Sunday, December 28, 2014

Biking

Since we are spending so much time in one spot, we thought we would run an experiment, and rent mountain bikes for a whole month.  The bike shop is near by, and they agreed to store the bikes for us when we aren't using them.  This avoids having to transport the bikes back and forth to the boat, or risking theft or damage if we left them locked up on the street.

So far, I'd say the experiment is tending positive.  Economically, we are probably paying a bit more than we would have if we'd just done daily rentals when we wanted a bike.  Offsetting this is the fact that we are certainly using the bikes more than we would with daily rentals, for example for relatively short trips into Kralendijk.  Plus, we don't have to deal with rental paperwork for each ride.

Yesterday, we took our longest bike ride ever.  We rode to the village of Rincon.  This is the oldest community on Bonaire.  It was established relatively far from the seashore, as a means to reduce attacks from pirates.  Rincon was the home for most of the slaves who were brought to the island, even those who worked in the salt flats an 8-hour walk away.

We visited Rincon to attend the monthly Cultural Market at the Mangazina di Rei (warehouse of the King) culture park.  This is a park built around the second oldest stone building on the island, where provisions for the slaves were kept by the Dutch government.  The park is a work in progress, with only a small fraction of the land area developed to date.  The Cultural Market was mostly a chance to eat local foods, with some fairly corny live music.  There is a small museum that documents some of the artifacts used in daily life on the island, and a terrific playground with lots of things to climb on.

Our route on bike to Rincon was a bit of an adventure.  We had found a designated bicycle route on the island map, and thought we'd give it a try.  It was an unpaved road, and it must have been a long time since it saw a road grader.  Very bumpy, with a rough washboard surface.  The first kilometer or so was nicely marked with blue-painted stones, but then we were on our own to find our way.  As we got nearer to Rincon, we had to ask for directions.  There were lots of steep up and downs to challenge our fitness, and the hot temperatures didn't help any.  But we made it the 14 km to the market.

On the way home, we decided to use the main road.  The first half was mostly uphill, across the backbone of the island.  Traffic was speeding by us very fast, but the drivers were quite polite and gave us plenty of room.  By the time we reached the boat, we were certainly tired, and very much aware of the small bicycle seats.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Iguanas and Lizards, Oh My!

Gretchen's niece, Maggie, and Maggie's friend, Scott, have been visiting us on Bonaire this week.  It is Maggie's first experience of a tropical island, and we think it has been a pleasant one -- for the most part.

We rented a truck, took the pair on a tour of the Bonaire National Park.  This is a very rugged natural area on the north of the island.  The roads are all unpaved, and in very bad shape in some places.  There are a variety of places to stop along the way.  For example, there are several blowholes on the eastern coast, places where waves crash into small inlets sending spray high in the air.

A favorite sight in the park is the ever-present flock of flamingos.






But the "highlight" of the tour was during our lunch stop.  We parked near a little beach named Playa Funchi, which has a couple of simple benches to sit on in the shade. As we got out of the truck we saw a couple of quite big iguanas lurking in the bushes near by.  Maggie had never seen an igauna this close up, and was very interested to see them.

We sat on a bench, and started eating the sandwiches we had brought along.  Suddenly, we were surrounded by lizards (maybe 20) ranging in size from 4-12 inches, plus a big iguana, all of whom wanted our lunch.  They were quite aggressive, running towards us and trying to startle us into dropping food.  This was too close for Maggie, and she walked onto the beach to finish her meal.  An iguana immediately hopped onto the bench where she had been sitting, only a few inches from Scott.  Well, the iguana got his wish:  Scott leaped from the bench and dropped some of his sandwich innards onto the ground.

The iguana didn't benefit in the end, though, because several of the smaller lizards scarfed up the scraps before he could get to them.

For the rest of the meal, it was a war.  Lizards jumping onto our shoes, trying to crawl up our legs.  I had to kick the iguana a couple of times (gently) to get him to back off.  He would move (very quickly) about a foot, and then edge his way back.  Staring intently at me the whole time.  A second, even larger, iguana soon showed up to join in the fun.

It was a very quick meal!  As soon as we could, we jumped back in the truck to continue on our way.

