Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | July 15, 2012

The Bonaire Passage

N 12° 09.3′   W 68° 16.8′

Kralendijk, Bonaire.

 

The 400-mile passage from Grenada to Bonaire was the longest in our itinerary. Although the Venezuelan coastline and off-shore islands offer exquisite cruising grounds and an opportunity to break up the westward trip into more manageable chunks, the advice to cruisers is to stay clear of this troubled country. Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world and there have been reports of piracy and armed robbery against vessels in coastal areas, some involving a high degree of violence including murder. The anti-American sentiments of the Chavez government were another consideration and we knew that a venture here as American citizens would present an even greater risk to personal property and safety. Plus, our insurance does not cover us in the waters of Venezuela. So it was an easy decision. We were going for the 3-day non-stop trip to continue our westward voyage.

There were new considerations in taking on this passage. Besides piracy at sea, a lower risk if we stayed well off-shore, we did not have a friendly place to stop if we encountered mechanical problems. Weather forecasts – usually pretty accurate in the short-term – can change over a couple of days and we would have to keep going regardless of conditions. Unlike along the Eastern Caribbean island chain, there would be few boats traveling our route if we had any major difficulty and needed assistance.

We were thrilled to find an opportunity to buddy boat with two other trawlers for this passage – Renegade and Mystic Moon. We had met Deb and Bill on Renegade while in Guadeloupe and we enjoyed getting together with them periodically as our travels crisscrossed down the islands toward Grenada. Deb and Bill, along with their new crew Don, Sarah and Maddie, planned to rendezvous in Grenada with John and Kathy on Mystic Moon for this passage and they invited us to join the convoy. Traveling with two other trawlers, both more experienced in long passages than we were, was very appealing and we jumped at the chance to have company at sea.

Our “Buddy Boats” for the Bonaire Passage. Beautiful Selene trawlers Renegade (right) and Mystic Moon (center), Mar Azul on the left. We convened on the mega-yacht docks at Port Louis Marina for fuel shortly before departure. They say your best life raft is the buddy boat beside you and we were lucky to have such exceptional company on this somewhat nerve-wracking crossing.

Our greatest challenge as a group was to successfully coordinate the elements that each vessel normally decides independently: routing, selecting the exact weather window and departure time, travel speeds, and vessel spacing. For the benefits of having company everyone was willing to make a few adjustments. The Mar Azul, as the slowest boat, set the travel speed, planned for 6.5 knots. The other boats can travel much faster, although Renegade usually cruises at about the same speed we do in the interest of fuel economy. A general weather window was selected which we carefully monitored and departure times were tweaked over the couple of days prior to leaving. One of the planning difficulties on a passage of this length is estimating actual travel speed and arrival time. The influence of currents is a factor and is hard to precisely predict. Over a couple of days travel even a small change in speed for slow-moving boats has a big impact on the schedule. We wanted to ensure a day-time arrival, so decided to leave at night, making for three nights and two days at sea.

Captain Deb, Bill, Captains John and Bob coordinating last minute details before leaving Grenada

Here are a few watch notes from our time at sea:

Tuesday, 7/10: Mar Azul went out to the St. George’s anchorage in the morning. Bob scraped the propellers to ensure no unnecessary drag on our speed. We went back to the marina in the afternoon to take on fuel. Convened for dinner with our group at the marina restaurant. Preparations were complete and everyone was anxious to get moving. We left shortly before 10 pm, Mar Azul first, then Mystic Moon, then Renegade. It was an easy nighttime exit since we were all berthed for fueling in the mega-yacht slips near the well-marked harbor entrance.

Once at sea, we settled in at the lower helm and I took first watch from 10 am to 2 pm. With short passages we normally don’t do formal watch schedules and we thought it might help to have more of a routine on this long trip. Decided I would take 10 pm – 2 am and 6 am to 9 am, and Bob would take 2am – 6pm then 9 am til noon. For the rest of the daytime hours our schedule was less fixed. Had one rain shower on my watch and occasional big waves on the starboard stern. I had to re-stow a few items in the galley and aft cabin that got rearranged. Lady was a worry. She had been extremely anxious all day – perhaps sensing our mood – and I gave her a tranquilizer before we left. This one had much more than the usual impact and I checked her occasionally to be sure she was still with us. We maintained our nighttime boat separation plan of 1 mile minimum, and started at a speed of about 6.8 to 7 knots, then slowing to about 6 knots with the current. Despite seasickness medications, I felt pretty poorly on this leg and was glad to hand off to Bob at 2 am.

Wednesday, 7/11: “Wallowy” was the term John aptly used to describe the 6 to 7 foot seas on the starboard stern this morning. Thank goodness the waves were coming from behind. Our comrades shortly began the fishing competition we had discussed prior to departure. I thought they were kidding, but no, they were really serious about going after the goal of biggest fish landed. We felt it too rough for us to attempt to fish, especially as our boat does not have a lower cockpit area to help when landing a catch. I was just happy not to be feeling terribly seasick. Lady was better this morning although still looking hung-over. We enjoyed sitting on the sundeck for fresh air, and there was such little activity that the person on watch only had to go below on occasion to check radar and instruments. Currents were back up, speed over 7 knots, wind gusting over 20 knots for a time.

Spotted the first of a few tankers on radar. Kept daytime separation of ½ mile minimum with our convoy. Our course kept us about a hundred miles off the Venezuelan coast, and a minimum of 25 miles from the out-islands. 

We stopped late afternoon to shut down the engines so Bob could check the coolant in the port transmission, which has a tiny leak. Rolled around for a couple of minutes and gained a better appreciation for the value of our stabilizers since they were turned off during this check. Coolant levels fine, full speed ahead.

