BONAIRE, CURAÇAO JULY TO SEPTEMBER 2008
 

Trinidad to Bonaire
We finally got away from Trinidad at 12.30 Tuesday July 1st, having cleared immigration and customs - destination Bonaire, four hundred and thirty miles to the west northwest. The forecast was for fifteen to twenty knot winds with the chance of showers and squalls for the first twenty four hours.

Given the recent increase in pirate attacks off the Paria Peninsula (north east coast of Venezuela) we chose not to sail the direct route but to head north for thirty miles before turning. This kept us well clear of the danger area. At the thirty mile point we turned north west (taking us further from the coast) for the next seventy seven miles, then we turned west and ran down eleven degrees thirty minutes north for two hundred and ten miles. A further turn to the north west took us to Bonaire. Most of the time we were out of sight of land but we did see Islas Testigos, Margarita and Isla Blanquilla.

For the first twenty four hours the sailing was fantastic. Initially we had the wind forward of the beam, then behind the beam when we made the first turn - these are the fastest points of sail. With some current behind us we hit a record speed of 8.7 knots. We only had one small squall and some light rain.

By the end of the following day (Wednesday) the wind began to drop slowly and by Thursday afternoon we were almost in a flat calm. This came as a bit of a surprise because the southern Caribbean is often the windiest part of the Caribbean. The weather forecast was saying there was wind further west so we switched on the engine mid-afternoon and set off to find it. We found it around dawn the following day, twelve knots increasing to twenty knots, more fantastic sailing.

During this period we had close encounters with a ship and two pods of dolphins. The ship encouner was at night and was a serious threat. We got worried enough that we shone a spotlight on the mainsail and the response was immediate. The ship turned ten degrees to pass ahead of us. It really is unforgivable that some large commercial vessels don't keep a proper watch for other traffic. Apart from anything else, as a steel boat, we give a very strong radar return.

The dolphin encounters were quite amazing. The first was at night, there was no moon so it was almost pitch black with cloud and a little starlight. Thus we could only see dark shapes. However the dolphins were leaving fluorescent wakes about five feet long, so we knew exactly where they were. We've never seen anything like that before and it's difficult to describe just how special it was. Not to be outdone the next pod arrived in daylight and the leader did two amazing jumps (body many feet out of the water). Again we hadn't seen it before but dolphins just seem to love to play.

I said in the last log that we didn't want to leave Trinidad in heavy weather in case we had boat problems. We did have two to address although neither was too serious. First, the port genoa sheet car wouldn't lock on its track, so we couldn't set the genoa to the right wind angle. Mike suddenly realised that he had put the cars on back to front. He took them off and turned them round. The second problem was during the refit Mike had replaced the waxed flax in the stuffing box (the stuffing box stops water coming up the propellor shaft tube and flooding the boat). However to keep the flax cool it should drip once per minute when the engine is running. It started to drip continuously. In Mike's defence it's almost impossible to gauge how tight the stuffing box should be when you have replaced the flax and it's better to err on the side of too loose than too tight. Anyway, he had to tighten it up, kneeling on floor, leaning over and using two spanners (i.e. no hand hold) with the boat rolling. He did it when we were sailing and the prop shaft was still spinning - hairy or what. We could have stopped the prop turning by putting the engine in gear but to get it out of gear we have to stop the boat, very difficult in the wind conditions. The only other incident was of our own making. A lot of the time we were sailing goosewinged (mainsail right out on one side of the boat with a preventer and the genoa right out on the other side with a spinnaker pole). We wanted to go from a downwind run to a reach and we totally screwed up furling the genoa, the net result of which was we broke one of the pole end fittings and Mike had to go forward to sort the mess out.

