Wednesday, 28 August 2013

We have gone Dutch!


Welcome to the Dutch Caribbean! Bonaire is 400M west of Grenada and 50M north of Venezuela. First impressions are of a Dutch town, the style of buildings, the layout and ordered arrangement of things, quite a contrast to the Eastern Caribbean with its slightly chaotic and mixed development. The feel here is very European; the majority of people speak Dutch and Papiamento (the local patois). English is widely spoken together with a spattering of Spanish from those of South American descent.

Bonaire is another volcanic island, the whole of the east coast is a national park and fringed with a coral reef. This makes it a diver’s paradise with many shore and boat dive sites not to mention the island of Klein Bonaire with its own reefs.

The weather here is pretty dry even for the ‘wet’ season, the wind blows from the easterly quadrant most of the time and while we have had a few showers it is mainly dry but occasionally cloudy but very warm, 32 degrees during the day only dropping to 28 at night so no relief in the evening from the heat of the day.

By chance we are moored opposite a dive centre so it is a 2 minute dinghy ride to get our cylinders filled. There is no anchoring anywhere off Bonaire, you must use a mooring, even to dive from your dinghy. There are moorings provided by the National Park Authority at all the dive sites and they are free to use. A yearly diving permit is charged of US$25 per person to dive in Bonaire, it costs US$10 to swim or snorkel.

View from the boat

While we are here we will have our wind turbine fitted and hopefully solve our lack of battery charging. We also want to tour the island which reminds us of Lanzarote with the arid landscape and cacti. Almost forgot we plan to dive a bit too!

Having taken a few days to get ourselves organised, we arranged a scooter hire and took a tour along with another couple we had previously met in St Lucia.

Born to be mild!

The history of Bonaire is all about salt production and piracy. The early settlers built the first town of Rincon inland so the town couldn’t be seen from the sea (avoiding being attacked by pirates). Rincon is a small town, the main town is now Kralendijk, but the people of Rincon consider themselves the ‘true’ Bonairans! The latest new attraction there is the Cadushi Distillery where a Dutch couple now make the cactus liqueur. They also do whiskey, rum and vodka and we had a few tastes. We preferred the liqueurs to the spirits.
Old church Rincon

 Later, slaves were imported from Africa to work in the salt producing industry. Salt is still produced here on an industrial scale with large salt pans and piles of drying salt waiting loading onto the ships waiting offshore for a berth on the dock. The salt pans provide a rich feeding ground for Flamingos, Black winged stilts and other wading birds.


Slave hut
We felt sorry for the slaves who had to walk from Rincon to the salt pans in the south. It was a 10 hour walk so eventually they built themselves huts which in the 1800’s were replaced by the huts we see today. The salt was graded into different qualities and coloured obelisks informed the ships where to load the quality they required. The obelisks were red, white, blue and orange (very Dutch).
How it was done in the old days!

After a very sunburnt day on a scooter we had seen most of the island. The south is very low lying and windswept, the beaches on the south and east coast are littered with driftwood and other debris from the sea. As we travelled further north the vegetation was thorn trees, scrub and tall thin cacti. Cacti is cut by the locals to make fences, also you can make cactus soup and now of course the cactus liqueur.  Further north are the hills of the Slaagbaai national park (referred to as mountains by the locals!).

The hilly north

The Park is only accessible by 4x4 so we will do that another day.  Feral goats and donkeys roam everywhere which is part of the reason that the island has such poor vegetation. The islanders are trying to find ways of restricting the animals to help the trees to re-establish themselves. Now and then there was a fenced off area and the difference was marked with bigger trees and more lush undergrowth.
Island vegitation
There are beautiful green and orange parrots and parakeets that fly overhead, calling raucously, even right in town. As we drove around we would see them sitting on top of the cacti – a strange sight as one usually associates parrots with lush jungle. I have not yet got a photo because the roads are quite narrow and winding, so we did not feel safe stopping except in the occasional passing places or viewpoints.

