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.