Sorry, no iguana pictures, too busy to take any.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Crashing & Bashing

The trip from Curaçao to Bonaire is dead upwind, and into the teeth of the waves.  Its also a long enough journey that you can't afford to dawdle.  So its always a long day.  Especially when its your first sail of the season.

We left as soon as it was light enough, before 06:30.  The channel that divides Willemstad is a famous relic, a pedestrian bridge that rides on pontoons.  It uses two electric motors, like outboards, to swing out of the way.  You call the harbor master to arrange for the bridge to open.

We dutifully called, and were told to proceed to the bridge and it would open when we arrived.  Well, we arrived, but the bridge didn't open.  Calls to the harbor master went unanswered.  We circled slowly in front of the Willemstad frontage for 30 minutes, until two pilot boats approached --  then the bridge finally opened and we were free.  So much for an early start.

The conditions were exactly as predicted, wind and sea on the nose.  The waves weren't too bad, maybe 4-5 feet, but they still slowed us down a lot. 

We had intended to put two reefs into the mainsail for our motorsail to Bonaire, but discovered that David had rigged the reefing lines drastically incorrectly.  The sea was really too rough to sort it out on the way, so we raised the full main and charged ahead.  Fortunately, the winds weren't too strong and it worked out fine.

About half-way across, a wave over the bow knocked loose one of the straps tying our dinghy to the foredeck.  David went forward and reset it without much problem, but came back more than a little green at the gills (seasick). 

Luckily, with the full main and a slight southerly windshift, we started getting some push from the sail as well as the engine.  That sped us up to 7+ knots, so we arrived in good time, about 14:30.  We had heard rumors that the mooring field at Bonaire was very full.  It was, but there were 4 or so still available to choose from.  We had one of our best, least dramatic, pick-up of the mooring ball.

Happy to be here, and looking forward to some relaxing snorkeling, hiking, and soon some diving.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ready to Head Out

We've been diligently working down our to-do list, and have completed as much as one ever can complete of such lists on a boat.  We've visited customs and immigration, and tomorrow at dawn we will head for Bonaire.

Counting the time in the harbor at Willemstad, we will have to travel about 45 nautical miles to reach  Bonaire.  This is the tradewind zone, which means that the winds are always out of the east +/-.  In other words, we can look forward to a long day of beating directly into the wind.  We will sail as much as we can, but I expect that we will have to motor sail a large part of the distance in order to make Bonaire by sundown.  We do not like to pick up moorings in the dark.

We are a bit nervous, because we've heard a rumor that the mooring field at Bonaire is quite full.  Since anchoring is prohibited, it would be a real bummer if we got there and found no room.  We could try going into the marina, but that is also likely to be full if the moorings are -- and trying to go into the dock in the dark is even trickier than mooring.

So, we'll have our fingers crossed as we head out tomorrow morning.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Chikungunya

We've been in Curaçao for more than a week, trying to complete our chores list so we can head for Bonaire.  The process has been slower than we planned, because Curaçao is experiencing an outbreak of the viral disease Chikungunya. This is a mosquito-borne disease that causes very high fever, and intense muscle and joint pain.  The fever generally is over within a week, but the muscle and joint pain can last for weeks or even months.

Many workers in the boatyard have suffered from this disease, so the yard has been very short-handed.  We had a refrigeration expert, Louis, working on installing a new freezer system for us.  He came down with Chikungunya with the job half completed, so we are stuck with a not-quite-functioning freezer for now.  Not sure how we will sort this out, since we expect to leave for Bonaire early next week.  Louis actually came to the boat to let us know his status.  We appreciated the gesture, but he looked very ill and you could tell he was mentally not up to par yet (from the fever, I assume).

There is no vaccine, and no treatment available.  The only workable approach is prevention -- which means lots of DEET-containing insect repellent and diligent use of the screens on our hatches and companionway.  According to the Center for Disease Control, Chikungunya hasn't (yet) reached Bonaire.  If we can hold out for a little longer, we should be OK.

