Netherland Antilles


In mid 2013 we worked our way across the top of South America, from Trinidad toward Panama. This journal entry describes our passage to and stay in the ABCs (Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire), also known as Netherland Antilles. The islands were a hotbed of the slave trade. Of an estimated 12 million Africans kidnapped and brought to the new world, less than 1 million ended up in the United States, some 5 million were taken to Brazil, and the rest ended up in the Caribbean. Curacao especially was a center for slave purchase. Today these lovely islands have pretty Dutch towns, and a thriving tourist-based economy. Language is Papiamento, a Creole melange. though everyone seems to also speak English.


June 6 - Angry Birds and Underway

The alarm roused us early for final stowing, jugs and dinghy lashed on deck, lines run. We settled our marina account, and motored out of Crews Inn, pursued by 3 very angry birds. They were pissed that we were sailing away with their new nest in our boom. They chirped and dove at us for an hour before sadly accepting their loss and turning back. We sailed through Bocas del Dragons, where we enjoyed a current boost, then settled into a steady beam reach to the NNW. We are on our way to Bonaire, Dutch Antilles. Easy start, short lumpy seas giving us our sealegs back. All is well.


June 7 - Pirate Alley vs Shipping Lanes

Yesterday, goosed along by a favorable current, we made 150 miles, good for pokey us, even with double-reefed main. We have elected to give the Venezuela coast and islands a wide berth, based on their President's attitude toward perceived wealth (including American yachts), and some reported incidents with aggressive fishermen. Too bad, because until a couple years ago boats could safely stop at Isla Margarita, Los Roques, and the Aves, day-hopping between pleasant anchorages. Rather than risk a chance of piracy closer to shore, we are well north, in the shipping lanes. Freighters pass both directions, often only a mile away, easy to dodge as they show up on AIS. Day 2 of this passage, we are a bit short on sleep. It takes a couple days to fall into the cadence.


June 8 - Flyin!

Dave says he could get used to this Caribbean sailing! Very pleasant steady winds, 20-25 knots, with sea direction same as wind direction. We are making better than 6 knots including a little current boost, wing-on-wing, headed west. We are passing Los Roques today, the Aves tonight, and should make landfall tomorrow. All is well.


June 9 - Landfall Bonaire

The last day of our passage got considerably more challenging, winds and seas well beyond what the gribs forecast. We flew along, making good time, and rounded the south end of Bonaire this morning. Bonaire is part of the Netherlands or Dutch Antilles, the "B" of the ABC islands. At the south end we saw maybe 20 kite-surfers, in the gusty 25-30 knot winds. Sailing in the lee, we stowed the offshore gear and prepped for landfall. Dave brought Baraka slowly to a mooring, and we settled in. We are not allowed to anchor at Bonaire, to protect their reef and dive economy. The moorings are maintained by the parks, administered by Harbour Village Marina. They are very close to shore, at the line where deep blue water changes to brilliant green. We plopped the dinghy over and motored to Karels, a bar/restauarant/dinghy dock, and walked to the yellow Douane (customs) to clear in. We have to return tomorrow for immigration, and also turn in our flare gun while here. Back at Karels we enjoyed their daily specials and happy hour. Kralendijk looks charming, Holland meets Caribbean. Now time for showers and a good nights sleep! Nice to be here.

An easy choice, pirates versus freighters.

Kite surfers at the south end of Bonaire.


June 10 - Kralendijk, and it's a small world

Finished our clearance and found the Warehouse for some groceries, then wandered into town to talk to Digicel about phone and data service. We also checked out the tourist office, car rental and scooter rental. By then it was time for cherry and apricot tarts at a coffeeshop. Feels like we are in Europe. Oh, that's right, we are! This is the Netherlands Antilles.

We dinghied to Harbour Village Marina to pay our mooring fee ($10/day). The marina manager, Carlos, originally from Venezuela, spent some time enlightening us on local culture, including the lingering effects of slavery in these islands, as well as recommendations for restaurants and things to do. Carlos got us excited about exploring Bonaire. He also explained that Bonaire had made the economic decision to use the US dollar as their currency, replacing the Antilles Guilder. They are part of the Netherlands, which is on the Euro, but knew the dollar was a strategic choice to encourage tourism.

