Wednesday, 23 July 2014

To Bonaire 2014

To Bonaire 2014

Leaving St Lucia we start to haul up the anchor only to find the switch fails with only half the chain up! Fortunately the windlass handle isn’t too buried so we bring the rest of the chain up by hand. This is a must fix as it is very hard and slow work! Fortunately we won’t need to anchor in Bonaire as we will be on a mooring and we will be in the marina before being hauled out in Curacao. We motor to the marina for fuel and water, as we approach the fuel dock the engine dies going into reverse, our approach is somewhat faster than planned! Fortunately we are well fendered and have lines ready to throw to the surprised staff on the fuel dock. As we swing in our anchor scrapes one of the mooring bollards but no real damage done thankfully. Fuelled and watered our engine starts and runs fine, a complete mystery.

Finally with calmed nerves we are off.  As with all weather forecasts they are just that (a forecast) wrong as usual so for the first day and a half we have more wind than predicted and not from the direction that was predicted.

Thankfully the squall is going away!

At this time of year the winds should be from the East or South East, we have a North easterly wind, which is a dead run! Not the best point of sail. We sail on a very broad reach, the main reefed and a preventer set, the genoa set on our whisker pole. We are heading further south than we would wish to sail but hopefully we will get the predicted South east wind or we will have to gybe. The seas are bigger than predicted too, often higher than the boom and frequently coming from different angles creating a very uncomfortable ride.

‘Arry, the Hydrovane, is coping very well (much better than the crew) who are struggling to cook, eat and sleep in what has become a ‘washing machine’ down below. Four days of this will be hell! The wind still is from the North east so we will have to gybe - a potentially dangerous manoeuvre at the best of times, much more so in 20+kts of wind and 3m+ seas. We gybe before dark at the end of day 2, slowly and successfully, unfortunately when setting the pole we managed to pull off the bracket holding the aft guy and downhaul to the pole. (We should have eased the downhaul a little bit more before hauling in on the aft guy!). No real problem and a bit of a jury rig keeps us going ok.

Inspecting the damage

Morning brings light winds and fortunately calmer seas, the winds are so light that we have to revert to the ‘iron topsail’ as we need to keep our speed up so we will arrive by Sunday evening, Monday is predicted to bring strong winds to Bonaire (the result of another tropical wave). A morning of motor sailing and we gybe again, this time we will be able to sail to the southern tip of Bonaire on one tack. 

Salt 'mountains' in the distance

The seas are much calmer and the winds steady from the east at 15kts, we have picked up the west going current that will help us towards our destination. We pass the Venezuelan  Aves islands during the night only seeing the light from the lighthouse some 7-8 miles away. Bonaire is sighted during the morning and we round the southern tip (gybing again!) and have a very brisk sail to Kralendijk in 25kts of gusty winds. We pick up a mooring close to Yellow Sub dive shop, it is Sunday lunchtime - we can inflate the dinghy later and clear in tomorrow morning.

Kralendijk docks

 We have sailed 480 miles in 4 days and 1 and ½ hours. A hot shower (not rusty!), a cold beer, lunch and a snooze are in order.

St Lucia June 2014

St Lucia June 2014

It is always nice to sail into somewhere familiar and rounding the point to sail into Rodney bay was no exception. We anchored near Gros Islet, not too far from the marina entrance, knowing to drop the anchor well clear of the trench and soon settled back into life in St Lucia.

Gros Islet

Our plans are to stay in Rodney bay for a few weeks while we get a few jobs done on the boat then we will sail to Bonaire and Curacao where we will leave the boat and fly back to Europe for 2 months. We have a deadline to getting to Bonaire as we are meeting Rowena’s brother Ian and his wife and celebrating Ian’s 50th birthday with a ‘dive fest’.

The big project for our time in Rodney bay is to sort out the problem of rusty water in our freshwater tanks. This has been bugging us for some time now. We can only assume we had taken on rusty water and it has settled in the bottom of the tanks to be shaken up every time we go sailing.  The solution is to drain the tanks open up the inspection hatches and clean them out. Having done this we will hopefully get through a lot less water filters on the drinking water tap and not have ‘rusty’ showers after we have gone sailing!  

The marina at Rodney bay is the place to do this while we are tied alongside and a freshwater hose readily available. We also have some minor sail and canvas repairs to do and the engine needs a service, so the calm of the marina is the best place to do it all.