We celebrated Thanksgiving by launching Callisto and moving her the short distance to a marina slip.  We had been living aboard while she was still in the yard, and found the nights very hot for sleeping.  Maybe things would be a bit cooler when we were in the water?  Nah, just as hot and more humid.  Oh well, only a few more days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Heading South

The days in Switzerland are getting short, and even at noon the sun is low on the horizon.  Lots of fog, and many rainy days.  Time to head south!

We fly to Curaçao via London and Miami.  Our flight out of Zürich leaves before dawn, so we are spending a night at a hotel near the airport.  We have an extra bag with us, full of fishing gear for our trip to Patagonia in February.  We'll see what the excess baggage charges come to.

I think we will be in Curaçao for about two weeks, perhaps a bit less.  We have the usual list of commissioning chores, plus we need to install our new wind generator and new freezer compressor.  We are planning several days in a hotel while the boat is still in the yard.  When Callisto is launched, we will spend some time in the marina before heading to Bonaire.

The plan so far has us sailing much less this season than we have in the past.  There is the trip from Curaçao to Bonaire, and then the trip back in March.  Period.  I guess it is possible we will do some daysailing just to keep our hands in.

We have guests committed to join us in December (Gretchen's niece and her friend), and in January (our old friends the Antals).  There are a couple of "maybe's" as well.  So we'll be entertaining a fair bit.  Should be fun.  We are also looking forward to seeing which of our boat friends are back on Bonaire this season.  We are excited about seeing Jill and Rod Hearne, who will be arriving in January.

Since we will be in one spot for so long, we are going to be looking to see if we can buy a couple of used bicycles.  Kinder on arthritic knees than running, and a chance to explore more of the island than we could on foot.

We'll post again soon to talk about the commissioning work list.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Windsurfing

This post is out of sequence, calendar-wise, but I wanted to make sure it is included on the blog.

Bonaire has a remarkable venue for windsurfing, called Lac Baai.  This is an inlet on the windward side of the island.  The winds are steady and strong there.  The bay is protected by a reef, so the waves are small.  The water is only 3 feet deep, which is great for beginners since the shallow water makes it easy to climb onto the board.  You have to climb onto the board many times when you are a beginner.  Once per fall.

Gretchen and I went for lessons, along with our friends Rod and Jill.  Jill ended up chickening out, but she was a great videographer, recording the event.  Rod had some recent windsurfing experience.  Gretchen and I tried it out when we were first married (30 years ago!), but never made much progress.  The technology has changed a lot -- for the better -- since then.

Anyway, the three of us signed up for a beginner's lesson.  Our teacher clearly had a ton of experience with novices.  We started out on a demo setup on land, and he quickly explained the basics of getting on the board, bringing up the sail, and starting to move.  It is easier to gybe a windsurfer than to tack it, so he also explained that maneuver.

Then we were off to the water.  The beginner's boards that they gave us were more like barges than surfboards -- almost 80 cm wide.   This was great for us as we learned our balance.  The sails were also quite small (3 square meters for me), which also helps to keep things manageable.  So, while the experts were zooming back and forth, we were plodding along.  But we did manage to get the boards moving, and to stay on top of them long enough to make some progress.  Here is a video of one of my tries:


We had an hour with the instructor, and another hour to practice on our own.  But we all tired out before the time was up.  By the end of the time, I was able to gybe pretty consistently, and to sail upwind to a degree.

It is a truly beautiful spot, and we had tons of fun.  I am sure we will take more lessons when we return to Bonaire next year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Callisto is out of the water (and we are too)

We miss the sea life already!!!  We left Callisto yesterday at Curacao Marina for the season.  This is the first time we have left the boat outside the hurricane zone, so our to-do list was a bit shorter than normal.  www.curacaomarine.com   The yard manager is quite young, but has lots of years of experience and everyone at the yard is on the go, hustling onto the next job.

Our last sail from Bonaire was lovely, downwind, traveling at about 7 knots, including one knot of current.  About halfway to Curacao we saw three flamingos headed east.   We were both startled when we suddenly saw pink off the starboard side.   I surmised that they had gone to Carnival in Curacao and were headed home...  We were impressed to see them flying dead upwind, low to the water, like pelicans.  Bonaire is home to many flamingos, who feed on crustaceans in the big salt marshes on the island.

