Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao

Enough time spent in Venezuela and we’re off to Bonaire.  Bill plotted our course and it looked like the weather would cooperate also.  We pulled anchor and set off for what looked to be a 36 hour sail. We cleared the tip of Margarita at around 6 PM to a beautiful sunset that turned the sky red, purple, yellow, and blue.

Trimming the spinnaker

A little while later as I was on watch, I gazed over the side and watched as a green streak flashed by.  Dolphins! The phosphoresce in the water was extremely active and everything was glowing bright green in the water.  About 8 dolphins flashed back and forth. Flipping, turning, clicking, blowing air, they were fantastic.  Bill and Alex shot out of their bunks as I yelled for them to come on deck.  Words are very small and simply can't describe the beauty of these creatures. We spent the next 45 minutes standing on the bow banging the halyards against the mast (Alle from Scanhalla II said that if we did this, the dolphins would stay longer as they liked the sound). We were sad to see them disappear, but they returned several times that night.

We bypassed Los Roques, a group of islands between Venezuela and Bonaire. We kicked ourselves in the head later as everyone in Bonaire said that they were some of the most beautiful islands in that area.  Oh well, we'll make up for it with more time in the South Pacific.  We arrived in Bonaire after a nearly windless passage. We had wind for maybe three hours the entire way and ended up motor sailing the majority of the way.

On February 5th as I sat on deck and read, Bill and Alex came up on deck and started laughing.   I thought that they had just been down below a little too long smelling diesel exhaust, so I went back to reading. Just then, Bill unloaded a bucket of water over my head. I almost forgot that it was my birthday!  So, on my 33rd birthday, I received one of the best gifts ever.  Bill and Alex had gotten the exact watch that went overboard in Martinique from a shop in Venezuela.  I strapped my new watch onto my wrist and thanked them profusely. Now, my watch has a meaningful story behind it whenever anyone asks where I got it.  Thanks, guys!

Clearing into Bonaire, I asked one of the customs people where would be the best place to get certified to scuba dive.  Bonaire was one of the few places so far where the customs agents have come right on board The customs agent, Nolly, picked up our VHF and hailed a dive center called Captain Don’s Habitat. It turned out that they had an open water PADI class starting that day.  The only problem was that it was given in German. Nolly asked if I would still like to get certified and offered to do it himself.  It turned out that he had been a scuba instructor for the last 4 years and had just taken a job with customs 3 months ago. I agreed and he said he would pick me up the next day off the boat in the marina.

We left the town pier and headed up to the only marina on Bonaire. We hailed the marina and ended up talking to Deborah, who arranged our slip.  We found out later that she didn't understand why we kept insisting on a starboard-to finger pier (we only have one gateway in our life lines on the starboard side to get on and off the boat) and thought we were fussy Americans.  We ended up hanging around with her and her friends, Gary and May, while we stayed in Bonaire.

Saturday, 1/8 - Friday, 1/14/97
I started my scuba training in the afternoon as Bill & Alex did some diving on their own.  Nolly picked me up at around l PM and we headed up to Captain Don's Habitat. I was on a tight schedule and we were going to fit everything into 3 days as opposed to the normal 5 days.  Nolly was a great instructor and a very funny guy. 

The next day, after my scuba lessons, Bill, Alex and I took a taxi into town to have some dinner and meet up with Deborah, the woman that worked at the marina. We ended up at Karel's beach bar. The bar is right over the water and you can look down through the absolutely clear water to the bottom. Deborah was with Gary and May who worked on a junk rigged schooner named Samor. We sat around for a few hours and then Deborah offered us a ride back to the marina in her dinghy. Gary and May hopped into their l4 foot inflatable with a 40 hp outboard and the four of us got into Deborah's 12 foot dinghy with a 10 hp outboard.  Gary and May took real delight in running circles around us as we were underway.  On one pass, Gary and May got a little too close and I made a dive into their dinghy. At that point, Deborah's dinghy started to plane and scared the heck out of a school of Ballyhoo. Before you could blink, 5 or 6 Ballyhoo had flipped their way into Deborah's dinghy.

