Tuesday, March 29, 2016


 If you’ve ever seen the great WWII submarine movie “Run Silent, Run Deep” you’ll recognize Clark Gable’s iconic command, “Dive, dive dive!”.  If you haven’t seen the movie you should, that and “Das Boot” being the greatest sub movies ever made and great movies in themselves.

Cockpit social hour with Jerry Dahl
 That’s also pretty much what we’ve been doing on Bonaire the past three weeks. Sure enough we’ve done the usual boat stuff. I’ve changed engine oil and filters. The outboard is finally starting reliably and running very well. The lower shroud parts are supposed to be shipped the 1st and we’re ready to do that replacement. The dinghy leak has been fixed….apparently. We’ve explored much of the island and spent more money than planned upgrading dive gear, etc, etc.
Fellow diver
But it seems every day is pretty much organized around diving somewhere. The entire leeward side of the island (the west side) is one long coral reef and in some places its a double reef. There are a couple marine reserves but all the rest is available for a good to great dive and there are over one hundred categorized entree points. You can just drive the coastal road and shore dive, you can dinghy out to buoys anchored at the known sites or you can do boat dives. We’ve done twenty six dives here as of yesterday. We don’t make any effort to do multiple dive days. A few of those dives have been boat dives but most have been shore entries. The trades have been blowing exceptionally hard the past couple weeks and that has churned things up. Visibility in the water has probably been less than 100 feet but that has begun to improve as the wind is backing off a little. As an example yesterday we dove a site called Karpata at the northern end of the central west coast. Entry and exit were a little rough due to wave action but there was little current and the visibility was at least 100 feet. 
Karpata entry point
 The reef drops off almost immediately from shore  to beyond scuba depth. Went went down to 130 feet along a gorgeous wall of sea fans, mixed soft and hard coral with a wide variety of tropical fish. We worked our way back up along the wall through coral canyons and then eventually into shallower water and back to our entry point. It was a great dive with the only missing element being no really large fish or turtles. We do some variation of that kind of dive somewhere almost every day. We’ve been getting our tank fills and doing a few boat dives with WannaDive which is dive operation near the marina. We would highly recommend them as a very friendly, competent and laid back operation. When my niece Marissa and her friend Olivia were with us they got their open water certifications with WannaDive and were happy with the program. They let us keep our gear in their dive rooms and we just pick up our tanks and gear and go.

WannaDive's operation
 We been socializing and diving with Jerry Dahl who has become a good friend and dive buddy. His sweetie Gwen left a few days ago but he’ll be here a few more days on his boat ‘Castaway’ until heading for Curacao with a friend as crew. Jerry and I have an amazing number of things in common starting with being Iowans the same age and it goes on and on. Jerry has been coming to Bonaire diving since 1972! 
Janet and me...
.....with Jerry Dahl
 So the next big event is a family visit from my niece Julie, her husband Russ and their two boys Owen and Jack, ages six and four. That will be a kick! If we survive the week we’ll get this boat up and ready to move onto Cartagena about the middle of April.

Love to all,
Bill and Janet
SV Airstream

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bonaire, Getting To Know You

We’ve been in Bonaire two weeks now and are starting to feel like old hands. We can drive around ‘town’ without getting lost in the roundabouts and we can find decent ice cream when needed. There are more than a hundred recognized dive sites around the island and we’ve done ten so far. Actually you can fall into the water about anywhere on the leeward side of the island and have a good tropical dive experience.  
The dominant native fauna
People are laid back and friendly and the racial ‘edge’ found many places in the eastern Caribbean doesn’t seem to exist here. The Dutch influence is strong and positive. Island time is still a factor but not to the point where nothing gets accomplished. The rigger working to solve our shroud problem seems to be a good guy and I believe we’ve finally got our pesky outboard starting problem solved at last. With a little luck things will continue to go very well
Olivia, the old guy and Marissa
We had a really nice visit from my great niece Marissa and her roommate/teammate Olivia. The girls are freshmen at Creighton University and soccer players for the university team. They flew in and spent eight days with us on the boat. 

They got scuba certified and went diving with us. They took wind surfing lessons. They did the usual girls stuff and some shopping. They’re very nice, smart and athletic girls and it was very interesting for us ‘old’ folks having some teenagers around for a change. 
Dive training
So we’ve been diving with a nearby dive shop called “Wannadive” and enjoying the local scene. They do our tank fills and we keep gear at their shop. Our boat dives have been with them. They’re very nice.
Wind surfing lessons
But people at home say that we’re on another “island paradise”. Hmmm…..when I look at Bonaire I see  an arid and harsh place where cactus and Iguanas compete with the wild donkeys for what little sustenance is provided. There is almost no fresh water and all the water used in the island’s system is reverse osmosis sea water. What I think of is what an old ship wrecked mariner would have thought having washed up ashore. This was a little bit of hell for those people and for the slaves who were brought in to work the salt ponds. Today the main sources of income are tourism, mostly dive tourism, and salt. Cargill owns the salt production facilities that occupy most of the southern third of the island. There are dive shops on every corner and they seem quite good. There are modern super markets and good restaurants. People are friendly and competent
Cargill's salt loading facility
 Beneath the surface is a rich and varied tropical ecosystem that is well protected by the island government and seems quite healthy. Typically there’s a shore ledge that extends out to 20-50 yards of sandy bottom with some soft corals or stag horn coral and then the reef drops off to maybe 140 feet of depth in a nice wall. The walls are covered with a good variety of coral and there are supposed to be over 400 hundred species of fish. Visibility is 70-100 feet and water temps are about 80F. Its good, very good, tropical diving. Bonaire is touted as being one of the three best dive sites in the world. Well….maybe…..that jury is still out as far as we’re concerned. I still think of the walls north of Little Cayman, the Red Sea south of Hurghada and a bunch of places in the Pacific and Indian Ocean as perhaps better. But as far as the number of sites available, shall we say the square miles of reef that are easily accessible,  well maybe that’s an argument to be made.

