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Leaving Bonaire soon

It’s not long now before we’ll be leaving Bonaire. Our next major stop for any appreciable time will be in Cartagena, Colombia. For consideration has always been the possibility of stopping off in Curacao and/or Aruba along the way. Recently our thinking has been to bypass these islands. The trip to Cartagena from Bonaire is approximately 500nm. Getting there may take approximately 4 days. The winds north of 11-12 degrees north of the equator are usually reasonable for sailing but south of these latitudes we may slow down considerably. Stopping off at Curacao and/or Aruba will break the journey down but each one would add a couple of days to the trip. We’re both looking forward to spending time in a capital city so the trade off doesn’t seem worth it. (In fact, many folks make the entire trip as a series of day sails including around 5 stops along the Colombian coast) Our current thinking is to leave Bonaire this coming Thursday and sail direct to Cartagena.

With this in mind I have set up appropriate waypoints for our passage to and entry into the Bay of Cartagena. We don’t have detailed charts on our main chart plotter for this area but as I have them elsewhere now I was able to transfer to coordinates from one system to the other. We are ready in that respect. The only remaining detail is the weather. We’ll be keeping a close eye on forecasts over the next few days to ensure we don’t run into any avoidable nasties.

Yesterday morning we moved the boat hoping to get a better internet connection. For a few minutes we did and in that time I managed to download all my backlogged email. I learned that our wind gen is on the way and due to arrive Tuesday.

I took in our dive tanks to be refilled. While there I inquired about second hand BCDs. There is one available and we may pick it up for when John is with us and for spares. I also discussed some of our recent dives and our inability to find any seahorses. I was told that there was one to be found right where we were anchored, supposedly amongst a pile of old rope on the shallow sands between us and the shore.

Back on the boat I decided to see if I could find this seahorse. True to form it eluded me but I did spot a turtle and was followed everywhere by a pack of tame sergeant majors and angel fish.

Just before noon, Helen and I went ashore to meet Oud from Alofa. She had a couple of things of ours to return plus a bottle of wine to say thanks again for the earlier assistance we gave. We met at the Cappuccino Bar at the end of a pier in town. We stayed together for a couple of drinks before separating.

Helen and I walked around town taking pictures (for posterity) before stopping off for lunch at one of the restaurants. It was more of a Dutch fast food joint and I was dismayed when they delivered my fries with mayonnaise all over them. I should have remembered the Dutch do this.

We popped into the supermarket for some fresh veg and bread bumping into the Jacksters for the second time that day. Back on Dignity we both felt very tired so it was down to a couple of hours reading and resting. Allayne from Audrey Paige swung by in her dinghy letting us know they were off to Curacao soon and hoped to meet us there. Chances are our next meet up will be Cartagena. There plans are to take the day hop route but they should arrive before we leave. They also plan to be in the San Blas for Xmas so we’ll probably meet up then too.

Today we’re off diving again. Jacksters are again going to join us. We’ll move Dignity south where we hope to dive on the Hilmer Hooker, a nearby wreck.

“Mi Dushi”

Thursday morning: another trip to Budget Marine to pick up my map. Another wipe out. Took their number this time so I’ll call before going again. We then motored Dignity around Klein Bonaire to a dive site called “Mi Dushi”. I had made a note of this site while in Budget Marine as the guide suggested this was the site to spot sea horses. Leaving our mooring we were hailed by Alofa who wondered if we were leaving just as they were arriving. We reassured them we weren’t and would be around for a few days yet.

The waters at the Mi Dushi were crystal clear and the colours out of this world. No seahorses spotted though but the dive was excellent all the same.

Arriving back at the mainland we discovered someone else had taken the mooring we had been on (you’re not allowed to reserve them) so we took another a little further north. We found the internet connection to be poor there so after dinghying around and checking some of the others we ended up tying up to the mooring next to our previous which looked as though it had an issue but was fine.

Throughout the day we had exchanges with Jackster and Inspiration Lady sharing notes and materials we’d collected for our passage west.

We had a quiet evening to ourselves. We were a little worn out and needed it after the two previous evenings.

Paradise found

After saying goodbye to Oud and Brice we put up our sails and sailed 5nm north to a new spot off the reef. Sailing through the reefs is magical. At one point I was standing at the bow with the autopilot remote in my hand keeping the boat away from the brown bits and, for good measure, the green bits. The green is where the sand is rising but is usually safe to traverse but there are risks of rocks. Our garmin maps seem very accurate in terms of where all the rises are.

Olafa soon arrived at the same spot. We knew they were heading here too but were glad of the company. We hailed them and invited them over for drinks after dinner to which they agreed.

After lunch, changing the water maker filters and a rest Helen and I went snorkeling. It wasn’t as excellent as our guide book suggested but still pretty good. We saw a turtle, a couple of large rays, a large barracuda and a couple of tuna along with many other smaller fish. The seafloor changes depth quite abruptly from a couple of feet to fifty within a short distance. Some of the interesting things were found on the margins.