We dinghied over to meet Wings, Fred and Judy. I'd worked with Fred at Seafirst Bank back in the 80s. They are a sister ship to our friends on Scarlett O Hara, and also know our friends Kris and David on Taipan. It was fun to trace all the spiderweb of connections. By now, when we meet any boat cruising for any length of time, it doesn't take long to find acquaintances in common. No seven degrees of separation in the cruising world!

Fun to watch gables being moulded.

We're in Europe!

Can I rent this one?

Karel's Cafe and dinghy dock.


June 13 - Almost Paradise

Told Dave except for needing a transfusion for the mosquitoes that plague us nightly, Bonaire could be paradise. It is really lovely here. Today we walked to Van Den Tweel, a grocery on steroids. We spent an hour walking up and down the aisles, trying not to drool over the gorgeous European (mainly Dutch) imported foods and delicatessen goodies. We finally filled a basket with a handful of items we couldn't resist.

We visited a dive shop and paid our $25 pp park fee that permits us to dive and snorkel at Bonaire. Back aboard, we slipped over the side to explore the coral garden under the boat. Amazing clarity, lots of colorful fish. Baraka is securely moored with a pair of polypro lines to two large cement blocks. Today we watched the Parks boat tow a new mooring block past us and install it. They use a large air-filled bladder to suspend it, then when it is in position, slowly deflate the bladder to ease it to the bottom. Fun to watch. No boat is allowed to anchor at Bonaire, and the healthy coral everywhere shows the success of this policy.

Then it was time to meet Wings for happy hour at Karels. Ah, this beats a passage day!

On the boat project front, we removed the loose cleat, simpler than we'd feared. We had expected to have to destroy some of the interior cabinetry to get at the backing (a cut and cry job), but it came free with only trivial destruction. Dave will fill the deck core with epoxy, then redrill the holes, and mount a larger backing plate. The solution should be stronger than the original. He also figured out our water pressure leak - the pump is allowing water to seep backwards through it - and has ordered a rebuild kit to be delivered to Seattle. It will eventually catch up with us. Meanwhile we will use the foot pumps, except when we need water pressure to shower. This is good news - we are not losing precious fresh water into the bilges.

The park department uses an air bladder to tow a mooring block...

...deflating the bladder to set the block in place.

The grocery store has a dress code.

Contortionist gets access to the back of the loosened cleat.

The harbour master office has a tower and nice row of cannons. The Douane (Customs) building is in the background. Kralendijk seems to be painted yellow.


June 13 - Almost Paradise

Yesterday we shared a truck rental with Wings and headed to Washington Slagbaai. Nearly a third of the island has been set aside for this undeveloped park. On the way we passed through Rincon, a small town that was built in the interior to hide from the Spanish and English pirates who raided these waters. At the park gates our dive tag receipt and photo ID allowed us free entry, but if you had only bought snorkel tags it was another $15 pp, which was the difference to dive tags! The entry gate had a small but good museum, including a whale skeleton that had arrived at Bonaire impaled on a cruise ship, and interesting signs for the toilets. We rolled on to beaches on the windward side - a nice day to not be sailing! At Malmok we climbed around the ruins of a home and windmill built of coral and stucco, then apparently walked too close to the ground nests of small white birds. They did screaming kamakazi attacks at our heads. In salt pans we saw lots of pink flamingoes, with their impossibly long legs, backward bending knees, and black-tipped beaks. The underside of their wings also is black, visible only when they are flying or air-drying. Saw wild goats and donkeys, lots of lizards but only glimpses of the larger iguanas. Lovely day.

Rincon rests inland, hidden from pirates.

This whale arrived at Bonaire impaled on a cruise ship.

Took us a moment to differentiate...

...between the mens and womens toilets.

Dave stands beneath a cactus tree.

Goat corral with slave house in background.

A lee shore commands respect.

The surge creates waterfalls.

Small white birds divebomb Fred.

Ruins of a coral house and windmill.

Lizards with florescent green markings.

Graceful flamingoes...

...with their impossibly long legs...

...s-curved necks...

...and black underwings.

Cactus fence keeps goats out.