Yet again we didn't sleep much, part of the reason being that we were on different points of sail which meant different noises. You might think I'm going mad but I can assure you sail boats 'talk' to you. Below decks you can tell what point of sail you are on by the wave noise, the boat noise and the motion. When the boat is unhappy (e.g sails need adjusting or the wind drops and the rolling throws the air out of the sail) both sails and deck fittings are very noisy, asking for attention. On top of that every boat has it's own noises e.g. creaking or a sink gurgling in certain conditions. Thus we always listen to what the boat is telling us, partly because if you hear a new noise it could be there is something wrong or something about to break. Thus you need to check any new noise fairly promptly. To get to sleep you need to block all this out and it's much easier to do that if you stay on a single point of sail.

We reached the coast of Bonaire around 03.00 on Saturday 5th of July, still going like a train in the dark. We picked up a mooring buoy in the anchorage around 04.00 after going very slowly along the line of buoys. Then it was put the boat to bed, a couple of drinks and pass out about 05.30 in the pre-dawn light. Only to get up four hours later to clear customs and immigration!

Unusual astronomical event
Early in the evening of Saturday July 5th we saw one star and two planets lined up in a straight line, angled about ten degrees left of vertical The distance between the three objects was equidistant to the distance of the closest object to the new moon. The line of the objects pointed exactly to the middle of the concave face of the moon. If you are still with me, the moon was also getting Earthshine so that the part of the moon that wasn't lit by the sun could be seen as a brown colour. With binoculars we could make out the colours of the three objects: at the top was Saturn (yellow), next down was Mars (a beautiful rouge/gold), bottom was the star Regulus (a sparkling pretty light blue). We have no idea how often this happens but it was a very impressive sight and it's such a shame that most people never get to see such things due to ambient light from towns.

We also saw another event we haven't seen before. We were watching a beautiful sunset, the sun had gone down and we were looking at the cloud colour changes, mainly looking west. When we did look east we saw a rainbow. The first reaction was rainbow, sun gone , err. Then we could see that the rainbow only came down to about five degrees above the eastern horizon i.e. the sun must have been five degrees below the western horizon. Since the sun moves quite quickly when it is low in the sky we watched the rainbow getting smaller from the bottom up as the sun moved further round. Most odd.

Finally, if you look to the south in the summer you will see Scorpio, look for a hook hanging angled right in the sky not a scorpion (the Polynesians called it a hook long before the Greeks gave things their choice of names). The second star from the top (red if the sky is clear, red bottom/gold top if the atmosphere is dusty) is the star Antares. It's not very bright because it's six hundred light years away. However the reason for looking at it is it's one of the real monsters of the universe - 600 million miles wide!!! I promise you that is not a typo. Our Sun is only 865,000 miles wide and Earth a mere 8,000 miles wide. On the subject of Planet Earth Mike wants to know who the idiot was that called it that. He reckons that since most of Earth is covered by water it should have been called Planet Ocean...you see what I have to live with.

Diving
While we were in Bonaire we did ten dives three of which were probably the best dives we have done. On one dive, as we descended through about fifteen feet, we saw a big Hawksbill turtle coming towards us. Since he passed us no more than five feet away, seemingly unconcerned, we decided to follow at that distance. We watched him for twenty minutes as he was turning over coral rubble and feeding until he surfaced for air. We also dived a vertical wall for the first time, going to the deepest level yet at seventy five feet. To put that into context the next time you pass a tall building look up and count seven floors. Then imagine the bottom five floors covered in beautiful coral, sponges and fish and the next two floors clear blue water. Then imagine the building is over half a mile long. It was truly awesome and we couldn't stop looking up. The third dive was on Klein Bonaire (a small island off Bonaire) at a dive site the dive guide describes as having "the healthiest and most luxurient coral formations in the Caribbean". We're not experienced enough divers to confirm that's true but it would be difficult to believe there is anything better than what we saw.

