More people should come to Bonaire! We have had the most perfect week exploring as much of the island as possible via moped, diving on the coral reef which surrounds the whole island and eating our body weight in ice cream.
After the most blissful three day sail here from Montserrat – which was so calm that we had to motor the whole way and could swim off the boat in the middle of the Caribbean sea which was a thrilling yet nerve wracking experience – we arrived to an island much bigger than I expected. As we came in there were two huge cruise ships moored and every couple of days they would go out and a new set would come in, giving Bonaire a steady buzz of activity as passengers got off their cruise for a browse about the island. I think though that I preferred the couple of days we had without any ships in, the whole island was much more quiet, there were no stalls set up in the centre of town with touts and vendors trying to flog Bonaire salt to tourists. It was just us, our moped Molly and which ever flavour of ice cream we had decided on that day.
During a full circuit of the island during which Oscar voiced many concerns about my driving (!!!!) we saw a lot of flamingos and some pretty impressive mountains made of mined salt. A very good chunk of the island is a national park which is very strictly monitored called the Washington Slub Park and the whole ocean surrounding the island is also protected. You are not allowed to put any anchors down and if you even want to get into the water to paddle you have to pay a fee – $10 for a years worth of snorkelling and $25 for a years worth of either diving or snorkelling. It was definitely worth the money and the protection in place for their water really showed. Although much of the coral is now dead due to a big storm a few years ago, everything that is still there is beautiful and the fish are all stunning.
It’s a really unusual dive spot in that as the reef surrounds the whole island and there is always a quiet leeward side, everyone seems to dive on their own by just walking down the beach and starting to swim. We can both dive and are really keen to get under the water and see as much as possible but neither of us were sure about diving without a guide as we have never done that before. So, we found a great dive shop to take us and we spent a whole afternoon discovering two different dive sites. I think now that we have done it I would have the confidence to go with just myself and Oscar but I am glad we did it with a guide at first. The whole leeward side of the island is covered in dive sites managed by the national park, they are every 300m along the road that rings the island and are signalled by a yellow rock bearing the sites name. The idea is that the divers just drive up, park and go diving – easy peasy! In the water we got to see a lot of Parrot fish in every colour, Drummer fish, Box fish, Puffer fish, Grouper and millions of others I couldn’t identify.
Later on in the week we all spent the morning together taking part in an Eco Kayaking tour of the Mangroves. It was a pretty fun activity as we sat in tandem kayaks and paddled around a bay full of mangroves which are the breeding ground of fish. Again, this was a protected area where people are not allowed to enter unless on this tour and so it was very calm and full of marine life. I saw a baby stingray which was about the size of my thumb and a huge turtle swimming around! Apparently around 70% of the fish on the reef in Bonaire are born in the mangroves, thousands are born however, only 1 in 10,000 fish will ever actually make it out of the mangrove bay and onto the reef – pretty awful odds!! All the bigger fish looking for supper know that these younger fish need to leave at some point and so hang around the bay looking for food. The mangroves were teaming with tiny fish who dart in and out of the root systems and therefore avoid being eaten by the fish that are too big for the gaps in the roots.
Unfortunately, one night during dinner we discovered a pretty big problem in the mast. One single screw on the main sail hydraulic furling unit had not been tightened up enough during a recent rig fix in Antigua. As a result we had hydraulic fluid seeping down the mast, into our bildge system. To make matters worse, the fluid is very destructive and so needed to be taken out quickly. What was in effect a two second job to tighten a screw turned into three full days of tricky rig fixing. To get to this screw we had to take the main sail off, take off the boom, remove a goose neck which was practically cemented to the mast and then finally turn the screw a quarter turn to make it tight! What a nightmare. Next we had to reattach the goose neck, the boom and refit the sail and then start the clean up operation downstairs which was no mean feat and saw Oscar with his head down the bilges for a good ten hours.
Life as crew, having never done it before, has taken a little time to get used to. It is an incredible experience, we get to visit all these beautiful places and also call it our job however, I am of course missing everyone back home. I think the part which can be most difficult is not often having time to yourself. I share a bunk bed cabin with Oscar and while I can escape to my bunk to read, it is not the same as the independence I am used to back home. That is why I enjoyed having Molly our moped so much as on an evening, once we had finished work, Oscar and I could easily scoot into town for a drink or I could go over to the supermarket and browse for some Spinach or Sweet Potatoes (two of my top five vegetables).
With everything all fixed on board we took our chance with the weather and set sail for Cartagena in Colombia. Most boats on the rally are skipping Cartagena due to the really difficult weather you can experience on the sail in. As you go around the Barranquillo corner, before you get to Cartagena, the wind speeds up as it bends around, making it sometimes a bit tricky. We have been checking the grib files all week looking for our best window to leave and we are feeling fairly confident in our timing so far. Wish us luck!