Windmills - of course!
The dive sites here are all marked by a yellow painted stone with the name on and there are over 60 on Bonaire and another 30 or so on Klein Bonaire. Most are accessible from shore so everywhere there are parked pick- ups (Bakkies) with divers in and out of the water. You do not have to dive with a guide here, so once you have paid your Park fee and had a little lecture on marine conservation, you are free to dive as much as you like. Many people go self catering, hire a vehicle and dive, dive, dive! There are dive centres all over the town so air fills are easy. We paid $107 for 20 fills (in advance) and have a card at Yellow Sub, ”our” dive shop.

We have been diving off the back of the boat or going by dinghy to different dive sites. There is usually a sandy area close to shore where the moorings are laid in about 5m then the reef begins and drops off to about 30m where there is sand again. So you get to see a good variety of life. The reef is all wonderful, huge corals and sponges in all different shapes and colours. There are so many different fish rushing around that we can no longer record all the fish we see on a dive. Now, we just mention the unusual ones. Meter long parrot fish, French Angelfish the size of dinner plates, schools of blue and brown Chromis, Creole wrasse racing each other in apparently mindless circles, Bar jack hunting and hundreds of Damsel fish are now dismissed as “all the usual reef fish”. We note Hawksbill turtle, lionfish, spotted scorpionfish, different eels, spotted drums, soapfish, Sand tilefish, Fairy basselets, Hamlets , Moharra, and anenomes with their different attending shrimps. All the creatures seem unbothered by divers and we can approach them closely. As we are diving on our own we go slowly and have time to watch trumpetfish using parrotfish or angelfish as cover, juvenile Spanish hogfish and other fish at cleaning stations and tiny gobys peeping out of holes in the coral.

We have seen Tarpon about 2m long, 1m Tiger grouper,1.5m Black groupers and a great Barracuda, about 1.5m, swam past me about 30cm away! The dive shop told us yesterday where a frogfish (purple!) has been found, so that will be our next dive. It is under a boat, 3 moorings away from us! Not even an official dive site. Quite often we hear the bubbles of divers going up the side of the boat and many evenings we see the lights of night divers around us. That is another dive we still have to do!

If I had my camera I would have had some amazing shots. Hopefully we will come back.

The town, which is a dinghy ride away for us, has pretty buildings, a lot of construction and many resorts and hotels. There are lovely shops, some very upmarket, because cruise liners call in and Gio’s does delicious ice cream, coffee and iced coffee. There are many restaurants with cuisine from all around the globe, Happy Hours and live music at the weekends.

There is a supermarket in town, and just outside is Van den Tweels which is a Waitrose type shop. They provide a complimentary bus from the marina and back on Tuesdays and Fridays, so new all go in and buy things we have not seen for a while – ready cut up stir fry, fresh Tapenade, great beef sausages for the braai (BBQ), grapes and cherries. The local laundry will also collect you whenever you like and bring you back again at no charge, so its all nice and organised.

We will stay here until the beginning of September when we will sail to the nearby island of Curacao (about 40miles). We have been told that Curacao is very different to Bonaire with more development and industry. We will see. We will leave the boat in a marina in Curacao for a month while we fly back to England to visit family and friends and pick up the inevitable boat parts we always seem to need. It will then be a rush to get ready for the start of the sailing season proper.

Where we go from Curacao really depends on the wind. There is often a ‘wind reversal’ which would allow us to sail back east, if not we will sail north, the beauty of cruising!

Saturday, 10 August 2013


We had heard so much about Grenada, the cruisers summer hideout.