Social life
We had a fairly quiet time, meeting with Clive and Margot on the UK flagged Revid for drinks and going to Happy Hour at the Marina on Thursdays. Clive is a very interesting character, he was a Navy Diver and apart from many other things (e.g. bomb disposal) he ran the dive courses for the SAS. We did two dives with Revid, taking our dinghies a fair distance to the dive sites (mutual support in the event of breakdown). We also discoverd a fantastic restaurant - if you are in Bonaire you must go to 'It Rains Fishes'.

Repairs
We also had a fairly quiet time with boat repairs but the dinghy engine gave us grief. Outboard propellors have a rubber bush that breaks if the prop hits something and thus stops the prop being damaged. The first thing to say about it is that it's better to have a damaged but working propellor than no propellor because you could spend the next twenty days drifting to Panama, by which time you would be a dried out skeleton. The idiots at outboard companies don't seem to realise this and it does happen. The other thing is the manual doesn't mention that the bush will fail eventually even if you don't hit something, which is what happened to us. Initially we tried to bodge a repair because we didn't think we would be able to get a new prop in Bonaire but we did find one, which is lucky as our bodge didn't last long!

Bonaire to Curaçao
We left Bonaire at 06.30 on Friday August 1st heading to Curaçao, a short daysail of thirty two miles. We had beautiful weather and fifteen knot winds, so some very pleasant sailing except for the rolling. The seas were only four to six feet but they had a period of four seconds, you barely stopped rolling from one wave when the next wave came through. However, worse was to come. If you are going to get hurt it's normally in big seas (when you get thrown across the boat) and maybe I was too relaxed when we turned into the calm waters of Spanish Water. I had gone below to call the marina on the VHF radio. When I came back up I went to take over the steering from Mike and my foot slid from under me. My back smashed down on the corner of the aft coach roof and for a while I couldn't even breathe - the pain was excruciating. Mike was his normal calm (but caring) self and he took over the steering but we had to berth the boat in a space that needed two people on the boat and four people on shore to warp the boat into place. I just had to grit my teeth and drive the boat again for a short while.

Basically I found it very difficult to walk, bend down or even get into bed (pumping the head was fun too!). Mike went into Willemstad on the Saturday to clear in, he had a nightmare time I won't bore you with. Then on Sunday he went to collect our hire car. In the meantime I was going nowhere and sleeping, half sitting, on the large seat in the saloon. I did manage to go to the supermarket on the Monday but only because I was stuffed full of painkillers and anti inflammatories that we carry. I was really drowsy. On the Wednesday I went to a doctor to get some more painkillers, he also checked me over but pointed out that if I had a cracked or broken rib there is nothing they can do about it, it just takes time to heal.

Social Events
These mainly centred around the happy hours on Mondays and Thursdays at Sarifundy, a local bar/restaurant overlooking Spanish Water. On Fridays Mavis's Bar was the place to be. One notable daytime event was when we and six other yacht crews chartered twenty foot keeled dinghies from the local sailing school. The dinghies were Dutch built Centaurs with traditional lines but built of modern materials and a fairly large sloop rig. They are not only pretty to look at they sail like a dream. Needless to say if you get a bunch of boats together a race develops. We were the third boat to leave the dock and after a short reach we turned upwind. A tacking duel developed with the two dinghies in front and after four or five tacks we were in the lead feeling quite proud of ourselves. It wasn't to last, we sailed into a wind hole and nearly stopped for a few minutes. The wind was only fifty yards away but it took ages to get to it, the boats behind could see what happened stayed with the wind and four passd us. We only got past two right at the end. Just as we returned to the dock a rain squall came through and everybody got soaked. Didn't stop us all going to the bar though.