An evening at the 'Jump up'

We try to be focused on our tasks but Rodney bay is a sociable as ever, various ‘happy hours’ sundowners aboard various boats and of course the reciprocal evenings as well tends to be a bit distracting, however we do manage to get the tasks done and are waiting for a good weather window to sail to Bonaire.

 As usual, not only do we have our jobs list to focus on but repair what breaks while we are in Rodney bay. Disappointingly the shower drain pump packed up one evening. This has only lasted 18 months. I suppose when we replaced the last one we shouldn’t have just replaced ‘like with like’ but tried to improve. This time we have a much improved pump (at twice the price of the old one) so hopefully this will last much longer.     
Unfortunately we find living on the boat 24/7 some of the kit just is not up to the job, for ‘weekending’ and the occasional week away it would be fine but for the usage we are giving some of the systems we need almost ‘industrial’ quality.

 In Rodney bay we have met with our friends on ‘Compass Rose’ who are keen birdwatchers and together with ‘Wild Matilda’ we organised a bird watching trip to the Maria Islands located off the south coast of St. Lucia. Home to many nesting sea birds it proved to be an interesting trip. Our guide Stefan, works for the Forestry Commission and also took us to an inland brackish lake to see wading birds as well as the forest birds close to where he lives. His enthusiasm for birds was a totally infectious, well worth the very early start (before daybreak). Although we were flagging by the time we got to our rather late lunch, our guide would have carried on all day. This is one lucky man whose hobby has become his job and his passion.

Our transport to Maria island

We set of in a pirogue from a small fishing harbour in mangroves . Our skipper is a fisherman and fortunately knows his way round the shallows. The whole trip out was in only a few feet of water, we could see the rocks he had to navigate around. It was also very windy with big swells so we were all pretty wet by the time we arrived. The boat was beached and out we hopped out, the fishermen settling down to wait for us.
The whole island is a reserve and no one is allowed ashore without permission. 

Bridled Tern

We had expected a Bridled tern nesting ground, but Stefan explained that they died in their thousands a few years ago and nobody found out why. The vegetation is mainly cactus and dry thornbush and there are no mammals. Scaley-naped pigeons fly over from the main island to nest low in the trees so there is a continual rapid overfly. Brown Noddys make acrobatic entries and exits from their nests on the rocks among the cacti.

Brown Booby on the Pulpit

After a steep climb to the top of the island, seeing Caribbean Martins nesting in a cut in the rock and a tree gecko on the way, we arrived at the Atlantic side atop a high cliff. 

Red billed tropic bird

From here we could watch all these birds from above as well as Red Billed Tropic birds, a few Bridled terns and Frigate birds. Quite a spectacle. It was so windy that I had to sit down to take photographs!

View from Maria Island

On the way down we found a dead Racer snake (Stefan was quite upset, apparently there are only about 40 left on the island) and a lovely big blue tailed lizard, too quick to photograph. After a wet trip back it was off to Borais Pond, very dry at the moment but hundreds of birds feeding – Great Egret, Green Heron, Blue Heron, Semi-palmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, the rare Caribbean Coot, Moorhens, Kingbirds and a Peregrine.

See how he blends in!

Our next stop was some dry forest near Frigate Island. We walked up a dry river bed to see some endemic St Lucian birds. 

In the Dry forest

There were not many at first but we sat down and Stefan started calling them. It was amazing. We eventually got to see (All endemic) St Lucia Peewee, St Lucia Warbler, St Lucia Black Finch (uncommon), Grey Trembler (not endemic) and best of all the White Breasted Thrasher which is critically endangered due mainly to habitat loss. We saw three! 

The salt ponds

At anchor, the wind is unrelenting and everywhere is hazy due to all the Sahara dust in the air. This is good in that it inhibits the formation of hurricanes, but the whole boat is slowly turning russet brown. Our nice new stern shade cloth now looks terrible. We have a few small showers overnight which causes little brown rivulets all down the cloth and muddy puddles on the deck in the morning.

The red dust!

Finally we get our ‘window’. There have been several Tropical waves passing through, nothing too serious but enough to produce squally weather and above average seas. We want a nice passage so we wait for a gap.  Four days of 1.5m swells and 15 – 20 knot winds, just what we need.