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.

The Tobago Cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We arrived in the Tobago Cays (pronounced Tobago Keys) on February 27th and have been here 6 days as I am writing. The Tobago Cays are a cluster of 5 small, uninhabited, islands that lie within a protected marine park. People who work in the Tobago Cays typically live on the nearby islands, Union Island and Mayreau.

St Vincent and the Grenadines are an Island Nation comprised of the large island of Saint Vincent and 32 islands within the Grenadines. Grenada’s sister islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, while part of the iIsland nation of Grenada, are also two of the Grenadine Islands.

The Tobago Cays are bordered on the east by World’s End Reef and Horseshoe Reef. These reefs calm the waters between the Cays, providing anchorages for the many yachts and tour boats attracted to the beautiful waters. During our visit, when high tide combined with strong winds, our anchorage was often unsettling.

Turtles

Snorkeling among the many Green Turtles was, in and of itself, worth our visit. Green turtles are the only herbivorous species of sea turtle. Their diet consists mainly of seagrasses and algae, though they may also forage on sponges, invertebrates, and discarded fish. The density of Green Turtles in this area is due to the wealth of one of these primary food source, the thin blades of seagrass growing on the sandy bottom, along with nearby nesting grounds.

Green Turtle starting its ascent to surface for breath.

The seagrass beds are sparse in areas and can easily be mistaken for an ideal sandy bottom for anchoring. We made this mistake ourselves, only discovering it when we snorkeled. There are moorings available, but not a fraction of the number needed to meet demand. Anchoring in the grass beds is extremely damaging and the area that is cordoned off covers only a fraction of the grass beds the turtles feed upon. More moorings and a much larger cordoned off area is needed to protect this precious resource.

The waters in the Tobago Cays are crystal clear and reflect impossibly, gorgeous, hues of deep blue through turquoise.

Snorkeling Horseshoe Reef

We were saddened to find Horseshoe reef severely injured. Skeletons of massive, now dead, corals were made colorful with a variety of encrusting corals, sponges, and other invertebrates. There were also many small varieties of fish. It is worth a peak, but do so at a slack tide as the current is strong and swift.

The Island Fauna

Island wildlife (also protected) that we observed included large white and black iguanas and other lizards. Possum and tortoises also inhabit the islands.

Beaches

Every island has a stretch of meticulously, maintained, white sand beach.

Beach Barbecue

A very well-attended barbecue is offered every mid-day and evening. You will be invited and we would recommend you accept. We enjoyed a massive dinner of lobster, pork ribs, potatoes, rice, plantains and salad. A bar is available but you are welcome to bring your own liquid refreshments.

Our visit was cut short as winds picked up significantly and our anchor snubber broke in the middle of the night waking us with a very large bang as the anchor jerked tight and pulled more chain from the windlass. At first light we made a hasty retreat to a more protected anchorage in Mayreau at first light. Trying to replace the snuffer in winds of 20+ knots and a significant surge was futile.

Under Lockdown Moored off Sandy Island, Carriacou, Grenada

Our mooring off Sandy Island, Cariacou, Grenada has served as our home from the day we checked into Grenada on March 18th.  We could not have asked for a more ideal location to quarantine as the course of Covod-19 unfolds.

At any one time, we had as few as 3 other boats as neighbors, and as many as 7.  Some came and went and came back again.  There was no place we would prefer to quarantine so we remained.

We have been provided with a service to secure groceries, as we are not permitted on land in Cariacou.  We place our order with Alison, a proprieter of the Paradise Beach Club restaurant on Cariacou.  The restaurant is closed, but Alison oversees efforts to ensure cruisers are provisioned.  Cariacou receives its groceries from Grenada (the big island) and there is no way to know what will be available on a given day.  Alison stands in lines with people in masks keeping 6 feet apart, sometimes for hours.  She has invariably brought us as many of the items we requested as possible, and does a great job of substituting when necessary.  We eat well – never better than on the occasions a blue marlin has been caught.

Things to do while moored off Sandy Island – Underwater

You may think that remaining on a boat such a long time in one place would be tedious, but we are never bored.  There is a very lovely reef within swimming distance from Ice Floe and our snorkeling has rewarded us with views of frightening moray eels, a small yellow snake head peeking out of a hole, slipper and caribbean lobsters, two types of sting rays (yellow and southern) a spotted eagle ray, a host of vibrant corals and other sea invertebrates and many species of fish.  Every visit reveals something new and we never get tired of snorkeling on the reef and along the island shoreline.