Mike's birthday
For his birthday we went to the Hato caves which are about half way up the eastern side of Curaçao. Curaçao was formed thousands of years ago by a volcano but was under water. When the water levels decreased in the last ice age Curaçao emerged and what were sea caves are now some half a mile from the sea at about one hundred feet above sea level. The island was originally inhabited by Carib Indians who came over from Venezuela. They moved on and the Arawaks arrived, left, and the Caiquetio Indians arrived, one thousand five hundred years ago. They wouldn't go into the caves (because of the dark) so they carved the limestone outside the cave. You can still see the carvings but it's very difficult to make out what they are. The cave system is enormous and four of the chambers are open to the public. There are the normal stalagmites and stalagtites but also some really unusual calcium formations. At one stage our guide turned all the lights off - we know understand the real meaning of pitch black - your eyes will never adjust to the dark, you are blind. One interesting use of the caves was as a hideaway for runaway slaves. You can still see the soot from their fires on the chamber ceilings. We also saw the rarely seen Long Nose fruit bats, they are tiny and really sweet. In the evening we went out for a meal.

Trip back to UK
In early September I flew back to the UK for three weeks. As the time got nearer to go the tropical weather decided to produce three tropical depressions close together. At no time were we under threat where we were but I had to fly from Curaçao to Miami and therefore watched the tracks of Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Hannah with interest. In the end Ike was off to the west and Hannah hung around the Bahamas for a few days so all was well. My trip to the UK was, as always, great but busy, seeing both families, sorting out paperwork and information for tax returns and collecting boat bits such as a new spinnaker pole end fitting. I had a very enjoyable evening with Sue and David from Barnstormer and managed on the last day to see Jim and Michelle from Wind Machine, US friends of ours who crossed the pond from St Martin this year and will be in Gosport Marina for the winter.

In the meantime Mike was working on the boat. If you thought that the work we did in Trinidad would mean no work for a while you would be wrong - we are talking boats here. This was his job list (I've asked him to give some of the details):
- paint outboard engine (Clean with degreaser, sand corroded patches, wash, paint with aluminiun etching primer, 2 coats of topcoat)
- paint steering pedestal (as above)
- service toilet (take apart completely, including pipework, clean and reassemble)
- paint fresh water cooling saddle tanks
- clean and paint three bilges with epoxy paint
- fit new light to engine control panel
- clean fuel containers
- clean sump and pump filter
- remove c. seventy feet of tape from two awnings with a stitch cutter
- polish all the stainless steel
- sort out items in electrical cupboard and make itemised list (for once!)
- remove dinghy rubbing strake, clean old glue off strake and dinghy with Acetone, reglue strake with Hypalon epoxy glue
- paint walls in front cabin
- paint dinghy transom
- replace teak plug on cockpit coaming
- varnish all the floor panels (three coats)
- take down mizzen sail wash and apply Dettol (explained later)

I asked Mike to explain some of the things because work on a boat can be more complicated than in a house. Whether it's emptying a cabin to paint the walls, or lifting and keeping floorboards up to paint bilges or varnish, the boat becomes an almost unliveable tip. Also, a good example of a small job escalating was the teak plug replacement. Once it was in Mike had to protect it with teak oil. But if you only oil the plug it won't match the rest of the coaming. So you oil the whole coaming. But if you do the whole coaming on the port side it won't match the coaming on the starboard side, so you have to do that too. And so it goes on (hey I like to keep him busy...).

Odds and ends
Einstein, an interesting comment. Asked with what weapons the third world war would be fought, Einstein said he had no idea, but that the fourth would be fought with sticks and stones.

Dettol handy tip. If you have mildew many people use vinegar on it. Don't bother with that use Dettol - it both kills and protects, we use it inside the boat and on the sails. It works because Dettol is not a marine company (tee hee).

Speaking of which... This quarter's Marine Plonkers award goes to Jabsco, yet again for their toilets. I won't bore you with why but the product is, how shall I put this, crap (I know, I know).

Where next
In early October we are thinking of going back to Bonaire for a few weeks (more diving). Then heading north, north east tacking our way up to the Virgin Islands, which could well take us a week or more (upwind, upcurrent again). Then work our way round to Antigua. On the other hand, get a pin, a map of the Caribbean, close your eyes and...that's where we could be.