west-setting current. The first night of our 3-day passage was very squally, with winds inside the squalls topping out at about 35kts. The rain was torrential and there was no moonlight. Add plenty of large tanker traffic (600 feet+) into the mix and it makes for a busy night.
Thankfully we have a really secure helm enclosure, which keeps us dry and protected from the wind and rain. Normally on passage, the off-watch person sleeps outside on the bench seat cushion. This works just fine if the rain is coming from the bow, but is not tenable with rain from astern. So, we had to take turns sleeping inside with windows and doors closed on that first squally night – a hot and sweaty proposition. We were tracking the squalls, which were approaching from the stern, with our radar. We were able to dodge many of them, while keeping a close eye on the tanker traffic. When we were unable to avoid a squall, we typically slowed right down to let the weather pass over us as quickly as possible.
To minimize our chance of attracting unwanted, nefarious attention off Venezuela, we mostly ran with deck level navigation lights only and not our masthead tricolour. We monitored our AIS, as usual, but only transmitted when we had both tanker traffic and squalls at the same time. The rain during the squalls was dense enough to affect our AIS reception and we wanted to use all available means to avoid any “bumps” with 600-foot vessels!
We fished only one day while on passage but hooked three fish! That’s the good news. The first one screamed the reel and I was unable slow it down. That’s the first time that has happened to us, so it must have been pretty big. I thought we were going to lose all our gear. Luckily, I was able to provide sufficient tension to snap the leader (but lost the terminal tackle – the lure and hook at the end of the line). The next one struck while I was on the coach roof working on the boom. By the time I got to the rod to set the hook, it was too late (but I didn’t lose any gear). The third loss was my fault entirely, as I didn’t set up the new poly-to-braided main line properly and lost another tuna (yes, and the terminal tackle again). I then read one of my books on the subject and tied a Bimini Twist between the main line and the poly. Three decent fish hooked in a day is really good for us and shows that the techniques we learned from Doc, a sport fish captain in Grenada, were working. Thanks for your tutoring, Doc! Too bad the operator wasn’t up to the challenge. Hopefully I’ll get better before my tackle box is empty! (In an upcoming post I will have a similar tale but with a much happier ending!)
Bonaire has a strict “no anchoring” policy. You can only use their mooring balls or stay at the marina. The marina was full and all the balls were taken. Shaun and Sherrie Schmidt and their 2 girls, aboard "Element", a Catana 471 which they purchased in Turkey and sailed across the Atlantic, were already in Bonaire and had been keeping us apprised of the situation (see the photo of Element below). Boats do leave from time to time, but if no mooring is available, you have to press on to Curacao. This would have been a problem for us, as our son, Sean, was arriving in Bonaire for a 2-week visit. Shaun Schmidt put a float on the only empty mooring ball to “reserve” it for us. This is not strictly allowed and if a boat had arrived before us, they could have taken the mooring. We were in regular contact with Shaun while on passage. Our plan was to arrive at dawn on Tuesday. However, as we were getting closer, Shaun advised us to turn on the jets and get in ASAP. The navigation situation is quite straight forward, so we revved-up the diesels and moved up our arrival time to 1:30 a.m. Once we rounded the final point, we picked up Element’s AIS signal, and made a beeline for her. We hailed Shaun on the VHF and he got into his dinghy to help us find the mooring and get us secured. That’s a pretty wonderful thing in the dark, in the middle of the night, at a place you’ve never been to before. Thanks so much Shaun & Sherrie!
Daryl and Janet Lapaire and their 2 girls, aboard "SV Maple", a Leopard 384 which they sailed from Greece, through the Med and across the Atlantic, were due in the next evening (see photo below of the "Maplers" dressed-up for Carnival in Grenada). With no moorings available, they had a problem. The incredibly resourceful Shaun found two disused concrete anchor blocks on the seabed right near us. There was nothing wrong with the blocs, but they were likely taken out of service to create a bit more space between moorings for larger vessels. SV Maple is 39’ and so could squeeze into the mooring field until one of the regular moorings became free. Once again, Shaun saved the day!
The cruising community can be really social, or not, it’s entirely up to you. We tend to be more on the social side and at almost every harbour see boats that we’ve met in the past and/or introduce ourselves to new ones. Ragnar, Thea and their two daughters, Veslemøy and Hedda are a terrific family who live near Lillehammer, north of Oslo in Norway. They are aboard their catamaran called “Kattami”. We met them shortly after arriving in Bonaire and thoroughly enjoyed their company.
There is one couple we are particularly found of. They are Manuel and Nadja, from Koblenz, Germany. They are both in their twenties and purchased a 34-foot, steel monohull on the inland waterways of Germany. They named their new pride and joy, “Manado”. With their mast tied to the deck, they motored through the locks and canals of Europe to reach the Mediterranean Sea near Marseilles. At this point they raised their mast and set sail for Corsica. Amazingly, they had no prior sailing knowledge or experience! That said, Manuel had owned some smaller power boats in the past and so was not entirely new to boating. We first met them in Grenada, after they crossed the Atlantic Ocean in company with Element and Maple. (See the photo below of M&N and Manado)
The drone video below was taken by Manuel while standing on the foredeck of Element. It gives you a good view of the harbour, the catamarans mentioned above and the Bonaire landscape.
Bonaire is dead flat. It has one main town, Kralendijk, that runs along the waterfront. Being part of the Netherlands, it is very clean and well-kept with a distinct European flavour. The water is absolutely crystal clear and Bonaire is known as one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean. The weather seems cooler than Grenada (only about 30°C!) and the breeze is lovely. It lacks the diversity of Grenada, but is a refreshing change, none the less.
Our next post will cover Sean’s visit to Bonaire and Curacao, complete with scuba diving, kitesurfing, sightseeing, fishing and, of course, partying!
Click the photos below to see a larger view.