People often ask us “What’s the best place you’ve visited?”. This is subjective of course, and we’ve visited some truly remarkable places over the past eleven years; each having their own uniqueness. Moving rapidly up the ‘best places’ list is the small Dutch Caribbean island, Bonaire.

To find a location that ticks all the boxes is a bonus: a safe and calm anchorage/mooring area, great diving and snorkelling, irresistible azure water at a perfect temperature, loads of marine life, supermarkets and laundry nearby, reasonable internet, even a Budget Marine chandlery. In Bonaire, we could easily stay much longer, enjoying all that nature has to offer. English is widely spoken, but the main language here is Papiamento – a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, creole based language only spoken in the Dutch Caribbean. But let me go back a few weeks…

The passage from Martinique to Bonaire was just under 500nm. With a helpful Caribbean Current and solid easterly wind, we managed a 7kn average for the entire trip, arriving at the bottom of Bonaire in the wee hours after 68 hours of good sailing. Along the way I hand-sewed a Bonaire flag using remnants of white shower curtain, a bit of blue, a swatch of yellow, and the important compass logo drawn from red and black permanent Sharpies. Making do with things at hand…

Mooring field at Kralendijk, Bonaire

The final 10nm we dawdled so we could enter the Harbour Village Marina in daylight. A heavy squall rolled over, dousing the boat, washing away days of salt. Once inside, we docked in our pre-arranged berth and waited for the office to open. The trick to staying at Bonaire is to grab one of the 40 odd moorings located south of the marina where the cool air blows over the boat, and swimming from the boat is refreshing.

After walking along the waterfront we checked in with the friendly Customs and Immigration office. A Health Declaration must be completed prior to arrival, which we’d done from Martinique. I believe a PCR is now mandatory as the rules have tightened up recently – see BonaireCrisis website).

On the way back we noticed a free mooring on the outer row, closer to the deeper water. We quickly cancelled our marina booking (for a 20% cancellation fee, luckily we’d only booked two nights), and motored around to the available mooring. The moorings are on a ‘first in, first served’ basis, and incredibly affordable US$10 per night (although I’ve heard a rumour the cost may increase to $45 a night). Where else in the world can you stay in such a magnificent location and swim in a huge aquarium for less than $80 a week!

The moorings are located on the sloping western bank from around 5m depth, dropping off to around 15-30m at the stern of our boat. From here we can jump directly off the boat and straight into a dive. Perfect! If you’re planning on any water activity within the Bonaire Marine Park, you’ll need to pay a Nature Fee at Stinapa (US$45 per person for one year).

The wind blows incessantly from the east, so the exposed western coast isn’t really a problem, until it is. At which point we have the option to relocate to a safer mooring on the lee side of the small island of Klein Bonaire or head into the small marina.

The main reason people visit Bonaire is the diving. This small Dutch Antilles island has many dive shops, dive tours and packages to suit every type of diver – from novices to experienced deep sea divers. (There are couple of useful Facebook pages where you can find info – Bonaire Divers and Bonaire Cruisers). Dive Friends, a popular business on the island, offers a discount for air fills – 21 fills for US$124 – a good deal. They also have all sorts of courses and hire gear and a retail store too.

Whilst we have our own gear, we haven’t dived for some time, particularly as we’ve been in the chilly northern latitudes (we’re warm water divers). Our dive gear needed some TLC, so we took the time to ensure everything was working as it should. Both our BCDs had issues with dump valves, and our tanks were also due for a service – tumbling and hydrotesting. Due to the Christmas high season, we didn’t get our tanks back until a few days before New Year’s Eve. While we waited, we snorkelled and enjoyed the beautiful 27degC water. In the end we had to buy two new BCDs and a new dive computer for me, as my old one died. Xprodiver is a good store for advice, service and retail too.

While we waited for our tanks to be returned, we hired four tanks so we could dive with friends, Steve and Dee, aboard Voila. The dives along the coast are named and numbered and I’d recommend buying a Bonaire Dive Guide. At the dive ‘Alice in Wonderland’, we did an afternoon dive to around 27m, but the main event was a night dive amongst the Ostracods.

These tiny shrimp-like crustaceans (about 1mm), generate bioluminescent light. As part of their monthly mating ritual they emit a blue light, hence they are named “blue tears”. Every month up to three days after a full moon, these little creatures light up the water – like bright stars in a dark sky. Once the sun had set, in the blackness of night before the moon rose, we dived down to around eight metres, torches off so as not to disturb the critters, and sat on the bottom enveloped in complete darkness, except for the twinkle of ostracods floating around us. Not far away we could see other divers approaching the area with torches on. This upsets the little ostracods and they get all shy… wouldn’t you during your monthly mating ritual! Once the show was over, we could turn on our torches and make our way back to the boat. Cool! Of course, in the darkness we couldn’t take any photos or video of the event, but here’s a cool link….

