Tuesday night at 11.50 pm we picked up anchor and set sail towards Bonaire. It was lighter than we expected but was mainly due to the light pollution from Charlotte Amalie itself – the moon had not come up yet! Once we were clear of the well-marked channel we headed into the wind and got our sails up. The forecast tonight was for very light airs but we are about to go into our shift pattern for our first night at sea – so we put a reef in both the main and the genoa. Our first waypoint was 144 miles away and our course was 228 degrees. This was east of the direct course to Bonaire to make best use of the currents.
About 12.30 am on Wednesday morning we were sailing along nicely on a beam reach so Richard went off watch and took himself off to bed…. For this passage we were using the aft cabin as we were going to be on a port tack all the way and this berth is secure. Nothing much was happening – very light airs around 10-15 knots. We were moving along nicely at 5 knots so pretty happy with that. Richard then popped his head up – can’t sleep with the nodding motion in the back cabin so was moving into the saloon instead. Fine…. no worries. About 2 am I changed course to allow for the strong current that was pushing us west so our heading was now 215 degrees. But was still a nice reach and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
At 3 am we changed shifts just as a cruise ship passed us to port and a cargo ship was coming up behind us. I took to the aft cabin – found it cosy – and had a good sleep. Richard carried on that course for a while and the cargo ship passed us to port eventually. It was a beautiful night with just the moon for company and slight seas around 2-3 feet. I can wax lyrical about sailing at night – the river of phosphorescence in the water as it goes past the keel with sparkles lighting up as it goes alongside the hull…. The only way to describe this is to think of a leprechaun sitting on the bow throwing copious amounts of glitter into the water LOL. With the moonlight shimmering across the water too it is just plain beautiful! As it started to get light Richard spotted St Croix to port.
At 6 am we changed shifts again – Richard back to the saloon and I’m on my own. And the wind moved forward of the mast so was tracking at around 60 degrees…. The wind was building and so were the seas. We now had swells and a squally gray day with gusts up to 23 knots. We enjoyed some great sailing.
Because it was an overcast day our batteries were feeling the strain so we motor-sailed for a couple of hours to top them back up again – and, of course, they were not helped by the freezer or lack of solar power. The remainder of Wednesday was more of the same…. no ships and the wind settled back to a reach. Around 5 pm we decided to reef the genoa for the overnight passage….. and the furler jammed! Great…. Richard went forward and spotted that the furling line had jammed beneath the drum so ended up having to rethread the whole thing – while I tried to keep the genoa full of wind to avoid any damage to the sail. All fixed, phew, and time for our night shifts to resume and I enjoyed a spectacular sunset.
Thursday morning – around 4am – we reached our first waypoint. So we had a slight change of course to our second waypoint which was another 70 miles away. Beautiful sunrise as well…… During Thursday the wind remained steady at around 17 knots until around 5pm when the wind dropped to 9 knots and moved to 120 degrees. Normally we reef for the night passages but this time we decided to throw caution to the wind and leave a full genoa out to maintain our boat speed. Although the winds were light the seas were becoming increasingly swelly….. and we kept having to point higher to counteract the strong currents.
During the early hours of Friday the wind started to build so we reefed down again and we had 20 knots sustained with significantly higher gusts. The waves were now building because of the 300 mile fetch from the Caribbean island chain and we were getting slapped every now and again by a rogue one. We motor sailed again for a couple of hours to top up the batteries….. there is a real lack of solar power right now with these grey days. The waves were now breaking too and were coming slightly at us. Definitely a bit bumpy! During Friday afternoon the wind eased back for a short period before it started blowing again and at 5pm we reached our second waypoint and changed course direct to Bonaire which was another 239 miles away. We continually kept tweaking our course to keep to the east of the rhumb line. Around midnight we had a ship pass our stern…the first we had seen for a while.
Saturday early morning and it was horrible. Our weather guru had warned us of a tradewinds surge coming Saturday night – we think it arrived early!!!! Wind was now sustained at 24 knots and gusting 28…. the seas were now 10 feet and were a bit confused coming at us from all directions. This was not fun, especially when the waves broke over the top of us. I seemed to get wetter than Richard though, not sure how that works! As we were nearing Bonaire we were expecting to see more commercial traffic and we started to spot vessels on our AIS – most of which were cargo ships or tankers. This was definitely the worst part of the passage although things were not quite so daunting in the daylight hours.
At 6am shift change Richard is heading off to sleep and I’m taking charge. I just sit at the helm and spot a huge and I mean HUGE ship coming out of the gloom straight towards us. And of course no AIS signal either!!!! I shout at Richard to come back up – he looks bemused – so I let off some working class language to alert him to the immediacy of my request!!!!! OMG this guy is pounding into the waves and clearly hasn’t seen us…. He is about 2 miles away and we were not going to take any chances so we run downwind towards him… Dorra the tanker passed us about half a mile off and we breathed a sigh of relief as we resumed our course towards Bonaire. Oh yes, and I let Richard go back to sleep now the drama was over!
At 8am Bonaire appeared out of the gloom and we were relieved to see her.
At 10 am the wind was sustained at 26 knots gusting 33 knots and we were getting closer to the island. Because we know that the wind always howls when you get near an island we decided to drop all sails and motor in. Man did it blow!!!!! At one point we had 2,500 rpm on the engine and we were barely making 2 knots as the wind and waves were now coming straight at us as we rounded the island. We endured these conditions for three hours plus and it was horrible…. just plain horrible. As we continued along the west coast of Bonaire the wind continued to howl although the sea started to moderate. As we got between Klein Bonaire and Kralendijk the sea flattened dramatically and we were able to motor along the waterfront to find a mooring. Moorings are compulsory here….and at 2pm we were safely secured and had arrived!!! Hurrah…..we made it!!!! 445 miles in total which took us 84 hours and an average speed of 5.3 knots – we had planned our passage based on an average of five knots to ensure that we arrived in daytime…. So pretty pleased overall with both ours and Morphie’s performance…..
We quickly got cleaned up, dropped dink, put the outboard back on him, and headed into customs and immigration. Customs were there – and very helpful – but no immigration. They said come back Monday and gave us the form! Very laid back….. We then headed to the nearest bar to our boat – Karels – and had a couple of well-deserved cold beers and a burger in paradise. Let everyone know that we were safe and back to Morphie for a looooooooong sleep.
Saturday afternoon we went to bed at 5pm and Richard slept for 14 hours straight!!!! I didn’t – kept checking the batteries bizarrely – but felt rested by Sunday morning…… We plan to go exploring and do some diving – so bye for now and I’ll leave you with some pictures of the Bonaire waterfront taken from Morphie.