Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cruising to Cartagena

The stretch of water between the ABCs and Cartagena is known for its consistently high winds and rough seas. But thanks to the weather forecasting services of Chris Parker, we were able to pick a great weather window for our trip. We left Curacao on October 30th, at 0430 to make sure that we arrived at our first stop at Cabo de la Vela, Colombia in good light the next day. It is a 180 mile passage and we had wind in the 10-15 knot range. We started with the spinnaker, then motored for a while and finished with full main and genoa. We caught a small mahi-mahi just in time for him to join us for dinner. The seas were moderate and we had a wonderful 30 hour trip, accompanied by dolphins for most of the night as we sailed along in the moonlight.

We arrived at Cabo de la Vela at 1100 on October 31st and anchored in the shelter of the arid, rocky cape. Based on the sketchy cruising guide for the area, we had expected an active fishing village but the area seems to have largely given over to rustic tourist accommodation, which appeared to be mostly vacant. Apparently this area has become popular among Colombians and others as a remote tourism destination, though it didn’t look particularly appealing from our vantage point. We tried to go ashore but couldn’t find a spot where we felt comfortable leaving the dinghy, so just hung out on the boat for the day. The water though clean, was quite murky from the run-off of many rivers along the coast. The few fishermen that passed by seemed friendly enough, though we weren’t interested in buying the pretty reef fish that they had caught.

Approaching the anchorage behind Cabo de la Vela, Colombia.

Tourist "cabins" at Cabo de la Vela.  This is rustic. And since there was no one around, either it was off season or maybe a bit too rustic.

We left around noon to do the 130 miles to 5 Bays. Just before dusk we got into a school of tuna and caught 4 before we pulled in the lines. Had a wonderful meal of fresh sashimi sailing along under the spinnaker in the moonlight – idyllic! Flew the chute in light breezes until about midnight, when multiple thunderstorms required us to take it down so we could take evasive action to avoid any unpleasantness. At dawn it was flat calm and we were motoring along the Colombian coast with the snow capped Santa Marta mountains in the background. Yes, snow capped at 10 degrees above the equator! The scenery was reminiscent of the BC coast except for the palm trees and the air temperature was 34C and the water 30C!

Moonlight sashimi dinner as we sail along at 7 knots under spinnaker.  Tuna doesn't get much fresher - about 1 hour since it was swimming.  Notice the glass of wine in a real glass - love going downwind in our cat! 

We pulled into the first of the famous 5 Bays of Colombia around noon and anchored in 10’ of water all by ourselves, 50 meters off the beach, to the sound of howler monkeys roaring in the jungle. We jumped in for a snorkel and found the bottom alive with scorpion fish! We have often seen several in an area, but in this location there were dozens, many in pairs, so we assumed there must be some kind of mating thing going on. Not a place where one would want to go wading, as the scorpion fish (aka stone fish) have a toxic spine on the dorsal fin which can inflict a serious wound. But even more interesting, was Cathy finding a Pacific Lion Fish. As the name suggests, they are not supposed to be in the Caribbean, but in recent years have been sighted in several locations on this side. It is thought that they were introduced into the Atlantic via dumping of some aquaria in Florida several years ago and have been working their way down through the Bahamas and into the Northern Caribbean. We now know that they are in the south as well. They are voracious predators of small reef fishes and themselves have no known predators here in the Caribbean. They are beautiful fish but they just don’t belong here. So Cathy captured and preserved the little one she found.

Approaching the first of Five Bays on the Colombian coast.

Tourist cabins, 5 Bays.  Looks like it would be a great place to get away from it all.

 Idyll Island all alone in Bahia Cinto, 5 Bays National Park, Colombia.
Scorpion fish - actually two.  They are masters of disguise, though not the prettiest fish on the reef.

Pacific Lion Fish (about 8cm) in the southern Caribbean waters of Colombia. Those beautiful feathery fins hide toxic spines, protecting them from predators.

Pacific Lion Fish in the specimen jar, about to be "preserved".

We were still experiencing low/no wind conditions so we motored through the next couple of bays. This area is all a national park and seems to be actively used by Colombians. We found ourselves another deserted little bay, and as we were trying to anchor realized why. It is a coral rubble bottom with several reefs and coral heads poking up to within a couple of feet of the surface and poorly charted to boot. We did manage to find a marginal spot which was fine in the settled conditions. After a couple of nights listening to our chain grinding on the already dead coral, we moved along to the resort town of Rodadero, a few miles down the coast where we dropped anchor and immediately became an attraction for the holidaying Colombians in their rented pedal boats. They all wanted to take pictures of us and many insisted that we take pictures of them – with our camera. Two more uneventful days of sailing/motoring in light winds and calm seas and we arrived in Cartagena on November 9th.