We often catch glimpses of fish backed into a crevice like this one that is either a spotted burrfish or a porcupine fish.    They look a bit like ET with their big eyes and wide mouth.  When they are threatened they blow up into a big fat ball with spikes sticking out.  It is hard to get a photo because you need to dive down and they usually back further into their hole.
This fish is likely the same type as the one above, but not the same fish.  This was my third attempt to get a photo – very proud of myself.
Glasseye Snapper
This is the West Indian Sea Egg, a very common type of sea urchin.  They have the curious habit of collecting seagrass and small shells.  Sea urchins are part of the broader category of sea creatures Echinoderms.  Echinoderms include starfish, brittle stars and feather stars and sand dollars.
French grunt fish swimming near what I believe is Smooth Star Coral
Juvenile Mahoghany Snapper
Blue Tang
Identifying coral is difficult as their color may vary depending on what algae grow inside the coral polyp.  Relying more on shape of the total colony and the individual polyps, my best guess is that this is a Great Star Coral.  Those, in very shallow water, which this one is, tend to collect green symbiotic algae.
The blue dotted fish is a juvenile yellowtail damselfish.  The Yellowish tan coral in the background is a type of fire coral.  The red is likely a sponge.
School of French grunts
Trumpet fish
George
Southern Ray

Above the water

While sitting in our cockpit, we have been surrounded every day by the heartless slaughter of small and juvenile fish.  We see large fish as they decimate the huge schools of tiny and young fish.  We have observed a progression of the type of predators, as well as the seabirds who take advantage of the disorganized fish that come too close to the surface.

Underwater predators

Underwater predators we have observed include redfin needle fish, barracuda, and jacks.  It is common for the predators to launch themselves from the water, especially in the initial attack.  At times this is a single predator – they may fly straight up in a tight arc or cross an amazing distance.  Sometimes groups of predators come by in what looks like an underwater airplane configuration.  They will suddenly erupt just above the surface.  We believe all of these tactics help them disorganize their prey making them easier to catch.

School of horse eye jacks

Predators from above

Above water predators have included terns, laughing gulls, brown-footed boobies, and pelicans.  They continually keep a watch and when the fish strike, the birds are right behind them.

Royal Tern
Laughing gull
Brown footed Boobies
Pelican

 The prey

The innocent prey are generally schools of silversides or young fish.  The predators have varied over the weeks – most recently the horse eye jack, perhaps as some of the prey has grown from half inch to several inches.

A school of silversides just below the surface of the water
An enormous, dense, school of silversides we swam through while snorkeling

The play unfolds

Jacks, erupting at the surface of a school of prey
Several laughing gulls are next on the scene of carnage
Birds assail from above as jack (center bottom) attacks from below
This scene plays out dozens of times a day

Initially Duhkxy reacted to every loud splash from the attacking predators.  As he has grown accustomed to the behavior, he reserves his barking to instances when he becomes bored or the attack is particularly loud and close to the boat.

Duhkxy maintains vigil.

Watching the birds can reveal some behaviors you cannot imagine.  Have you ever seen a seagull stand on the head of a pelican?  WE HAVE, many times.  After a pelican catches a fish, it also takes in a large amount of seawater.  Before swallowing, the pelican allows the water to drain out of its pouch.  In this interval, gulls hang around and often stand on the pelican hoping they can snatch some of the catch.

We often watch laughing gulls stand on top of a pelican’s head immediately after the pelican catches a fish

Many larger birds of prey routinely steal fish right out of the mouths of others.  We have observed that here, with frigate birds taking fish from boobies.  In other locals, we have seen eagles and osprey do the same.  We wonder if this is the main way frigate birds satiate their hunger as we routinely see them soaring above but have only rarely seen them catch a fish.

Our neighbors entertain us with their water activities.  Some paddle board, some kite sail, some kayak, and once, we watched a cruiser successfully use his hammock as a sail for his kayak.  He had a little better luck than Marilla when she tried this in the Boundary Waters.

Marilla, in Boundary Waters (1989)

At the end of day, we sit in the cockpit and watch the sun go down.  No two sunsets are the same.  Each is a peaceful, end of day, experience.

Our loved ones and humanity as a whole are never far from our thoughts.  Stay well.