Day 1: Wednesday began rather inauspiciously. We awoke to rain showers. This made the morning preparations slightly more arduous. Among these tasks was a walk to the grocery store in the rain. In between showers, however, we were able to complete preparations — and by 10:30, we were ready to pull away from the dock. Just as we radioed the marina office for assistance, the heavens opened and dumped buckets of rain upon us. After this short delay, we were off. First, however, we stopped by the fuel dock at Grenada Yacht Club to top of the tanks. Our tanks were 3/4 full, but better to be prepared.
We were pleased to find out that our cruising friends aboard Someday, Zim and Kim (who we met for the first time in the British Virgin Islands aboard Willie T’s), were also making the trip to Bonaire. Coincidentally, we both left Port Louis Marina within just a few minutes of each other. So, we would have company on our 400-mile journey to Bonaire. Although the seas were a little confused at first, soon things sealed down for a very comfortable ride. The rain stopped, although cloud cover kept it cool. The winds were very light for a while. We raised and lowered sails, but ended up motoring for a bit. Soon, however, the winds filled in and we were able to sail on a broad reach in a northwesterly direction.
Our planned track for this trip was not a direct one. Due to concerns about piracy near Venezuela we would angle northwestwardly above this distressed country for a day or so before angling southwestwardly back down toward Bonaire. Venezuela is one of the few places in the world where piracy is a serious threat.
As the afternoon wore on, we had a strong hit on the starboard fishing line, but alas, our dinner escaped. As we sat on the bow to watch the sunset, we experienced another first. I’ve read often of other cruisers’ experiences of having to clear the decks of flying fish in the morning. We’ve never experienced a flying fish on deck. That is, until that moment when we heard a thud made by a flying fish ricocheting off the top of our kayak (at least six feet above the water) and landing on deck. I think we would have been knocked out if it had hit us in the head!
The sailing could not have been more comfortable. I could get into this downwind cruising. No banging! No salt spray! Nothing but the relaxing motion of the waves gently lifting, and then dropping our vessel from behind. On this particular day a cool breeze from astern kept us air-conditioned in the cockpit. The sun set around 6:30 p.m., and the moon followed suit around midnight. Then we were left with nothing but the darkness around us, the sparkling of the Milky Way above, and the flashing of the dinoflagellates beneath. A veritable light show took place in our wake with more bioluminescence than I’ve ever seen. Each wave ignited a spray of fluorescent green with individual explosions of light within. The clear night sky was bedecked with a multitude of stars intersected with its own spray of fine lights where we looked out through the spiral arms of our galaxy. Periodic blazes of light punctuated the serene message of the night sky as shooting stars decorated the blackness like garland on a Christmas tree.
Day 2: When the sun ascended on day two, the sky was filled with puffs of white cotton. we had 14 knots of wind from behind and 3-foot waves. Our companion vessel, Someday, was visible as a silhouette on the horizon five miles away. As the morning wore on, the wind died down. It was the perfect time to pull out the gennaker, a large multi-colored billowy sail made for light wind sailing. Cindy and I were locked in a death match with the crazy thing until finally it was beaten into submission. This is the first time in our cruising career that we’ve flown our gennaker. We did practice flying it out in the Gulf near Tampa Bay just prior to cruising, but otherwise it has remained in its bag in the starboard forward locker. Although, we took it out and laid it on the dock at Port Louis Marina to make sure it was ready to go, gremlins broke into our locker, twisted the fabric every which way, and wrapped it around the lines multiple times. When we attempted to raise it, we had a mess on our hands… and a large, difficult to handle, sail flopping wildly in the breeze. Fortunately, we were able to snuff it once again (with the built in snuffer) and untangle the unsightly mess. Once it was flying, however, it was a gorgeous sight. It was too bad the wind continued to diminish and we had to alter course, so after a couple of hours, down came the gennaker. (And, might I say, much easier than it went up). Next time, we’ll be more proficient gennaker handlers — I hope.)
The afternoon of the second day brought squall after squall. The wind speed was either 2 knots between squalls or 20 knots during squalls. Some of the more intense episodes was accompanied by significant thunder and lightning. It is always somewhat unsettling to be in the middle of thunderstorm with a 65’ metal rod extended skyward, with little else around to compete with your mast for a lightning strike. It seems like a miracle everytime we escaped unscathed.
The Garmin electronics bug bit again in the mid-afternoon. Our wind speed/direction instrument failed… again! I was hoping it was fixed once and for all when I paid extra in Grenada to switch from the wireless system to a wired system. It was working at the dock, but 150 miles of passage-making was apparently too much. Now, I have the ongoing interaction with Garmin to look forward to. Hopefully, we can arrange to have it repaired in Aruba. With Garmin, that is easier said than done.