Colombian guys giving us a friendly thumbs up welcome to Colombia!

B&C of the ABCs (2009 version)

We are playing catch-up on the blog, having reached Colon, Panama and decent wifi access.  More to come....

Curacao (October 5 - 30, 2009)
This is our second visit to Curacao having been here in December of last year, so this time 'round we have only included  pictures and descriptions of a few of the highlights. 

Had a great spinnaker day sail to Curacao from Bonaire, with a short lunch stop at Klein Curacao. We were the only ones on the island, which on weekends becomes crowded with day trippers from Curacao

 Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao. Note superstructure of wrecked ship in background, not to mention the peculiar profile of the lighthouse...

In late afternoon we entered the Spanish Water anchorage on the main island.  Spanish Water is a large (1km x 3km) body of water with many small bays and inlets. Except for the single, winding entrance, it is completely landlocked.  This makes for a well protected anchorage but with up to 200 boats and quite a bit of development on the shore, the water is not conducive to swimming, though some do and seem to survive. 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a Happy Hour at the local sailing club. Lots of locals show up, as well as cruisers making for a real cosmopolitan mix. All nationalities, all ages, all budgets – all having fun. We would find ourselves in a group with people from Italy, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France.  All speaking English so we can participate in the conversation – impressive and much appreciated by us.  Meeting such a variety of interesting people from all over the world, many of whom have become good friends, is one the best aspects of this cruising lifestyle.

We also had a couple of great evenings with Baros (one especially, with their friends from Holland, where once again, the support posts for our arch were irresistible for incorporation in several dance routines). 

 ABBA reunion on Idyll Island.  Who woulda thought..?

Another highlight of our time in Curacao was a hike to the summit of Kristoffel Mountain, the tallest peak on the island.  A couple of local boaters provided their cars and 9 of us set off at dawn for the 90 minute drive to the other end the island, so we could do the hike in the “cool” of the morning.  It was 8:00 before we got on the trail which started slowly but ended 2 hours later in a near vertical rock scramble to the top, the temperature by that time in the low 30s.  All of us boat people, most of whom don’t get much walking exercise, made it.  The view was great and thankfully the breeze was cool. Once back in the cars we headed for a beach where we refreshed ourselves with beer and swims.

 A short rest at base camp before tackling the summit.

We made it!

The team at the top.  Great view of Curacao.

In Curacao, Derek embarked on a quest for the best kabritu stoba (goat stew), sampling  from many of the local vendors.  The stand at the main bus terminal in Willemstad made a terrific stoba but lost points for lack of ambience, being served through an iron grating, while standing on the sidewalk.  We also took advantage of the excellent and inexpensive medical services on Curacao to have our spots checked, essential when living outside in the sun. We each had a bit or two removed, but nothing of serious concern. 

Once the boat was provisioned with beer, wine, cheese, chocolate and a few other less essential items, we were ready for the next weather window to leave Curacao bound for Cartagena, via the coast of Colombia.  Our first stop though, was peaceful Santa Kruz Bay just along the coast of Curacao, where we spent several hours scrubbing off the hundreds of barnacles that had grown on our hull in the nutrient rich Spanish Waters.

Iguana Soup and Goat Stew
Our stay in Bonaire this year (August 25 - October 5), included Bonaire Day, celebrated in the small town of Rincon just outside the Washington Slagbaai Park.  We decided to make a day of it with Randy and Lynn, so rented a car and left the boats early.   We drove the winding coast road north and entered the park soon after it opened.  We had been here several times last year, so hit the highlights and finished up with a couple of cold ones on the beach at SlagBaai. We left the park just after noon and headed for the celebrations in Rincon. We had been assured that there would be lots of music and food.  We found both, in a hot, small town way.  The highlight for Derek was trying the Kabritu Stoba (aka goat stew), and the iguana (aka Bonaire chicken) soup.  Both were good, the goat very flavourful but bony and the iguana tasted better than they look!