One dive from the boat into 20m, we were joined by a sea turtle, who swam his way close by as he poked around for things to nibble. The marine life here is truly amazing and the water is so clear. I don’t have a GoPro, but I have a more affordable alternative – a Crosstour CT9900. I bought this for around $100 and so far it’s a little ripper. I’ve taken it down on every dive (even down to 28m) and it takes pretty good video and photos, as long as I can keep my hand steady. But if you want to see really good photos of marine life, maybe check out someone elses blog….

Another load of tourists pouring into the islands…

Besides diving, Bonaire is a popular place for cruise ships to visit. But I’m surprised at the number of ships that roll in each day; even more surprised the number of people who want to go on cruise trips at this moment in time. Some ships have been turned away from Curacao and Aruba due to COVID outbreaks aboard. But, without the tourists, the small boat operators, water taxis and local shops would suffer. It’s the same situation in every country. Before we continue our passage west, we will have to have a PCR test to enter the next country, and the next, and so on. With Omicron, the rules are getting stricter, and we just hope that the Pacific doesn’t close down like last year. Tests aren’t cheap, so we may have to reconsider where we go and for how long.

To end the year, we had an enjoyable dinner with Steve and Dee at Trocadero, then back to their Saba 50 to view the random fireworks displays exploding over Bonaire as the New Year rolled in. 

To welcome in the New Year, we continued to dive ever other day, at the popular places along the western coast, and joined Voila on a trip to Klein Bonaire.

Looking back over 2021, we’ve sailed almost 7000nm passing through France, Spain, Portugal, Madeira, Cape Verde, Martinique and now Bonaire. The tropics is more favourable than the chilly north, but we are glad we spent the time we did up there. Now we have a full year ahead, navigating the ever-changing entry rules and regulations as we make our way back to Australia. When I began writing this post, Colombia didn’t require a PCR test for arriving, but now, at the end of the post, they do. Every day we have to keep abreast of the information whirling around the internet, filter out the noise and try and make sense of the ever-changing rules around COVID. In between, we just try to enjoy where we are.

So, at the end of yet another year aboard Blue Heeler, thank you for following our voyages, and we wish you all the very best for 2022.

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Ahoy mateys!

After eighteen nights offshore, it took me a few days to get back into a ‘normal’ sleep pattern. I kept nodding off at sunset and laying wide awake during the night. Now that sleep is back to normal, it’s time to go offshore again and establish our three-hourly offshore watches.

Le Marin, Martinique, seems the same as it was on our original visit, six years ago. The marina office is now upstairs, overlooking the marina, and the check-in computers with French keyboards demand the same information as before; and still 5€ to check-in. The two busy women at the desk are flat-out greeting sailors from around the world – mostly, it seems, from France – while the marina staff tear about on dinghies, directing inbound vessels to awaiting berths. It’s very busy here at this time of year, despite the pandemic. We complete the online check-in and present boat paperwork to the receptionist, and we are done. Time for a croissant!

Fortunately at this busy time of year, we managed to secure a berth for one week, on the same dock as many of the charter vessels. Wayne backed the boat into the berth, using a boat hook to pick up the ‘slime lines’ to secure the bow while mooring lines attach the stern to the dock. We setup a narrow plank – a fender board – to cross to the dock like a drawbridge. From our cockpit, we watched hoards of tourists dragging suitcases to their designated boat, while charter company staff busied themselves cleaning boats, fixing engines and restocking lockers with goodies for new visitors. The nights are cooler and quiet with the odd downpour of rain.

Our jobs during our stay were the same as usual – replenish our fresh food, clean the boat, do some laundry and establish internet for ongoing planning and catching up with news. Caraibe Marine chandlery is well stocked with all sorts of useful boat bling. I bought an additional 12V fan to help cool the boat down. The recently imposed curfew has the restaurants closing early, with limited menus, but we managed to catch up with the crew of Voila for a meal and drinks. Word had filtered through to me that COVID booster shots were being offered at the hospital, and only for those who had been fully vaccinated more than five months before. So, we went along, waited in line, and got our third jabs. Having this additional shot should help expedite border crossings.