Now for the boat bits part...we ordered a new AB 9 ft aluminum dinghy and a new refrigeration unit from Budget Marine.  They will be delivered in time for our late fall 2014 launch.  We also bought a D400 wind generator today, also to be installed in the fall.  And then we had to go to Kooymans (like a Lowe's) (twice) to get the parts for the faucet I broke showing David how not to use the faucet!  She's a boat.

We went to dinner on Sunday night at Fort Nassau.  The Fort was commissioned in 1796 and now serves as the control tower for the harbor.  The old historic part of the fort has a restaurant which is quite fine. I had a lionfish served with head and mouth open, looking very ferocious. 






The meal was delicious with, of course, great views at sunset.  I think there was a Japanese "research vessel" next to the port authority office.  Dolphins and whales beware!

Last night we tried a neighborhood Surinamese restaurant recommended by the hotel owner/manager.  The young restauranteuse is a native Israeli and the food was indeed eclectic and well-prepared.  There are only three tables plus four chairs at the bar, with quite a bit of take out and locals enjoying an evening out.  Today we visited Kura Hulanda which we thought was "just" the slavery museum.  It is so much more.  The man who was responsible for the restauration of the buildings and associated hotel, also had a large well documented collection of artifacts from the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates.  The exhibition on slavery pulled no punches and was the other side of the story we learned about in Ghana at El Amina.  The remaining part of the "triangle" for us is the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England.   

Our next stop was the maritime museum, which is a bit unfocused, but does have a few unique displays.   

Tomorrow we will take a rental car and visit the national park.  There are supposed to be spectular blow holes and heiroglyphics from the indigenous people (who originally came from South America).

We leave Thursday am (7 am flight) for the US to visit children, and then soon after HOME!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Watermaker Blues

We love our watermaker -- the device that takes salty seawater and turns it into sweet drinking water.  It is economically crazy.  The cost to buy and operate the watermaker is higher than the cost of buying water from marinas, etc., in the places we've cruised.  But the convenience factor is hard to beat, since we don't have to plan trips into the dock to tank up.  And there is value in the feeling of security that we'll always have plenty.

Our watermaker is made by a company called Spectra.  It is designed to use the least possible energy.  Since electricity is always scarce on Callisto, this feature is very worthwhile.  However, it means that the watermaker is pretty complicated, and that means maintenance.

A watermaker works by pumping seawater to about 850 psi (60 bar), and forcing it through a reverse osmosis membrane.  Unfortunately, the high pressure pump on our unit developed a tiny crack.  But big enough to spray seawater all over the place.  So we had to get it fixed.

Now come the challenge of cruising in out-of-the-way places.  To repair the unit, a big chunk needed to be sent to the manufacturer in California, worked on, returned to Bonaire, and installed.   This is obviously not a cheap proposition.  Most of all, it takes time.

The original estimate was 4 days to get to California, a week on the repair bench, and then 4 days back to Bonaire.  A bit over two weeks.  Guess what?  Its been three weeks, and still no confirmation that its left California.

Normally, a week or two wouldn't matter a lot.  However, we have our whole haul-out process scheduled to start on March 7.  That's not only the boatyard, but also a hotel and a rental car.  Changing all of that would (will?) be very complicated, and also risk running up against our airline reservation on March 13.

We still have some hope that we can get the unit and have it installed by the middle of next week, so we can (just) keep our schedule.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Snoa



One of the highlights of our first visit to Willemstad was the Jewish synagogue, known to its members as the Snoa.  The congregation was founded in 1651, making it the oldest continuous Jewish congregation in the western hemisphere.  The synagogue was dedicated in 1732, which makes it the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the New World.  It has a small but very interesting museum.

The congregation was originally named Mikvé Israel.  In the 1860’s, a part of the congregation split off to found the Reform Judaism congregation Temple Emanu-El.  This was, at the time, the only Sephardic Reform congregation in the world.  The two congregations reunited in 1964, and formed congregation Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel.  We understand there is also a small Ashkenazi congregation on the island.

The synagogue is unusual, in that it has a sand floor.  This is reminiscent of synagogues in use during the 40 years the Jews spent wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.  It is also a reminder of the days when the ancestors of the congregants were secret Jews, practicing illegally in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition.   The worshipers put sand on the floors of the secret rooms where they worshiped, to muffle the sounds during services.