While in Bonaire, we also met up with our friends, Linda and Hans aboard Baros.  Together with Randy and Lynn we all had several great evenings, on board one or other of our boats or ashore at BobbyJans for ribs or Karel’s or Rumrunners for happy hours.  Rumrunner Mondays became a bit of a tradition. We would go and snorkel right in front of the resort where there are massive schools of silversides (silvery little baitfish), with many larger fish zooming around looking for dinner. Swimming into the millions of silversides and having them close around you in a shimmering cloud was very cool. Coming face to face with a 5’ tarpon doing the same thing, provided added excitement!  Just above us on the lava cliff, the iguanas would be soaking up the last of the day’s heat. It seems that they consider some spots more desirable than others and we watched as two of these large lizards (3’+), battled each other, with the loser finally being thrown off the rocks to land in the water (with us) 6’ below! After all this excitement we would shower off at the Rumrunners dock and then go up to the bar for their free rum punch Happy Hour.  Thanks to Rumrunners for making us scruffy cruisers feel welcome!  A regular at the Happy Hour was Cap’n Don, the driving force behind protecting Bonaire’s underwater world starting 40 years ago and with his foresight establishing it as the diving mecca it has become.  Cathy had several good conversations with Don about what life was like on Bonaire, “back in the day”.  Thanks to Don and many others, Bonaire’s coral reefs and fish life, though not what they once were, are the best we have seen in the Caribbean, including Los Roques, Las Aves, and the San Blas.

Good as life is in Bonaire, it was time to move along, so we said so long to friends and set sail for Curacao, the next of the ABC islands (should be ACB) to the west.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bon Bini in Bonaire

"Bon Bini" means welcome in Papiamentu, the language of the ABCs. Its a mix of Spanish, Dutch and South American Indian languages. And we did feel very welcome on our return to Bonaire in September.

What would a blog posting about Bonaire be without a flamingo picture? They are commonly seen wading in the salt ponds, but the coolest is when they are flying overhead with their long necks and legs stretched out fore and aft, looking like an arrow with the feathers in the middle.

We saw many more parrots on Bonaire this year than last. They fly around in small flocks, screeching raucously as they invade one tree after another then quckly move on. They seem like a boistrous bunch of teenagers, trying to stir something up.

Bonaire is a dry island with cactus forests dominating the northern part.

And in the south, the dominant feature is salt. Mountains of it. The pink water in the foreground is caused by brine shrimp, which also give the flamingoes their colour.

Idyll Island was moored in front of a beach that was used for swimming lessons. Here is a group of little ones who have just swum between our hulls. They got a real kick out of this and it became a daily event.

All dressed up and out on the town with "High States" to celebrate Randy's birthday. Food and service was very good, and prices in a restaurant like this were about what we would pay at home. Therefore, we only eat in places like this on very special and rare occasions!

The ladies looking good and smiling at the thought of the free rum punch Happy Hour at RumRunners. Even the iguana in the bouganvillia behind them is smiling!

And Captain Don is smilng too! He is a bit of a legend in Bonaire and in scuba diving circles, as he was the driving force behind establishing Bonaire as an marine park and preserving its underwater treasures.

A seahorse. He's only in about 4' of water right in front of the town, hangin' out in a clump of old wires and pipes. Not a very picturesque location, but he was the first seahorse Cathy had ever seen in the wild. Every time we jumped in the water in Bonaire, we saw something cool.

Like this beautiful sharptail eel. These guys swim along the bottom and stick their noses into every little crevice and hole they can find, looking for tasty bites. They are often followed by several other species of fish hovering just above them in the hope that something might get flushed out and provide easier pickins than finding it on their own.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Few More Islas de Venezuela

Who's there? Red Footed Booby perched in mangroves in Las Aves. Las Aves means "the birds" in Spanish - aptly named! There were boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, and just about every other species of seabird. All up close and personal - and smelly!

Brown Booby and chick on nest. When the chick stands up and asks (demands) to be fed, its bigger than the parents. We know what that's like!

Good to be in clear water after murk of Grenada. Temperature about 85F (30C).

Especially when you see cool stuff like these very large (close to 3') Midnight Parrot Fish. We also saw a school of equally large Rainbow Parrots feeding on top of the reef in water so shallow they were half out of it.

This water is not so clear. Some of the islands have fresh-ish water just below the surface. This was critical for the original inhabitants and is still used by fishermen. Even with our watermaker not working we weren't tempted to fill our tanks here!

We don't always anchor off a perfect tropical beach. This is the view from Idyll Island of the mangroves at the anchorage in Las Aves. Reminded us of the Ents in Lord of the Rings, though we couldn't hear a word they said over the noise of the birds!

On our way to Bonaire from Las Aves we were joined by a pod of dolphins for 20 minutes or so. It seemed like they were trying to see which of them could come closest to touching their dorsal fins to Derek's hand as he stretched over the forward crossbeam. They came within inches but never touched. They looked like they were laughing with the sport of it! (Or maybe because he wasn't wearing any shorts.)
A bit later we were welcomed to Bonaire seaspace by a Dutch Coast Guard plane that flew by at about 50' off our stern. They didn't look like they were laughing (Derek had shorts on by then). There is a lot of drug smuggling out of nearby Venezuela and Colombia, so they are pretty vigilant in this area.

