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


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.


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


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


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.