In the museum are many interesting artifacts.  Maybe the most remarkable is the ancient Torah that was made in 1320.  Amazing that it is still legible after almost 700 years, and a trip across the Atlantic.

Curaçao



The timing of our visit to Curaçao was tied up in the Presidents’ Holiday in the US.  David’s dear cousin Elaine and her husband Andy had the first extended period without children at home in a very long time, and had arranged to fly down to Curaçao for several days vacation in the warm sunshine.  We wanted to meet them there, and show off a bit of our island lifestyle.

Unfortunately, a blizzard hit the East Coast just as they were scheduled to take off.  They tried many alternative routes, but couldn’t find one that would work.  So they had to cancel their trip.  We were disappointed, of course, but we can only imagine how much worse things were from their end.  We certainly hope that there will be another opportunity to get together in the tropics, soon.

In Curaçao, the preferred anchorage for cruisers is a large bay called Spanish Waters.  It’s a very friendly place, with lots of visiting boats as well as long-term liveaboards.  One of the latter maintains a WiFi service at a nominal charge for the harbor, which is convenient (though not very fast).  The only downside to Spanish Waters is that it is out of the way, quite some distance from the center of action in Willemstad.  There is an inexpensive bus service, but the ride is at least 30 minutes each way, and the bus runs only once an hour or once each 90 minutes, depending on the time of day.  So a trip into town is AT LEAST a half-day adventure.

Willemstad is a very picturesque town, very much oriented to the numerous cruise ship passengers that visit each day.  The buildings are painted in bright colors, and they seem to find combinations so that adjacent buildings look good together.  The town is divided by a waterway that leads to the commercial harbor.  There is a pedestrian bridge (the Queen Emma Bridge) that floats on wooden pontoons.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When ships need to enter the harbor, the bridge swings aside to let them pass.  This happens numerous times each day, and is fun to watch.  There are free ferries that you can use to cross when the bridge is open.

Clearing in to Curaçao is something of an adventure.  The people are very nice, but there is a lot of waiting and walking involved.  You first visit Customs, where they laboriously hunt-and-peck all your details into their computer.  Once that is done, you have to cross the pontoon bridge, and walk a fair distance to immigration.  If a cruise ship is docked (normal), you have to pass through a security check to get there.  In immigration, there is another bout of data entry.  The final stop is just a few steps away at the Port Authority, where you pay a fee for anchoring.  When we were there, they were having computer problems, and we had a long wait before we could give them our money.

We enjoyed the very large and well-supplied Grocery store on the island.  The store provides a daily shuttle bus from Spanish Waters, which is very convenient for those of us without cars.  They allow 80 minutes for shopping, which is a bit much, but there is free WiFi, so the wait isn’t so bad.

After several days of finding our way around, we headed back to Bonaire.  An important part for our watermaker is being repaired by the factory, and it is due to arrive in Bonaire in a week or so.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bonaire

Our blogging frequency has been way down the past three weeks.  Blame it on unusually poor internet connections on the boat.  We can often get a strong wifi signal, but the data speeds are often excruciatingly slow.

We spent about two weeks on Bonaire.  It was an unusually busy time for us, with lots of socializing and time off the boat.  Together with our friends Rod and Jill from s/v Lookfar, we rented a car for a couple of days to explore the island.  More about that in a bit.  We also took advantage of the superb diving that is available on the island.  Anchoring is prohibited on Bonaire, so you have to tie up to one of about 40 moorings.  This small number means that the cruising community is small, and that leads to a lot of time sharing "sundowners" on various boats.

With the unusual availability of a car, we enjoyed driving around the island and into the national park. 

On the first day Jill picked up the car late in the morning (it was supposed to be earlier, but the rental company was very late picking her up).   Jill's friend Lee was with us. We drove in the direction of the park, and had a very local (and very tasty) meal in the town of Rincon.  This sleepy little village was once the main habitation on Bonaire.  There were too many thieves and pirates on the coast, so the population moved inland.  Anyway, by the time we got to the park it was after 2:00pm.  The ranger advised us strongly that we would not have enough time to see the park before it closed at 5:00pm, so we decided to come back the next day.  We then drove to the south end of Bonaire.  This is a huge area where sea salt is produced commercially by Cargill.  The evaporation ponds were different colors, many of them bright pink.  Salt has been produced on Bonaire for hundreds of years, and we visited a site where the island has preserved huts where slaves stayed while loading salt into ships.