Renegade and Mystic Moon report enjoying fresh mahi dinners. The fish had been biting like mad all afternoon, with catches of mahi and tuna. These guys are amazing. I don’t know how they can fish and prepare gourmet meals (fresh mango salsa and grilled pineapple accompaniments!!) under these conditions. I am just happy not to be totally green and to have achieved being able to make a pot of fresh coffee. It was microwaved lasagna for us on the Mar Azul. Cooking was not in my plans for this passage and all meals had been pre-made to grab and eat since I prepared for worse conditions and the possibility of loose objects flying around the cabin.

Speed up to 8 knots and the current is providing a bigger push than predicted. We were becoming concerned that we would arrive before daylight on Friday if the strong currents continued, but decide to watch and wait. The arrival forecast was for higher seas and it would be good to get behind Bonaire for protection, even if we had to make circles waiting for sunrise.

Thankfully the seas were calmer later in the day and we could take the dogs to the bow to do their business. Even Bandit, who doesn’t like to be supervised while attending to nature, was cooperative.  We had not been sure how that would work out.

Day One at sea. Waters were not as blue as usual here per our companions, possibly due to the heavy influence of Saharan dust.

Thursday 7/12: Ahead of plan, currents still strong and everyone trying to slow down. The slower speeds make it hard for the stabilizers to be effective and with less momentum we all were rolling a little. Seas lower, about 3 – 4 feet – a much more pleasant ride than the day prior.

Renegade and Mystic Moon decided to run their back-up “wing” engines for slower speed for a time. Mar Azul ran on one engine for a while at 5.5 knots, but it was a pain since we had to keep monitoring the temperature of the non-running transmission as we had no way to keep that propeller from spinning and without the engine running, there is no raw water cooling available. That got us thinking about some ways to better accomplish one engine cruising to extend our range in future situations if needed. The fuel savings are pretty sweet using only one engine.

We were inspired by our comrades and the calmer conditions and decided to put out the fishing lines!!!! Set a goal of one large edible fish – preferably tuna or mahi – and ideally the biggest one, since if we are going to fish we might as well win this contest. But no fresh catch was to be had on the Mar Azul. . . and only one fish caught by Mystic Moon on this day. We dined on pre-made turkey meatloaf instead, which was okay by Captain Bob, who said if we couldn’t catch a tuna he would just as soon have meatloaf anyway.

Day 2, calmer seas and swift current. Renegade executing a planned change in position, passing to starboard.

 

Friday 7/13: Mar Azul and Mystic Moon kept pace through the night. It was reassuring to see the lights of our buddy boat as I looked out the cabin door during my night watch. Renegade was barely idling and had problems slowing with the current still ripping along so they were a couple of miles ahead, leading the way.

The timing worked out for arrival in the anchorage shortly after sunrise. In Bonaire, one of the premier diving areas of the world, there are anchoring restrictions and we used the park moorings near town. Picking up the short mooring lines from our high bows was tough but we all succeeded after a couple of passes.

Arrival in Kralendijk!! Renegade to the left, Mystic Moon to the right, scoping out the mooring situation.

Statistics from the Captain’s Desk:

400 Nautical Miles en route
58 Hours en route
150 US gallons fuel used
112 Engine Hours
4 Hours Single Engine Operation
2.6 Nautical Miles/Gallon Average
1.34 Gallons per Hour/Engine
6.9 Knots Avg Speed
180 Gallons of water produced
1.2 Knots Avg Favorable Current (estimate)
Adjusted to remove current effect: 2.12 Nautical Miles/Gallon at 5.7 Knots

 

We had lost track of the date and it wasn’t until Bob was checking in at customs that we realized we had arrived on Friday the 13th. Good thing we are not terribly superstitious.

Check back for the official group photo . . .

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Responses

  1. Wow… That was quite a journey! Glad you’re safe and sound at Bonaire. How long will you be hanging around the ABC’s?

    • Probably here until September, with at least a couple of weeks in each island. Come visit! If you have any interest in diving, Bonaire is the place.

  2. oh so glad to see the long voyage was safe. We love Bonaire..lots of dutch goodies for Bert…we spent our 25th anniversary there snorkeling and learned to scuba , magnificent coral and fish. Enjoy the croquetten. Tot Ziens, Bert and Janet Schadee

    • We are favorably impressed with Bonaire so far. Pretty town, very international flavor, sparkling waters, and climate drier and less humid than Eastern Caribbean. Will have to work on the Dutch and Papiamentu, but seems like everyone also speaks English and we have had no language barriers. The croquetten sound like something Bob would like – will look for them!

  3. Wow …….. I can only imagine a 400 mile passage. Meeting a couple of boat buddies to make the passage with, way to go. I’ve said to my wife Dianne that for me going cruising is really going to be about the relationships along the way.

    • Absolutely! There is a great support system in the cruising community and it is so easy to meet wonderful, helpful people and make new friends. Buddy boating was critical for this passage – don’t think the first mate would have gotten up the nerve to make this trip solo.

  4. great story with excellent insights — keep having fun & stay safe

    • Thanks! Compared to some of the horror stories we’ve read our adventures don’t make for very exciting blogging, and we are glad to keep it that way!

  5. I was happy to hear that you’d had a safe passage! Elaine, I was usually sick on passage too. Don’t you just hate people who can fish and cook and eat meals when they’re out there? I mean, really…. :o) I had a cookie recipe that had cocoa, oats, peanut butter, raisins, etc., that I always made before a passage, and that’s what I’d eat to keep up my energy.

    • Thanks, Jean! We are finding that most of the folks out here are, like you, seasoned sailors and boaters with lots of long passage experience. A two or three day trip is nothing to them compared to crossing a major ocean. We have lots to learn!


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