At this point, all I remember was getting hit square in the face with a fish. And so started the great fish fight in two moving dinghies.  It was not pretty at all. We were laughing so hard by the time we got back into the marina, we invited everyone over for a little late night nightcap. The evening ended very early the next morning.

Dinner in the cockpit

Alex, Nancy, and Karl

During our stay in Bonaire, we meet a number of very cool people.  First, there was Richard and Martha off Transit.  They are headed the same way as us and we have set up a radio schedule over the SSB. Next, there was Karl and Nancy off Swede Dream. They cooked us breakfast one morning.  Swedish crepes with lingenberry sauce. Also at the end of the dock were our friends off Ocean Bound that we had meet in Antigua and Isla de Margarita. Tom, Farmer, and Dan provided one of the more interesting stories during our stay in Bonaire.

It seems that one morning, Tom had taken off to do some errands. Dan was polishing the boat.  Farmer was walking up the dock and noticed that Ocean Bound had a port list. Farmer ran and checked the instruments and then ran down to the engine room. What he found was water just about over the engine crankcases and still streaming in, He quickly turned on the bilge pumps manually (for some reason, they hadn't kicked in automatically). He then ran topside and found Dan. "Dan, where's Tom, we're taking on water" Farmer said "How bad?" asked Dan. "Too much" replied Tom". Not much use in continuing the old polishing then, right!" Dan deadpanned and then ran to find Tom.

Farmer, meanwhile spotted Tom across the marina and yelled "Tom, we have a slight problem!" Tom, knowing that Farmer rarely gets excited, started to sprint back to the boat. Bill was on the dock when Tom arrived and asked Farmer what was wrong. "Well" Farmer replied in a flat monotone, "Basically, we're sinking".  So, around three hours later, the problem was diagnosed as a broken sea water intake for the heads.  Farmer got the problem under control and Bonaire lost a possible addition of  Ocean Bound as a wreck dive site (right off the dock and easy to reach!).

Saturday, 2/15 - Friday 2/21/97
Monday rolled around and I finished up my PADI certification. I can't say enough good things about Nolly and Captain Don’s. Give them a look up if you make it down to Bonaire. Bill and Alex got some good underwater shots and we left Bonaire impressed with the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the underwater landscape.

We figured it would only take around 18 hours to get to Aruba so we left around 4 PM to arrive in the morning. The night passage was without incident except that we had no wind again. Have I said before that we hate motor sailing? I took over the watch from Bill around 8 AM and he pointed out the north coast of Aruba.  Two hours later we were tied up alongside the commercial docks in Aruba. Bill went to clear us in and we made arrangements to take a stern-to slip in the Seaport Marina.  Bill returned and we motored over to the entrance of the breakwater and promptly bumped the soft sand bottom. There is very little depth information on the Aruba charts and what info is on them is very outdated (there's a good, juicy, rationalization for you!). We backed off and headed over to our assigned space next to a 167 foot motor yacht called Royal Pacific.

In Aruba feeling like a dinghy...

Royal Pacific, Lady Val, and Out of Bounds

The wind was crossing the deck at a crisp 25 knots as we backed into the dock.  We pulled up but got a little sideways and ended up taking a little paint off our transom.  Alex was waiting for a chance to get some gel coat repair experience, anyway.  We trundled over to the marina office and met Henk, the marina manager.  He remarked on our bottom dredging incident on the way in.  He then put us at ease by remarking that the marina kept meaning to dredge the middle channel but never quite got around to it.  Thanks, Henk! We also found that we have the full amenities of the Sonesta Hotel and Suites private beach and swimming pool. Free ice, water, electricity and cheap laundry all for only $5 a foot per week! If anyone out there has paid the $40 per night in Nantucket to sit on a mooring, you can imagine how happy we were.