We returned early the following morning.  Bonaire is relatively flat, and extremely dry.  The vegetation is desert-like and the most common critters you see are lizards and iguanas.  The road through the national park is gravel and fairly rough but easily manageable with our 4-wheel-drive vehicle (a reasonable front-wheel-drive car would also be OK).  There are many places along the road to stop and explore.  Bonaire is known for its flamingos, and we saw large flocks in lakes and ponds.  We had been told we would only see them from a distance, but we were able to get pretty close to some of them.



We saw some very old petroglyphs on a sea cliff, and a very cool blowhole where the surf sends spray flying high into the air.  After about 3 hours, we drove to the east side of the island, at Lac Bay.  This is a large and quite shallow bay, protected by a reef.  It has flat water and strong winds, and has become a very popular windsurfing site.  We stopped for lunch at a beach bar, and really liked seeing the many colorful sails skipping along in the water.  You can take lessons there, and there were many novices on the water, but also some very experienced board sailors who could do awesome tricks. 

Bonaire has some of the best scuba diving in the world.  Our diving experience so far has always been with a Dive Master or Instructor as a guide, but on Bonaire it is usually a much more independent experience.  You rent equipment, including air tanks, from a dive shop, and then you can just walk into the water from shore, or dive off the back of your sailboat.  There are dozens of dive sites, and it seems that all of them are beautiful and interesting.  We did take a dive boat out to the island of Klein Bonaire one day, and sampled some sites that were too far to reach by dinghy.  Because you are diving independently, the cost of diving here is pretty reasonable.  We are looking foward to more dives when we return.

Our watermaker developed a serious leak, and we were lucky to find a technician on Bonaire who could help us with it.  An important part of the high-pressure pump was cracked, and it had to be sent to the manufacturer for repairs.  It wasn't possible to get the part back before we had to leave for Curaçao, so we will return to Bonaire to have it installed.  Luckily, with our large water tanks we can go for a few weeks.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Passage



After three and a half seasons in the Eastern Caribbean, the islands have become familiar and comfortable.  We see familiar faces in most anchorages, either locals we have interacted with or cruisers we have met.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with “familiar and comfortable,” but it is perhaps a sign that it is time for new adventures.  Our good friends Rod and Jill on s/v Lookfar made the hop to the ABC islands last year, and have raved about them – so we decided to visit them as well.

ABC stands for Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.  All three are associated with the Netherlands, though the political arrangements are a bit different for each.  They really should be called the BCA, since that is the order you encounter them as you travel from East to West.

We really wanted to visit St. Lucia, Dominica, and the Saintes one more time before departing – it could be a few years before we are back in the Eastern Caribbean.  We therefore decided to start our passage from the Saintes.  This means a trip of about 475 nautical miles, which for Callisto in the trade winds takes around three days.

It is certainly possible for two people to sail that distance on their own.   Even one person can manage.  But it is a lot less stress if there are three people to share watch-keeping duties.  Three hours on and six hours off is much more comfortable than four hours on and four hours off.

We advertised in the sailing forum of the Seven Seas Cruising Association for someone to join us as crew, and were lucky to make contact with Jonathan Caldwell.  Jonathan is about David’s age, has quite a lot of sailing experience on his own boat and on others, and turned out to be a very pleasant person to spend time with.  He flew into the airport on Dominica, and we sailed to the Saintes to enjoy a couple of day’s recreation before departing.

We estimated that we could average about 7 knots sailing downwind in the tradewind zone.  Callisto is certainly capable of faster speeds, but sailing faster would require more careful attention to conditions and more frequent sail changes.  At 7 knots, it takes about 66 hours to cover the distance.   It is sensible to plan arrival for around noon.  That way, if you are a few hours early or a few hours late, you still arrive in daylight.