June 19 - Klein Bonaire

With a slight lull in the trade winds, we dinghied the half mile across to Klein ("little") Bonaire, the small barren island that nestles in Bonaire's armpit. Our map showed it ringed with yellow buoys, marking dive and snorkel sites. We passed the ferry landing and "No Name" beach, and tied to the buoy at Leonora's Reef. Slipping over the side, we explored the healthy coral garden with many colorful fishes. The waters here are warm and clear. We followed a turtle swimming slowly below us.

Back in the dinghy, we set off windward for big Bonaire. By this time the midday winds had piped up, with large choppy waves breaking over our bow and almost swamping the dinghy. Dave used my mask for vigorous bailing, until he tossed it overboard. The $25 dive tag went with it, dang! Eventually the waves laid down and we made better time.


June 21 - summer soltice and movin along...

Today we settled our mooring account at the marina, saying goodbye to Carlos, the delightfully helpful manager there. We stopped by the Douane and Immigration and cleared out of Bonaire, then rented a scooter for our last day of exploring. The little 100cc Yamaha whined along fairly well, but definitely slowed when we had headwinds rounding the south end of Bonaire. We worked along the huge pinkish salt pans, stopped at the tiny slave huts that once housed the salt workers, and spent a fun hour on the south end watching a kite surfing competition. Further on we came to Lac, a huge lagoon on the windward side, where we enjoyed lunch while watching beginner wind surfers. The lagoon is brilliant green, waist deep, with steady 20 knot winds, perfect for learners.

We rolled on back to Kralendijk and returned the scooter, then stowed the boat for tomorrow's early departure. Time for a final snorkel - Dave saw barracuda, and I found a cute pufferfish hiding in a coral bowl. Bonaire has been fun, but it is time to move along. Tomorrow we will rise early for the 6 hour dash across to Curacao, the next island in the ABC chain.

We rent a 100cc scooter to explore south Bonaire.

Soon we come to tiny slave huts...

...where the salt workers lived...

...between the salt pans and the sea.

Painting explains salt harvesting.

The salt pans had to be raked and the salt gathered, then piled on the beaches. Colored obelisks, white, blue, orange, red, indicated the quality of the salt at each site. Ships anchored offshore waited to be loaded. Ashore, it took 2 men to lift the laden salt basket to a woman's head. She then walked a plank dock to a skiff, and ferried the basket to the waiting ship, where it was loaded into the holds.

The huge salt pans are pinkish. A salt mountain range awaits loading. Today bulldozers and augers move the salt.

We stop to watch warmups for a kite surfing competition...

...in a spectacular setting.

This young man demonstrates how to leap over the coral for a beach start.

At Lac, a rastaman teaches beginner windsurfing.


June 22 - Spanish Waters, Curacao

The alarm woke us at daybreak, and we cast off from our Bonaire buoy by 6:30. Dead downwind, 20-25 knots all morning, rowdy seas. We rounded the south end of Curacao just after noon, and had the hook down inside Spanish Waters by 2 pm. Spanish Waters is an extensive maple-leaf shaped lagoon, completely landlocked though exposed to wind. We entered the zigzag channel, going from surfing ocean waves to calm in a few hundred feet! There are reefs lining the edges, so some care must be taken to stay centered in the channel. A couple more turns, and we found a good anchorage spot in permitted area "B". We flopped the dinghy into the water and motored to the dinghy dock at Fisherman's, just missing the bus to town. After waiting an hour, we caught the next one, arriving minutes too late for Customs. We did get cleared in with immigration, will do the rest on Monday, including payment of our $10 anchoring fee. We figured out how to bus back to the boat, arriving home before sunset.

Willemstad looks charming - lots of tall skinny 18th century Dutch buildings, painted every crayola color. It is really 2 towns, Punda on the south, and Otra Banda in the north, connected by a cool pontoon bridge that swings open often for any boat traffic.

The pontoon swing bridge opens for tugboats.

Pedestrians can enjoy the ride.

Just ashore this 1708 facade is beautfully restored.

European-flavored cafes line the waterfront.

A mural depicts the ancient bridge.

Punda is pretty adorable.

I find a partner interested in joining weight watchers with me.

Rastaman sculture.

This lovely mural at the museum cafe..

...depicts slaves going home from work.

Click here for our earlier Trinidad journal.

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