Flamingos on the southern flats
In the meantime life is good. Our rental wreck pickup is running better. The previous renter had tried to run it on diesel and it was still recovering but the rental outfit assured me it would be OK and a tank of gas later that seems to be the case. The roads are very rough and tough.
Lunch at Karel's on the waterfront
We’ll have more family down in a couple weeks and that will be great fun. All is well. We’re looking forward to the next month in Bonaire.

Love and kisses,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sayonara St. Lucia, Beginning Bonaire

Departing Rodney Bay
We’re at Harbour Village Marina in Bonaire as planned. The voyage went well, mostly, more about that later. We arrived the 29th and got nicely situated. The marina is small by European standards, about eighty slips, but all amenities are available and its rather posh. What’s more there is that almost indefinable thing we’ve been missing so long, cruiser camaraderie! We have a nice Australian boat from Adelaide beside us. We ran into Frank from SY Morning LIght yesterday at the bar. We cruised with him in Rarotonga and several places across the Pacific and SE Asia. There are several good American boats and the social atmosphere is somehow different in a very pleasant manner. People here are sailors and divers not just charterers, vacationers and site seeing types and there’s some of that sense of shared adventure. Very nice
On a mooring at Marigot Bay
St. Lucia had been quite sweet. Rodney Bay Marina had become a little like home so it was with some sadness that we left and motored a few miles down the coast to Marigot Bay and picked up a mooring. Marigot Bay is a lovely very small natural bay surrounded by high rainforest covered hills. A perfect hurricane hole. Its well developed ashore but in a pretty picturesque way and there are good services. We checked out of St. Lucia there, had a nice dinner at Doolittle’s restaurant and left the next morning for the pitons. 
Marigot Bay beach ferry
We had planned to spend the night at a place called The Hummingbird where they were supposed to have moorings, etc, etc. But after finding no moorings and since they wouldn’t answer VHF and since when I got ahold of them by cell phone they couldn’t supply any info about securing our boat for the night, stuff we thought we had sorted out with them the day before, we cancelled and headed a little further south to the moorings between the pitons.

Towards the pitons
And that turned out to be very special. It was one of the most dramatically beautiful anchorages we’ve had in a long time, right up there with Ua Pou or Vatu Hiva in the Marquesas or some of the Society Island anchorages. Plus ashore there is one resort called Sugar Beach. This has the reputation of being the finest  and most expensive place on St. Lucia. It certainly is beautiful. No high rise monstrosity but a number of off-white victorian ginger bread villas set into the rain forest above a gorgeous beach.
Sugar Beach view
Very quiet and lovely. We went in for drinks and dinner, paid the price, and it was worth every penny. Next morning we snorkeled off the boat in decent coral, relaxed, enjoyed the spectacular view and then headed out for Bonaire.

Sugar Beach bar
SE coast of St. Lucia, the pitons
The passage is roughly four hundred and fifty miles and almost dead downwind in the prevailing trades. We had fifteen to twenty knots most of the trip and sailed with the genoa set alone being no hurry and just wanting as pleasant a trip as possible.
Departing St. Lucia
There was some roll but not like the Atlantic crossing. We had a little night time rain but none of the Atlantic squalls. And about half way across the starboard lower shroud broke with a rather shocking metallic BANG! hmmmm…..I knew I should have put another turn or two on those lower turn buckles before leaving Grand Canary. There was definitely some play in the leeward lowers during the roll but it didn’t seem excessive. Well, continuous rod standing rigging is great stuff but it doesn’t like  looseness  and that was proof. We consulted with a rigger in Bonaire by sat phone and he confirmed there was little chance of the rest of the rig coming down given our point of sail and conditions. I set up spinnaker halyards to the toe rails port and starboard. We pressed on under genoa alone and as I half way expected the port side shroud also failed about twelve hours out. So we came in without further incident.

Entering Harbour Village Marina
 I took down the shrouds and this rigger, who seems pretty competent, thinks we can get new material from Selden (the manufacturer) without difficulty. He didn’t say “without cost” so it will probably be an expensive lesson. The new lowers will never be in play, I promise.

Keeping out the pesky wild donkeys, Bonaire
So we’ve started exploring Bonaire. We got established at a dive operation and have done four dives in the last couple days. We’ve got a car, actually a pickup because that’s what everybody gets to haul around their dive gear, tanks, etc. The atmosphere is friendly and laid back. The island officially calls itself “The Divers Paradise” and most everything is oriented towards that activity. What we’ve seen so far is lovely water with about 100 feet visibility, plenty of aquatic life, including by far the biggest Green Moray eel (whatta beast!)  we’ve ever seen and decent coral.

We’re going to do a lot more diving in the next six weeks and then we’ll have a real opinion. This place is touted as one of the three best diving destinations in the world. I have my doubts about that, we are quite spoiled and jaded folks. But I’m sure we’ll have a very good time. Stay tuned for the full report.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet