Bonaire, What’s Not to Love

The following partial introduction to Bonaire was written during our brief, 2-week, visit in Bonaire at the end of last season. I had not finished regaling the many wonders of Bonaire before we needed to depart for Aruba, where Ice Floe would spend the spring and summer months, and we would head for our home on land.

We have now returned to Aruba (November 14th, 2022) and are readying Ice Floe for extended visits throughout the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao).

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We arrived to Bonaire on April 10th, 2022. Our stay was short as we were near the end of our season and would soon head to Aruba to store Ice Floe on land for Hurricane season. We were there for a short two weeks but it did not take long to fall in love.

The developed portion of the island has a European presence. Extremely little litter, bicycle paths on busy roads and wide pedestrian walkways, many made with stone pavers. Many personal residences and other buildings conform to lovely mustard yellow stucco walls and tiled orange roofs.

However, these colors are by no means exclusive – the color palette is very extensive.

Construction materials are almost exclusively concrete block (stuccoed and painted) with metal or tiled rooves.

Graffiti is very rare and beautiful murals are prominent on exterior walls of shops and restaurants.

Climate

Bonaire has is warm, and windy, with high humidity and little annual rain. The average year round temperature varies from the low to mid 80os F. Average annual rainfall is only 20 inches (520 mm), most of which occurs in October through January. The constant wind amply compensates for the humidity, but it is essential to drink large quantities of water every day.

Bonaire lies outside the hurricane belt, though its weather and oceanic conditions are occasionally affected by hurricanes and tropical storms. The ocean temperature hardly ever drops below 80oF or above the mid 80s.

There has been quite a bit of cloud cover and several significant welcome rainstorms during our stay which we understand is not characteristic for April. Wind has been persistently higher than normal throughout the ABC islands throughout our stay.

Blue arrow points to the ABC islands, Aruba (green dot), Curaçao, and Bonaire.

Southern Region

The southern part of the island is nearly flat and barely rises above sea level. A significant portion of this southern region is covered with sea water in process of evaporation for salt production.

The semi-arid climate is conducive to a variety of cacti and other desert plants.

Homeowners and some places of establishment have taken advantage of a pervasive cactus species to establish lovely, impenetrable fencing around their properties.

Bonaire is an extremely popular destination for snorkeling and diving

Much of the waters, reefs, and marine life surrounding Bonaire is carefully managed as a marine park. It has been five decades since I (Susan) have seen such healthy reefs teeming with the kind of gorgeous diversity of sea life I first witnessed during a marine biology course I took in Bimini. There is so much more to fully describe what a remarkable island Bonaire is, but short for time I will leave you with a sample of the beauty and diversity of the reef life.

Sail from Eastern Caribbean to the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao)

Its not a bit like flying

The wind speed and direction, current strength and direction, wave patterns and, in this instance, areas known for piracy, all contribute to when we sail and our direction of sail.

The red line shows the area we have been traveling for the past several years. The yellow line indicates where we were going. The red star marks approximately where we were starting our sail (Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines) and the yellow star marks Bonaire, our destination
The turquoise blue lines mark our actual sail path. First sail ~30 hrs St. Vincent to Guadeloupe. Second sail ~90 hrs Guadeloupe to Bonaire

The course we chose

We started with a short hop from Bequia to St. Vincent for the last of a series of dental appointments (another story) and then proceeded on our sail to Bonaire. Our trip was broken into two sections. The first was an approximate 30 hour sail from St. Vincent to Guadeloupe.

Day break passing Dominica

We stayed in Guadeloupe for 5 days until we got a health check for Duhkxy (required by Bonaire) and the winds and waves calmed down. The second leg, from Guadeloupe to Bonaire, took three and a half days. This was, to date, the longest uninterrupted open water sail we have made.

I imagine some will wonder why our heading was not more direct from St. Vincent to Bonaire. This is certainly possible, and cruising friends did just that a short while after we made our trip.

Wind – The Trade Winds come consistently from the east +/- slight deviations north or south. For our sail, the wind speed was low to mid-20s. A direct route would require that we sail with the Trade Winds behind us for the entire trip. Sailing speed is entirely based on the wind pushing the boat. Having the sails angled to the wind is optimal as the wind passing by the sail provides “lift” and greatly improves speed. In order to get far enough west to achieve an optimal angle, the beginning of our sail was with the wind directly behind us. Ice Floe moved right around 5 knots, even as the wind was blowing in the 20s.

Day 1 – Ice Floe sailed with butterflied jibs downwind at approximately 5 knots

Day 2 brought a welcome shift in the wind direction slightly to the south, allowing us to readjust the sails and set a path directly to Bonaire earlier than planned. Wind speed remained the same, but Ice Floe sailed for the balance of our trip at 7 to 8 knots, her top speed; arriving at our destination in 2 and a half more days. We had planned for a 4-5 day continuous sail and finished in 3 and a half days. We did motor sail for a part of the last day to ensure we came in before dark as our destination was new to us.

Based on recommendations from cruising friends we took approximate 6 hour shifts during the night and each caught up on lost sleep with a nap during the daylight hours.

Waves -the forecast called for 4-5 foot waves. We had 5-8 foot waves and a confused sea on our second leg of our trip. Confused seas are when waves are coming from multiple directions. When they intersect you get a larger wave like the 8 foot waves we experienced on an occasional basis. Dependent on where they have formed and how they hit Ice Floe, they often give a wash over the bow, or stern. A side or stern spray can give us an unwelcome bath in the cockpit. it was not optimal, it was also tiring, but it was not ever dangerous.

Pirates – There have been periodic reports of Pirates from Venezuela assailing cruising vessels and the course we set minimized our time close to the Venezuela islands and coastline.

Bonaire first impression

The first question we have been asked by almost everyone we meet in Bonaire is “Do you dive?”. We answer “Once upon a time, now we snorkel.” Bonaire is almost entirely a marine park and is renowned for its vibrant sea life. The themooring field is set along the drop off from shallow to 800 foot deep water with a spectacular underwater wall teeming with brightly colored corals..

The 800 ft precipitous drop-off is where the turquoise blue water (shallow with sandy bottom) meets the ledge of the drop-off and you see the deep dark blue water

We spent a wonderful day snorkeling and look forward to many more.