Sailing up the southern, leeward side of Bonaire past the salt ponds and mountains of salt waiting to be shipped. One of the best sails in the Caribbean with 20 knots of breeze in flat water. We hit 10 knots reaching with our spinnaker which we had up for the full 35 miles from Las Aves and kept flying right to the entrance to Kralendijk harbour.

On the mooring at Kralendijk, Bonaire. View from the front porch.

After a month in the islands, the boys are off to do the laundry. OK, let's not stretch it tooo far but they are at least carrying the bags!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Las Islas de Venezuela

We left Grenada at "O dark thirty", in company with Randy and Lynn on High States. As dawn broke and we watched them pulling away from us with their big genoa, we decided it was time to get our spinnaker up. We had a great sail to Los Testigos - the first of many over the next few weeks. Downwind is good!

One fish ....

Two fish. Yellow fish, blue fish! Good fishing as we sailed over the reefs near Los Testigos. We were able to offer Randy and Lynn their choice of catch of the day for dinner that night. Both were mighty tasty.

On arrival at our anchorage in Los Testigos (about 4PM) the air was filled with wheeling frigate birds and various types of boobies which nest on the surrounding rocky islets. Most were juveniles now fending for themselves and lacking the graceful and successful fishing skills of their parents. We sat in a lovely bay looking over a sand isthmus to the open sea and low hills where small goats fed. We were a bit uncomfortable about several shots we heard and the rough looking fellow returning to his shack with something(?). Several of the locally built, very high prowed fishing and boats passed with friendly waves and smiles. The coral heads near the boat revealed three different types of morays within 15 feet. Next day we dinghied to the main fishing village on an adjacent island and were checked in by a very nice young member of the Venezuelan Garda Costa who was very tolerant and encouraging regarding our poor/non-existent Spanish. You never know what to expect from the officials. Would that they were all so friendly and helpful.

We spent a couple of days exploring the surrounding islands finding extensive sand dunes and beaches with very recent tracks of turtles who had dragged their massive bodies to and from nests, and little tracks, evidence of tiny turtles scrambles to their first swim. After one of our forays we returned to the dinghy and noticed that it had been moved, however all seemed in order. We later learned from the French couple anchored in the next cove that that the fellow on shore with the shotgun had rescued our dinghy and re-anchored it for us. We wanted to thank him, so gingerly approached his 'home' with a bottle of wine. He welcomed us, was very nice and showed us the dinner of seabird he was preparing which he said was delicious. We took his word for it and hope the wine helped to wash it down. There are no stores on these islands.

On to the island of La Blanquilla. We left in the evening so as to arrive in good daylight. Unfortunately, it was mostly a motor sail, but the seas were flat and the moon was full.

High States getting ready to drop the hook at La Blanquilla. We spent a couple of days here, enjoying snorkeling at spectacular Americano Bay, one of our favourite spots from last year.

Americano Bay, La Blanquilla. Very cool to snorkel under this 20' arch.

We then sailed off into the sunset headed for Los Roques, temporarily leaving High States. We had a full moon, a 15 knot breeze from behind us and only a 1-2m swell. Perfect conditions to fly the spinnaker - our first time at night with just the two of us (only one on watch at a time). It was magical as we sailed along at up to 10 knots with the bright silver moonlight illuminating the sea and the sail, with the sound of the boat swooshing through the water and surging gently on the swells. And of course the air was a soft, velvety 28 degrees!

When we arrived in Los Roques we spent the first 3 nights anchored in behind the barrier reef. Our only neighbour was this trawler who some years ago miscalculated the position of the entrance through the reef. A grim reminder to keep a careful watch! We travelled through the archipelago in mid-day with one of us perched up high to make sure we could see the reefs.

The beach scene at Gran Roques. The previous day was a bit more stressful when we went to check in with the Garda Costa. We were hit up for a $60 "fee" which went straight into the officer's shirt pocket. In return we were assured we could stay in the wetern half of the archipelago "no problema" for 10 days, instead of the official 24 hours for a vessel in transit. We later heard from an Italian boat that they paid $100, while our friends on High States didn't pay a peso. Probably depends on who's watching...

Off to explore one of the dozens of cays (keys) and islands that make up the Los Roques archipelago. Most of them deserted.

Even in paradise there's laundry to be done. The watermaker must have been working that day!

Derek fishing for the elusive bonefish. Los Roques is reputedly a mecca for those who pursue this wily fish.

And still fishing. He did catch a small bonefish and released it after a scrappy fight.

You'd think they'd be easier to catch when you're snorkeling and see them swarming like this!