The night watches of the second night passed without incident. Lightning flashed in the distances and squalls marched along several miles away. But we remained dry with light winds and comfortable following seas. As a reward for our night vigils, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.
Once Cindy awoke in the morning we proceeded to unfurl the genoa and raise the main. We had motored throughout the night given the prevalence of squalls and the fluky air between them, which was often from directly behind. How wonderful it was to extinguish the starboard engine (we had motored with the starboard engine only) and feel the wind propelling us forward on a broad reach at around 6 knots. Just after ten o’clock I received a radio call from our companion vessel, Someday. They had just landed a nice tuna. Jealous! I’ve had two lines in the water during the daytime hours each of the past couple of days. I had one solid hit, which unfortunately broke the line. It was a combination of my being overaggressive with the drag and my poor knot-tying, I believe. I had experimented with my first Haywire Twist and Albright Special in rigging the line. I wasn’t happy with the result and never should’ve put the line in the water as it was. Nevertheless, the lines remained out for the rest of the day in hopes of landing the big one.
This morning we also started angling slightly down toward Bonaire. As previously mentioned we took a circuitous route in order to avoid any possible piracy along the Venezuelan coast. Yesterday afternoon we had stopped angling northward and spent the overnight hours heading due west. We adjusted our heading to 258°. By evening we had adjusted our heading to 245° which would bring us to the southeastern tip of Bonaire. We had sailed under full main and genoa all day, a glorious thing for this crew which has yearned for more passage time under sail. Until we reached Dominica, we were bashing into the wind. Since then, we’ve sailed much more than we’ve motored.
As night fell, Beatitude and Someday continued on their southwestward trek. As with previous passages with a “buddy boat,” we really enjoyed looking out on the horizon and spotting the sails of a companion vessel several miles away. Several times a day, we’ll make radio contact and discuss plans or talk about what’s going on at the time. On this third night, as on the previous two, both vessels operated without navigation lights. This plan of action was in response to the piracy threat from Venezuela. It’s not ideal, but with a good lookout and our AIS we could see and be seen by larger vessels.
Day 4: As the Saturday morning sun ascended, we were a little over 25 miles from the southern tip of Bonaire. We had lost AIS contact with Someday around 9 p.m. the evening before. It appears my AIS is acting up. We made radio contact around 6:45 a.m., and discover that they were about 10 miles ahead of us. There have been a couple of other issues which we’ll have to deal with in the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), including the wind speed/direction instrument already mentioned. Also, the cam through which the autopilot moves the rudders is making a groaning noise whenever the wheel turns to starboard. Upon investigation, I discovered a fine black powder beneath it. Obviously, something is being worn away. Otherwise, thankfully, there have been no major failures which jeopardized our progress.
Around 8:30 a.m., I softly yelled, “Land Ho!” (Softly, because Cindy was sleeping below.) My favorite part of a several day passage is that first sight of land. Other than flying fish, a few sea birds, the sailing vessel Someday, and a cargo ship that passed three miles astern in the night, our only sight was the navy blue water below, the cobalt blue sky above, the clouds and the rain, and the heavenly lights. A couple of hours later, we rounded the southeastern corner of the island of Bonaire and progressed about halfway up the west coast to the capital city, Kralendijk (pronounced Crawl-in-dike). There we picked up a mooring because the country of Bonaire prohibits anchoring anywhere on the island in order to protect its beautiful coral reefs. Our passage had covered four hundred nineteen nautical miles over seventy-three hours.
It was appropriate that we moored directly next to our “buddy boat” and her crew, Zim and Kim. We tidied up a bit before taking Dalí into the north dock to clear into the country. When we arrived at the dock, we were greeted by Zim, who was enjoying a cold beverage with his wife after already clearing in. We were thrilled with the ease of clearing in and the expense (Free!). We wandered the streets of town for a while after the formalities and scouted out a church to attend on Sunday. After three days on the water, it seemed the land was swaying beneath me as I walked. We swayed on down to Whataburger for lunch and a little wifi before returning to Beatitude to swim in the unbelievable clear waters off the back of our boat. I’ve not seen water this clear since the Bahamas (Perhaps this is clearer!). How refreshing!
We concluded our day with “sundowners” on Someday, at the invitation of Zim and Kim. She makes a wonderful “Dark and Stormy!” After great conversation, we returned the fifty feet to our vessel to sit up on top of the bimini to watch the sun set behind us. The passage and our first impressions of Bonaire exceeded our expectations.