So, we got to the business of cleaning up (after every passage, like clockwork) and checking out our surroundings.  Aruba is a very large tourist island.  Everyone arrives by plane and very few by boat.  The effect is to really enhance the feeling of camaraderie between all the yachties that stay in Aruba. We met the crew of Royal Pacific and our friends on Ocean Bound pulled into Aruba about 2 hours after us.  The local watering hole for our duration turned out to be The Paddock.   It's right on the water and has some great music, people and food. Wednesday is all you can eat ribs for $9.50 US.  We went every Wednesday from then on.

Leave it to Bill and Alex to find the only sushi restaurant on the island.  However, I revel in the fact that there is a Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King all within a 10-minute walk.  I need my fast food fix! We will be staying in Aruba until the beginning of March.  There are a lot of tasks to be accomplished, a number of people coming to visit.  and some traveling back to the USA for Bill and Alex.

After a couple days exploring, I find that Aruba has a cyber cafe! No more $4 a minute cell bills to retrieve Email from the states (at 4800 baud and 25 Email messages a day, the $ signs add up quickly). So, now my daily routine involves retrieving our Email from The Internet Café, transferring the Email to a disk, and bringing the disk back to the boat.  I then load all the Email on to the Compaq and try and reply to each one.  All the Email we have received to this point has been great.   Only a few crank or negative mails since we started (if we can only stop getting offers from the Franklin Mint , we'd be very happy).  Transfer the Email from the Compaq back to the disk and then jet back to the Cafe. We also connect at 56000 baud!

We started a new Email newsletter while in Aruba. I figured since we had about 3 weeks and a quick connection, why not give it a shot.  One person instrumental in setting up the list is David Boyle from Servercast. Thanks, Dave! Anyway, I've been experimenting and I apologize to everyone that has gotten dupes or large graphic files. I think I finally have it down now.

By coincidence, The guy that Bill negotiated with to sell his firm, Howard, is down in Aruba with his wife Elizabeth.  Good people and a lot of fun. Our gang of nightly acquaintances includes; Chris, Dave, Chris, Frank, Michelle and Steve from Royal Pacific; Hugh and Bill from Lady Val; Tom, Farmer, and Dan from Ocean Bound.  A late arrival, a tuna boat named Seahawk, provides Will, Brian, Capt. Dan, and Brian. Seahawk blew a couple of cylinders and put into Aruba to fix things up.  Towards the end of the week, we bargain with them and end up with a 60 pound Tuna for $175.  Alex cuts it into about 20 steaks and some sushi. We have Tuna coming out our ears.  But only the best quality Tuna.  Thanks Captain Dan!

Saturday, 2/22 - Friday, 2/28/97
Same stuff on the dock in Aruba. Daily trips to the Cyber Café.  Wind is blowing all the time steady at 25 knots during the day. Alex develops 12 rolls of slide film and I spend two days scanning them into the computer.  Ocean Bound leaves and we get Gallant Lady, a 172 foot Feadship that bounces off the dock a few times before finally getting the lines made fist. She ends up with huge gouges up her port side.

One guy that we end up spending a lot of time with is Denis, Captain and owner of Aventura. Aventura is a 45-foot ketch that has anchored right off the airport. Denis visits us nightly and we really enjoy his company. He is mid-forties going on 21.  It takes all we can muster to keep up with him. Alex and Denis rent a car and take off around Aruba taking some great shots of the landscape.

Saturday, 3/1 - Wednesday, 3/5/97
Bill's friends from home, Phil, Lewis, and Lewis' 14 year old daughter Perrin, arrive on Tuesday to accompany us on our trek down to Panama. They arrive bearing gifts and wasobi, a powdered sushi thing I don't quite understand. Alex goes off with Denis to provision. Denis met a guy who owns a few supermarkets and ends up getting us a heck of a deal on a lot of core provisions.

Jeff Johnson 1997


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