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Surprise Visit To Bonaire

Sunday May 30, 2010

We’ve been motoring since we left Anguilla, making our way south through the Caribbean Sea before turning west toward Panama. The Captain says that this is ridiculous. Normally this would be a passage done almost entirely under sail – the trade winds in the Caribbean Sea are usually so consistent at this time of year. However, due to the pesky low pressure system we’ve mentioned before over the Bahamas, conditions are not presently normal in the Caribbean Sea. We’ve been faced with either headwinds or winds too light to sail.

According to forecasts, which we follow closely, the pattern of winds which is normally expected in these waters at this time of year is predicted to return to normal sometime early this week. Until then, we’re stuck with a motorboat ride where we should be in some of the nicest sailing of the voyage.

Just before supper on Saturday, the Captain called a muster at which he announced that we would make an unscheduled stop at the island of Bonaire. The plan is to stop for a couple of days while the winds are not useful for us to sail, so that we can leave Bonaire and get some time under sail on the way to Panama once the wind patterns return to normal.

Bonaire is one of the Netherlands Antilles just off the coast of Venezuela. Together with Aruba and Curacao, they’re sometimes referred to as the ABC islands. Bonaire is ranked as one of the top three dive sites in the world, in fact the license plates on vehicles in Bonaire say “Diver’s Paradise.” Because the waters surrounding the island up to 60m deep are all a national marine park, anchoring is strictly prohibited. All vessels must either go on a mooring or go alongside a dock. Where none of the moorings are big enough to accommodate a ship like Picton Castle, we quickly made arrangements to go alongside the south commercial pier.

Approaching Bonaire, one can see the difference between the north part of the island which is hilly and green, and the south part of the island which is very low and dry. We motored toward Kralendijk, the main town on the island, where we would meet our pilot. Many harbours, including Kralendijk, have mandatory pilotage – every ship must take on a pilot who has outstanding local knowledge. We met our pilot and harbourmaster, Rob Santiago, and he hopped aboard as we made the last one hundred yards to get alongside the outside face of the south pier.

From there, the Captain and I set out to visit the Customs office and the police station in order to see to the necessary clearance and immigration formalities. All went well, and just after lunch the 12 to 4 watch took the deck and the other two watches were stood down. Suggestions for things to do while off duty here include diving, snorkelling, renting a car for the day to see the salt ponds and old slave huts on the south end of the island, checking out the flamingos that live there too, windsurfing in Lac Bay, and exploring the town of Kralendijk. The local currency is the Netherlands Antilles guilder, and while Dutch is the main language, most people speak English as well (for which our one Dutch crew member, Jan, is thankful, otherwise he may have to spend a lot of time translating).

Everyone seems quite happy about our surprise port visit while we wait for the wind. Picton Castle has never been here before, and only two of the crew, bosun WT and the Captain, have visited previously. We’re looking forward to exploring! It is very hot and sunny here, very hot….

Alongside in Bonaire
Bonaire over the taff rail
PICTON CASTLE through the market

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