Entering St Georges

We had taken a berth in the yacht club marina, an ideal place to refuel, water up, do our laundry,
Yacht club Marina from the Bar terrace
shop and sightsee. 
This time our marina visitor was a Green Heron fishing!
St Georges is an interesting town, many of the Georgian waterfront buildings have been restored – it reminds us a lot of Royal Clarence in Gosport.
Georgian waterfront
The harbour is separated from ‘downtown’ by a steep hill. . In the late 1800’s a tunnel was dug to enable traffic to access both sides without having to climb the hill, but only women were allowed to walk through it. We walked through a few times, no pavement or anything so when a larger truck comes you have to flatten yourself against the wall! I found it quite scary, but the locals just stroll through quite nonchalantly. The tunnel is still very much in use today although much of the town is a one way traffic scheme. It must have been chaos 100 years ago! It is still very hilly!
Sendall Tunnel
For us Grenada was never going to be a long term summer stay (some never go away). We were always going to move on to the ABC islands (a little bit of Holland in the Caribbean

The Careenage from Fort George

Dock at the Careenage


We spent a couple of days exploring St Georges, the fort and the town, markets and Supermarkets, chandleries and hardware stores, finally moving  to the bays on the south coast.
Clarkes Court Bay

There are several good anchorages and marinas to choose from. Prickly bay is popular with easy access to buses to town and local shopping plus many restaurants, bars etc. Mount Hartman bay is a little more secluded as is the anchorage off Hog Island (a favourite hurricane hole). We chose Clarkes Court Bay, partly because ‘Vivace’ were there but also because it seemed to be a little quieter with a bit less of the hectic social whirl that seems to be the cruisers Grenada.

Every day the morning cruisers ‘net’ would announce social activities ranging from ‘Mexican train dominoes’, water aerobics, yoga, to tai chi, even a cricket match! Shopping buses every other day to take you to the town or out of town shopping malls, wherever you needed to go. In addition there were half price pizza nights, various ‘happy hours’ lunchtime specials, evening entertainments galore. Sometimes It was exhausting just listening.

We managed to avoid most of the activities but did use the shopping bus which was very good and also the local bus from the nearby village of Woburn to St Georges. It is a good service Monday to Saturday during the day.
Maurice Bishop

We arranged an historic sightseeing tour of the island with CB Historical tours - at US$20 per head for the day it was good value. Clement Baptiste was very knowledgeable about the islands history and he shared some of his personal experiences in the events that lead to the murder of Maurice Bishop, the then Prime Minister, and the US invasion in 1983.These events are still very close to the hearts of most Grenadians and Maurice Bishop still remains a hero of democracy.

Distillery Furnace

 The Rivers rum factory was very much as it would have been 300 years ago with a water wheel used for crushing the cane and wood and cane stalks used in the furnace for the boilers. The 50% ABV and 75% ABV white rum they produce is lethal! It is a drink you inhale rather than sip as it vaporises before you can swallow.
Cane Press

The day was finished off with a drive through the rain forest and a visit to a waterfall surrounded by many coloured flowering plants and trees.

View from the rainforest
We finally managed to learn how to play Mexican train dominoes, (any thanks ‘Secret Smile’) so we now feel like real ‘Grenada cruisers’!

Grenada is a real meeting place for those cruising the Caribbean, we managed to meet up with people we hadn’t seen since the Canary islands along with new friends we had met out here. We had plenty of stories to swap over several beers! Whisper Cove is a tiny marina which was closest to us. They have a good butcher on sight in a tiny well stocked shop, laundry, water and daily lunch specials, Happy Hour every evening with free wifi and quite often, live music. A really pleasant little hide away.

Enjoying the ambience at Whisper Cove
We  had heard so many good stories of the ABC islands as the best place to avoid tropical storms in the summer so we were looking for a good weather window (no storms or tropical waves) to make the 400M passage west. We also didn’t want to stay too long as we would have to renew our cruising permit (they last for a month).

Our passage west would take us directly through 3 islands off the Venezuelan coast so we would head slightly WNW then gybe and head WSW to reach Bonaire.

We left on Monday 29th July  at 14:30  and were tied up on our buoy here in Kralendijk at 18:00 on Thursday 1st August -402 miles in 3 days and 3 ½ hours – a moving average of 5.3kts. We are here in a divers paradise for at least a month – a nice feeling knowing we are going to be settled for a while.