(A joint post by Andy and Karen)
(Karen) Greetings from Gratitude! We hope all of our sailing friends had an uneventful hurricane season, and that all of our land friends have enjoyed their summer and fall.
Gratitude spent hurricane season in a new location: Bonaire, part of the ABCs (along with Aruba and Curacao) in the Southern Caribbean. It’s on about the same latitude as Grenada, which keeps it out of the hurricane belt, making our insurance company happy. (Well, maybe not “happy” – maybe “not unhappy.” Insurance can be prickly.)
Of course, we had to GET our boat to this hurricane sanctuary, which is about 500 statute miles from Sint Maarten. That’s the furthest off-shore passage we’ve ever made – nearly 250 miles from land, midway. For such a long passage, we invited some family members out to be our crew: our daughter Anne, nephew Jonathan, and niece Abbey. With 5 us aboard, our shifts at the helm would put us on duty for 3 hours and off duty for 12. Much better than the 3-on-3-off schedule that Andy and I must keep when it’s just the two of us!
Andy, Anne and I flew into SXM a few days in advance of Abbey and Jonathan. We had some work to do to get ready for the journey: get the water maker fixed, wash down the boat, change the oil in both engines, clean out the guest cabins, do some provisioning, and most importantly, monitor the weather. We hoped to depart on Friday, June 24. And as we watched the forecast, we saw – wait for it – a tropical storm brewing and potentially heading for Bonaire. Seriously?!? We’d be racing south to escape the hurricane belt, only to dodge a storm right on our heels.
So we had to evaluate: Go or stay? If we get caught in the potential storm, that could be bad. But if we stayed in SXM, we would be in violation of our insurance policy. Ultimately, we decided that we had enough time to get to Bonaire even if the storm did develop into something, and we had a reservation at the marina in the sheltered harbor.
Abbey and Jonathan arrived on Thursday the 23rd, and we filled them in on our decision-making. They helped us with the last-minute chores, and we left the dock in Simpson Bay lagoon in time on June 24th to make the 4:00 p.m. outbound bridge opening. We still didn’t have a working water maker, but we couldn’t delay any longer without risking getting caught in the storm.
(Andy) Happily, our passage was uneventful. We used a mix of motoring and sailing, as the wind allowed. We were surprised not to see any other ships on this passage. We’d expected to run across cargo ships or tankers, if not other sailboats. But no, nothing on the radar or AIS. On Sunday, June 26 at 6:45 a.m., we caught a mahi. This fed us very well.
On the Sunday overnight watch, we saw clouds and lightning off to port. We surmised this was the leading edge of the storm. We were making about 9 knots (10.4 MPH) when the rain squall hit with Karen at the helm.
On Monday, our jib furling line snapped clean. This is where you are glad if you paid attention in knot school. That line had to be mended securely and FAST. More rain was inbound on the radar, and with rain comes wind.
(Karen) As we got closer to land, we found that the weather system we’d watched in SXM had developed into Tropical Storm Bonnie (soon to be Hurricane Bonnie). We glided into the harbor at 3 pm on June 27, 3 days after our SXM departure and about 15 hours before Bonaire began totally shutting down. We had to dock in an impossibly tight location, but Andy is a pro by now and handled it smoothly.
And that storm? Turned out to be a big ball of nothing. The whole island was on edge, all the boats double-lined at the docks, all the stores closed and boarded up against the wind. But we barely saw any wind or rain. The storm just brushed the northern edge of Bonaire and spun north for Cuba. We breathed a sigh of relief.
Life in Bonaire
We discovered fairly quickly that Bonaire was, indeed, a scuba diver’s paradise. Jonathan and Anne had to leave fairly soon upon our arrival, but everyone did at least get to snorkel off the beach at the marina. Abbey was able to take advantage of the July 4 weekend off from work, so she stayed longer with us and finished her open-water scuba certification process.
And what a place to learn to dive! Bonaire exceed our expectations, with more than 50 dive sites all clearly marked and easily accessible by dinghy or from shore. We quickly fell into a daily diving routine, exploring the pristine reef and honing our diving skills.
We also welcomed our friends Dan and Meaghan Timko. Dan has been diving since childhood, so he was a welcome addition to our diving schedule. Meaghan doesn’t dive, but she was very happy snorkeling at the beach daily. The Timkos also had a rental truck, which allowed us to access more of the island, including a driving tour of the southern shore.
Diving without a guide was a fantastic opportunity to “up our game.” We got our safety and equipment checks down pat, and we figured out the best way to gear up on the dinghy and roll out into the water. The water was so warm here that no wetsuit or exposure suit were required, so we also had to play with our weights to get our buoyancy just right. All that was great experience and made us more confident divers.
And you may notice that I’m posting underwater photos again! That’s right – I finally replaced the underwater camera I’d lost in the Exumas. My new setup is an Olympus E-PL10 PEN with an AOI Octo housing. (For fellow camera nerds, I got it from Backscatter.com, and they were wonderful to work with.) There are all kinds of YouTube videos about this camera and how to set it up for different kinds of photography – natural light, strobe, wide-angle, macro, and more. I’m still on the learning curve, but it’s been fun to see some improvement.
Living a Double Life: Boat vs. Land
Once the Timkos and Abbey departed, it was time for us to button up Gratitude and leave her ourselves. We flew home mid-July, but we had two more visits before hurricane season ended.
The first visit I went without Andy to host my sister Kristie and her family and best friend. They needed to finish their open-water dive certifications, and Bonaire was the perfect place to do it.
The second visit was just me and Andy, which gave us some much-needed time to dive on our own and do some boat maintenance.
In our next post I’ll talk about our final chance to host guests in Bonaire and our dramatic departure once hurricane season ended. Until then, enjoy these awesome photos of the world under the sea on Bonaire’s world-class reef. We went diving EVERY DAY, so I can’t post all the photos I took! Here’s a small sampling from paradise.