July 1, 1996

Netherlands Antillies

Dear Friends,

I am sitting at anchor beside the town of Kralendijk (good luck trying to pronounce that, I've been here almost 3 weeks and I still just call it downtown Bonaire). The Island (13,000 pop, 24 miles x 4 miles) has all the thrill and excitement of Manotick on a Monday night but with a down island flavour. The real BIG differences are: the water temperature is about 85 degrees F. and gin clear with more fish and beautiful corals than I have ever seen, the air temperature about 85-90 degrees and sun every day and the only traffic I follow each day is the AT&T High Seas traffic list (list of boats with calls waiting).

photo107.jpg (43344 bytes)Dinghy dock at Karel's Bar - Bonaire

One of the most interesting and unexpected things about the Island is how arid it is, they get very little rain (24 inches per year) so the island is part desert with cactus growing everywhere. We rented a minibus with two other couples to tour the Island. The northern quarter of the Island is a National Park. It is spectacular! You drive along one way trails (in most cases a very rough goat path) best suited to a four wheel drive jeep. The trails wind through the desert valleys to the sea then follow the northern sea shore before looping back to the park entrance. There are many off shoots from the main trail that take you to beautiful sand beaches or coves where waves are funneled in and break spectacularly sending spray 50 to 100 feet into the air. Other trails take you into interior water holes where birds and other desert wild life congregate. Six foot long Iguanas come out to the car looking for hand-outs. There are also several natural salt pans along the trail where pink flamingos nest and if approached slowly and cautiously will allow you to get within 100 yards of the flock.

photo108.jpg (47661 bytes)Sightseeing in Bonaire

photo109.jpg (34892 bytes)Entrance to Washington - Slaghaai National park

photo110.jpg (42698 bytes)Walkabout in the desert park

The southern third of the island is just barely above sea level. The area has been developed into a solar salt works. Sea water is pumped into evaporation pans and eventually crystallizes and is harvested. The size of the island made it possible to see all the points of interest in just one day. It was well worth the small cost.

It is nice to slow down. The first part of this trip was too much too fast. I left Ottawa on April 7th and followed the boat to Annapolis through a snow storm. I spent the next 2 weeks with the boat on the ground in Annapolis doing some of the 1,000 jobs that needed doing. Chuck Delabio (Chinook) arrived about the 20th. We had the boat launched and headed down the Chesapeake. It was still very cold, on a few days I wore gloves, wool cap and ski jacket. The temperature improved a bit by the time we reached Norfolk Va. Motoring through the US Navy docks is an experience you never forget. We know these boats are big but, sitting in the water under the bow of an aircraft carrier gives new meaning to the word massive. AND, there are thousands of them, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, destroyers and support vessels of every size and shape all bristling with weapons, radar and communications equipment. To compare it to Halifax is to compare your driveway to the parking lot at a Super Bowl game.

From Norfolk we headed south through the inter-coastal waterway. Sometimes referred to as the 'Ditch' this water highway goes from New York to Key West inside the coast line. Certainly a nicer and safer way to pass south of Cape Hatteras. We passed through one canal, connecting the Elizabeth River in Norfolk to the Abemarle Sound, called the Dismal Swamp Canal. Quite interesting, a narrow canal cut through a mangrove swamp, trees at places form a natural canopy over the canal. Not really all that dismay to pass through BUT to build….I expect very dismal. We continued south through the Alligator River and Canal, across Pamlico Sound and on out to the Atlantic at Moorhead City NC.

photo101.jpg (49091 bytes)Motoring through Dismal Swamp Canal

At Moorhead City Chuck and I re-provisioned and waited the arrival of two other friends from Nepean Sailing Club in Ottawa, Bernie Coyne (Amigo V) and Stan Bradshaw (Corker) to help with the Atlantic passage. We prepared the boat and lashed everything up like a Thanksgiving Turkey. We waited for about 4 days for a 'weather window' then with eyes closed and a quiet 'Oh s**t' from me we headed out into the Atlantic. The passage to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands took 12 days but was really pretty good. We had excellent weather and nothing too challenging for boat or crew. I thanked Neptune everyday and shared a drop of rum with him at every occasion.

photo102.jpg (44092 bytes)Chuck and Bernie on Watch 400 miles off Beaufort NC

photo103.jpg (51341 bytes)Relaxing on the foredeck south of Bermuda

We first sighted St. Thomas from about 20 miles out at 4:00pm on the 12th day. By the time we rounded the Island and tied to the marina dock in Charlotte Amalie it was about 2:00 am. After 12 days at sea it was a sight to behold. However unlike sailors of old my crew passed up the local women and went off in search of an ice cold Coke (I had the refrigerator turned off for the passage to save battery power). The Bernie and Stan flew home from St. Thomas a couple of days later and Chuck and I went out to anchor for the next 10 days till Evelyn arrived.

photo104.jpg (29130 bytes)St. Thomas USVI

St. Thomas is not that pretty an Island. It is the most populated and was severely damaged by hurricane Marilyn last year. So we went to the neighboring Island of St. John to anchor and relax. Most of St. John is in fact a national park and is very clean and well taken care of. The beaches and coves along it's shore are all pristine, the coral reefs protected and very nice to snorkel around (does not even compare with Bonaire though). There is only one real 'town' on the island, Cruz Bay. It's pretty much a tourist town but has the added amenity of tourists (not just the shops). So Chuck and I spent one evening taking in the scenery and dancing till the wee hours of the morning to the very infectious music of a live reggea band..

photo105.jpg (55620 bytes)Chuck sightseeing in Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

When Evelyn arrived on June 2 we again prepared the boat for sea and sailed to St. Croix for three days and then across the Caribbean Sea to Bonaire (a 3day passage of about 400 miles). Once again we waited for weather and had a good, uneventful passage. This was a first for Evelyn, she was not pleased with the discomfort of ocean sailing and threatened to jump ship if a cruise boat or plane came within hailing distance but in the end she stood her watches and completed her first offshore passage. I have to admit that offshore sailing is not the fun part. The sea tosses you around like a pea in a rattle, everything takes tree times longer to do and when you do get chance to sleep it's not uncommon to have a wave throw you from the bunk. Fortunately all the hard stuff is over. For the next two years the longest trip between Islands is about 80 miles and far less between many of the windward islands. I for one will not miss ocean passages.

photo106.jpg (41761 bytes)Approaching the Island of Bonaire

So, that brings us to Bonaire and the end of June. We will probably leave for Venezuela early next week. We will make an overnight crossing (60 miles) to Chichiriviche, then visit Morrocoy National Park, then head into Puerto Cabello. From there we will head out to the out Islands for a few weeks. Las Aves and Los Rocques are beautiful deserted tropical Islands that by all accounts are a 'must see'. They are close to Bonaire but Bonaire is very expensive (rum $20US, beer $2.US/bottle!) and Venezuela very inexpensive (rum less than $2US and beer about $5US /case!) so we will re-provision on the Venezuelan mainland before heading to the out islands.

That's all the news from 'Pirate Jenny'. I hope summer has finally arrived in Canada and wish you all fair winds and pleasant anchorages.