So, on January 24 just before 6:00 pm we set off.  The weather forecast was for 15-20 knots from the East-North-East, and for waves of 5-7 feet.  This time of year in the tropics, weather forecasts are quite accurate looking out three days.  Once we rounded Terre-de-Bas, we set the sails on Port tack for the long trip to Bonaire.

Our trip went very much according to plan.  We initially sailed a bit south of our optimum course, working to keep the headsail full as we headed nearly downwind.  We made this up on Sunday, gybing onto Starboard tack for a few hours.  When we gybed back, we decided to sail on the genoa alone – no mainsail.  We lost a bit of speed (maybe a knot), but could sail our optimum course directly and didn’t have to worry about a wind shift causing an accidental gybe.

The rhythm of long passages takes a while to get established.  We were just really getting in the groove when we reached the end of our journey.  David made a wisecrack: “We should  keep going until we reach Panama!”  But it was really only half joking.

Monday morning, as we got nearer and nearer to Bonaire, we began to look for signs of land.  David and Jonathan both caught sight of Bonaire almost simultaneously.  As you approach, the more mountainous northern section is visible first.  The southern section of the island is very low (in fact it is made up of salt flats; Bonaire has a large commercial salt extraction business), and we didn’t seen the southern point until we were within a very few miles.

Our arrival was at 12:30 pm on January 27, almost exactly as planned.  The entire island of Bonaire is a marine sanctuary, and no anchoring is permitted.  They have very convenient and well-maintained moorings, though, and we tied Callisto up without any excitement.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rainbows

In the tropics, and in the winter, the rain storms tend to be frequent but short-lived.  One of the consequences is that we see a lot of rainbows.

Today we made a passage from Martinique to Dominica, about 35 miles.  The weather was pretty wild -- 25 knots of wind, 10 foot waves.  We sailed on a beam reach, making 9 and even 10 knots through the water (a knot less over the ground due to adverse current).  The only downside was the intense rain showers that we sailed through.  The waves were on our beam, so we had a few memorable rolls. 

We really enjoyed Callisto's ability to handle these conditions.  Never felt unsafe, never really uncomfortable -- only wet.

We saw at least 3 rainbows, all of them at least partial double-rainbows.  Very beautiful.

Here is a short video that gives a bit of the feeling of the day.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas 2014 – Bequia



We returned to Bequia for Christmas, anchored out along Princess Margaret Beach.  The anchorage was “rockin’ and rollin’, so much so that Gretchen had to move to another berth to avoid landing on the floor in the night.

We had problems (again!) with the outboard motor for our dinghy and called upon Kerry, the best mechanic we have found in the Windward Islands.  He quickly diagnosed our problem, fixed it and then provided a spare part from his “stores” in case the problem recurs beyond repair.   He noticed how much we were rolling and recommended a reputable mooring close into town managed by “Phat Shag”.  The Dive Bequia staff also gave a good review, saying that he regularly dives on his moorings and does appropriate maintenance.  

We were very happy to be close inalthough the music on the beach was LOUD, we were flat on the water and much more comfortable in the night.  Christmas Eve brought on a big surprise—major thunderstorm activity.  We have never experienced electrical storms this time of year in the Caribbean.  It rained all night and most of the morning, with lots of wind and lightning.  We were able to take a hike to Fort Hamilton and see the cannons aimed at the entrance to Admiralty Bay.  It was interesting to note that the fort was named after an American, Alexander Hamilton, although the purpose of the fort was to defend the island against American privateers and the French. 

Our next stop was Soufrière on St. Lucia, and there we found out how lucky Bequia had been during the storm.  There were nearly 20 people who died in St. Vincent and St. Lucia due to landslides and bridges collapsing.  Several towns in St. Lucia were cut off for a few days due to bridge outages and roads blocked by mud.  I am sure that St. Vincent suffered similar problems.  The unstable ground and steep terrain will make repairs very difficult, and in Soufriére, new restrictions on where construction can occur have already been put in place.   We saw at least five homes that were totally destroyed, and several more that were damaged by mudslides.   Much of the same area was severely damaged during Hurricane Tomas four years ago, and there just isn’t very good holding for soil on such steep terrain.   

But the Soufriére anchorage was lovely: