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…
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….
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.