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Tuesday June 1, 2010

Picton Castle sailed in to Bonaire on Sunday, a last-minute surprise decision to pull into port and wait for better winds on our passage from Anguilla to Panama. Trade winds are usually consistent from the east in the Caribbean Sea, but we had been having very light winds and EVEN headwinds, causing us to have to motor for the whole way from Anguilla, which is unheard of! Winds have been forecast to be easterly again by today, so our plan is to sail out Wednesday morning, heading, once again, for Panama.

While stopping in Bonaire was a surprise, it was a pleasant surprise and well-received by the crew. Bonaire is known as one of the top scuba diving and snorkelling sites in the world, with the waters all around the island being part of a national marine park (which is why we were alongside a dock instead of at anchor – anchoring is prohibited here to protect the coral reefs). Liam took the initiative to find out who wanted to dive in Bonaire, certified or not, and to make arrangements with a local dive shop to get people geared up and ready to go. There were a number of our crew who had never been diving before who took advantage of the opportunity to try a “discover diving” introdution training program, and most of our certified divers (of which we have quite a few) did two dives in a day. Where the waters surrounding the island are all a marine park, there are dive sites everywhere. For the first dive of the day, the experienced divers only had to walk across the road from the dive shop and into the water to see an incredible display of coral, fish and eels.

Many of the crew also used their off-duty time to travel around and see the island. This was best done by renting a vehicle of some sort. At different points during our stay, there were rented scooters, 4-wheelers and Jeeps parked on the wharf where the ship was tied up. Fred even rented a bicycle and cycled around the south end of the island, which is quite an accomplishment given the incredible heat during our stay (34 degrees celsius in the shade!). At the south end of the island we saw salt ponds that looked like they were dyed green and pink (the colours are due to the algae and shrimp in the ponds, respectively) and giant pyramids of salt (one of Bonaire’s main exports). A number of our crew went kayaking in the mangroves on the southeast part of the island. Some headed north to the more hilly and forested part of the island, just exploring by taking every dirt road they found.

Bonaire is hot, sunny, flat and friendly. Just off the coast of Venzuela, the folks are a hodge-podge swirl of african, latin, dutch and indian all speaking four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu, a local language which is sort of a mix of the previous three languages), and enjoying life on this quiet island.

We have been making good progress on the mainsail for the Carriacou Sloop Mermaid, all the corner patches and reef patches are on and we will get the tabling on soon, then we have to sew in all the grommets, punch in brass liners and rope the edge of the sail – almost all the crew have been working on this sail on the hot, sunny cemment wharf we are tied up to. As dacron is harder for us to work than our usual cotton canvas, the gang has been working late every day on this sail, trying to get it done for delivery in Panama.

In addition to the Mermaid sail, the on duty watch have been busy with the main pin rails made of oak. After a winter in Lunenburg, they needed some attention in the way of scraping, sanding and a new coats of varnish. These wooden rails run the length of the main deck, from the foc’sle head to the forward edge of the quarterdeck. We took the lines that are usually made fast on this pin rail and led them inboard and doubled and tripled up the lines on the pins on the fife rail. Other ship’s work included scraping and priming topsides on the starboard side, plus a bit of rustbusting and priming the bulwarks.

The pier to which we’re tied up here is a commercial pier, so we’ve been sharing the space with a number of different vessels. First there was a small container-carrying ship which was here when we arrived, then left and came back Monday. The yard at the head of the pier has a number of containers on wheels, parked very close together. As some of the crew slept on deck, others were awoken by the sounds of metal containers grinding against each other – they were packed that tightly when the ship was unloaded and reloaded. The boat that arrived this morning is a pretty wooden vessel about 80 feet long, completely full of fresh fruits and veggies. About 15 vehicles were waiting for the boat on the wharf, and as they unloaded cases of bananas, watermelons, bags of oranges and assorted other fruits and veggies there was lots of shouting to see who would be able to fill their order from this boat first. Most fruits and veggies in stores and restaurants on Bonaire are imported from Venezuela. At a different pier, we also saw a similar style of boat unloading bales and bales of hay, must be for horses and cows.

The forecast is looking good for sailing most of the way, if not all of the way to Panama, so we’ll get going tomorrow. I think the crew would agree that Bonaire has been a pleasant surprise.

Alex works on the MERMAID sail
Nadia, Shawn, Jimmy and Brad discover diving
Paul scrapes the pin rail
PICTON CASTLE alongside in Bonaire
Working on the MERMAID sail in Bonaire

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