Back on the boat we grilled chicken on the barbecue and cleaned up. With guests coming Helen forced me to tidy my desk – something that had been bugging her more than me for a while.

Oud and Brice stayed for a couple of hours and we had a good time. They were getting quite tired after their overnighter and ordeals of the day so we bid them farewell having exchanged/loaned each other a useful item each. Brice lent me some notes about sailing in Columbia and I lent him my contact cleaner to hopefully repair his laptop keyboard.

We finished the evening with a bit of stargazing. The objective was to spot the Andromeda nebula – the nearest major galaxy to our own. With the aid of Stellarium, fantastic free software, we were able to find it as it was just visible to the naked eye. With the astronomical binoculars the sight was awe inspiring. If I remember correctly it’s something like 2 million light years away and the furthest object that can be seen with the naked eye. Helen sloped off to bed and I spent a little longer gazing with the binoculars. I found a couple of star clusters and had a look at one of my favourites – Jupiter. I love seeing the four moons arranged in a line, different every time you look. You can use Stellarium to see how the positions of the moons vary even each hour.

Today we’re off to a group of islands called Francisquis. It’s heading into the touristy part of this park so we expect to lose the isolation. Olafa are probably following intending to stay there a few days.

Footnote. Horror of horrors. I discovered last night that the track memory on our chart plotter is full and it’s overwritten the earlier data. That means we’ve lost the tracks from when we returned to Dignity up until just as we entered Margarita. Bugger.

International Rescue

Shortly before writing this morning’s blog I noticed a sailing vessel entering the Boca. Even at that time I thought it was a bit early in the day but I figured they knew where they were going. After sending the blog and in the middle of responding to emails I took a look around again and realized the boat hadn’t got too far and the sails were flogging. Normally I like to leave the VHF on all the time but the local Venezuelan fisherman have a habit of chatting on the emergency channel so we turn it off overnight. Just in case we would be hailed I turned on the VHF to channel 16 and almost immediately received a mayday call from the vessel that had just entered the boca. They had run aground. The Frenchwoman, Ude, felt they’d made a terrible mistake and requested our help to tow them off. Her partner, Brice, was also on his way over in the dinghy to request help directly.

Unless things got desperate it would be foolhardy to bring another boat close to the reef so I offered to take our spare anchor/rode and help winch them off the reef. Gathering the anchor, our portable depth sounder, my facemask and snorkel and a hand held VHF I took off in the dinghy to assist in their getting off the reef. I left Helen to report the situation to the soon to be starting coconut telegraph just in case anyone else was nearby and could lend a hand if it was required.

Once I reached their boat, Alofa, I could see things could certainly be worse. They were upright and away from any swell which could push them into shallower water. On the other hand the wind had pushed them sideways a bit and there was no way back out. Using the anchor seemed the best bet. We set it at an angle to the boat and brought the line aboard and onto a winch. We winched the anchor in but unfortunately it didn’t hold. We tried again with same result. We realised we needed to get it lodged on a rock, despite the coral on it, and Brice then thought setting it more to the side to shift the boat sideways to create a clearer run backwards. Around this time I had managed to call Helen to check our chart plotter and see what the tides were doing. Fortunately the tide (all one foot of it) was coming in so we didn’t have to panic and rush.

This time the anchor set and we were able to move Alofa around a little. I made my second splash into the water to check around the boat. I was concerned that just behind the bow was rubbing on a rock. I was in favor of using their anchor to pull the boat off the rock and wait for the tide to rise a few inches. Brice was more concerned about the possibility of continued damage while remaining on the reef. His boat, his call. Rather than lose my anchor I asked them for a fender to tie to the end of the rode so we could retrieve it when they let go. I offered to stay in the water and give the signal to move when the rudder was off the reef and to check for a clear passage out. On the signal Brice gunned backwards. I had to swim out of the way and grab hold of our dinghy which was tie to their boat. He committed to the action which was a gamble as he missed a large rock by just a few feet which could have snapped the rudder if he hit it.

The good news is they got off the reef all ok. We agreed they would come over to where we were anchored and anchor themselves. Once there they checked there underside. The bottom of the keel and rudder is damaged but not badly. They’ll survive. We invited them over for coffee so they could unwind from their experience which they accepted.

What makes this story ever more interesting is that Los Roques is the location Brice had been dreaming of for a long time. This was *the* destination. They had arrived earlier than expected and in their eagerness sailed through the boca far earlier than they should. They were confused (perhaps complicated by lack of sleep) as to why they couldn’t see the middle reef. They found it all right. On our boat, with the sun higher, they could see the difference the light made – all those shades of blue. And brown. Brown is where you don’t go.

Right now we’ve moved further up the reef and Alofa are alongside us again. We’ll probably see them a few more times over the next few days.