When I first visited the Auchen supermarket close to the marina, I was somewhat alarmed – there was literally no fresh food! All that was available in the veggie section was some lettuce, zucchinis and cucumber. No spuds, carrots, or even cabbages. No cheeses, meats or anything in the fridge section. I’m not sure why this was the case; whether it was a symptom of the recent civil unrest and subsequent curfew due to COVID rules; or just a result of ongoing supply chain problems over the past couple of years, also due to COVID. I’m thinking the latter.

Fortunately, the Marché Couvert opposite the hospital has locally grown produce – pineapples, bananas, guava, spuds, carrots, fresh eggs, mandarins, avocado, and all sorts of local fruits and veggies. The Leader Price supermarket – 20 minutes from the marina – is, I think, the best supermarket within walking distance. It has a good variety of goods, fresh and frozen meat, and the prices are okay too. But the good news is that after a week, Auchen’s shelves were bulging with fresh produce including capsicums, broccoli, cabbage and a good variety of fresh food. I think a ship of goodies must’ve come in.

The marina’s wifi is okay – enough bandwidth to plan the next leg of our trip west. I attempted to buy a SIM card from the Digicel store near McDonald’s but his system shut down and he couldn’t issue me a SIM. Apparently the same SIM card can also be used in the ABC islands, but I’ll just wait until we get there to sort this out. It’s a little frustrating not to be able to research the next stage of our trip – everything nowadays is online.

After one week, we had to leave our berth at the marina as it was booked by a returning charter boat. The marina berthing rates are acceptable, considering it’s high season and close to Christmas. Electricity and water is additional, and considering a couple of people tapped into our designated tap to wash their boats and fill their water tanks, it didn’t cause too much of an impact to the overall cost.

Off we went to the dodgy-holding at Sainte-Anne anchorage where we hung out for some days, using the IridiumGo as our primary method of communication. Onshore, the small supermarkets are well stocked, the beachside cafes have good wifi, and there are plenty of souvenir shops and a patisserie with tasty treats. Also at Sainte-Anne is a pharmacy where we managed to book Antigen tests prior to departure; a requirement for entering Bonaire. At the Snack BouBou cafe, there is a clearance computer – once again navigating my fingers around the French keyboard to clear out of Martinique and make our way west – 3€ to clear out. A short and sweet stay in Martinique, swimming in the 28degC+ waters off St Anne, now it’s time to continue our voyage.

Our passage to the ABC islands is 500nm – should take us four days. We are hoping to enter Bonaire and spend Christmas diving among fish, nudibranch and coral, but as it’s the high season, they may not have a mooring for us, so we may have to head to Curacao. So, I guess we’ll end up where we end up! Once again we’ll have the Moon along for this trip, lighting the night sky.

Until then…

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As we are offshore, we can’t respond to any comments, but will be sure to reply once we are back in the world of internet.
Follow our progress here – https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_BlueHeeler

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Well, if you’ve been following our GPS tracking through PredictWind, you’ll know that we arrived safe and sound in Martinique on the 1st December. Eighteen nights at sea, to arrive on day nineteen, took longer than if we had have sailed in stronger trade winds, but the light conditions made for a most relaxing and peaceful ocean passage. Here are some stats for those interested:

  • Direct distance – Cape Verde to Martinique – 2,080nm
  • Logged distance (actually sailed) – 2,350nm (our third longest sail to date)
  • Nights at sea – 18
  • Average speed – 5.6kn
  • Average wind speed – around 8-12kn (final two days up to 30kn)
  • Fastest day – 152nm (last day)
  • Slowest day – 105nm (day 7)
  • Motoring (propulsion) – 12 hours
  • Motoring (Watermaker and battery charging) – 33 hours
Grib files before departure showed calm conditions – we knew what we were heading into

When we departed Cape Verde, we knew we were going out into calm conditions – stronger and more stable trade winds not due for another week so we figured we would leave anyway and make the most of what was on offer. With a large fleet of ARC Rally boats entering Mindelo, we thought it best to get a wriggle on before the small anchorage filled up.

South or north? Only we can interpret the data and make our own way.

Helping us on this trip was the IridiumGo and PredictWind routing. With six weather models to choose from, each day and night we would downloaded different grib files, analyse the routes and come up with our own interpretation of the data. The routes weren’t always compatible with our boat polar, or our preferred sailing configurations, but the grib files themselves were fairly accurate. Using the weather data from the downloaded information, we would generally make our own decisions to navigate through the calm water. We also used Weather4D as an alternative method of viewing grib files.

750nm into the trip and heading south each day

Cape Verde is at 17 degrees latitude, while Martinique is at 14.28 degrees. The PW routes were suggesting we keep heading south to reach wind, in some cases as far south as 10 degrees. Sailing in light conditions and keeping as far south as we needed, we regularly gybed the spinnaker, changed sails, winged out, even had genoa, spinnaker and main up in one configuration, all in an effort to maintain progress and not head too far south. We did dip below 12 degrees before coming back up. Six days out of Martinique, the routes were suggesting we head down as far as 11 degrees – level with Tobago. Besides a few hours, the spinnaker stayed up for a record twelve days!

The overal route – 2350nm

The overall logged trip was 2350nm; happily, we managed to sail the entire trip only motoring twice for around six hours (12 total), to get across a dead patch of calm with zero wind. Mostly though, where the wind was between 6-10kn, with our radial spinnaker and a bit of current, we managed to move along between 4-5kn.

The light conditions made for a really enjoyable trip, but with the spinnaker up overnight with only one on watch, we were mindful that we may have to gybe or change sails during the night. The calm conditions allowed us to read books, watch movies, try our hand at fishing (not very successful mind you), and just enjoy the time away from the outside world. Up until the final couple of days, we saw only one ship visually, plus two others on AIS. Only two yachts came anywhere near us overnight.

Within a few days, we’d settled into our offshore routine – typically three hourly watches overnight and only napping during the day if we felt inclined. Brilliant red sunsets and orange sunrises now our timekeepers, with a bright waxing moon peaking to full six days into the trip, then waning for the remainder.

After sunrise each day I’d throw out the trolling line from the stern and clear the deck of stiff, lifeless, flying fish which had succumbed overnight. The sargassum weed across the Atlantic fouled my lure each day, although we did manage to catch a small fish. Each night, I’d wind the line in, empty, and each morning I’d throw it out…

After stocking up in Mindelo, we ate fresh veggies and fruit every day, and with our last remaining Granny Smith apples, I whipped up a sweet apple crumble as a treat. Two dozen eggs at the start, with four remaining at the end – I keep these in a drawer and have never had a need to refrigerate eggs. For a special dinner for our 39th wedding anniversary, I cooked up a big tray of pizza followed by chocky pudding and Merlot – yum!

The final 600nm, still coaxing us to sail south.

Our ETA was always the 1st December, and fortunately the final 400nm of our voyage the winds picked up to between 18-25kn, gusting to just under 30kn, so we were fairly sure we could make it by that date. The PW routes were still suggesting for us to go south, but with the strong wind we navigated our own way to Martinique using winged out sails during the day and gybing at night; to keep the crew comfortable while still maintaining speed, we reefed the sails.

Large squalls bringing wind and fat rain

A few times we had massive downpours – you know, the type of fat rain typical of the tropics – prompting me to go out on deck to cool down and enjoy the deluge.

Final two days of the trip – heading towards Barbados before a long gybe towards Martinique

Before we departed Mindelo, we setup the PW GPS Tracking so that we could track other boats and read their daily updates. It’s a great way to keep in touch, and it was great to receive SMS messages and emails from friends as we sailed along.

As we approached Martinique, we didn’t see the island until we were 16nm away – about three hours. Sunset in the eastern Caribbean is early – around 6pm – and we knew were weren’t going to make the anchorage before dark. The southern lighthouse on Ilet Cabrits flashing four times every 15 seconds and we entered the Saint Lucia Channel at full speed before heading north a couple of miles into the Sainte-Ann anchorage; a place we arrived at in 2015, also in the dark.

So, that’s the trip. We’re both happy with the boat – nothing broken as far as we can see, due to the light sailing and not pushing the boat too hard. It was the most cruisy sail we’ve ever sailed and I would rather sail like that, than bash into headwinds or surf down huge seas – been there, done that!

Now we will spend some time in Martinique and plan our next passage. I’ll write more about our checkin and stay at Le Marin soon, suffice to say it was très facile!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the trip!

Until next time.

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Ahoy landlubbers!

Two weeks into our passage, we have over 700nm remaining. Here’s a brief summary of the trip so far:

Direct route – Cape Verde to Caribbean – 2080nm
Actual route – 2310nm
Distance sailed – 1587nm
Remaining miles – 720nm

The grib files last week showed a few days of stronger winds, but those didn’t eventuate. Consistently light NE winds kept our spinny hauling us along at a steady pace, fast enough to crack over 100nm each day, and we’ve not had to motor at all over the past seven days.

Our food situation is fine and we still have veggies and meat in the fridge. I ate the last red apple today, but I still have some Grannies. Our main meal each day is eaten mid afternoon, now that the clocks are changed to Caribbean time and the sun disappears around 4.30pm. With our chocolate supply gone, a bowl of cold chocolate custard is a sweet alternative.

We’ve watched movies, listened to podcasts, eaten and slept. Sitting down so long isn’t good for anyone, and my bum is numb, so I’ll be glad to reach land and stretch my legs. Fishing out here hasn’t produced anything except sargassum weed. Although, we did catch a pathetically small dolphin fish, not much bigger than the lure. I rather think the hook snagged the fish, than the fish attempting to eat the lure.

With the spinny doing the bulk of the work over the past two weeks, the sheath on the tack line chaffed through. Skipper cut that section off and re-rigged. Besides a ‘wine-glass’ dilemma where our spinny wrapped itself around our forestay, we’ve also lost a couple of split rings where sheets have ripped them away from their clevis pins. Out here, small problems are better than big ones.

The only other mishap of any consequence was a freshly fizzed bottle of Sodastream spraying soda over the galley. It happened fast – a large wave, the boat lurched, a lid-less bottle of fizz, a Sodastream maker, and a bottle of sweet sticky cordial – all moving at the same time, and me, with only two hands! At least it was just water. Good job I’m more careful when cooking…

We had some wonderful downpours during the early part of the week. The mass of water rinsed the rigging and deck, and filled the buckets, supplementing our supply of water. The weather forecast shows settling conditions with slightly stronger winds, so we are hoping to have a good sail for the remainder of our trip. Our ETA is probably 2nd December at this stage.

Ally & Wayne

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Follow our progress here – https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_BlueHeeler [end]

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Ahoy!

If you’ve been following our GPS Tracking, you’ve probably read my daily updates, so I won’t repeat much of what I’ve already written. However, after one week of sailing, now entering our seventh night offshore, here’s a brief summary of the trip so far:

Direct route – Cape Verde to Caribbean – 2080nm
Actual route – 2230nm
Distance sailed – 770nm
Remaining miles – 1460nm

Each morning and night we download a fresh PredictWind grib file and consider our options. Six weather models provide route information and from our experience, ECMWF, Spire, PWE and UKMO are most accurate. Where the routes agree, we follow somewhere in the middle. So far, the predictions are reasonably accurate.

Looking back on our ocean crossings, this voyage is our third longest to date. Although we sailed thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean, our longest passage was no more than 1200nm as we sailed from islands to atolls as we crossed. Our longest passage to date was 3800nm, 28 days, St Helena to Martinique (2015); and 2800nm, 21 days from Caribbean to Azores (2017).

So what do we do out here? A lot of sitting, for sure, and laying down to rest. Not so much exercise but simple stretches and some time standing help blood return to numb parts of the body. While everything is fine we can relax, but out here we must also be ready for any unwelcome problems.

I’m reading a book, but it has little story to keep me interested. It’s good to send me to sleep though. Some of my favourite podcasts – BBC’s History Hour, ABC’s Nightlife, BBC’s The Documentary, plus a new one I’ve recently downloaded, the ABC’s ‘Stuff the British Stole’, which looks at how 19th century British Empire ‘acquired’ cultural artifacts and natural wealth from it’s colonies and rivals. Skipper spends his time checking instruments, analysing graphs, making sure we have full batteries, runs the watermaker, kills fish and opens jars for me.

Settled into the voyage, we tend to stay awake during the day, with two x four hour watches at night, providing enough sleep. To stay awake while on watch, I listen to podcasts, watch movies or TV series, with my Bluetooth headphones so as not to disturb skipper below. Away from the noise of the outside world is a welcome break. We’ve no idea what’s happening in the world right now.

Sailing in light conditions is relaxing, but we can’t be complacent regarding the weather. The cruising chute has flown since Monday – the longest run we’ve done I think – and we haven’t had to motor at all (only to charge the batteries and operate watermaker). The forecast for the next few days shows increasing, but not excessive, wind. This will improve our daily mileage and our ETA.

This passage has taken us from latitude 17 degrees at Cale Verde to under 12 degrees, and our destination, Martinique, is at 14 degrees. Our meandering course looks like a dog’s hind leg as we pursue wind to blow us to the Caribbean.

Tomorrow is our 39th wedding anniversary, maybe we’ll do something special!

Ally & Wayne

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Follow our progress here – https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_BlueHeeler

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